How To Determine Class For LTL Freight:

SHIPPING STEEL BOLTS VS PING-PONG BALLS.

There’s an old saying in trucking “if you can’t truck it…f*ck it”. Thousands of commodities move by truck and each one is assigned it’s own NMFC item number. So how do you determine the annoying 6 digit NMFC number for that next shipment of bolts (step 2) or ping-pong balls (step 5)? 

The National Motor Freight Classification system aka “NMFC” is a grading system for the thousands of freight commodities that move by truck in the US. There are 18 classifications (from 50-500). The classifications are based on the 4 characteristics of ship-ability (density, handling, stowability and liability). The more shippable your freight is the lower the class (50 is lowest and cheapest). It’s a lot like golf: There are 18 holes (or classifications) and you want to have the lowest score (or class) possible to avoid paying more. 

1. Have a basic description of what you are shipping. 

Know the different materials that make up your shipment (steel, wood, plastic, etc). This helps determine density, stowability & liability. 

For example, If you are shipping steel bolts they are dense (and thus stowable) and indestructible. This gives them the highly coveted class 50 rating. 

2. Determine how your shipment is packaged. 

Common packaging includes pallets, skids, crates, drums, carboys, etc. See all available items here. This helps determine handling, stowability & liability.

For example, if you get the call from Pamplona to ship your next batch of bull semen, alas, you will pay dearly at class 500 (Item 059310). Bull semen is expensive, lightweight & requires special packaging with self-contained refrigerant. Not ideal for carriers.

3.  Determine if your shipment is hazardous. 

Information on packaging, marking and declaration of hazardous materials can be found on the FMCSA page Here. 

Shipping some plutonium for the flux capacitor to Uncle Doc Brown? It's what makes time travel possible. But, it does require a lot of work on the shipper’s and carrier’s part to make sure it’s done safely. Hazardous materials must be noted on the BOL, marked & tagged on the shipment and placarded on every truck it touches along the way. Further, many haz-mats can’t go on the same truck as foodstuffs and vice-versa. 

Good brokers will waive or reduce the carrier's haz-mat fee (Note: I do not condone shipping gasoline in the name of Geoarbitrage).

4. Weigh your shipment.

It’s important to have an accurate weight because it directly affects your rate. In the case of density rated items (The NMFC is continually leaning more towards this sub-system) it will also affect your class directly by altering the shipment’s density.

This needs no explanation.

5. Measure your shipment. 

Use a tape measure to determine the outside dimensions of the shipment. This is hugely important especially for “density rated” items in which the density of the shipment determines the class. Carriers use the outer most dimension of the length, width and height. 

For example, if you are shipping ping-pong balls they take up a lot of empty space and don’t weigh much. Good for floating in solo cups but bad for trucking. They are rated a lowly class 500.

More detailed explanation of importance of measurements: If you’re shipping a swing set with one steel pole sticking up 8 feet - 8 feet is considered the height of your shipment. Carriers make money by putting as many shipments as possible on a truck. If your shipment takes up that extra space they have to account for that unusable space (Density rated items means added revenue on your shipment and even regular shipments can be subject to the “Density minimum rule” or “excessive length” charges, which, by the way good brokers will have the latter reduced or waived)

6. Contact your freight broker. 

Contact your broker or common carrier of choice to determine NMFC item number for you if you are unsure. Contacting the NMFC is a surefire way of getting the correct number but it is also a surefire way to waste lots of time and be hassled for an expensive subscription to their website (which all brokers and carriers already have)

For the purposes of getting your freight class I would recommend following the steps above once (thoroughly) to learn how the class is determined. Once you understand the process you should have most of the information you need to do everything else on the fly. Spend the extra time reading about the 6 Reasons small businesses & startups should use a freight broker

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