LTL Freight Classification: How It Impacts Your Shipping Costs

LTL Freight Classification: How It Impacts Your Shipping Costs

When shipping goods via less-than-truckload (LTL) freight, understanding the LTL freight classification system is important for optimizing your shipping costs. Cowtown Express, a leading provider of LTL shipping services, is here to help you navigate the complexities of freight classification and ensure that you're getting the best value for your shipping process.

What Is LTL Freight Classification?

LTL freight classification is a standardized system used by LTL carriers to determine the cost of shipping goods. The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) is a publication that provides a uniform pricing structure for LTL freight based on four key characteristics: density, stowability, handling, and liability.

The NMFC is maintained by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) and the Commodity Classification Standards Board (CCSB). They assign each commodity a specific freight class number ranging from 50 to 500, with lower numbers indicating denser, less expensive commodities and higher numbers representing lighter, more expensive goods.

NMFC Code vs. Freight Class: What's the Difference?

NMFC Code vs. Freight Class: What's the Difference

When shipping LTL freight, you may encounter two important terms: NMFC codes and freight classes. While they are related, they serve different purposes in the shipping process.

What Are NMFC Codes?

A National Motor Freight Classification NMFC code is not so different from the PLU number you find on produce in the grocery store. Every LTL item shipped is assigned an NMFC code and items within the same class have different codes. For example, bricks and hardwood flooring are both in freight class 50, but bricks are assigned NMFC code #32100.2 and hardwood flooring is assigned #51200.

These codes can be easily accessed in the NMFC database, which is consistently being updated. Finding the NMFC code for your shipment is how you will determine its freight class. While some items have an established, permanent class, others might need to be classed based on the previously discussed factors (stowability, handling, density, and liability.)

Relationship Between NMFC Codes and Freight Classes

Every NMFC code corresponds to a specific freight class. The NMFTA maintains a comprehensive database where you can look up the NMFC code for a particular item and see its corresponding freight class. Freight classes are what carriers use to determine your LTL shipping rates.

Where to Find Your NMFC Code

  1. โ€Full NMFC Guide: This is the ultimate resource, but it can be complex to navigate.โ€
  2. LTL Carrier or 3PL: Cowtown Express or a trusted logistics provider can quickly help you find the right NMFC code and corresponding freight class.

Why Does Freight Classification Matter?

Why Does Freight Classification Matter

Your shipment's freight class is the single most important factor in determining your LTL shipping costs. Carriers use this class, along with other factors like distance and special handling needs, to calculate your rates. Here's why it matters:

  • Pricing Accuracy: The right freight class ensures you're charged the correct amount, preventing unexpected extra fees after your shipment is underway.
  • Lower Shipping Costs: A lower freight class generally translates to lower shipping rates.
  • Streamlined Shipping: A correctly classified shipment means less paperwork hassle and a smoother shipping process.

4 Factors that Determine Freight Class

Factors that Determine Freight Class

The NMFC classification system considers four main characteristics when assigning freight classes:

1. Density

An objectโ€™s density is calculated using the dimensions and weight of the item; for shipping purposes, density is measured in pounds per cubic foot. It sounds confusing but the higher the density of the item, the lower the class, and the lower the price of shipment.

Most companies prefer to ship small, heavy things because they donโ€™t need much room and more products can be shipped in one load. Keep in mind that some commodities are not classified by density and have pre-determined classes.

Here's the formula for calculating density:

The Formula of Density

2. Stowability

Stowability is how the items being shipped can be arranged within the transport vehicle or train in relation to other items. Shipments with weight, dimensions, or shapes that are out of the ordinary are more difficult to stow. Stowability also takes hazardous shipments into account. Shipments should have noticeable load-bearing surfaces to allow for easy stacking with other goods. The more difficult it is to arrange the shipment with others, the higher the freight class and the greater the cost.

3. Handling

Handling is the measurement of how difficult it is to handle a shipment as it is being loaded or unloaded at terminals, checkpoints, and distribution centers.

The fragility of the item, how well (or poorly) itโ€™s packaged, and its dimensions are all considered when determining how to handle it. The more difficult it is to carry and handle the item, the higher its freight class.

4. Liability

Liability concerns the probability of a shipment being stolen, damaged, or damaging other items surrounding it. For example, perishable items and combustible materials are considered a greater liability to the freight shipping company and therefore have a higher freight class.

How to Determine Your Freight Class

How to Determine Your Freight Class

Calculating and understanding your freight class is the ultimate key to accurate LTL shipping rates. Here's the breakdown:

  • Calculate the density of your shipment in pounds per cubic foot. This number is the most important factor in determining your class.
  • Refer to the LTL freight class chart or use a freight class calculator to find the corresponding freight class. Online tools make this step quick and easy!
  • Consider any special handling requirements or hazardous materials that may impact your freight class. These factors can adjust your class even if you have a dense, easy-to-stow item.
  • Consult with your LTL carrier to verify your freight classification. Don't hesitate to reach out to experts like those at Cowtown Express for personalized assistance.

Freight Classes

The world of LTL freight classification might seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be!

