How Density Affects Freight Class


“Lorraine, my density has brought me to you.” — George McFly, “Back to the Future”

George McFly may have misspoken, but for LTL freight shipments, density indeed plays a huge role in bringing items to you.

The basis of LTL freight shipping rates is the freight class, a system developed and overseen by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). Freight classifications — referred to collectively as National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) — are based on four major factors: stowability, handling, liability, and last but definitely not least, density.

What Is Density?

Density is defined as the weight (in pounds) of your item per cubic foot. A high-density item is a dumbbell or bar of gold. An item with low density is a pillow or box of feathers.

Why Density Matters

In the LTL shipping world, the denser the item, the less expensive it is to ship — generally speaking. In all, there are 18 freight classes, primarily organized according to the density of the item being shipped.

Freight Class 55, the lowest-cost freight class, applies to very dense items (35 to 50 pounds per cubic foot) such as bricks, stones and hardwood flooring. Freight Class 250, in contrast, is toward the other end of the spectrum and covers items with a density of 3 to 4 pounds per cubic foot — mattresses, wicker furniture, plasma TVs, etc.

Freight Rates and Total Freight Charges

Keep in mind, lower-density products earn a lower freight rate, but the total freight charge is connected to the overall shipping weight. In other words, shipping 5,000 pounds of books (very dense) will be more expensive in total than shipping 50 pounds of pillows.

To accurately determine the freight class of the item you are shipping, rely on the LTL shippers from which you obtain estimates. Freight class assignments are not always cut and dried, but a professional shipping company will know how to classify most items based on experience and industry knowledge.

LTL Freight Shipping Cost Factors Beyond Density

As mentioned earlier, the other key factors in determining freight classification are stowability, handling and liability. Let’s take a quick look:

  • Items that are hard to stow, such as an entertainment center or canoe, require the LTL carrier to use special handling equipment and procedures, necessitating a higher shipping charge.
  • Items that are hard to handle, such as an antique cabinet, glassware or perishable item, again require the carrier to use special handling techniques that increase the cost of shipping.
  • Expensive items and items that are especially fragile require the carrier to assume greater liability risk, causing such freight shipments to go at higher rates. To cover the liability, the carrier must obtain additional insurance as well as handle the product using more stringent procedures.

Bring Your Density to Us!

Transit Systems, Inc. has decades of experience helping consumers and businesses ship hard-to-handle, unusual and/or delicate items. If you have a very dense item to ship, or one with very low density, we know how to find the most cost-effective and reliable LTL shipping option. Please contact us now for an estimate or to discuss your needs — we are standing by, ready to assist!