What is Freight Class: A Guide for LTL Shippers

Shipping goods is a complex dance of logistics, regulations and classifications. In transportation, "freight class" is a key concept, covering how goods are categorized, priced, and handled. This includes less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments, which don’t require use of an entire trailer. Whether you're a shipper, carrier, broker or warehouse manager, or simply curious about the inner workings of the shipping industry, this guide will help you gain a comprehensive understanding of freight class and its role in LTL shipping.


What is Freight Class?


At its core, freight class is a standardized classification system of categorizing cargo (often referred to broadly as “commodities” in the transportation industry) for shipping purposes. This system is used extensively in LTL freight shipping. This system serves as a common language for shippers, carriers, brokers, warehouses and other stakeholders. It categorizes all types of commodities into one of eighteen distinct classes, which are then used to determine shipping rates, fees and handling procedures.

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The Determinants of Freight Class


The assignment of freight class is based on several factors that collectively define the nature of the cargo, including:


1. Density: This refers to the relationship between the weight of a shipment and the space it occupies. Commodities with higher density tend to have lower freight class values, as carriers can maximize trailer capacity when handling them. On the other hand, lower density commodities result in higher freight classes. It's worth noting that certain commodities, such as metal nuts and bolts (Class 50) or gold flakes (Class 500), are pre-assigned classes based on specific characteristics rather than density.


2. Liability: This relates to potential risks associated with a particular commodity during transit. Items that are more likely to be damaged or stolen, or pose a risk to other cargo, receive higher liability ratings. This, in turn, translates to higher freight class values, impacting shipping costs.


3. Stowage: This signifies how easily a commodity can be accommodated within a trailer alongside other items. Shipments that require specialized handling or cannot be loaded alongside certain goods receive higher freight classes. Stowage is crucial for efficient utilization of trailer space.


4. Maneuverability: This factor considers how easily a commodity can be loaded and unloaded in the transit process. Dimensions, fragility and packaging intricacies can all affect maneuverability. Freight that demands careful handling due to its nature or dimensions receives a higher freight class, which affects shipping costs.


The Significance of Freight Class


There are two key reasons why understanding freight class is important for all parties involved in the shipping process:


1. Standardization: Freight class provides a standardized framework for categorizing diverse commodities. It is a common language facilitating effective communication and collaboration among shippers, carriers, brokers and warehouses. It streamlines the entire logistics chain, from quoting prices to handling procedures.


2. Pricing: The National Motor Freight Classification system, which governs freight class, ensures fairness in determining the cost per pound of transporting goods that share cargo space. This mechanism fosters transparency in the pricing structure.


Key Features of LTL Shipping


To fully grasp the context of freight class, it's important to understand some of the key features of LTL shipping:


  • Cost-effectiveness: LTL shipping offers cost savings for shippers with smaller loads. Shippers only pay for the space their goods occupy within the trailer, making it an economical option for smaller shipments.


  • Consolidation: LTL carriers consolidate freight from multiple shippers into a single trailer. This maximizes trailer capacity and reduces the overall environmental impact of transportation.


  • Multi-stop Deliveries: LTL carriers often make multiple stops to deliver different shipments within the same trailer. This efficient approach reduces the need for multiple full truckload shipments.


  • Flexibility: LTL shipping is flexible and adaptable to various commodity sizes. Shippers can take advantage of LTL services for deliveries that are too large for parcel carriers but not large enough to warrant a full truckload.


  • Handling and Transit Times: LTL shipments may go through multiple terminals and hubs before reaching their final destination. As a result, they undergo multiple loading and unloading cycles. This makes it extremely important to have accurate freight classification.


Packaging, Rules and Documentation


Freight class is just one piece of the puzzle. The nonprofit National Motor Freight Traffic Association oversees the freight classification system and also establishes rules and guidelines for packaging and documentation. These factors play an important role in ensuring the safety, efficiency and transparency of the shipping process. The National Motor Freight Classification (mentioned earlier) specifies packaging requirements to protect goods during transit, establishes protocols for filing damage claims, and outlines guidelines for a uniform straight bill of lading.


Navigating the Process: Five Steps in LTL Shipping


Preparing for an LTL shipment involves several key steps:


1. Determining Freight Class: Accurately determine the freight class of your shipment based on its density, stow-ability, ease of handling, and liability.


2. Gathering Necessary Documents: Collect all required shipping documents including, especially, the bill of lading. The bill of lading acts as a contract between the shipper and the carrier, outlining the terms of the shipment.


3. Effective Packaging: Properly package your goods to ensure safe handling and protection during transit. Sturdy packaging minimizes the risk of damage and contributes to efficient stow-ability.


4. Clear Labeling: Use appropriate labels for all products, ensuring they are complete, legible and compliant with regulations. Labels provide crucial information for handling and routing.


5. Strategic Pickup Planning: Schedule pickups when your shipment and documentation are ready. LTL carriers operate on tight schedules, so timely preparation is essential to avoid delays.


Expert Tips for Navigating Freight Class


As you prepare for your next LTL shipment, you should keep these freight class insights in mind:


  • Specific Class Assignments: Understand that not all commodities are classified based solely on density. Certain items have predefined classes due to their unique characteristics.


  • Accurate Freight Description: Provide an accurate and detailed description of your freight to prevent reclassification. This will help avoid additional fees and delays.


  • Truthful Freight Class Declaration: Always truthfully declare the freight class. Deliberate misclassification may lead to unintended financial consequences and shipping delays.


  • Carrier Relationships: Familiarize yourself with the protocols and guidelines of the carrier you choose. Building a strong relationship with your carrier contributes to a smoother shipping experience.


Traversing the Shipping Maze


Efficient transportation depends on a having solid grasp of freight class and its role in LTL shipping. By understanding how freight class is determined and how it influences pricing, handling, and documentation, shippers can confidently navigate the intricate process of transporting goods. Whether you're a seasoned industry professional or a newcomer to the world of logistics, knowing about freight class can empower you to make informed decisions, optimize shipping costs and ensure the safe and timely delivery of goods.

If you are unsure of your freight class and want to determine it, XPO can help with our density and class calculator. If you are ready to ship, you can start a quote online. You can also email us, contact us, or call us at (800)-755-2728. Finally, if you are looking to establish a line of credit and create an account, use the service center locator to find a salesperson to assist you. Happy shipping!