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What are Freight Classes and NMFC Codes?

The Yellow Team | May 22, 2023

    Freight classes and NMFC codes are essential for obtaining accurate quotes for your less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments and completing the Bill of Lading (BOL) properly. This guide explains what you need to know about them.


    Whether you are a frequent LTL shipper or someone new to using LTL carriers, you likely have come across the terms “Freight class” and “NMFC codes.” These commonly used LTL terms involve certain rules and regulations that play a crucial part in the shipping process. A good understanding of a few basic principles of freight classification requirements and how they impact cost can help you get accurate rates and avoid unexpected pricing or delays on your shipment.


    What is an LTL Freight Class?


    The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC), commonly referred to as freight class, is a grouping system that standardizes freight identification and classification. The NMFC groups products based on freight characteristics and research of actual shipments acquired through studies.


    In 2005, the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), which represents North American LTL carriers, bought the copyright to the NMFC from the American Trucking Associations (ATA). Since then, the categorization standards are defined by the NMFTA. It publishes standard freight classification codes and updates them as often as three times a year. The NMFC codes help shippers, brokers and carriers determine what’s being shipped and how to set rates appropriately.


    Commodities or products are grouped into 18 classes, ranging from a low of Class 50 to a high of Class 500.


    How Are Commodities Classified?


    Freight classes are based on an evaluation of four factors: density, liability, handling and stowability. Together, these factors determine a commodity’s “transportability,” which defines the cost of shipping that is associated with it.


    Here’s what these four factors mean and why they are important in determining a freight classification:


    Density — Simply put, freight density is a commodity’s weight (per cubic foot) in relation to its size. For LTL shippers, this signifies the trailer space a commodity occupies in a trailer. Typically, high-density commodities are cheaper to ship than bulky, low-density items.


    Liability — Freight liability determines the risk of transporting any commodity, depending on its value and whether extra security precautions are needed to protect it against theft. Items that present greater liability cost more to ship.


    Handling — Commodities that require special loading equipment or precautions will have a higher cost.


    Stowability — Some commodities (such as hazardous, flammable, perishable, or oddly shaped materials) can be difficult to ship alongside other items in a trailer. Difficulty or ease of loading and transporting an item often determine the cost of shipping.

    What are NMFC Codes?


    Every item or product that ships via LTL carriers has both a freight class and a NMFC code. Freight class represents a category of items while NMFC codes denote specific commodities within each of the 18 freight classes.


    For example: a cell phone and a home speaker would share the same freight class, but not the same NMFC code. The cell phone may be assigned an NMFC code of 62820, whereas the speakers could be assigned an NMFC code of 63035.


    What is the Difference between Freight Class and an NMFC Code?


    Freight Class primarily takes density into account while grouping commodities. NMFC codes get much more specific and account for a variety of factors that impact the efficiency of the shipping process such as packaging, commodity type, height, length and weight, ease of handling, density, value and liability.


    For example: bricks may be assigned the NMFC code of 32100.2 and steel pipes may be assigned the NMFC code of 51200. However, both these commodities may be grouped under Freight Class 55.


    In other words, there can be several commodities with individual NMFC codes under each freight class.


    Why are Freight Classes and NMFC Codes Important?


    The NMFC is used by carriers and shippers alike for classifying goods for transport in North America. Freight classification was created to help standardize and regulate freight pricing for LTL shipments. It provides a common ground between shippers and carriers to help determine the appropriate cost of any given shipment.


    LTL carriers load a variety of commodities from different shippers on the same trailer. Also, they often need to load and unload cargo several times at different terminals and destination points along the shipment route. So, it’s crucial for carriers to know what they are shipping. For example, whether pallets can be stacked, how much they weigh, how fragile they are and their dimensions make a significant difference in transport and pricing.


    Carriers allocate trailer space and brokers book space based on freight classifications, so it’s important to get it right. When a shipment is incorrectly classified, it can cause problems for everyone. For example, the freight may not be handled as it should be, causing loss and damage. Or a carrier expecting to stack multiple pallets might not have enough room if they find out during loading that some items aren’t stackable. Therefore, freight class can help carriers decide the optimal way to organize specific goods on a trailer.


    For shippers, NMFC codes are important as they are necessary to get an accurate quote on a shipment. They are also required while completing a BOL. For LTL carriers, NMFC codes help them understand how difficult or easy it will be to ship a particular commodity.


    As an LTL shipper, it is very important for you to apply an accurate NMFC code to each item, so you can avoid overpayment or unexpected, expensive adjustments due to miscoding. Additionally, improper coding could lead to delays in delivery and an unsatisfactory customer experience, as the carrier may need to go through the time-consuming process of inspecting the commodities and modifying the codes.

    How to Determine Your Commodity’s Freight Class and NMFC Code?


    To find the NMFC code for a specific commodity, you can use an NMFC classification tool, such as NMFTA’s ClassIT or contact Yellow's customer serrvice team.


    Be prepared to answer the following questions and provide an accurate description of the item that’s being shipped:


    • What is your product made of?
    • How is it used?
    • How is it packaged?
    • What is the accurate value of the item?
    • Is the item new or used?
    • What is the density of the item? You can determine your item’s density by using Yellow’s density calculator.


    Sometimes, there is re-classification of goods by the NMFTA. That means shippers may find themselves in conflict with the coding system due to re-classification and re-weighs. So, as an LTL shipper, you should always look up the NMFC code book for products before applying a code.


     The Freight Classification Development Council (FCDC) has implemented classification changes for freight starting December 17, 2022.


    What can Happen if the Freight Class isn’t Correct?


    As a shipper, it is critical to record the products with the correct NMFC code on a Bill of Lading before the carrier moves the shipment. The wrong class noted on the BOL may cause major issues, including:


    • Your freight may not meet the carrier’s transporting capabilities, such as storage capacity, weight limits, and specific equipment, which can lead to unexpected costs, disruptions and delays.
    • The carrier may choose to modify the codes on your miscoded commodities, leading to inconsistency on the invoice.
    • Your freight with incorrect NMFC codes may be subject to increased scrutiny.
    • You may end up paying more than needed for the shipment.
    • Your freight may not be handled as it should be, causing loss and damage.
    • Finally, disputes over freight classification can become complex, expensive and time-consuming.


    Get in Touch


    At Yellow, we understand that these rules and regulations can seem complex even if you are a frequent LTL shipper. The best way to avoid any confusion is to get in touch with us and ask for assistance.

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