Transit Systems answers the five most common freight shipping questions. Learn about item restrictions, cost, packaging, truckloads and more.
If you are in need of shipping an item(s) and are not familiar with the inner workings of LTL (less-than-truckload) freight trucking companies, this article will help you understand the basics so you can select the right carrier and handle the job correctly — which will ensure that your appliance, piece of furniture, etc., arrives to its destination in the same condition it left.
1. How much does it cost to ship various items?
Freight classifications were established by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFC). Freight classifications, or classes, are the main component of freight charges. There are 18, listed below in order of cost to ship, from lowest cost to highest cost (and examples for each):
- Class 50 — Fits on standard pallets, durable
- Class 55 — Bricks, cement
- Class 60 — Automotive parts
- Class 65 — Bottled beverages, boxes of books
- Class 70 — Car engines, automotive parts
- Class 77.5 — Tires, bathroom fixtures
- Class 85 — Crated machinery, transmissions
- Class 92.5 — Computers, refrigerators
- Class 100 — Boat covers
- Class 110 — Framed artwork, table saw
- Class 125 — Small appliances
- Class 150 — Bookcases
- Class 175 — Padded furniture, couches
- Class 200 — Boxed mattresses
- Class 250 — Mattresses and box springs, plasma TV
- Class 300 — Cabinets, tables
- Class 400 — Deer antlers
- Class 500 — (Low density or high value) Bags of gold dust, pingpong balls
The class of the item you are shipping is not cut-and-dried. There are four factors that go into determining the freight class of an item:
- Density — The denser the product (weight per cubic foot), the less an LTL carrier will charge. Bricks and cement (Class 55) are much less dense than tables (Class 300), and therefore ship at a lower rate.
- Stowability — Irregularly shaped items (such as deer antlers, Class 400) are difficult to stow in a truck trailer, and therefore ship at a higher rate than, for instance, a box of books (Class 65) that can be stacked easily.
- Handling — Hard-to-handle items — such as pianos, hazardous materials, mattresses, etc. — ship at a higher rate.
- Liability — Items that are highly subject to theft — plasma TVs (Class 250), highly valuable items, perishable items, etc. — ship at a premium as well.
Beyond freight classifications, an LTL carrier may have upcharges for things such as:
- Difficult pickup and delivery points, such as a high-rise apartment in a congested urban area
- Expedited delivery — i.e., a delivery that must be made sooner than the carrier’s normal lead time
- Freight pickup or delivery outside the carrier’s normal area
- Prep work — Some LTL carriers, such as our company, offer additional services to package and prepare your item for shipment. While many people are willing and able to do this themselves, some items, such as valuable antiques, entertainment centers, pianos, etc., usually require professional prep work to reduce the risk of damage.
2. What is the best way to package fragile goods?
Fragile items must be packaged with care to prevent breakage and other damage. No matter how professional and careful the shipper is, loads can shift or encounter bumps along the route for reasons beyond human control. In addition, environmental factors such as extreme heat or cold, exposure to moisture, UV rays, dust and dirt, etc., must also be taken into account. With all this in mind, here are general freight shipping solutions regarding packaging:
- Surface protection. Delicate metal and wood finishes can be protected by applying flexible polypropylene, polyethylene or bubble packaging material, which can be purchased online or in many hardware and office supply stores. Be careful to secure it with a non-staining tape. Otherwise, tape adhesive may transfer to your item, damaging it permanently.
- Moisture/dust/dirt protection. The flexible packaging materials mentioned are all “closed-cell,” so they provide a reliable barrier against moisture, dust and dirt. Depending on the item, these materials can be supplemented with or replaced by polyethylene bags or sheeting (shrouds). An opaque poly bag provides UV protection as well — crucial for items subject to sunlight damage, such as framed photography.
- Cushioning. Flexible polyethylene, polypropylene and bubble packaging make excellent cushioning materials if more of it is used to wrap the item. Paper can be stuffed into boxes, or used to wrap items such as glassware before placing items in a box, to provide adequate protection. Make sure to use unprinted paper (ink transfer can mar damage surfaces) and use a non-abrasive paper for glass and other delicate surfaces.
3. Can transit time be guaranteed?
The standard practice for LTL shippers is to provide a standard lead time to deliver a product, based on the carrier’s normal flow and volume of business. Some shippers will provide a guaranteed delivery date, but it may involve an upcharge, possibly significant.
4. What can be shipped?
LTL carriers handle most anything weighing more than 150 pounds, larger than the maximum size allowed by parcel shippers, and less in volume than what would fill an entire truck trailer. That said, within the world of LTL shippers, many specialize in things such as furniture, oversized items, hazardous materials, perishable items and antiques. Look for carriers with experience handling the item you are shipping — they will give you the best combination of price and service.
5. What happens if my items are lost or damaged? Can they be insured?
LTL carriers generally carry cargo insurance up to a certain maximum. If this is not adequate to cover the item you are shipping, supplemental insurance can be purchased, either through the carrier or a third-party. If you are shipping something valuable, make sure you understand the limitations of the carrier’s insurance coverage so you can supplement it, if necessary. In addition to dollar amounts, be sure to understand what types of loss or damage the carrier’s policy covers and does not cover. For example, a carrier’s policy may cover damage or loss when the carrier is at fault, but may not cover damage or loss if the item was improperly packaged or exposed to extreme weather. This is a situation where additional coverage could be an important consideration. Have other questions about shipping your item? Please contact us — we are eager to help!