Battle of the Freight Tariffs: Density or NMFC – Navigating the Best Path to Stable Shipping Costs

Density-Based vs. NMFC-Based Freight Tariffs: A Comparative Analysis

Freight classification is a critical component of the shipping industry, providing a framework for determining shipping costs based on various parameters. Two predominant systems have been widely adopted: density-based freight tariffs and National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) based freight tariffs. This essay will dive deep into the positives and negatives of each classification system and offer insights into achieving the most stable and optimal freight prices using each method.

Density-Based Freight Tariffs:


  1. Simplicity and Transparency: One of the foremost advantages of density-based pricing is its inherent simplicity. Calculated based on the weight and volume of the shipment, it offers a direct, unambiguous measure of costs. Shippers can quickly determine the tariff without delving into intricate classification charts. This simplicity can also reduce the potential for disputes about product classification, ensuring transparency between shippers and carriers.

  2. Adaptability: The density-based system offers a degree of flexibility that can be particularly beneficial for shippers transporting unusual items or products with inconsistent densities. Without the constraints of pre-determined categories, shippers can feel confident that they’re paying a rate genuinely reflective of their shipment’s physical characteristics.

  3. Immutability: The stability of this method lies in its resistance to arbitrary changes. Unlike NMFC classifications that can be updated, density remains a constant, objective measure.


  1. Potential for Increased Costs: This model isn’t always the most economical. Lightweight items that occupy considerable space can result in higher tariffs under this system, potentially making it less attractive for shippers of such goods.

  2. Precision Requirements: The need for exact measurements in determining weight and volume introduces room for error. Mistakes can lead to mispriced shipments, which can either cause financial losses for the shipper or disputes with carriers.

NMFC-Based Freight Tariffs:


  1. Uniformity and Predictability: The NMFC provides a cohesive structure that many industry players are accustomed to. With standardized classifications, it offers predictability, enabling shippers to estimate costs without recalculating parameters continually.

  2. Economical for Specific Commodities: Many shippers find that for certain goods, the NMFC classification results in more favorable rates compared to density-based tariffs.

  3. Widespread Acceptance: Given its longstanding use, carriers and shippers alike are well-versed in the NMFC system, leading to smoother communications and fewer misunderstandings.


  1. Inherent Complexity: With a plethora of classifications, determining the appropriate category can be a daunting task for shippers, particularly those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the NMFC.

  2. Fluctuations in Classification: The NMFTA regularly revises the NMFC. Such updates can lead to shifts in freight classes, which can consequently alter shipping costs, causing unpredictability for shippers.

  3. Audit Liabilities: Misclassifying freight can be costly. If carriers identify discrepancies during audits, they can levy additional charges, leading to financial implications for shippers.

Achieving Stability in Freight Costs:

For those favoring density-based tariffs, the key to stable pricing lies in:

  • Investing in accurate weighing and measuring equipment.
  • Regularly training staff on the correct procedures to ensure consistency.
  • Building strong relationships with carriers to negotiate terms that account for any discrepancies or errors.

For those leaning towards NMFC-based tariffs:

  • Regularly reviewing NMFC updates to stay abreast of any changes.
  • Ensuring meticulous documentation to reduce the risk of audit discrepancies.
  • Consulting with freight brokers or industry experts to ensure correct classification.

In conclusion, while both density-based and NMFC-based freight tariffs offer unique advantages, the optimal choice hinges on a shipper’s specific needs, the nature of their goods, and their operational capabilities. By understanding the nuances of each system and taking proactive measures, shippers can achieve stable and cost-effective freight prices regardless of their chosen tariff structure

Looking to for help exploring the best and most economical freight classification options for your business? Easy Logistics can help! We have access to exclusive discounts with a wide variety of carriers, using both freight classifications systems. So give us a call to discuss both options for your business today!

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