Classification 101: Mastering the Precise Process of Classifying Freight

NMFTA - May 16, 2024

At NMFTA, we want shippers to better understand the process of classifying freight. Over the years we’ve designed a system that is detailed enough to take all critical factors into consideration, but not so complicated that shippers can’t learn how it works.

This is the second blog in a series of blogs designed to help shippers master the process.

Each year, more than 53 million tons of freight is moved in the United States. More than 72 percent of that freight is moved by trucks. When shippers are able to classify that freight correctly, the impact on efficiency, cost savings and safety is enormous.

The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC)® system was established in the 1936 and has been evolving ever since to reflect the changes in the shipping of freight.

The Freight Classification Development Council (FCDC) evaluates four factors when assigning a class or set of classes to a commodity: density, handling, stowability, and liability. This is because classifying freight is a precise process. The FCDC doesn’t use a single factor because that oversimplifies the nature of freight. Considering all these factors gives shippers the opportunity to be more precise, and to avoid issues and additional charges from carriers.

For example, two items can have the same dimensions, but one can be much easier to stow than the other. Or two items can have the same density, but one can present greater liability than the other for the carrier.

Recently, we produced an animated video that takes shippers through the process of classifying freight. It’s eight minutes you’ll be glad you invested.

When classifying, a product is put into a series of classes ranging from 50 (the most favorable) to 500 (the least favorable). All commodities shipped by LTL have a class assigned to them and can be found in the NMFC book or its digital counterpart, ClassIT®.

Determining the correct density is a critical step in establishing the proper class for commodities that are listed in density based NMFC provisions. When a shipper needs to determine the density of an item, the process is to measure length x width x height and divide by 1,728 to get the cubic feet. After that, you must find out the weight of the handling unit or package, then calculate the density by dividing the weight (in pounds) by the total cubic feet.

That’s the density. And don’t worry, there’s a custom calculator on ClassIT that can do all this for shippers.

This is one critical step in a broader process. To understand the process more completely, we urge you to watch the video, and watch this space for more blogs.

One thing shippers need to know is that, when determining the classification of an item, specific descriptions take precedence over more general descriptions – provided the article is embraced within the terms of the specific description including any generic heading, sub-generic heading and Note references.

Remember, pricing is still between the shipper and the carrier. The job of the NMFC is to properly classify the items so shippers and carriers can use that information to determine the price of shipping an item.

A few other items we want to cover in this blog include:

Shipment Rule 640 for mixed items on a pallet. When a carrier finds that a pallet contains a mixture of items – all fitting into different classes – and the shipper has not itemized the items on the bill of lading, the carrier will consider the entire pallet to be classed at the highest (or least favorable) class of any given item on the pallet. In other words, if the pallet contains six items, and they would individually fit into classes 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 and 300, the carrier will consider the entire pallet to fit into class 300.

This rule exists for the protection of carriers, who would otherwise have to spend considerable time disassembling the skid to determine the classifications of every individual item on it. If shippers don’t want pallets classified in this way, they must itemize the commodities on the bill of lading.

Breaking down commonly used Notes. Once we have classified an item, we often add explanatory notes to item numbers so shippers and carriers will better understand how to apply the classification. When looking up an NMFC item, shippers will often find these Notes.

Sometimes Notes are established concurrently to the publication of a new item. In other cases, Notes are added later as issues are raised that require clarification.

Notes might provide further information on the applicable commodities, or might exclude certain commodities, or direct the user to other provisions. While Notes are subordinate to the articles and/or the generic headings, they are very important to help the user understand how to apply the Classification.

In any case, be sure to read Notes. They’re critical to anyone’s understanding of the freight classification process.

Submitting your own proposal. Sometimes shippers will discover that there is no specific item listed for a particular product, and they will tell the FCDC that they think such a specific listing should be in the NMFC and ClassIT. Anyone is welcome to propose that we add a new item or modify an existing item to address such a concern.

To submit a proposal, e-mail Most often, our staff will take your idea and repackage it into our standard format. Then our Freight Classification Development Council will consider adopting the proposal at one of its three-times-annual docket meetings.

You can find the 2024-2 public docket files here.

About those meetings: They’re open to the public. The next one will be on June 3, 2024 in Louisville, KY. Unfortunately, the meetings are not live-streamed, so you must attend in person.

But before each meeting, we issue a press release announcing the items that will be under consideration, and we welcome online comments from shippers prior to the meeting. You can find the most recent release here. So, there are numerous ways to submit your input even if you can’t attend the meeting in person.

Upcoming Webinars

We are offering several upcoming webinars to help with classification. An August series on freight classification will run on the following dates:

1:00 pm ET Tuesday, August 6, 2024
1:00 pm ET Tuesday, August 13, 2024
1:00 pm ET Tuesday, August 20, 2024
1:00 pm ET Tuesday, August 27, 2024

A May series on packaging will run on the following dates:

Happening soon!

1:00 pm ET Tuesday, May 14, 2024
1:00 pm ET Tuesday, May 21, 2024
1:00 pm ET Tuesday, May 28, 2024

For additional classification interpretation assistance, visit here.

For the past year, we’ve been going through a process called “Reimagining Classification.” It’s part of our longstanding commitment to keep the classification process current and responsive to the needs of shippers and carriers in the modern era.

NMFTA is here to help you properly classify your freight. To connect with a member of our staff, email us at


The National Motor Freight Traffic Association promotes, advances, and improves the welfare and interests of the motor carrier industry and less than truckload carriers operating in commerce, both domestically and/or internationally.