Does freight class even matter?

What is Freight Class?

Freight class is a transportation term used to categorize freight shipped within the United States. Set by the NMFTA (National Motor Freight Traffic Association), the class can be one of many, 18 in all, from a low of class 50 to a high of class 500.

A freight class is primarily determined by four major characteristics: Density, Stowability, Handling, and Liability. The total grade among these four characteristics determines its class.

The Big Four

Density - The density of a package is the general strength and resistance to impacts. Dense items tend to have a high rating, since their sheer size and structure tends to make them more safe. On the other hand, a light or fragile item may have a lower score because of an increased likelihood of damage during a shipment.
Stowability - This part refers to how well something can be stowed and transported. Generally speaking, rectangular boxes are considered the best suited for stowability, while an unusually-shaped item may be much harder to stow in a given form of transportation and require special consideration.
Handling - This refers to how easy it is for workers and customers to handle. Special traits of a package may result in a better handling score than expected, for example, a lightweight item is usually very easy to handle and move around when storing, on the other hand a heavier one may be much harder to handle properly.
Liability - This is an extremely important consideration for most forms of transportation. Insurance is often purchased (especially for valuable items) as a way of mitigating the problems, but dangerous items may have an impact on those around them during shipment. If the individual or business liable for damages is known and accepted, this grade will probably be higher.

Does any of this matter?

Oh yes, it does. However, don’t place too much weight on the total score of any oneitem. While this does provide an instant, one-glance check for the overall ability of the item being transported, it's much more important to understand why it received the scores it did and how this can be used to change its packaging.
The use of packaging can impact on the scores greatly - especially the first three. Sturdy packaging can increase the density and protect fragile items... while thinner packaging may be all that's needed for something that's already quite tough. Using packaging to simplify the shape can increase the stowability of the item in question, which may or may not lead to a better handling score. Simple items like handles can also have a big impact on the handling score.

The general rule of thumb is “The higher the class, the higher the cost”.

The Practical Application

By using the NMFC (National Motor Freight Classification) system, shipping managers on both ends have a better idea of what to expect from any given package, and the carrier can rate them accordingly. Carriers usually prefer to handle “safer" and “denser” items (like bricks) which would result in a low freight class, hence a better rates. In other words, the class is crucial because it can save a lot of money if used correctly. To get the best shipping rate, it is imperative that the commodity is classed accurately.