Man and woman unloading boxed LTL freight from a van

 What freight classes are, and how less than truckload carriers use them.


Freight classes are a numeric system used by LTL (less than truckload) carriers to categorize a piece of cargo. It is based on the density, stow-ability, handling requirements, and liability of the LTL freight. Or its “transportability”. The class is printed on the bill of lading. This tells the carrier the level of care required to handle the cargo.

  • Density – Density is the space a piece of freight takes up in relation to its weight. Generally speaking, the higher the density, the less fragile a piece of freight is. Because of this, dense freight is preferable and typically has a lower freight class.
  • Stowability – Stowability is how well a piece of freight can be shipped with other freight on a trailer. Factors that play into stowability can include shape of the freight, hazardous material, and stackability, among other features. For example, a long pole is low in stowability because it takes up a large amount of space and nothing can be stacked on top of it.
  • Handling requirements – Handling requirements are the level of difficulty and method required to handle a piece of freight. Freight that requires extra care and attention while loading or unloading is going to cost the carrier valuable time. As we know, time is money, therefore carriers factor this into their freight classes.
  • Liability – Liability is how valuable and prone to damage a piece of freight is. Think of this as fragility. A pallet of bricks is much less likely to be damaged or stolen than a pallet full of expensive laptops. Carriers take this into consideration when determining freight class because the freight is riskier.

How many freight classes are there?

There are 18 freight classes; class 50 through class 500. Generally, as classes get higher, they become less “transportable” and more expensive to ship. This is because the LTL freight carrier must take more time and effort to handle the cargo properly.

Freight classes do NOT apply to dedicated full truckload shipments

When a dedicated truck is loaded, the freight will most likely not be unloaded or touched until the time of delivery. Because of this, the risk of damage to the freight is drastically reduced. Also, no time has to be spent unloading and reloading the freight at multiple terminals as the freight makes its journey. Lastly, a dedicated truck means that there should be nothing else on the truck that would affect how the freight can be loaded. Whether it is hazardous or oddly shaped freight, it will not make a difference. 

How do I determine my class? 

There are free tools available online to estimate your freight class. However, know these only offer estimates. It is a good idea to reach out to us with the specifics of your cargo so we can confirm what class it should be. This will help you avoid costly fees that the freight carrier will apply if the class is wrong. There are many variables that can affect your class. The more we know about what you are shipping, the more accurately we will be able to determine your class.

*Misclassified freight can be a very costly mistake! Carriers often reweigh, measure, and inspect freight to catch misclassed cargo. They will update their rate to match the new class and will charge you the new (and usually higher) cost. Most carriers will charge it once it has delivered, so you do not have much of a choice once the bill comes. Do not make the costly mistake of miscalculated LTL freight class!

What is an NMFC code?

An NMFC code is a standardized code used in the transportation world to classify different types of goods. These codes are the same for every LTL carrier so they can all work with consistent classification and pricing. NMFC codes are determined by the characteristics of the goods being shipped. Much like LTL classes, these factors include density, sturdiness, and handling requirements. There can be dozens of sub-categories for each NMFC code as well. This can depend on density, packaging type, or even dollar value per pound. NMFC codes are not readily available to the general public. To determine yours, you will have to reach out to your trusted LTL expert.

NMFC codes are just as important as freight classes.

They make it simple for carriers to determine what is on a pallet without having to break into it and look for themselves. This allows carriers to determine how freight should be loaded, handled and stored. For example, carriers know that an NMFC code relating to certain hazardous materials should not be put on a trailer with food. Making sure you have the correct code will help you avoid costly fees and damaged freight. Much like LTL freight classes, carriers will update NMFC codes if they see what they were given is not accurate. Both of these can lead to frustration, lost money, and wasted time. That is why it is best to speak with a trusted expert.

What if my cargo is unique or extra fragile?

There are exceptions and unique situations that can arise which will affect the LTL class. For example, very special commodities may have their own class. To be sure, it is best to reach out to the professionals at New Light who will gladly help you out.

Are there ways to reduce my class and save money?

There are a few good practices you can follow to make the most out of your LTL freight class:

1) Optimize your packaging . Find ways to reduce overall dimensions and weight by eliminating unused space, fitting more onto each pallet, or using different packing materials.

2) Consolidating shipments is a good way to reduce, and sometimes eliminate, freight classes. Waiting to ship more product at once can allow you to use volume and truckload options which are not affected by class.

3) By working with brokers who have pre-negotiated rates you can get access to more favorable classing. Some carriers have agreements with brokers that will drop classes to a lower level and save you money.

4) By ensuring all of your paperwork has the correct freight class and NMFC code, you can avoid expensive reclassification charges. When you work with an experienced provider, they will help to make sure that you always have the correct information.