Below is a chart of the 18 different types of classes, numbered 50 to 500, that the NMFC divided by density. In the table, there are examples of items that can be found in each class:

Freight Class Item Examples Density in Pounds per Cubic Foot (lb/ft^3) Cost
Class 50 โ€“ Clean Freight Fits on standard shrink-wrapped 4X4 pallet, strapping material, flour 50+ Lowest Cost
Class 55 Bricks, cement, hardwood flooring, magazines, copy paper 35 โ€“ 50
Class 60 Car accessories and parts, steel cables, tires, stone blocks, glass 30 โ€“ 35
Class 65 Bottled beverages, boxed books, conveyors, boxed chocolate, electric cords, tile 22.5 โ€“ 30
Class 70 Newspapers, wooden pencils, machinery, caskets, unassembled furniture, food items, car engines 15 โ€“ 22.5
Class 77.5 Bathroom fixtures, garments, snowplows 13.5 โ€“ 15
Class 85 Crated machinery, transmissions, clutches, doors, CDs/DVDs, motorcycle engine 12 โ€“ 13.5
Class 92.5 Computers, monitors, refrigerators and freezers, gas-powered generators, cabinets, kiosk,s or ATMs 10.5 โ€“ 12
Class 100 Vacuum, boat & car covers, canvas, wine cases 9 โ€“ 10.5
Class 110 Cabinets, framed paintings & artwork, table saw 8 โ€“ 9
Class 125 Small household appliances, boxed pictures/posters, exhibit booths, vending machines 7 โ€“ 8
Class 150 ATV, jet skis, motorcycles, assembled wooden furniture, work stations 6 โ€“ 7
Class 175 Clothing, couches, stuffed furniture, metal cabinets 5 โ€“ 6
Class 200 TVs, aircraft parts, aluminum table, packaged mattresses, snowmobiles 4 โ€“ 5
Class 250 Bamboo furniture, engine hoods, box springs, unassembled couch, plasma TVs 3 โ€“ 4
Class 300 Wood cabinets, tables, chairs, model boats, kayaks/canoes 2 โ€“ 3
Class 400 Deer antlers 1 โ€“ 2
Class 500 (Low Density) Bags of gold dust, ping pong balls <1 Highest Cost

Keep in mind that while these estimates are fairly accurate, stowability, handling, and liability also play a part in determining freight class and cost of shipping. Use a freight class calculator or check with your LTL shipper to see their specific guidelines on freight classifications.

The Importance of Accurate Freight Classification

Accurate classification is crucial for several reasons:

  • Avoid Re-Classification Fees: If your shipment is audited and found to be incorrectly classified, you could be charged additional fees and face delays.
  • Protecting Your Freight: Certain freight classes require specialized handling and packaging. Getting the class right protects your shipment from damage during transit.
  • Carrier Relationships: Consistently accurate classification builds trust with your LTL carrier, paving the way for potential discounts or volume-based pricing.

Common Freight Classification Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Common Freight Classification Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Even experienced shippers can determine freight class wrong. Be aware of these common pitfalls to ensure accurate freight class calculations and avoid unexpected fees:

  • Incorrect Density Calculation: Precision matters! Even minor mistakes in measuring or a change in packaging can lead to the wrong density calculation and an incorrect freight class.
  • Ignoring Stowability: How well your goods play with others matters! Oddly shaped or bulky items are less efficient to stack and can result in a higher freight class.
  • Underestimating Handling Needs: Don't hide the fragile stuff! Special care for delicate, perishable, or hazardous items means different handling needs, and potentially a higher class.

9 Tips for Optimizing Your LTL Freight Costs

Tips for Optimizing Your LTL Freight Costs

Want to get the most out of your LTL shipping dollars? These tips help you optimize costs while ensuring your goods arrive safely and on time:

  • Package your goods efficiently to maximize density and minimize cubic feet. Think compact and space-saving. Less volume often means a lower freight class!
  • Provide accurate dimensions and weight to avoid reclassification and additional fees. Carriers have the right to audit โ€” make sure those numbers match up to avoid a costly surprise.
  • Consolidate shipments when possible to take advantage of density-based freight classes. Bigger can actually be cheaper in some cases for LTL shipping!
  • Work with a reputable LTL carrier like Cowtown Express to ensure accurate classification and competitive shipping rates. Expertise and strong relationships help keep costs in check.
  • Consider freight density when designing packaging to minimize shipping costs. Building density into your product packaging is a long-term shipping cost strategy.
  • Include a description of the freight on the BOL (bill of lading), and make it as detailed as possible. If the freight description says something generic like โ€œshipping itemโ€, it could be re-classed because the carrier wonโ€™t know what it is and how to classify it correctly.
  • Remember that online classification calculators are just an estimate. Though they will give you an accurate density of the shipment, every item does not have a density-based class.
  • Donโ€™t try to cheat! You will not be able to fool the freight shipping companies and you will be left paying the price for the necessary re-classifications.
  • Never forget to clearly put the NMFC code on the BOL so the carrier canโ€™t miss it.

Master LTL Freight Classification for Optimal Shipping Efficiency!

Understanding LTL freight classification is essential for controlling your freight costs and optimizing your shipping process. By accurately classifying your freight, working with a trusted LTL carrier, and implementing best practices for packaging and consolidation, you can minimize your overall shipping cost and ensure the smooth delivery of your goods.

Ready to simplify your LTL freight shipping? Contact the experts at Cowtown Express today! We're here to answer your questions, provide accurate freight classification, and deliver personalized, cost-effective shipping solutions for your business.


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FAQs About LTL Freight Classification

What's the difference between density-based freight classes and pre-defined freight classes?

Most freight items are assigned density-based classes. However, some goods have pre-defined classes based on specific characteristics that override density, such as car covers or fragile items with limited liability.

Can I negotiate my freight class with the carrier?

While there's some room for discussion, especially for complex shipments, the NMFC system provides a standardized framework that carriers adhere to for fairness and consistency.

What happens if my freight class is wrong?

An incorrect class means incorrect rates. Carriers have the right to audit shipments and re-classify them, leading to extra fees and potential delays if your class is too low. It's always best to get it right the first time.