All About LTL Freight Classes
There are several variables that Less-Than-Truckload freight carriers use to determine how much to charge you. One of these is “Freight Class.” Freight class is a categorization assigned to the product or commodity being shipped. Every product is assigned to one item number (which describes the product), for which there is a corresponding freight classification.
These item numbers and the freight classes are determined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association, an organization comprises of LTL motor carriers. There are 17 freight classes, ranging from class 50 to class 500. The committee considers many factors when assigning a freight class. The primary factors include:
- Handling characteristics
Generally the higher the freight class the more expensive it is to ship. In the early days of the freight class system Class 50 rates would be 50% of the Class 100 rate, while Class 250 would be 250% of the Class 100 rate. This simple formula was abandoned long ago, but can be used as a general guideline.
For some products, such as data processing equipment (e.g. computers), the freight class is dependent upon the value the shipper declares on the Bill-Of Lading. For example if you declare a value of $.10 per pound the product moves at a much lower freight class than if you declare $20.00 per pound. Thus you can save money by declaring a lower value whenever possible. But beware, in the event of loss or damage you aren’t going to get anything greater than the amount you declare.
Similarly, the freight class applicable is often dependent upon how the product is packaged. For example machinery can be as low as class 85 if crated, or as high as class 250 if not crated.
There are also some very obscure factors that can be variables for determining freight class. For example, chemicals and compounds can be all over the board in terms of freight classes.
A very common factor in determining freight class is density. An excellent example is plastic articles. The freight class is dependent almost completely upon the density (weight relative to the size of the item), and can range from class 65 to class 400.
Figuring out the Proper Freight Class
Unless you ship many different items, you probably don’t need to spend the approximate $200 dollars it costs to get a NMFC guide. Instead, your carrier will help you determine appropriate item number, and the corresponding freight class. Here is the information you will need to provide them with a detailed description of the product, including these characteristics:
- What it is used for
- Of what it is constructed of or comprised of (e.g. wood or metal)
- How it is package
- What type of packaging (e.g. cardboard box)
- How many and/or how configured in a box (e.g. 4 cups nested together)
- If they are assembled or disassembled.
- The dimension of the shipping container or skid (width, length and height)
How to Keep Your Class Down
There are some things you can do to make sure you are shipping your product at the lowest possible freight class. These include:
- Maximize density…the smaller the carton or pallet, the better
- Ship things disassembled whenever possible
- Ship items in cartons or crates, instead of just shrink-wrapped
- Declare a low value if the freight class is dependent upon value
Just because you mark an item as Class 70 on your Bill of Lading, doesn’t make it Class 70. The carrier has the right to research and change the freight class to the class it determines is applicable (worse yet, they charge you for this). You can challenge it, but the burden falls back to you to prove the appropriate freight class. And unfortunately to avoid collections you may have to pay the higher charge and then file an overcharge claim. If the carrier approves your claim you will receive a check for the difference. If you didn’t prove it to their satisfaction you will get a letter telling you so. From there you will have seek a refund through the legal system. This is very expensive.
We strongly suggest you find out what your freight class is in advance. Get the official NMFC description, item number and freight class. Mark all of these down on the bill of lading, so it is evident to the carrier that you have done your homework.
Here are the 17 freight classes used in the NMFC:
50, 55, 60, 65, 77.5, 85, 92.5 100, 110, 125, 150, 175, 200, 250, 300, 400, 500
- Example of class 50 items: Bricks, sand, steel bars (not processed)
- Example of class 500: Gold Dust with a declared value exceeding $50.00 per pound.