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How to Determine Freight Class: Step-By-Step 

Determining freight class is a critical step in the shipping process, especially for less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments. Freight class is a standardized classification system used to categorize cargo based on specific characteristics that affect its transportability.

This system, established by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), helps ensure uniform pricing and handling procedures across the shipping industry. 

What is Freight Class 

Freight class is a numerical rating assigned to commodities transported via LTL freight shipping. The NMFTA defines 18 different freight classes, ranging from 50 to 500. These classes are based on four primary characteristics: density, stowability, handling, and liability. The lower the class number, the lower the shipping cost, as lower-class items are generally easier and less expensive to transport.

4 Factors in Determining Freight Shipping CLass 

factors that determine freight class infographic

1. Density

Density is the weight of the shipment per cubic foot. It is calculated by dividing the total weight of the shipment by its total cubic feet.

To find the total cubic feet, multiply the length, width, and height of the shipment (in inches) and divide by 1,728 (since there are 1,728 cubic inches in a cubic foot).

Impact on Freight Class: Higher density items typically fall into lower classes, resulting in lower shipping costs. Conversely, lower density items are classified higher and cost more to ship.

2. Stowability

Stowability refers to how easily the shipment can be stored and transported with other freight. Factors like size, shape, and whether there are hazardous materials or special handling requirements affect stowability.

Impact on Freight Class: Items that are difficult to stow or require special handling increase the freight class and, consequently, the shipping cost.

3. Handling

Handling considers the ease with which the shipment can be loaded, unloaded, and transported. This includes factors like fragility, packaging, and whether special equipment is needed.

Impact on Freight Class: Shipments that are challenging to handle, due to fragility or special requirements, are assigned higher freight classes.

4. Liability

Liability encompasses the risk of damage, theft, or loss of the shipment, as well as the potential for the shipment to cause damage to other freight.

Impact on Freight Class: High-value items or those with a high risk of damage or theft are classified higher, increasing the shipping cost.

Steps to Determine Freight Class 

how to determine freight class infographic
  1. Understand NMFC Classification: Start by determining the NMFC (National Motor Freight Classification) code for your shipment. Each NMFC code represents specific product characteristics, which help to categorize it into one of 18 NMFC freight classes. You can obtain these codes from the NMFC database
  2. Weigh Your Shipment: Use a certified scale to determine the total weight of your shipment, including any packaging or pallets.
  3. Measure Dimensions: Measure the length, width, and height of the shipment in inches. If the shipment is on a pallet, include the pallet dimensions.
  4. Calculate Freight Density: Use the formula provided above to calculate the freight’s density.
  5. Identify Additional Factors: Consider any special handling, stowability, or liability issues that may affect the freight class.
  6. Use a Freight Class Calculator: No need to stress about complicated calculations – a freight class calculator is a handy tool that can help. Many online tools, such as the ones provided by FedEx or Freightquote, can help you estimate your freight class based on the information you provide.

This step-by-step guide outlines how to determine the basic freight class for an LTL shipment but remember, factors like liability, handling and liability requirements, value per pound, and special handling requirements can also influence a shipment’s final freight class. For accurate freight classification, it is always a good idea to involve an expert for freight shipments.

Example Calculation

Let’s say you have a shipment that weighs 575 pounds and measures 48 inches in length, 40 inches in width, and 36 inches in height.

  • Calculate Total Cubic Feet:
  • Calculate Density:
  • Determine Freight Class: Based on the density, refer to a freight class chart to find the corresponding class. For a density of 14.375 lbs/cubic foot, the freight class is likely around 85.

How Freight Class Affects Pricing 

An overlooked aspect of freight shipping is the role freight class plays in determining pricing.

Freight pricing is determined on a per-hundred-weight basis, which means the higher the class, the more it costs to ship. For example, a higher class (ranging from 100 to 500) indicates a lower density and higher price. This price increase mirrors the higher costs associated with transporting lighter, bulkier items that occupy more space on an LTL carrier. Conversely, a lower class signifies higher density, and therefore, costs less to ship.

Calculating the correct freight class helps you avoid unexpected expenses or adjustments. For instance, if a shipment is incorrectly classified as a lower freight class, you might face additional fees later to adjust for the underestimation. 

An important part of freight pricing is also understanding different carrier policies. Carriers often have specific guidelines regarding the calculation of freight classes and might charge additional fees if these guidelines are not followed. For example, if a shipment’s actual density significantly differs from the estimated density, you might have to pay a re-classification fee.

Understanding how to calculate freights accurately ensures all costs involved in shipping are accounted for, eliminating any surprises after shipment is complete.

The Importance of Accurate Freight Class Calculations 

Classifying your freight correctly may seem difficult, but it carries major implications for how your less-than-truckload (LTL) shipment is handled, and how much it costs you.

A misclassified shipment could lead to unwarranted surprises like additional fees or shipping delays. Many LTL carriers perform inspections on their freight. If your shipment doesn’t match the description you have given, a carrier can readjust its class and charge you the difference. Hence, maintaining transparency and providing accurate information on your freight class prevents potential drawbacks in the long run.

Determining the correct freight class also helps to ensure you are charged accurately for your LTL shipping costs. An underestimated class might seem like a cost-saving strategy in the short term, but it could cost you more if the error is caught at the inspection stage. On the other hand, overestimating your freight class could mean that you’re paying more than necessary for your shipping.

Accurately determining your shipment’s freight class guarantees a smooth shipping process, mitigates risk, and ensures cost efficiency. It is a critical step on the path to a successful and reliable shipping journey.

Tips for Accurate Class Calculation 

  • Use Reliable Tools: Utilize online freight class calculators and density calculators to assist in accurate classification.
  • Consult Experts: If in doubt, consult with logistics professionals or third-party logistics providers who can help ensure accurate classification.
  • Stay Updated: Freight class definitions can change, so stay informed about any updates from the NMFTA.

How Mercer Transportation Can Help

As one of the top trucking companies in the nation, Mercer Transportation is fully equipped to assist you with all your shipping needs.

Mastering the complexities of freight class determination can take time and experience. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. 

At Mercer Transportation, we understand how nuances in density, freight composition, and carrier policies can influence your freight’s overall shipping cost. Our team stays current on shipping industry trends and changes to provide you with the most accurate and competitive rates.

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