How to Determine LTL Freight Class (And Why It Matters)
If you’ve ever shipped anything bigger than small parcels, you’ll know things can become complicated. You’ve probably heard of freight classes being used in smaller packages, but it also applies to less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments and full truckload (FTL) shipments.
If you need to make larger shipments, you’ll need to get familiar with freight classes.
What “LTL Freight” is Talking About
If you’ve been poking around our website, you’ll probably be aware of what LTL means. Just for a quick recap, LTL shipments are cargo loads that don’t fill an entire semi-truck, or are less than 10,000 pounds.
When shipping LTL, whoever is sending the materials will have them picked up and sent to a central hub. Then, multiple, separate orders of material get loaded onto a semi-truck all together in a line haul. After these semi-trucks are loaded, they will take the shipments to a distribution center. After that, they get split up and moved into smaller trucks or vans to be delivered to another business or your customer’s door.
Who Uses LTL Freight?
This method of shipping can be economical for things like pallets of shingles, large orders of windows and doors, or a single vehicle going from dealership to dealership.
LTL shipping is preferred in several situations. Most notably, small businesses that don’t need much materials or equipment to warrant the need for a full truck. It can also be used in a pinch if a business that uses FLT needs to ship something quickly.
LTL and FTL are both slower than hotshot trucking. Hotshot trucking is an alternative LTL shipping option that brings materials directly to the final destination—No changing of hands is involved.
What is LTL Freight Class?
If you are shipping LTL freight, then you need to understand LTL freight classifications. These classifications are standardized measurements used in order to price LTL shipments and are overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). They help create uniformity across industries, including shipping and logistics.
Freight classes are not just for LTL shipments. Classes are also used for FTL shipping. If you are shipping anything via freight, it needs to be classified.
There are 18 classifications ranging from class 50 to class 500. Materials with a lower class are easier to handle and therefore cost less. Every metric including weight in pounds, ease of handling, length, width, and height, are taken into account when determining your classification.
While the dimensions of your shipment are important, some materials have a standard classification across the board. Cabinets, for example, are always 110, no matter how much is being hauled.
Who Decides Freight Classes?
These classifications are defined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). They are a non-profit membership organization that advocates for freight shippers.
The NMFTA publishes their classifications in the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC). NMFC codes are a much more granular version of everyday freight classes.
Why Does Freight Class Matter?
The NMFTA is a voluntary membership, but it is considered the standard for determining freight costs. Think of it this way: If you’re a parent looking for a babysitter, you’ll prefer to find someone who is Red Cross first aid certified. It’s not required by anyone, but it’s preferred by most.
If you’re looking to ship via freight, you’ll need to know your shipment's NMFC code. Also, if you plan on mentioning NMFC standards in your business contracts you’ll need to be a member and use the classification system.
With Open Road, you can worry less about classifications and focus on what works best for you. We set rates by weight and distance, so you don’t have to worry about fines if you choose the wrong class.
How does the NMFTA determine freight classes? It ultimately comes down to answering the question “how easy is this to ship and handle?” The more difficult it is, the higher the freight class. But there are a few categories they use to calculate classification.
Typically, a higher class means more expensive shipping.
The heavier and denser a material is, the higher class it will be in. This is calculated by pounds per cubic foot. Not every material will have a relevant density, but the ones that do will be in a higher class.
Shipments that require special handling will have a higher classification and shipping cost. Items that are hard to pack, or are not packaged properly will also have a higher classification.
Some other questions that come into play:
How many people will be handling the shipment?
Will the shipment require more handling than just pick-up and drop off?
Does this shipment require special handling that requires extra materials or personnel?
Shipments that require more stops or more hands will be more expensive and have a higher classification.
Stow ability is a third factor for finding a shipment's classification. Ask yourself:
Does your shipment include any hazardous materials?
Does your shipment fit easily into a trailer?
How is it packaged?
Hazardous materials require a much greater level of care than other materials. You’ll have to make sure your materials are packaged properly for shipping to keep shipping rates down.
Finally, some materials are riskier to ship than others. Here are some things considered for liability:
Handling, stowability, and liability are very similar and somewhat tied together. Generally if something is difficult to handle, it will be difficult to stow. If something is hazardous, it will require special handling and will have a certain level of liability.
Open Road Makes it Easy
Using the wrong classifications can come back and haunt shippers, drivers, and any business using LTL freight. Luckily, hotshot truckers don’t ship freight so they aren’t required to follow classification requirements. For hotshot drivers and the shippers who hire them for hauling, things are much more straightforward.