4 Factors That Determine Your LTL Freight Class

Written by Paul Forand

Box Carried by Tow MotorAll commodities (products) are assigned a specific commodity classification code number (National Motor Freight Classification® (NMFC®)) that has a corresponding LTL freight class associated with it under the NMFC system, which is developed and maintained by the Commodity Classification Standards Board (CCSB) and is published by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA®). The CCSB is an autonomous board comprised of no fewer than three but not more than seven full-time NMFTA employees and the CCSB meets anywhere between three to five times per year with the public made aware of the meetings in advance. The NMFC is made up of 18 different LTL freight classes ranging anywhere from class 50 – 500 and the LTL freight class of each specific commodity classification code is determined based on four characteristics: density, handling, stowability and liability (of the commodity).


Some LTL freight can be moved through the carrier networks easily without too much susceptibility to damages, while other LTL freight shipments require more handling and care if they are to be delivered damage-free. All freight is not handled equally and there are 18 different LTL freight classes to help carriers account for all the degrees of difficulty of handling shipments in their costing models.

LTL freight is commonly transported in dry vans and trailers where the shipments are loaded at the back of the trailer through either a roll-up or swinging set of doors, and the difference between the two types of doors alone can make a big impact on how easily the freight can be handled while loading and unloading the trailers.

Other handling issues are also taken into consideration, such as the type of delivery for which the commodity usually requires. For example, a certain commodity may be more prone to certain types of delivery destinations that often require special equipment, such as lift gates and hand trucks. Delivering a shipment to an industrial park where someone is waiting to offload the freight with a forklift is much easier and less time consuming than making a residential delivery where turning a truck around in a narrow, residential neighborhood isn’t all that easy. Neighborhoods weren’t necessarily built to accommodate LTL freight-sized trucks. On top of that, special equipment is often needed by the carrier to offload the freight at a residential destination, like a lift-gate and a hand truck, which takes not only additional time and labor to operate but also more space on the truck along with the freight itself. 


In order to maximize utilization of their equipment, LTL freight carriers need freight that fits nice and neatly into their trailers. A commodity’s stowability is the ease in which it can be stowed inside the trailer while taking up the least amount of space possible without affecting other freight and/or shipments alongside it, and the ease of which it can be safely stowed and transported affects a commodity’s LTL freight classification assignment.

Overlength shipments, cargo hanging off the side(s) of pallets and oddly shaped freight prove difficult to load and handle, and often don’t stack nice and neatly (cube) inside trailers. Not only can overlength freight be difficult to load and handle, but it can also inflict damage to other shipments while moving through the network as it's jarred against other freight riding in the back of the trailers alongside it.


Some commodities of high value may be more susceptible to theft than other, lower-valued commodities, and hazardous materials and chemicals are more prone to be involved with lethal accidents, such as gunpowder and explosives. Freight carriers’ insurance premiums are affected by what they regularly haul and handle, and the LTL freight class of the shipments they’re handling can be somewhat of an indicator of the risks and costs involved with handling certain types of shipments and freight.


The density of an item can be found by dividing an object's mass by its volume. All else being equal, the lower the freight class the lower the freight rate. It’s important to note that while LTL freight class plays a vital role in determining the price of the freight charges, LTL shipping class is not the only factor that determines the price of the freight. Carriers take numerous variables into account when costing freight and LTL freight class is just one of the vital pieces of information factored into the costing equation. Shippers obtain rates based on LTL freight class as well as numerous other factors such as weight, geographical considerations (ZIP codes), equipment and resource availability, timing, etc. Knowing what determines freight class and writing the proper LTL freight class on a bill of lading (BOL) isn’t all that’s required of shippers. According to the NMFC guidelines, shippers participating in the NMFC are required to have the correct NMFC number written on the BOL. If the commodity code (NMFC number) isn’t known for an item, shippers should contact the NMFC or someone with access to the NMFC for help with determining the applicable NMFC number that should be utilized along with the proper LTL freight class.