Demystifying Freight Class

A Nuts and Bolts Breakdown of What Exactly Freight Class Is

Expanding on our introductory overview of Freight Class, we thought it’d help to clear up some of the system’s thornier aspects. Wondering how the right freight class effects shipping price? Wondering how to find your freight class? Wondering just what the heck is freight class anyway? Fear not. The way out of this mystery maze begins here.

First thing to know, it’s the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMTA) that defines freight class, using the standard called National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC).

What Is Freight Class?

Here’s NMTA’s definition in all its regal splendor:

“The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) is a standard that provides a comparison of commodities moving in interstate, intrastate and foreign commerce. It is similar in concept to the groupings of grading systems that serve many other industries. Commodities are grouped into one of 18 classes – from a low of class 50 to a high of class 500 – based on an evaluation of four transportation characteristics: density, handling, stowability and liability. Together these characteristics establish a commodity’s ‘transportability.’”

You see? What it all comes down to is transportability. A clunky word, but a simple concept just the same.

How To Find Your Freight Class

There’s no real substitute for finding your freight class by locating the NMFC number, or code, which essentially is a catalogue number corresponding to your product. The classification goes along with the number and this will guarantee that you get proper LTL pricing. Also, make sure the NMFC code is visible on your bill of laden.

Finding the NMFC is the process that usually sticks in the craw of shippers. To do it, you have to look through the NMFC database, which is not always the easiest to gain to access to and which in a constant state of flux. As items shift in value, the database is updated. A qualified freight broker will have access to the database and can confirm your freight is being shipped in the correct class.

Besides getting the exact NMFC number, another option is to utilize a freight class calculator offered by brokers and carriers. It will certainly get you an accurate measurement of density, once you enter in the dimensions of your shipment, such as the weight, height, length and width. But it will only give an estimate to the class. This means there is a risk for a freight re-classing.

Not having the NMFC number makes you vulnerable to the whims of the weight inspection department at the terminal. If they don’t see the number, they might decide that the item actually belongs in a different class, then re-class it and increase your charges.

Also, it’s always best practices to have an accurate description of the item being shipped, and of course, to avoid cheating on the weight class to receive lower costs. As the old rule goes: it’s only a matter of time before that comes back to haunt you.

How Freight Class Effects LTL Pricing

The simplest way to think of it is, the lower the freight class, the lower the shipping price. A class 75 item will be cheaper than a class 400 item.

There are two ways classification is made. Items that are classified by density and items that have a permanent class not based on weight or size, such as a transmission. To be clear, the class might be permanent but the pricing can change according to market value. That’s where the NFMC database comes in to play.

Density based items, on the other hand, are always changing in classification. Usually, the lower the density, the higher the class. Or the higher the density the lower the class. Machinery is an example of this. The total weight of the items, how many pallets there are, the overall dimensions: all of that changes the density. So since the density is effected by the amount of machinery you ship, that amount will determine the class.

This should be enough to chew on for the time being. As you can see, the process itself is no cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep from being reclassed and having to pay more than you initially expected.

At Action Transport, Inc., we’ve been helping first-time freight shippers navigate the ever changing world of freight classifications for over thirty years. We even help the old pro’s stay on top of updates. It’s been our pleasure to make the shipping process less intimidating and more affordable, so small businesses have a chance to compete. If you’re looking for friendly, customer-oriented freight shipping services, you’ve found them. Contact our freight experts today for a free quote and let’s get you moving.