The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) introduced the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC)® system, a coding mechanism for all LTL (less than truckload) shipments involved in interstate, intrastate, and foreign commerce. This system provides standardized freight classifications for a myriad of commodities shipped together in LTL shipments each year. These codes are integral to creating a level playing field for shippers and carriers when negotiating freight rates.
Eighteen different NMFC® classifications exist for LTL freight, spanning from the most economical, class 50, to the most expensive, class 500. Items that are dense, robust, and possess minimal liability are given a lower classification, whereas items that are fragile, irregularly shaped, or vulnerable to damage, loss, or theft are given a higher classification. Typically, the denser the item, the lower its freight class code. These codes are typically expressed as 5-digit numbers, with each NMFC® code and subclass corresponding to a specific commodity based on its attributes, dimensions, packaging, assembly status, and materials.
Decoding Freight Class 50
Freight class 50 is assigned to the densest and most easily transported freight. In order to be classified as code 50, a shipment must weigh over 50 lbs per cubic foot, exhibit high durability, be easily handled, and be capable of being shrink-wrapped and stored on a standard 4x4 pallet. Items such as steel rods, nuts, bolts, or dense bagged materials like flour or concrete typically fall under freight class 50. Consumer products are rarely, if ever, classified as freight class 50.
For shippers and carriers, freight class 50 is the most cost-effective, making it highly desirable. However, shippers must be cautious not to misclassify their shipment as freight class 50 to gain a lower rate. Shipping companies often scrutinize shipments declared as class 50 and impose additional charges if a misdeclaration is found, thereby offsetting any potential cost savings from under-declaration.
How Can You Determine the Correct Freight Class for Your Shipment?
Accurate freight classification can be a complex process and demands meticulous attention. A product's specific characteristics can cause its freight class code to span a wide range of classes and subclasses. For example, the NMFC® code for chairs/stools (82790) can range anywhere from class 60-400, depending on the product's specific details and the subclass it qualifies for.
To ensure accurate classification and evade reclassification fees, it is crucial to establish the precise NMFC® code and subclass that aligns with one of the eighteen freight classes. However, not every item has a corresponding NMFC® code and subclass listed. In such instances, the item's calculated density is employed to determine its freight class.
While calculating your freight's density, unless you're dealing with an extremely dense industrial commodity, it's unlikely that your LTL freight will reach the over 50 lbs per cubic foot density required for freight class 50. Thus, it's vital to have a thorough understanding of your shipment's density, handling requirements, stowability, and liability to accurately determine the correct freight class and avert any unnecessary charges from your carrier.