NMFC & Freight Classification Explained

The Standard for Freight Identification and Classification

Freight classes are defined by the NMFTA (National Motor Freight Traffic Association) and made available through the NMFC (National Motor Freight Classification).

NMFTA defines NMFC as:

The National Motor Freight Classification® (NMFC®) is a standard that provides a comparison of commodities moving in interstate, intrastate and foreign commerce. It is similar in concept to the groupings or grading systems that serve many other industries. Commodities are grouped into one of 18 classes—from a low of class 50 to a high of class 500—based on an evaluation of four transportation characteristics: density, handling, stowability and liability. Together, these characteristics establish a commodity’s “transportability.”

By analyzing commodities on the basis of the four transportation characteristics and ONLY on the basis of those characteristics, the NMFC provides both carriers and shippers with a standard by which to begin negotiations and greatly simplifies the comparative evaluation of the many thousands of products moving in today’s competitive marketplace. 

Source:  NMFTA website.


NMFC Overview

Standardized information for approximately 10,000 articles

  • Description of articles
  • Class assignments for LTL rating
  • Rules for shipping and handling
  • Packaging requirements and specifications


Below is an example of a page from the NMFC Handbook, produced by the NMFTA.

Commodities are referred to as Articles | NMFC codes are referred to as Items 


Note: NMFC codes that have a sub are written as NMFC-Sub. SoNMFC 86900 Sub 7 would be written as 86900-07



Freight Classification

Freight Class is used to classify and rate commodities primarily based on their density and value. They are designed to help you get a common standardized freight pricing for your shipment.

There are 18 freight classes (ranging from 50-500)

  • Class 50 - Highest Density / Low Value; Lowest Cost 
  • Class 500 - Lowest Density / High Value; Highest Cost

↪ Higher Class = Higher Rate (for every hundred pounds shipped)


Below is an example of the Freight Classification Chart for all 18 classes, with examples of commodities for each class and the corresponding weight per cubic foot. 



Characteristics that Determine Freight Class

Commodities are evaluated and grouped according to four transportation characteristics:

1. Density

  • The space an item occupies in relation to its weight per cubic foot (length, width, height)

→ Are you shipping a pallet of stone or a pallet of ping pong balls?

For additional information, see our article on How to Calculate Density & Determine Freight Class.

2. Stowability

  • Items that are more difficult to store will be given a higher freight class
    • This includes shipments that might be hazardous, very heavy, or have an excessive length or width

→ What are the dimensions of your shipment? Does it have irregular angles so that it takes up more space than normal?

3. Handling

  • Any freight that requires special handling could be assigned a higher freight class
    • Some freight because of weight, form, vulnerability, or hazardous properties, require specialized handling
      • These items get assigned a classification that represents complexity of loading and carrying the freight
  • Palletized or united

→ Is the freight palletized? Does it take special equipment to handle?

4. Liability (value and risk)

  • Freight that is susceptible to theft, perishable, could be easily damaged, or cause damage to adjacent freight will be designated a higher freight class
  • Value per pound
    • Perishable cargo or cargo prone tp spontaneous combustion or explosion is classified based on liability and assigned a value per pound
    • When classification is based on liability, density must also be considered

→ Are you shipping valuable electronic equipment or boxes of used clothing?


* The NMFC classification numbers assigned to the goods is critical to freight carriers when determining the tariffs, which in turn establishes the cost, charged to the customer. 


Below are two charts that display the Density and Value Guidelines for each freight class.



Getting the Right Code

There are several things you can do to get the right NMFC Code:

  1. Contact the manufacturer of your item, most often they will know the NMFC codes for their products
  2. Call the National Motor Freight Traffic Association at 1.866.411.6632

 NMFTA Contact Page


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