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LTL Freight Class vs. NMFC Codes: What Sets Them Apart

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LTL Freight Class and NMFC Codes: What’s the Difference?

Chances are, if you’re in the logistics industry, you’re probably more than familiar with less than truckload (LTL) and full truckload freight shipping. And while both of those are very similar in lots of ways, they do have some vital differences that set them apart from one another. One of those key differences just happens to be how shipments are quoted and priced. 

Calculating costs for LTL shipping can be tricky so to make it easier, commodities have been broken up in several categories, which are known as ltl freight classes. 

For the remainder of this article, we are going to break down what “LTL freight class” is along with NMFC codes entail so you can better conceptualize the significant impact they make in LTL shipping.

Understanding this information is crucial to making better educated shipping decisions and can have a huge impact on business. Understanding the nuance of LTL Freight Class versus NMFC codes can be tricky to understand at first, but this article will break it down.

The Definition of an LTL Freight Class

First, we need to understand what freight class actually means. Freight class is a system used industry-wide that classifies commodities based on a numeric system. There are 18 different freight classes and the span from class 50 to class 500. It was created by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA).

The commodities you plan to ship will fall into one of those 18 categories depending on a few different metrics (we will dive into these metrics later on in the article). The 18 categories are easily accessible online.

Check out this 4-minute video if you need more information.


Why Freight Class Matters

You may think weight is just weight when it comes to shipping but the differences between products and commodities actually matters immensely. Different products will belong to different freight classes and your shipment’s freight class will play a huge role in deciding the rate of that specific shipment. Making sure you are classifying into the correct category can ultimately cost a company money if not done correctly.

To put simply, to get an accurate LTL quote, you need the correct freight class. They are essential to each other.

Because the LTL carrier will load and unload your product a few times, and there will be other commodities along for the ride with yours, each pallet’s specifics–dimensions, packaging, fragility, etc. all play a part.

Those details factor into how efficient your shipment is to transport. However, this is not the case for full truckload as your commodity will stay put in the truck during its entire journey.

How Freight Class Impacts Shipping Costs

Although it may seem counterintuitive, high density items will have low freight classes while low density items like a bag of gold dust for example will have a high freight class. 

The lower the freight class, the lower the rate. The higher the freight class, the higher the rate.

For further explanation, check out the freight class cost per pound chart to the right.

freight class cost per pound

What Specific Commodities Make Up Each Freight Class?

As you have already been told, there are 18 different freight classes starting at class 50 and going all the way to class 500. Here, we break it down so you can see how individual commodities are split up. 

Remember that these are estimates and only apply to carriers that base their freight classifications on density alone.


4 Helpful Freight Class Tips and Tricks

1. Weigh Your Freight Using the Right Resources

Make sure to use an NTEP-certified floor or forklift scale to weigh your freight and that the scale is free of any other material. The weight is not crucial now, but you will need it further down the line when calculating density.

2. Calculate Correctly

Do not skimp when it comes to measurements. Always remember to measure the extremes. When your commodities are on a pallet, measure the length and width of the commodities and pallet together, which is considered your entire shipment.

Bonus tip: Try your best to avoid any overhang if your freight is resting on a pallet. The overhang can incur prices increases later on and is more likely to be damaged or cause damage during transit.

3. Calculate the Density

Calculating the correct density is vital in the classification of your freight, but before you can calculate the density, you first need to figure out cubic feet. To do this, multiply your freight’s length, width and height together, then divide that number by 1,728, as there are 1,728 cubic inches in a cubic foot.

To calculate density, divide the weight of your shipment by the total cubic feet. 

4. Decide on the Correct Freight Class

Choosing the freight class can get a little tricky as a lot is involved here. The freight class chart groups commodities into 18 classes from 50 to 500, with lower classes costing less to ship. Companies determine classes by the shipment’s weight per cubic foot (density) as well as stow-ability, handling, and liability.

In general, items will be classed higher despite their density if they are more valuable, more difficult to stow, harder to handle or have more liability, meaning they are more likely to be stolen.

To make sure your calculations are accurate, make sure to have an NMFC classification book ready.

How NMFC Codes Differ from Freight Class

Not only do commodities have a freight class, they also have what we call a NMFC code.

NMFC stands for National Motor Freight Classification. Although many people interchange these two terms (LTL Freight Class and NMFC Codes), they are not quite the same. Freight class represents the category of items while NMFC codes relate to the individual commodity. It breaks down freight classes one step further. These were created to streamline freight categorization and pricing across the industry.

For example, two items, computers and refrigerators may both belong to the same freight class of 92.5 but their NMFC codes are 5700 and 6500.

It’s important to know that NMFC codes and classifications are based on four distinct factors: density, handling, stowability, and liability.


Determined by an item's weight and dimensions. The higher the density, the lower the class and the lower the cost. This may seem backward at first glance, but consider this: Carriers love shipping freight that is heavy and doesn’t take up much space compared to its weight. This means they can fit more product on their truck, which means more cash in their wallets.


Handling specifically concerns the item’s ability to be handled as the freight is loaded and unloaded from one LTL terminal to another LTL terminal. Factors such as an item's dimensions, fragility, and packaging play a role in how easy or difficult an item is to handle. It's quite possible that any freight requiring special handling will be assigned a higher freight class.


Refers to how the shipment can be arranged with other freight in the transport vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to consider an item’s ability to be “stowed” or transported in relation to other items. This takes into account hazardous shipments (which can't be moved with non-hazardous shipments) or items with odd dimensions that make it difficult to load around them.


Liability takes into account the probability of the shipment being damaged or stolen, or damaging other adjacent freight. Factors to consider here are how perishable the items are, the likelihood of being the target of freight theft, item combustibility, as well as how likely the freight could damage (or be damaged by) other freight in the same truckload.


Why NMFC Codes Matter

In basic terms, NMFC codes are important because they assist LTL carriers to understand how difficult or easy it will be to ship a particular commodity.

Freight class primarily takes density into account. NMFC codes, on the other hand, get much more specific and account for a variety of factors that impact the efficiency of the shipping process.

Here are some of the factors NMFC codes to consider:

How to Determine NMFC Codes for Your LTL Shipment in 5 Easy Steps

To find specific NMFC codes, you can use an NMFC classification tool, such as ClassIT, and follow the steps below. If you need additional support on how to understand this complex topic, don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Step 1:

Search for the commodity within the tool. 

Step 2:

Select the commodity/NMFC that best fits the freight you are shipping.

Step 3:

Calculate the density of your commodity with a freight calculator (you will need to know your commodity’s exact length, width, height, and weight).

Step 4:

Select the correct class based on the density of your commodity.

Step 5:

Then you will see the appropriate NMFC codes.

Need Additional Support?

LTL shipping involves a great deal of complexity but working with an experienced provider can simplify the process. 

R2 Logistics LTL specialists are available to help you calculate the density of your commodities, determine their freight class and select the appropriate NMFC codes for your shipment.

Get LTL expertise while upgrading your capacity — speak with an R2 Logistics LTL specialist today.