National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA)

What Is the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA)

The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) is a nonprofit organization that represents interstate, intrastate, and international motor carriers. Since 1956, the NMFTA has served the interests of the motor carrier industry, specifically less-than-truckload carriers.

The NMFTA is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and helps set industry standards in commodity packaging and transport.

Key Takeaways

  • The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) is a nonprofit membership organization headed in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • The membership of the NMFTA consists of commercial motor freight carriers in the United States.
  • Only member companies are allowed to reference NMFC standards in their contracts.
  • In order to identify and distinguish between companies, the NMFC assigns each member a Standard Carrier Alpha Code of two to four digits.
  • The NMFTA also divides different types of cargo into eighteen classes, based on their density, stowability, handling, and liability.

Understanding the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA)

NMFTA is the publisher of the national motor freight classification (NMFC), which provides a comparison of all commodities shipped. The scale classifies products and groups them into one of eighteen classes. The designation has a basis on the density, handling, stability, and liability associated with any particular commodity. Used by both carriers and shippers, the NMFC is the standard for shipping negotiations.

The NMFC guidelines provide minimum packaging requirements to protect the particular goods and ensure the products can withstand the less-than-truckload environment. The publication contains the Uniform Straight Bill of Lading and a variety of rules regulating the packaging of commodities. Also included are procedures for the filing and disposition of claims and systems governing interline settlements.

Any transportation company that references the national motor freight classification (NMFC) in its contracts or rates is required to be a National Motor Freight Traffic Association participant or member. NMFTA membership involves the payment of an annual fee and the completion of a licensing agreement.

The Association has an online version of the publication, called ClassIT, which provides additional features such as multiple search parameters, user- and company-defined synonyms, and package and shipment density calculators.

High-density items tend to fall into lower freight classes, making them cheaper to ship. This may be counterintuitive, but the greater the density, the less room it takes up in a shipping container.

The NMFTA and the Standard Carrier Alpha Code

Since the 1960s, the NMFTA has created and managed a unique set of identifiers for transportation companies, called the Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC). The SCAC assigns two to four letter codes to each shipping company. 

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the United Nations EDIFACT system, and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) recognize the shipping standard. Also, The SCAC coding is mandatory when doing business with all U.S. government agencies and most commercial shippers.

SCAC reserves specific codes for particular purposes. As an example, all freight containers’ codes end with the letter “U,” all privately owned railroad cars end with “X,” and "Z" identifies truck chassis and trailers used in intermodal service.

The NMFTA and the Standard Point Location Code

NMFTA further assigns a unique code to major geographic locations in North America which are involved with shipping and receiving goods. This location coding is the Standard Point Location Code (SPLC).

The classification is similar to the codes assigned to airports so individuals can quickly identify destinations. Each identifier is nine digits long and defines the region, state, province, or territory, as well as county and area within the county.

Types of Freight Classes

The NMFTA divides shipping commodities into eighteen classes, based on four factors: density, stowability, handling, and liability.

  • Density refers to the weight per cubic foot of each product–the greater the density, the cheaper it is to carry, since the carrier can fit more of that product into each container.
  • Stowability refers to how easily a shipment can be carried with other freight without risking damage. Oddly-shaped objects are less stowable, and will incur greater shipping costs. Likewise, hazardous materials are more expensive to carry because they cannot be shipped with other products.
  • Handling refers to the difficulty of loading and unloading an item. This may be complicated by a package with unusual dimensions or fragility.
  • Liability accounts for the danger of a shipment being damaged or stolen, or that it might cause damage to neighboring freight. Unsurprisingly, perishable or exceptionally valuable goods tend to bear the greatest liability.

Each shipping class is assigned a number, ranging from 50 to 500. Higher-numbered classes are more expensive to ship.

For example, steel nuts and bolts are in class 50, because they are compact, resist most types of damage, and do not need any special care while handling them. Objects like electronics, ping-pong balls, and antique furniture take up more room and require more care, meaning that they are more expensive to ship on a per-pound basis.

NMFC Codes

In addition to freight classes, the NMFC also assigns shipping codes to the different types of products, based on the type of material and other relevant information. Bricks are listed under NMFC #32100.2, and steel pipes are categorized under NMFC #51200. Both are listed as class 50, because they are relatively dense, durable, and do not require any special care.

NMFC codes are much more specific than freight classes, with further divisions depending on how each product is packaged. These codes are used by commercial freight carriers to determine what freight class each package falls into.

How Do I Find My NMFC Code?

Freight carriers can find the specific NMFC code for each product through ClassIT, an online tool available to NMFT members, or through publications by the NMFTA. Customers can find these numbers printed on the freight quote or bill of lading.

How Do I Find My SCAC Code?

The Standard Carrier Alpha Code is a unique number assigned to commercial freight operators in the United States. You can find the SCAC for a specific company in the Directory of Standard Carrier Alpha Codes, published every year by the NMFTA. There is also a paid online lookup tool. Customers can find the SCAC for their freight company on their bill of lading or by contacting their carrier.

Do You Have to Renew a SCAC Code?

Shipping companies have to renew their SCAC every year by July 1, and the NMFTA sends out renewal notices one month prior. The cost of an NMFTA application is $97 for companies banking within the U.S.

Article Sources
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  1. Freight Pros. "Freight Class Explained."

  2. "LTL Freight Class vs. NMFC Codes: What's the Difference?"

  3. NMFTA. "National Motor Freight Classification."

  4. NMFTA. "Standard Carrier Alpha Codes."

  5. NMFTA. "SCAC Application Process."

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