Sharpen Your Bill of Lading, Pay Less in Freight

Cooler Connection

It used to seem like motor carriers would “look the other way” when it came to the way shippers filled out their bill of ladings.  As long as the freight class that went along with the description was “close to what they were shipping, the carriers never bothered with it.  However, now there is too much of an extra revenue source for the carriers to ignore these poorly filled out descriptions and have incentivized dock workers to capitalize on shippers who do not fill this out the proper way.

The biggest mistake people make when filling out a bill of lading is they simply put a basic description of the product like “plastic figurines”.  The problem is that plastic figurines are a density item according to the NMFC and can be classified at any class from a 70 to a 400 (which is a difference of about 250% in price).

Without a classification number, the carriers have every right to bill out at a class 400 if “plastic figurines” is all they are given.  The proper way to describe this item on a bill of lading is to write a description which includes the NMFC issued number.  This is a perfect way to describe this item “Plastic Articles, NMFC #157320 Sub 8, Class 85.”

Elizabeth LaFleur, freight auditor for Logistics Management, Inc., says shippers will cut down on a lot of headaches if they followed this simple process.  LaFleur says, “When a carrier see’s a poor description, they red flag it and can classify it at a much higher class.  If the description on the bill of lading is vague, a lot of times there is nothing that can be done to fight it.  However, if the item number is on the bill of lading then there, is no problem.”

Not only can this be a hassle, the cost can be significant to a shipper.  The way it is nowadays in the freight world is if a shipper does not fill out their bill of lading accurately they get nailed not only with the difference in the freight class but also with a “Weight & Inspection” fee which can be as high as $30.00.

What a Bill of Lading Should NOT Look Like

Recently I visited a prospect that was getting overwhelmed with Weight & Inspections from carriers.  They pulled their bill of ladings for me and on them was the description for “tools”.  There was two problems with this description.  First, “tools” is too vague of a description and second, they were actually shipping drive shafts and other engine parts for race cars.

Don’t laugh, they are not alone.  In fact, many shippers have similar scenarios.  What is a familiar story at a lot of companies is that some carrier rep provided a description 20 years ago and that is the way bill of ladings have been filled out ever since.

There is no descriptions in the NMFC for just “tools” so this description would trigger dock workers to perform a W&I to change the class.  You can bet they will change it to the highest possible class for a tool.

What was interesting in this example is that when we properly classified their products, most of the engine parts were actually a lower class than the class the carriers were billing them at under “tools”.

By doing nothing more than helping this customer to fill their bill of lading properly this customer lowered their freight cost by about 12%.  Of course, the president of that company and I are friends for life now.

What can you do?

There are two things that you can do to eliminate carrier inspections.  First, get the weight right.  Once the carriers determine you to be one who “guesses low on weight”, then you are flagged in their system.  You will be nailed every time by W&I teams.

Secondly, and most important: be as accurate as possible with your description.  Make sure you have the most up to date NMFC number followed by the description (the way it is read in the NMFC).  When your bill of lading is properly filled out, the clerk at the carrier is more likely to move to the next bill of lading.

What a Bill of Lading Should Look Like

This is the text book way to fill out a bill of lading.

Now it is very important to follow these instructions more than ever.  Not only are the carriers looking for the extra cash, the NMFC guide is changing all the time.  Sometimes they are making change which make the classes higher.  Sometimes they are actually changing them to be lower.  The most important part is get with someone who is very familiar with the NMFC guide and get them to properly fill out your bill of lading the correct way.

Article written by Tim Walsh

Tim Walsh Logistics Management Inc. 908.879.2940

Truckload…Flatbed…Rail Shipments : 800.426.8896 # 5


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How the NMFC Affects Your Business

Cooler Connection

The NMFC has something to do with freight class. That is about all most of us know what the NMFC is all about. But it can’t hurt to know more what the NMFC is, who runs it, where does it come from, how do I get one, this article is for you! After this article, you will know exactly what the NMFC is and how it affects your business.

First off, the NMFC stands for National Motor Freight Classification. It is a guide used to classify all the commodities shipped and handled by motor carriers in North America.  The commodities are assigned one of 18 different classes – from a low of 50 to a high of 500 – based on four transportation characteristics:  density, stowability, handling and liability.

It also includes rules and packaging requirements for each type of commodity to ensure adequate protection for products moving in the LTL motor carrier service.

The NMFC constitutes industry standards which are developed and maintained by the National Classification Committee (NCC), an autonomous committee of 100 carrier representatives who are elected to represent the more than 1,000 motor carriers participating in the NMFC. The NCC’s activities are regulated by the US Surface Transportation Board which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

The NMFC is published by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, VA.

Defining Freight Class

Although, classes are determined by density, stowability, handling and liability, the biggest factor in determining the class is the density. The denser the commodity is, the lower the freight class. Always remember that!

Here is a “rule of thumb” we folks in the freight industry use to do a quick guestimate to determine a particular freight class. Of course this should be backed up by the NFMC but you can a pretty accurate idea of a freight class by following this chart.


The first column shows the pounds per cubic foot (PCF). The second column shows freight class. So when the PCF is greater than the number in the first column, than the class will likely be the number in the second column.

PCF     Class
50        50
35        55
30        60
22.5     65
15        70
13.5     77
12        85
10.5     92
9         100
8         110
7         125
6         150
5         175
4         200
3         250
2         300
1         400
< 1     500

Article by George Muha and Tim Walsh

Tim Walsh and George Muha are NJ based employees of  Logistics Mangement, Inc (LMI).

Contact Tim today for a FREE Freight Evaluation to see how much savings is available to your company!

Tim can be reached at or (908) 879-2940.


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