New Carriers

How Deadhead Miles Impacts Your Trucking Business

Published on
May 22, 2022
min read

The trucking industry is much more logistical than many people understand from the outside. Knowing this from the get-go and learning how to most efficiently schedule your pick-up and drop-off locations will help you to lessen your deadhead miles and increase your productivity and income. 

What Does Deadhead Mean in Trucking?

You may have heard the phrase in trucking that “if the wheels aren’t rolling then you aren’t making money”. Deadhead is kind of the opposite of that saying because the wheels are rolling but you are actually losing money because you aren’t currently hauling a load. Whether you are driving from one shipper to the next or you have delivered a load and then getting ready to head back home, anytime that your trailer is not loaded you are not bringing in money. 

Not only are you not bringing in money but you are actually losing money because you are using fuel, wear and tear on your tractor unit, producing emissions into the air, and putting yourself at a larger risk of being involved in a wreck. Many people don’t realize that since trailers are designed to carry products that when they are empty the weight distribution is now an issue. If you are in an area with high winds or other weather conditions such as ice or snow you are much safer if the trailer is loaded. If you come upon a trailer that is doing a lot of moving on the road there is a very good chance that it is empty. 

How Deadhead Impacts Owner Operators

There are many advantages to being an owner operator but there are also some disadvantages to not having that company safety blanket that often covers trucking industry downsides such as deadheading. There are some companies that will pay their driver’s deadhead miles after a certain number (the average is 100). 

If you are an owner operator the deadhead miles that you run are coming out of your pocket. Some of the out-of-pocket costs an owner operator might be out while driving deadhead miles include:

  • Fuel-Your truck needs fuel at all times. Whether you are driving to deliver a load, sitting and needing to run the air conditioner or heater, or when you’re driving and not loaded. With fuel being a major expense in your business and it is one factor that you might not have control of the overall costs of, you can do your best to plan your routes so that you’re using it as efficiently as possible. 
  • Mileage on your Truck’s Motor-Every mile that you put on your truck engine’s motor not only depreciates its value but will also up your overall maintenance, which we will go over next. Trucks travel a lot of miles and if you are able to be loaded through the majority of those miles it will be better for your truck and for you. 
  • Maintenance-Everyday maintenance on your truck is another large expense in your business. Every mile that you travel gets you closer to your next oil change, fuel filter change, tire change, and other wear and tear factors that will cost you money. Driving excess miles during deadhead periods will also up your maintenance costs. 
  • Time-On the road time is money and your time is very important. It is crucial to remember that whether you are an owner operator or a company driver time should be factored in just like any other cost. The time that is spent deadheading between loads or from unloading your trailer and then traveling home is important to be used as efficiently as possible. There may only be 24 hours in a day and there are only so many hours of service you can legally drive so using those to the best of your ability will keep your trucking business rolling in the green. 

How To Handle Deadhead Miles in Trucking

The best way to keep your deadhead miles to a minimum in the trucking industry is proper planning. Taking a look at where your load is and then scheduling one that is nearby will keep your trailer loaded and your money rolling in. 

If you are doing all of your own scheduling, and if you are new to the industry and haven’t built strong relationships with your shippers yet to know when and where the best logistical trips will be for you, load boards can be very helpful. There are even some load boards that will send alerts if you have your GPS connected with your phone and they have loads available in the vicinity of the area you are in. 

You can also use a broker when planning your loads and they will have better access to shippers and know which routes will provide the least amount of deadhead miles. This does come at an added upfront cost, however, if you are saving multiple deadhead miles it could really even out in the end and keep your trailer loaded more frequently as you aren’t constantly trying to figure out where the next load is going to come from. There are some brokers that also offer deadhead incentive miles if they have loads that need to be picked up between certain destinations. 

What is a Deadhead Fee?

A deadhead fee is something you need to figure out when planning your loads for each day or week. If you sit down and add up what your truck makes per mile then figure every mile that you’re empty is your deadhead fee per mile. You want to try and keep these to a bare minimum so that your truck is making the most money possible and you are running the most efficient business that you can. 

Not only are you saving yourself money but you are also helping the environment by not creating emissions into the air without actually being productive on the road. A truck and trailer will create close to the same emissions whether loaded or unloaded so it is vital to make sure that you are loaded and hauling products to people as much as you can.

No matter where you are in your business journey, Truckbase can help you build your trucking business by reducing your office time which enables you to spend more time on the road. Check out our demo today!

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