Streamline Shipping Process with Freight Class Codes

December 2nd, 2019


Like many other industries, the shipping industry relies on a classification system to help carriers and shippers find the best solutions for moving their freight. This system is called The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC®). Created by The National Motor Freight Traffic Association, Inc. (NMFTA), this system is a freight class list that compares commodities being shipped by interstate, intrastate, and globally.

A basic freight class chart is a valuable tool for industry professionals–especially those using LTL shipping­–who frequently ship the same types of freight. With these standards, shippers and carriers have a simplified process by which they can evaluate their packing needs and estimate shipping costs. So, what are the freight classes and how do you determine them? Below is everything you need to know about freight class codes.

How is the Freight Class List Determined?

The NMFC® is responsible for determining freight classes based on the following four characteristics:

  • Density
  • Handling
  • Stowability
  • Liability

As a whole, these four characteristics establish the “transportability” of freight, or how capable it is to move freight. From these factors, codes were established, ranging from 50 to 500. The higher the code, the more expensive it is to ship freight. This is due in part to the liability that certain freight presents. If it’s fragile and has the potential to be damaged, it’s more expensive to ship.

1. Density: Calculating Freight Class

Before determining where freight lands on the freight class list, you need to calculate the density based on its weight and dimensions: length, width, and height. Simply, the density tells shippers and carriers how much space the freight will occupy inside the truck.

Accurate dimensions are essential for determining budget and shipping timelines. The following list details how to accurately measure freight:

  • Measure the length, width, and height in inches. Some items may not be regularly shaped, so measure as if they were a rectangular shape. Use the extreme points of the freight to get the best measurements.
  • You’ll need the cubic inches to determine class.

    L x W x H = Cubic Inches

    Take measurements for each object you need to ship and add all dimensions together at the end for a final figure.
  • Divide total cubic inches by 1,728 to figure the cubic feet of your total shipment.

    (L x W x H) / 1,728

  • Weigh shipment and dive the weight by cubic feet. This equals density.

    Weight / Cubit Feet

Shipments that are transported on pallets will need to be measured with the pallets included. Thus, height should be measured from the bottom of the pallet to the freight’s highest point. If freight extends beyond the length of the pallet, measure the freight length, not the pallet.

2. Handling

The handling of freight relates to how easy it is to move during loading and unloading. Most freight is moved by machines, but some freight requires special consideration due to its fragility, weight, or shape. If freight requires special handling, its freight class will be higher on the freight class chart, resulting in a higher shipping cost.

3. Stowability or Storage Capability

If freight is challenging to stow and transport, it will appear higher on the freight class list. Some reasons freight may fall into this category are:

  • Hazardous materials
  • Heavy freight
  • Items regulated by the government and/or carriers: food, dietary supplements, any item for human consumption

4. Liability

Items deemed to be more liable to theft, damage, or the potential to perish will be assigned a higher freight class code. The more accountable drivers and operators are for the freight, the higher the cost to ship.

Determining liability is also important for legal concerns related to who is responsible if something happens to shipment: shipper, carrier, broker? It’s important to always check contracts before shipping to ensure that each party understands who is responsible and why.

Example Freight Class Code Chart

Knowing how to calculate freight class is important, but it can be helpful to have examples of what types of freight fit into certain freight classes. The following chart can be used as a general guideline for understanding where your shipment falls on the freight class chart.

Freight class code chart example

Changes to Freight Classifications

The NMFTA makes updates to freight class lists three times a year, to establish better standards for shipping. In 2019, there have been two rounds of updates to the NMFC that included numerous changes, but the most notable are those that affect the food and beverage market.

The biggest change was to flowers, herbs, or leaves that are used for human consumption and decorative purposes. These items were reclassified to account for additional density, thus increasing the cost to ship. Increased shipping costs may also result in increased costs may also affect the supply chain overall.

While this change, and others like it, may not make a huge overall impact, being aware of any changes could help avoid costly adjustments later. Shippers and carriers should note when the NMFC makes changes so they can adjust accordingly without any major disruptions.

How Freight Class Codes Affect Trailer Selection

If you are a carrier, it’s important to know which trailers are best for the class of freight being shipped. Some carriers may prefer to look at trailers for rent, especially if they’re not planning to ship certain freight on a regular basis. If a carrier frequently moves the same kinds of freight, it’s worth looking into trailers for sale.

Hale Trailer Brake and Wheel, Inc. has an extensive selection of trailers to choose from, whether you are renting or buying. Simply visit or contact one of our 12 trailer rental locations to speak with a knowledgeable representative who can help you navigate freight class code charts and choose the best trailer for your needs.  

All the information on this website – – is published in good faith and for general information purposes only. Hale Trailer Brake and Wheel does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information you find on this website, is strictly at your own risk. Hale Trailer Brake and Wheel will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with the use of our website.