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How to Determine Freight Class for LTL

Freight transportation is among the largest industries in the United States. According to the Department of Transportation, freight transport directly affects over 44 million jobs throughout the country aside from the many other businesses that rely on freight regularly.

Projections from the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicate that freight moving across the US transportation network will increase by 40% over the next three decades. The cargo’s value is also expected to almost double in value (92%) during that same period. By 2045, the total freight of all transportation modes, be it air, vessel, rail, or truck, is expected to reach over 25 billion tons and have a value higher than $37 trillion.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics and Federal Highway Administration, Freight Analysis Framework, version 4.1, 2016.

Many companies have turned to less-than-truckload (LTL) freight shipping as a way of saving on shipping costs without sacrificing the quality of service. That said, one of the critical challenges for newcomers is understanding freight classes. However, with industry expertise and reliable carrier relations, it is possible to classify freight accurately at affordable rates. Below, we’ll be taking a look at some of the details of classifying freight.

What is LTL Shipping?

In its most basic sense, LTL shipping is about transporting goods and materials that take less space than an entire trailer. This is in opposition to a full truckload (FTL) of freight. With an LTL service, businesses can share trailer space with other shippers. They will also allow the carrier to fill their trucks to total capacity with multiple smaller shipments. Shippers will only pay for the space that their freight takes up, which typically makes LTL a more affordable option than FTL.

Unlike other shipping forms, LTL freight moves via a hub-and-spoke network model. Based on this model, there’s a central hub or distribution center connected to local terminals. At these terminals, freight is loaded onto trucks and is taken to the distribution center for consolidation onto other trailers or for final delivery. On the other hand, FTL shipping works on a point-to-point network system with only a few stops in between. As a consequence, LTL shipping will most often imply more freight handling than FLT shipping.

Understanding Freight Classes

Freight class represents a numeric measurement that allows freight carriers to set standard prices across LTL freight. It’s the responsibility of the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) to determine freight classes. Generally speaking, every product type has its own National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) number assigned to a specific freight class number for LTL shipments. Freight classes are divided into 18 and range from 50 to 500.

LTL carriers are very interested in freight classes since these help them determine tariffs that they need to pay to transport goods. This, in turn, will determine shipping rates and fees. As mentioned earlier, it can prove somewhat challenging to determine and declare the correct class. While it may seem “smart” to list a lower freight class to save on costs, carriers will most likely reclass your freight. This will often result in delays, wasted money, resources, and even risk of upsetting your customers. In most cases, the freight class also corresponds to the freight shipment size, as carriers need to know each shipment’s size so that they can optimize their capacity.   

What Factors Determine Freight Shipping Class?

According to the NMFTA, freight class is “a standard that provides a comparison of commodities moving in commerce.” The NMFC determines this freight class using four main characteristics: Density, Stowability, Handling, and Liability.

  1. Density: Not all goods or commodities are based on density and have a predefined freight class. That said, others are strictly density-based. This is mainly determined by the cubic feet divided by their total weight in pounds. Freight that has a lower overall density will also have a higher freight class.
  2. Stowability: Another factor that influences the freight class is the commodity’s difficulty of loading. By and large, most freight is easy to stow in trains, ships, planes, or trucks, granted they’ve been appropriately packaged. However, some specific items are regulated by law and can’t be loaded together with other things.  As a general rule of thumb, freight that’s too long, too cumbersome, or has an irregular shape will be difficult to load, especially alongside other shipments. These shipments should have clear load-bearing surfaces to make them easier to stack with other goods. Put simply, the more difficult an item is to load and transport alongside other things, the higher the freight class and overall shipping cost.
  3. Handling: Through a hub-and-spoke model, freight will typically go through various checkpoints before reaching their final destination. Normally, adequately packaged goods shouldn’t run into any problems. While equipment can load most freight types without any issue, some goods are hard to stow. These goods could be fragile, heavy, hazardous, or oddly-shaped and could require special handling. Some carriers may categorize freight that’s more difficult to load or transport as a higher freight class.
  4. Liability: This last factor refers to the probability that any freight piece may end up damaged or stolen or damage the other goods in its vicinity. For instance, perishable cargo or any cargo at a high combustion risk also has a higher liability. This is valued per pound.

