How to determine freight class during Shipping? | Citizenshipper

Ulhas Sukhare Ulhas Sukhare · Updated: March 8, 2023 / Published: August 31, 2020

Sometimes freight classes can seem arbitrary. You might assume the class of an item of freight would be based on weight and size, and nothing more. That might make things simpler, but it isn’t strictly the case. When determining freight class, a whole lot of other factors are taken into account along with weight and size. There’s a bit of good news in this seeming confusion: the savvy customer of a shipping service can use the factors to his or her advantage. It’s impossible to make a piece of freight lighter, but it is sometimes possible to improve its shape. That can have a big impact on the total cost of shipping. That’s why knowing how freight class is determined matters to customers as well as shippers.

First off, we need to know who makes these rules about freight. Freight classes in the U.S. are determined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), a national body with a nearly iron-clad remit to set standards on freight. Almost every piece of freight requires a National Motor Freight Classification to be handled. That classification is then assigned a specific freight class number for Less Than Truckload (LTL) shipping. 

The NMFTA classification is partly based on the type of commodity or product you wish to ship. The classification itself is a figure usually between 60 and 400. (For instance, fridges and freezers belong to class 92.5, and cabinets to 110.)

The purpose of this number is to let shippers know what tariffs you ought to be charged for certain shipments. Naturally this impacts the final cost of the shipping. It is tempting to try to outsmart the shipping service by classifying your freight lower than it truly is, relying on the scale and speed of the industry to hide the ‘error’. But incorrectly classifying your shipment can result in a higher cost, as the shipper will have to re-classify it and this may delay the shipment, as well as saving you no money in the end. 

Naturally, size is a factor in determining freight class that is very hard to disguise. The freight transporter will need a definite size to aid them when planning trailer loads. But before we dig in to specifics, let’s first define what are the factors that determine freight class.

1. Commodity

As mentioned above, the nature of the commodity or product that is being shipped will have a clear effect on freight class, no matter the size, shape or weight of the commodity itself. This rule can’t be foxed: A fridge will always receive a 92.5 classification whatever its dimensions.

In the U.K., a certain kind of biscuit once known as a Jaffa Biscuit rebranded itself as a Jaffa Cake. This was in order to reduce the cost of shipping, as well as import and export tariffs. They were successful in their effort, but the process of rebranding took a hefty series of corporate wanglings. The battle to rebrand your commodity as something it is not is not recommended unless you have the resources to do it!

2. Density

Density is a measure of the amount of weight in comparison to the size of the freight. It is measured by dividing the total cubic feet by the total weight in pounds. What’s important to note is that a smaller, heavier item may receive a lower classification that a larger, lighter one. The shipping service will tend to be more concerned with size that with weight, so the smaller you can make your item, i.e. the tighter you can pack it, the better for your budget. In the freight shipping business, size really matters.

3. Ease of handling

Freight will pass through many hands before it arrives at its destination. Provided the freight is packed correctly and securely, it will be easy for every person or machine in that chain to handle it. Standard-shaped items therefore fare better when it comes to determining freight class. Bulky, ungainly or just plain odd-shaped freight may suffer because of this factor. The issue is to do with how easily it can be loaded and unloaded. 

Two ways to avoid extra costs when shipping something of an irregular shape are:

  1. Tessellating. If you are shipping more than one item, see if you can fit them together like Tetris pieces such that the outcome has a more regular shape.
  2. Dismantling. An item like a bookcase can be much more easily shipped in its composite parts than in its final shape. See if your freight can be dismantled for the journey and reassembled at the other end. The extra cost of assembly may be less than the cost of shipping it whole.

4. Potential for liability

Freight shippers are much more wary of shipping delicate and fragile items than heavy or bulky goods. That is because the legal liability for damage falls on them while the freight is in transit. It is not just physical fragility that increases liability: If a piece of freight is perishable, like food that could rot if a delay occurred, or combustible, i.e. likely to catch fire or explode and damage other nearby shipments, that liability will be taken into account. To lessen the burden on the shipper and the potential costs you may face, make sure any liability-prone freight is carefully packaged and in its safest possible form before it comes to be classified.

Choosing a shipping service

This step can have a big impact on cost, even though the freight classification will not change. For shipping across the USA, an online marketplace is your best bet. The competition of the market will keep shipping costs low as drivers vie for your shipment. A shipping service with a positive reputation is also a good guarantee of safety and reliability in transit.

One such service is CitizenShipper. Post your shipment free of cost today and wait for the quotes to roll in. Choose the driver you want: some customers value experience over price, others favour drivers with the best testimonials.

Once you’ve made your choice, negotiate the freight cost. Then prepare your cargo and relax: The transporter will take it from here.

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