LTL Freight Class – Meaning and Applications

Have you ever been told the items you were shipping were a certain freight class, just to get that changed by the carrier after it shipped and billed a different amount.  Or have you ever shipped an item at one freight class for months or even years and all of the sudden (according to the carrier) the class changed on you??

Well, the intent of the article is to shed some light on what is actually happening, why it is happening, how to prevent it from happening in the future, , and what to do about it.

LTL freight classification is basically a freight rating process written by the American Trucking Association and published in the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) guide.  Every item shipped (except for a few that are considered exempt) is assigned one of 18 LTL Freight classes.  Here is a list of those classes:

50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 77.5, 85, 92.5, 100, 110, 125, 150, 175, 200, 250, 300, 400, 500.  The lower the class, the less per pound a commodity is to ship.

These classifications are assigned to products based on each product’s shipping characteristics.  Such as; how fragile or awkward the handling of that commodity is, or the value or probability of theft, etc.  But the characteristic that mostly determines a commodity’s freight class overall is its density.   That is how many pounds per cubic foot that commodity is.  Heavier and denser items will usually ship at the lower classifications and lighter items taking up more space ship at the higher ones.

How do you know if you are shipping at the right class?   Easy, just rely on what you were told by the manufacturer or carrier at one time or another, right?… Wrong.

To avoid getting your freight re-classified by a carrier, you need to do two things:  Always verify that the item you are shipping matches the NMFC description (especially as far as its density).  And secondly, ALWAYS BE SURE YOUR DESCRIPTION, WEIGHT AND DIMENSIONS ARE EXACTLY ACCURATE!  Freight that is even off by an inch or a few pounds can end up costing a lot more to ship if the carrier changes the freight class.

Many items are classified on the following density chart:

over 15 PCF…… cl 70
12-15 PCF………cl 85
10-12 PCF………cl 92.5
8-10 PCF……… 100
6 to 8 PCF………cl 125
4 to 6 PCF………cl 150
2 to 4 PCF………cl 250
1 to 2 PCF………cl 300
less than 1 400

To determine the PCF (Pounds per Cubic Foot) of your item, Multiply the Length X Width X Height and divide it by 1728 to determine how many cubic feet your item is.  Then take the weight and divide it by the cubic feet.  And that will be your Pounds per Cubic Foot, or PCF.   in example:  if you have a pallet that is 40 x 48 x 72 inches and weighs 1,000 pounds, you would multiply 40x48x72 and come up with 138,240 inches.  Divide that by 1728 (because there are 1728 inches in a cubic foot) to come up with a pallet that is 80 cubic feet.  Now, divide the 1,000 pound weight by 80 to get 12.5 pounds per cubic foot.  Based on this chart, this item would be class 85 because it falls between 12 and 15 PCF  When measuring your pallet, be sure you are measuring the highest, widest, and longest points (including if the boxes bulge in the middle, etc.).  Not all commodities use this chart for rating, but if you were told your freight is a certain class and it coincides within the parameters of this chart, the chances are less of it getting re-classified  by the carrier.

But, you have been shipping your stuff at a certain class for a long time and all of the sudden they are changing it and costing you more money.

These are the likely reasons this is happening:

  1. Lately carriers are cracking down on freight class accuracy, as finding ways to bill customers more is always better for profitability. So, in reality, you may have been shipping at the wrong class forever. But it has likely flown under the radar in the past, and is being noticed now.  If an item is shipping at the wrong class in any case with any carrier, it is just a matter of when (not if) it will get caught.
  2. From time to time carriers will negotiate exceptions in their rating tariff agreements with individual customers called FAK (Freight All Kinds) or Class Exception rates.  This means that an allowance has been negotiated for the customer to call their freight a different class when shipping.  In example; if your freight is class 110, you may have an FAK 85 negotiated with a certain carrier, which means that when you ship this item with that carrier, they will bill you the cost per pound of a class 85 item at the same weight.  This does NOT mean that your item is class 85.  It is still class 110.  It is common for shippers to get the negotiated “billed as” class and the class their freight actually is confused when switching carriers.  So they panic when the bill comes in more than they were quoted.
  3. Improper data.  If a bill of lading has too little information describing what is being shipped.  The carrier will look at the shipment and determine the class based on what they think it looks like, and this will almost never be in your favor.  So the more discripteion including dimensions written on the bill of lading, the better.
  4. Human error.  LTL carriers usually will send a local truck out to make several pick ups during the day and at at the end of the day, the driver will turn in the paperwork for all of the shipments collected to billing clerks to enter overnight.  And these clerks do sometimes make errors.  So if none of the above happened to your shipment , but it was still being billed at a different class, then always check for clerical errors.

Or better yet, if you have ever received a carrier invoice that didn’t match what you were quoted, send me a copy.  There may be a lot i can do to lower the cost for you to possibly even less than your original quote.

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