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LTL Freight Class vs. NMFC Codes: What's the Difference?

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While Less Than Truckload (LTL) and full truckload freight shipping have several similarities, there are a few key differences, including how shipments are quoted.  

To better calculate accurate LTL shipping costs, LTL commodities are broken up into several categories, known as freight class.

In this article, you'll learn the basics of freight class and NMFC codes so you can better understand the role they play in LTL shipping.

This knowledge is critical to getting an accurate LTL freight quote when shipping different commodities.


What Is an LTL Freight Class?

Freight class is an industry-wide numeric classification system used to categorize commodities transported through LTL shipping.

The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) defines the freight classes and makes them available through the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC).

There are 18 different freight classes, ranging from Class 50 to Class 500, and every single item that ships LTL falls into one of these categories.

There are 18 different freight classes, ranging from Class 50 to Class 500, and they help categorize different commodities in LTL shipping.


Why Freight Class Is Important in LTL Shipping

When shipping LTL, all commodities are not created equal.

Different products will have different freight classes, and your shipment’s freight class will have a significant impact on your rate.

In short, to get an accurate LTL quote, you need an accurate freight class.

Since the LTL carrier will load and unload your product multiple times, and multiple shippers’ freight will ride in the same trailer with yours, each pallet’s specifics — weight, dimensions, packaging, fragility, and whether it’s stackable — all matter.

These factors determine how efficient your shipment is to move, how much effort it will take the carrier, and therefore, how much your shipment will cost. 

Pro Tip: Don't ever guess your freight class — it may cost you (literally)

LTL carriers will often re-weigh freight, and you are charged based on the space your product takes up on a trailer.

If you get the freight class wrong, you will end up paying more (or less) than you are anticipating.

But Why No Freight Class in Full Truckload?

Commodity is, generally, much less important in full truckload.

Why? Your freight is not offloaded in-transit, does not share trailer space with any other shipper’s product, and involves only one driver and piece of equipment, regardless of the space your product occupies.


How Freight Class Impacts Shipping Costs

High density items (i.e. steel bars) will have a low freight class (e.g. 50) while low density items (i.e. ping pong balls) will have a high freight class (e.g. 500).

The lower the freight class, the lower the rate — 50 is the least expensive.

The higher the freight class, the higher the rate — 500 is the most expensive.

items with a lower freight class will have a lower cost per pound (like steel rods) vs. a higher class item (ping pong balls) in ltl shipping


What Commodities Make Up Each Freight Class?

Here are the 18 freight classes and the types of commodities they represent:

commodity examples for freight class in ltl shipping, starting with class 50 (least expensive) to class 500 (most expensive)


NMFC Code vs. Freight Class: What’s the Difference?

Every commodity has both a freight class and a NMFC code.

Freight class represents a category of items while NMFC codes relate to specific commodities within each of the 18 freight classes.

For example:

  • Bricks: NFMC code = 32100.2, Freight Class = 50
  • Steel Pipes: NMFC code = 51200, Freight Class = 50

Though each commodity has a freight class of 50, they have different NMFC codes.

NMFC classification is based on four main factors:

1. Density

Density refers to the weight per cubic foot of each piece, or the space an item occupies in relation to its weight.

Commodities with a higher density fall into a lower freight class and are easier to ship because they are more compact.

High-density commodities are, therefore, cheaper to ship than bulky, low-density items.

2. Handling

Handling relates to any unique handling or care requirements needed during transport.

Fragile or hazardous items may require special accommodations, which means they will fall into a higher freight class and cost more money to ship.

Size, weight, and shape can also impact the ease of handling, thus increasing the cost of shipping.

3. Stowability

Stowability accounts for how a commodity can be loaded and transported with other commodities.

If freight is hazardous, perishable, flammable, oddly shaped, or too heavy, it can be difficult to ship alongside other items.

If an item is difficult to stow with other items, it will have a higher freight class and be more expensive to ship.

4. Liability

Liability covers the likelihood of freight theft, damage, or damage to nearby loads.

If a commodity is perishable, has hazardous properties, or is combustible, for example, it will have a higher liability and will cost more to ship.

When combined, these four factors determine a commodity’s NMFC code.


Why NMFC Codes Are Important

NMFC codes are important because they help LTL carriers understand how difficult or easy it will be to ship a particular commodity.

Freight class primarily takes density into account.

NMFC codes, on the other hand, get much more specific and account for a variety of factors that impact the efficiency of the shipping process.

Here are some of the factors NMFC codes consider:

  • Weight, Length, and Height
  • Commodity Type
  • Density of the Freight
  • Ease of Handling
  • Value and Liability
  • Packaging


How to Determine an NMFC Code for Your LTL Shipment

To find a specific NMFC code, you can use an NMFC classification tool, such as ClassIT, and go through the following steps.

  1. Search for the commodity within the tool. (Be specific, and input the plural form of the item if no results are found.)
  2. Select the commodity/NMFC that best fits the freight you are shipping.
  3. Calculate the density of your commodity with a freight calculator (you will need to know your commodity’s exact length, width, height, and weight).
  4. Select the correct class based on the density of your commodity.

Keep in mind, if your calculation is inaccurate, it can significantly impact your shipping costs.

If you want more help, a good LTL 3PL can also help you figure out your freight class and NMFC code.


How to Get an Instant LTL Freight Quote

Once you know the freight class, weight, and dimensions of your commodity, you can determine the cost of shipping your LTL freight by utilizing an instant quoting tool.

You can get unlimited LTL quotes in CoyoteGO®, our free digital freight platform. 

Input your accessorials, add multiple commodities to a single shipment, build your own shipments — it has everything you need to get your freight moving. 

CoyoteGO Build LTL Shipment


Learn How this E-Commerce Shipper Cut LTL Costs by 35%

By working with Coyote, this rapidly growing business was able to improve their LTL service while cutting their spend.

Their dedicated LTL operations team makes it easy, freeing up this entrepreneur to focus on adding customers instead of generating BOLs. 

Find out how Coyote made LTL shipping easy.