Keys to Shipping Happiness Part 2: Vital Freight Measurements

May 23, 2018 by Meyer Baron
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One of the main reasons we decided to create this series, Keys to Shipping Happiness, was to help relieve our LTL freight shipping customers of billing adjustments, as much as possible. We’d love to make billing adjustments disappear entirely, but that’s a lot to ask of a six-part blog series. Vital freight measurements earns a spot at the beginning of our series because weight (along with several associated factors) is the #1 reason for billing adjustments among FreightCenter customers.

In a recent blog post about weight, we stressed how important it is to get the weight right when booking a shipment. And while getting the weight right is vital, there are other freight measurements that require attention. All three of these freight measurements matter.

  • Actual weight
  • Dimensional weight
  • Density

Before we give you a quick rundown of each of these freight measurements, we want to assure you that we won’t be turning this into a science project or a trip down the rabbit hole for you. And that’s a concern because when you get right down to it, this freight measurement stuff can get fairly complicated. Consider the following.

5 Things You Couldn’t Be Expected to Know About Freight Measurements

  1. Because freight cannot be stacked on top of a package 47 inches or higher, some carriers automatically increase the height of a 47-inch high package to 96 inches for the purpose of calculating density. Other carriers do not.
  2. Some carriers require the presence of a second person on the pickup and delivery of a shipment that weighs more than a certain amount. Most do not.
  3. Dimensional weight is calculated in different ways by different carriers. Some do not use dimensional weight at all.
  4. Some carriers use only density when calculating shipping costs. Most carriers only use density to calculate the freight class.
  5. Okay, our heads are spinning, too, so we decided to give you a break and leave this list at 4. You’re welcome.

The more you get into freight measurements, the more bedeviling they can become. But our goal is to make your billing adjustments go away as much as possible, not to turn you into a freight-shipping genius.

We’ll start with a quick overview of vital freight measurements; just the basics you really do need to know.

Actual weight

Actual weight is the fully-packaged weight of your shipment, as weighed on a certified shipping scale, such as at a public weighing station. If you ship several times a year and your packages typically weigh less than 5,000 pounds, you should consider purchasing a shipping scale. They are available online in the $500 range.

If buying your own scale is out of the question, you can usually get freight weighed at a local junkyard, a shipping depot or a warehouse. Call them first for permission and to schedule a time when you can use their scale. You can also Google “public scales near me” for additional options.

Getting the actual weight correct before you book your shipment is an absolute necessity.

Dimensional weight

Interesting Dimensional Weight Details You Won’t Need to Remember

Dimensional weight comes into play when the actual weight is low. To calculate dimensional weight, the physical volume of the package (height x length x width in inches) is divided by a factor called the divisor, which is established by the carrier. UPS uses a divisor of 139 for daily rates and 166 for retail rates. Here’s an example of how DIM weight is used.

Let’s say a UPS retail rate package has an actual weight of 29 pounds and is 15 inches long by 20 inches wide by 18 inches high. That makes the volume of the package 5,400 cubic inches. Divide the volume by the retail rate divisor of 139 and you get a DIM weight of 38.84 pounds, which would be rounded up to 39 pounds. So, the billable weight of the package would be 39 pounds, because the dimensional weight is always used when it is greater than actual weight.

Dimensional weight, also called DIM weight, was an invention of the air freight industry. Carriers were losing revenue with low-weight packages that took up a lot of space. Dimensional weight, which bases weight on the volume of the package, solved that problem. A growing number of ground trucking companies have adopted DIM weight for the same reason.

Some freight carriers in FreightCenter’s network use DIM weight. If you are going to consider a carrier that uses DIM weight, you need to make sure you get the actual weight right as well as the correct height, width and length of the package. You don’t have to do any of the math.

If your shipment is crated, measuring the measurements is straightforward. Simply measure the height, length and width. In case of fractions of inches, always round up to the next whole inch.

If your shipment is palletized, measure the width and length of the pallet rather than the item itself, since this will be your shipments maximum length and width. Don’t forget that the item being shipped cannot extend beyond the edges of the pallet. Measure a straight line from the cargo’s highest point above the pallet going straight down through the pallet to the floor. That’s your height.

If you measure accurately, you’ll be in good shape. As with measuring a crate, always round up to the next whole inch for each of your measurements.


Density is our third and final vital freight measurement.

Density has always been important in freight shipping because dense cargo doesn’t waste space. That’s why the denser a commodity, the lower the freight class and the lower the cost to ship. That may sound a little goofy, but the next post in this series will be dedicated entirely to freight class, so we’ll get into it in more detail there.

Density is calculated to determine freight class when the cargo does not have a predetermined freight class as well as by density-based carriers to calculate the shipping cost.

For the purposes of our discussion here, you only need to know what we’ve already discussed in the first two sections:

  • How to determine the actual weight of the packaged cargo
  • How to measure the length, width and height of the crated or palletized freight

Once you have the actual weight and correct measurements in hand, just use our online calculator to determine both the density and the freight class of your shipment. This is the easiest thing, ever. Just enter the length, width, height and weight in the spaces indicated and the calculating is automatically done for you.

What to Do with this Information

Now that you’ve got your actual weight, package measurements, density and freight class, how does this information help you select the carrier with the best rate and service for you without having to worry about a billing adjustment down the road?

For the answer to that question we went to a senior member of our elite team of on-site shipping experts and put it to him. His response?

“Tell them to do what the shipping managers do. Call us.”

Our shipping experts need the information you’ve gathered, and since they can’t see or touch your cargo, they must rely on you for accurate freight measurements. Once they have those measurements, they can help you work through the multiple quotes you received when you ran your instant rate quote. They will be able to tell you things like:

  • “That quote sounds good, but you’ll need to pay for two people on the truck”
  • “The height of your package is going to push up the price on Carrier A, but not Carrier B”
  • “Based on the measurements of your cargo, we can probably get you a better deal through a density-based carrier instead of one that will use the freight class”

That’s a small sampling of ways our shipping experts (National Account Managers) can help you once you provide them with accurate freight measurements. There is no charge for their expert service.

Keeping It Simple While Avoiding Measurement-Based Billing Adjustments

If you do all of the following, you will simplify freight shipping as much as possible and significantly reduce the risks of receiving a dimension-based (usually noted as weight) billing adjustment.

  1. Density matters. Package your cargo as densely as possible so that it takes up as little room as necessary. The smaller the package, the better.
  2. Once your freight has been properly packaged, get the actual weight using a certified scale. If there is more than one package, weigh them each individually.
  3. Measure the length, width, height and weight of your cargo, remembering to always round up each measurement to the next highest number. If there is more than one package, measure them each individually.
  4. Use our freight class density calculator to determine the density and freight class of each package in your shipment.
  5. Use our instant freight quote tool to generate quotes from competing carriers. Choose the carrier that looks most attractive to you. This saves the quote to your account and makes it easier for our National Account Manager to help you. It does not commit you to using that carrier.
  6. Review your shipment with your National Account Manager over the phone. If you have saved your quote, a shipping expert will call you. Providing them with accurate freight measurements will allow them to help you get an accurate quote from the carrier that will give you the best combination of cost and service for this shipment.

Have cargo that’s ready to be shipped and accurate freight measurements at hand? Get started with our instant freight quote tool.

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