Demystifying Freight Classes and Cargo Specifications

Thursday, 07 September 2023 | Freight Shipping



In the world of logistics and shipping, understanding freight classes and cargo specifications is crucial. These two factors play a pivotal role in determining shipping costs, ensuring cargo safety, and facilitating efficient transportation. In this blog post, we will demystify freight classes and cargo specifications, shedding light on what they are and why they matter in the shipping industry.

What Are Freight Classes?

Freight classes are a standardized classification system used to categorize different types of cargo based on various characteristics. The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) system is the most widely adopted system in North America and serves as the foundation for determining freight classes. The NMFC system assigns a unique freight class code to each type of cargo, which is used by carriers to calculate shipping rates.

Factors That Determine Freight Classes:

  1. Density: One of the primary factors influencing freight class is cargo density. Cargo is classified into one of 18 classes (ranging from class 50 to class 500) based on its pounds per cubic foot (PCF) measurement. The higher the cargo's PCF, the lower its freight class, and vice versa. Denser cargo is typically easier and cheaper to transport.

  2. Stowability: Stowability refers to how easily and efficiently the cargo can be loaded and secured in a trailer or shipping container. Cargo that is difficult to handle or requires specialized equipment may have a higher freight class.

  3. Handling: Some types of cargo require extra care or attention during transportation, increasing the handling requirements and, consequently, the freight class. Cargo that is fragile, hazardous, or perishable falls into this category.

  4. Liability: Liability is associated with cargo that poses risks during transportation, such as the potential for damage to other cargo or the environment. Hazardous materials, for example, have higher liability and therefore higher freight classes.

Why Do Freight Classes Matter?

Understanding freight classes is vital for several reasons:

  1. Accurate Pricing: Freight classes determine the shipping rates for cargo. Shippers need to correctly identify the freight class of their goods to obtain accurate pricing from carriers and avoid disputes.

  2. Cost Control: By selecting the right freight class, shippers can control shipping costs. Lower freight classes result in lower shipping rates, which can significantly impact a company's bottom line.

  3. Cargo Safety: Properly classifying cargo ensures that it is handled and transported appropriately. This reduces the risk of damage or accidents during transit.

Cargo Specifications: What You Need to Know

Cargo specifications refer to detailed information about the cargo being shipped. This includes not only the freight class but also specific details such as dimensions, weight, packaging, and any special handling requirements. Accurate cargo specifications are essential for safe and efficient transportation. They help carriers determine the most suitable equipment and handling procedures for the cargo.


Freight classes and cargo specifications are integral components of the shipping and logistics industry. They impact shipping costs, cargo safety, and the overall efficiency of the transportation process. Shippers must familiarize themselves with these concepts and provide accurate information to carriers to ensure a smooth and cost-effective shipping experience. Whether you are shipping goods with unique characteristics or standard cargo, understanding and correctly applying freight classes and cargo specifications will help you make informed decisions and optimize your shipping operations.