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A bungled freight class can skew the price on your invoice, even for the most experienced in the business. A better understanding of freight class and getting freight class right means you can save money and time.

What Is Freight Class?

Freight class is a classification system created by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) to standardize the classification of freight. Shipping commodities are rated and grouped into 18 freight classes between 50 and 500. This rating system ensures established, transparent parameters for how carriers charge their shipping rates and allows for shippers to compare shipping costs.

Thousands of commodities are assigned freight classes based on the following four factors:

  1. Density: Weight per cubic foot.
  2. Stowability: The placement and space required.
  3. Handling: The amount of care needed to transport the item safely.
  4. Liability: The shipment’s value and the cost to replace in the event of theft, damage, breakage or spoilage.

What If You Don’t Know Your Shipment’s Freight Class?

FreightCenter provides a freight class lookup tool that includes many frequently shipped items so you can look up the freight class of your cargo. While it cannot provide a complete list, it provides freight class information for some of the most frequently shipped items so that you get an idea of what a shipment’s freight class will be. While this is a tool, it should only be used as a guide and we encourage you to confirm your class with one of our shipping experts before finalizing to avoid misclassification.

To obtain an accurate freight class, contact a shipping agent who has the ability and the resources to look up specific freight class and sub-class details for every type of commodity.  Again, an experienced shipping agent or 3PL should be your final check on freight class before booking your shipment.

There are some items that are not classified by an NMFC number at all. When this happens, these items fall into a general category referred to as NOI, Not Otherwise Indicated. When NOI is noted, freight class is determined by density.

Freight Class Density Calculator

Fortunately, FreightCenter’s freight class density calculator makes it very easy for shippers to determine the suggested freight class by cargo density. It uses your shipment’s length, width, height and weight to determine its density.

There are occasions when multiple items with different freight classes are packaged together. Some carriers use the highest freight class of all items in the shipment, while others determine freight class by density. There is no way for you to know which carrier uses which method. That’s when you can count on your shipping agent or 3PL to help you get the freight class right.

Even with all this help, incorrect freight class is one of the top reasons for billing adjustments among shippers due to incorrect information being input into the tool. By examining three recent billing adjustments for freight class, we can point out what went wrong and how you can prevent making the same mistakes.

Examples of What Can Go Wrong

You’ll also see how a little mistake here or there can cause a big problem. We will walk through some real world billing adjustments.

Keep in mind that the carrier will always measure and weigh all packages with sophisticated equipment and technology that makes them exact. They do not rely on what is provided by the shipper. And when it comes to billing, the carrier is the “source” and the shipper will be charged according to what the carrier shows as the correct, accurate weight and measurements. 

The images used in these examples are screen grabs of our freight class density calculator, using the measurements provided by the shippers and carriers. The density number shown is a measure of pounds per cubic foot.

1. Estimating Package Dimensions

Our first example demonstrates how estimating the dimensions of the packaged freight is always a mistake.

Here we see the density and recommended freight class generated by the density calculator using the dimensions provided by the shipper.

In the billing adjustment, the carrier reported that the actual dimensions were somewhat different.

Notice that the weight used for both calculations was the same: 525 pounds. The only differences were a few inches in the length, width and height of the package. But, because those seemingly minor differences reduced the density of the freight, they also raised the freight class.

The billing adjustment in this case was $66.61 more than a third of the original shipping bill.

2. Guessing the Weight

Some people figure if they can’t get the actual weight of their freight, they can just guess high on it and that will have them covered. That might be true for shipping parcels, but it doesn’t work with freight. With freight shipping, when you guess high on weight, that means you’re guessing high on the density as well, which artificially lowers the freight class.

One option is to consider investing in a freight scale. The cost of investing in a scale that gives you the most accurate weight for your freight will help you avoid more billing adjustments and save you more money the more you ship.

It’s important to keep in mind that the carrier will always measure and weigh shipments using their sophisticated tools. That means that when the actual weight, density, and freight class are reported by the carrier you could get  hit with a billing adjustment. Head spinning yet?

Here’s an example of how guessing the weight can cost you money, starting with the measurements provided by the shipper.

When we correct the length, width and height to the actual measurements as provided by the carrier, we see a decrease in density and a bump in freight class from 125 to 175.

But when we take the next step and correct the weight by subtracting 125 pounds, the freight class jumps all the way to 250.

The difference in freight class from 125 to 250 is substantial. The billing adjustment for these corrections cost the shipper $151.03 on top of the original shipping fee of $406.08. It’s a good idea to invest in an industrial size freight scale.

3. Relying on “Standard” Pallet Dimensions

Letting you in on a little secret – not all pallets are “standard” size. For example, on the FreightCenter LTL quote form, Section 4 is for “Items to be Shipped.” There is a drop-down for the type of packaging that you used for your shipment, and the first three listings in that dropdown are for “Standard” pallet sizes. Those three options can be helpful in creating a guesstimate of shipping costs, but a shipper should always confirm whether or not their pallets are “standard” size. As a rule of thumb, the most common sized pallets are:

  • 48”x40”
  • 48”x48”
  • 42”x42”

Pallets should always be measured, and any measurement that includes a fraction of an inch should be rounded up to the next whole inch. After measuring and you determined that your pallet is not a standard size, in our example, the fourth item on the packaging dropdown should be selected—Pallets (enter dimensions)—and the accurate measurements should be entered in the total dimensions area.

In this example, a customer shipping a sophisticated piece of industrial equipment thought his pallet was a standard pallet.

Here’s how the item was shipped, based on the shipper’s input.

In the billing adjustment, the carrier reported that the measurements were quite different.

In this unfortunate case, the billing adjustment exceeded the original shipping cost based on the shipper’s input. We suggest triple checking the measurements of your palletized shipment and as we can see here, don’t just assume you have a standard pallet or don’t guess the size of your pallet as this can be a costly mistake.

You Can’t Beat the Carrier’s Technology

You’ve probably picked up on a theme here. Being inaccurate in your measurements or guessing the weight can be an expensive mistake. In all three of these examples, the billing adjustment was due to the shipper not providing accurate measurements and/or weight. Making your best guess isn’t good enough.

Today’s carriers employ technology that makes them exact on all their figures. Forklifts have built-in digital scales, and every piece of cargo is weighed. As for the width, length and height of your cargo, carriers use industry-specific measuring devices that incorporate lasers and computers to report your cargo’s accurate measurements in an instant. There is no way to get around the carrier’s technology. You must be accurate.

5 Tips to Make Sure You Get Freight Class Right

Let’s recap, by following these tips, you can reduce billing adjustments for freight class.

  1. Check with your shipping expert or 3PL to see if there is an assigned freight class for the commodity you’re shipping. If there is, you don’t need to calculate the density, otherwise, density should be used to determine freight class.
  2. Don’t guess! When getting a shipping quote, provide accurate length, width, height and weight measurements for your cargo.
  3. When measuring dimensions, always round up to the next whole inch.
  4. Have your cargo weighed properly. If you don’t own a freight scale, find a certified scale near you. You can Google “public scale near me”.
  5. As a last step, double-check the freight class with your shipping agent.

As you can see, determining freight class can be complicated and challenging. That’s why working with a 3PL like FreightCenter simplifies it and helps you reduce billing adjustments. Work with a dedicated shipping agent to help you accurately identify your shipment’s freight class. Expert shipping agents can also help you find the best rates, alternative solutions, and warehousing options.

Have freight to ship? Get your free online freight quote or give us a call at 844-212-7447 to speak with a shipping expert.

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