Generating accurate LTL freight quotes

Understanding LTL Freight Class & NMFC Codes

Pallet with boxes of fragile products

What You Need to Generate an LTL Shipping Quote


Although shipping your commodity of fewer than six pallets using an LTL (Less-Than-Truckload) carrier is far less expensive than using a FTL (Full Truckload) carrier (where you purchase all of the space on a trailer for your shipment) or a Partial Truckload or Volume LTL carrier (see An Introduction to LTL Shipping), it does require you to familiarize yourself with the Freight Class system that is used so as to accurately determine your shipping costs. Once you know your Freight Class, weight, and dimensions, you can use FreightSideKick’s resources to generate accurate quotes for your shipments.


Freight Class: The Basics


LTL commodities are broken up into different Freight Classes so that the carrier understands the commodity’s size, weight, relative durability, ease of packing, and the degree to which it may be subject to theft.


LTL Freight Class is a commonly used rating system that is used across the freight industry in order to standardize the pricing of LTL shipments. This rating system is maintained by The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), which defines Freight Classes and publishes them through the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) system, which assigns NMFC codes to different commodities. 


Freight Classes range from Class 50 to Class 500, and there are eighteen of them. All LTL shipments are assigned one of these eighteen classifications. A base Freight Class is generally first determined from the product's dimensions, then the NMFC table is used to accurately fine tune the Freight Class and identify the NMFC number that best describes the product by looking at the specific materials, dimensions, or density.


Freight Class primarily takes density into account, which is a function of weight, length, width, and height, whereas NMFC codes get more granular concerning a the product’s material and account for many factors that influence the shipping process.


Why the NMFTA Uses the Freight Class System for LTL Shipping


Because an LTL shipment shares a trailer with other shipments, the need to repack the trailer as new shipments are added necessitates the need to load and unload the product repeatedly over the course of its travels from origin to the destination. Therefore, the relative ease with which the product can be loaded and unloaded matters greatly to the LTL carrier. A product that is durable, easy to load and unload, and stacks well with other shipments requires less work and liabilility than a product that is fragile, difficult to maneuver, can't be stacked, or has a greater risk of theft. 


These factors are unique to LTL shipping because if a customer uses a FTL carrier to purchase space in an entire trailer, then the shipment will only be loaded at the point of pickup and then unloaded at the point of delivery. The freight does not share trailer space with other shipments, making the ease with which it may be loaded or unloaded less of a consideration. 


Because the ease with which a product can be handled is central to how much work an LTL carrier must invest into moving it, LTL carriers frequently verify the weight and size of a shipment so that they earn a fair rate for transporting it safely. This means that you must be able to determine your commodity’s Freight Class accurately in order to generate an accurate quote; you can be sure that even if you get your Freight Class wrong, the LTL carrier will not.  


How Freight Class Impacts Shipping Costs


High density items (like steel bars) have a low Freight Class (Class 50) while low density items (like ping pong balls) have a high Freight Class (Class 500).


The lower the Freight Class of your commodity, the less expensive it is to ship: Class 50 freight is the least expensive to ship and Class 500 is the most expensive to ship. 


How NMFC Codes Relate to Freight Class


Each commodity has both a Freight Class and also a NMFC code. A commodity’s Freight Class indicates the category of items while NMFC codes relate to specific commodities within each of the eighteen (18) freight classes.


For example:

  • Bricks: NFMC code = 32100.2, Freight Class = 50
  • Steel Pipes: NMFC code = 51200, Freight Class = 50


Both of the commodities above have a Freight Class of 50, but they have different NMFC codes.


Determining NMFC Classification


The following attributes contribute to a commodity’s NMFC code classification: weight, length, width, height, commodity type, density of the freight, ease of handling, value and liability, and packaging. These can be summarized into the following four categories:


1. Density


You can use our Density Calculator to determine your shipment's density, which refers to its weight per cubic foot of each piece. Commodities with a high density generally are classified with a low Freight Class, whereas those with a low density are more difficult to ship because they are more bulky than high density items and, therefore, are classified with a higher Freight Class.


2. Handling


Handling relates to any special considerations when moving a commodity.


Fragile or hazardous items may require special accommodations, which means they will fall into a higher freight class and cost more money to ship.


Size, weight, and shape can also affect the ease with which a commodity can be handled, thereby increasing the expense to ship it.


3. Stowability


Stowability refers to how easily a commodity can be loaded and transported with other commodities. A commodity that can be easily stacked with other commodities is considered very stowable and will have a lower Freight Class than a commodity that is not stackable with other shipments.


Additionally, if a commodity is flammable, hazardous, oddly shaped, perishable, or too heavy, it will have a high Freight Class because it will be deemed difficult to ship in tandem with other items.


If an item is difficult to stow with other items, it will have a high Freight Class and be more expensive to ship.


4. Risk


Some manufactured items are very valuable or made of rare or valuable materials that might subject the commodity to a greater risk for damage or theft. These qualities increase the liability associated with safely shipping the commodity and result in a higher Freight Class that is expensive to ship, when compared to products that accrue less liability.


Determining the NMFC Code for Your LTL Shipment


Using our Density Calculator, estimate your commodity’s Freight Class.

Once you have estimated your Freight Class, you should look for your NMFC number. Search the table by entering words that describe your commodity (steel, acid, chemicals, produce, clay, etc.), the way your commodity may be packed (rolls, sheets, in bulk packages, on skids, etc.), or its density (has a density per cubic foot of 15 pounds or greater, etc.). If the NMFC Table produces a Freight Class greater than your Density Freight Class, use the higher value when proceeding with your rate estimate and placing your order.