If we assume that freight doesn’t have any significant handling, stowing, or liability issues, density will significantly determine the actual weight class. The Commodity Classification Standards Board has developed guidelines for determining class based on the density of freight. These guidelines consider an average density among all commodities within a freight class. They also ignore any issues related to handling, stowability, or liability. Going by density will eliminate any potential disagreements between shippers and carriers over interpretations of NMFC class codes.

How to Calculate Freight Density

Several simple steps need to be taken for shippers to determine their freight density. These are as follows:

  • Measure the length, width, and height of the shipment. This measurement needs to include both the pallets and any other packaging surrounding the actual freight shipment. The measure will need to round up to the next inch. When it comes to loads with multiple pallets or pieces, this process needs to be repeated.  
  • The next step is to multiply those dimension measurements from the point above, which will provide the shipment’s total cubic inch size. By dividing that number by 1,728, you will convert cubic inches into cubic feet. If there are multiple pieces, measurements need to be taken for each piece. By adding all these individual cubic measurements together, you will be getting the total.
  • The weight of the freight also needs to be determined in pounds. By dividing it by the shipment’s total cubic feet, you will get the pounds per cubic foot. This represents the density of the shipment. When it comes to multiple shipments, you will add each piece’s total weight before dividing the total cubic feet.
  • Once you have the shipment’s density, you can determine the freight class of your shipment.

The 18 Freight Classes with Examples

As mentioned, goods and commodities are rated based on the four factors of density, stowability, handling, and liability to generate 18 classes numbered from 50 to 500. The lower the freight class is rated,  the lower the price. Therefore, an item in class 50 is less expensive to transport than an item in any of the classes above it.

In the table below, you will see samples of goods that are usually found in each class.

Class Name  ExamplesWeight Per Cubic Foot
Class 50 – Clean FreightFits on standard shrink-wrapped 4X4 pallet, nuts, bolts, steel bolts, strapping material, flourOver 50 lbs
Class 55Bricks, cement, mortar, hardwood flooring, cloth, magazines, copy paper35-50 lbs
Class 60Car accessories & car parts, steel cables, used tires, ceramic tiles, stone blocks, glass, moldings30-35 lbs
Class 65Car parts & accessories, bottled beverages, electric cords, books in boxes, conveyors, boxed chocolate22.5–30 lbs
Class 70Newspapers, pencils, machinery, caskets, unassembled furniture, food items, car engines15–22.5 lbs
Class 77.5Tires, clothing, bathroom fixtures, garments, snowplows,13.5-15 lbs
Class 85Crated machinery, transmissions, clutches, doors, pharmaceuticals, CDs/DVDs, motorcycle engine12–13.5 lbs
Class 92.5Computers, monitors, refrigerators and freezers, gas-powered generators, cabinets10.5-12 lbs
Class 100Vacuum, boat & car covers, canvas, wine cases9-10.5 lbs
Class 110Cabinets, metalworking, framed paintings & artwork, table saws8–9 lbs
Class 125Small household appliances, exhibit booths, pictures/posters in boxes,  vending machines7 – 8 lbs
Class 150ATV, jet skis, work stations, motorcycles, assembled wooden furniture,6 – 7 lbs
Class 175Couches, stuffed furniture, metal cabinets,5 – 6 lbs
Class 200TVs, packaged mattresses, aircraft parts, aluminum table, snowmobiles4 – 5 lbs
Class 250Bamboo furniture, engine hoods, mattresses and box springs, unassembled couches, flat-screen TVs3 – 4 lbs
Class 300Wooden cabinets, tables, chairs, model boats, kayaks/canoes, chassis2 – 3 lbs
Class 400Deer antlers, light fixtures1 – 2 lbs
Class 500 (Low Density or High Value)          Bags of gold dust, ping pong ballsLess than 1 lb

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