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Deadhead Miles in Trucking: How Optimizing for The Trailer Reduces Empty Miles, Bolsters Sustainability

What hemorrhages profits more than empty miles? If you own a logistics business or work in the industry, then you know every mile needs to count. Yet, there are a lot of routes that only have cargo moving one way. Shippers, brokers, and 3PLs with yards and warehouses must address deadhead miles meaningfully to achieve smarter planning, increased revenue, and more sustainable practices.

What is Deadhead in Trucking or Deadhead Miles?

Deadheading refers to a trip made by a tractor (semi-truck) with an empty trailer in tow. Deadhead miles might occur after a lane or trip where cargo is dropped off, but no return load is planned. Deadhead miles also occur when relocating a trailer from a manufacturer or receiver’s yard.

Do Drivers Get Paid for Deadhead Miles?

Typically, drivers don’t get paid for their deadhead miles. Some companies pay for some miles as an incentive, but drivers usually lose out on fuel money for the trip. When moving an empty trailer, a company might pay a slightly lower rate to a power-only company for a tow-away job.

Deadhead Miles vs. Bobtailing

Sometimes companies conflate deadhead miles with bobtailing, but they are two very different things. Bobtailing occurs when the tractor has no trailer attached. So, during a tow away job, the truck might bobtail to the trailer’s location and then deadhead to its destination. Deadhead miles could include a truck hauling an empty container or returning with just a trailer attached.

Challenges of Deadhead Miles in Trucking

Deadhead miles are a waste of time and money. However, avoiding deadhead miles isn’t as easy as it might seem. A lot of complicated logistics planning goes into optimizing a route to prevent empty miles.

The Real Cost of Driving Deadhead Miles

Deadhead miles cost fuel and cause additional wear on the truck. Empty miles also waste a driver’s time and typically don’t pay well. When a company does pay for deadhead miles (like for tow away), it loses out on money it would typically earn to cover the route.

When moving a load, the return trip can take away from the profits. Therefore, deadhead miles can make a route not even worth running. The wasted time, cost of fuel, and maintenance expenses from wear and tear are all adding up with little (or no) pay to compensate for the return trip. Not to mention, deadhead miles can be dangerous.

Why is Deadhead Trucking Dangerous?

The roads can be dangerous places for large trucks. Severe weather conditions, including high winds and black ice, are a huge concern. Truck drivers typically can’t avoid inclement weather or heavy traffic.

Truckers are driving without cargo; a trailer with no weight pulled for what could be hundreds of deadhead miles is more vulnerable to the elements. Empty trailers or containers can cause swaying or flip because of wind on the open road. Many truck drivers aren’t trained for deadhead miles when the truck can be more difficult to control.

Traditional Ways to Reduce Deadhead in Trucking

It makes sense that many logistics companies aim to keep deadhead miles to a minimum. With prices for fuel at a premium, there has never been a better time to optimize routes. Most drivers will do almost anything to find connecting routes or drop-and-hook agreements that increase their profitability with a load for both ways.

There are several common ways logistics companies try to reduce empty miles.

  • Deadhead Mileage Payouts: The easiest way to cover unavoidable deadhead miles is to find jobs that include empty miles to some degree in the payout. However, while this helps with route profitability, it doesn’t make driving safer on the road with an empty trailer.
  • Drop-and-Hook Agreements: Ideally, you can find a route with a shipper or receiver that has return cargo to send. Drop and hook agreements allow drivers to leave a trailer or container while returning with a different load. These lanes aren’t common, but they are ideal setups for eliminating empty miles and detention time.
  • Nearby Return Trips: Another way to reduce empty miles includes finding nearby loads that need to be brought close to the return route. Ideally, gigs will be planned in advance, giving the broker or owner-operator time to search for a return route that helps eliminate the deadhead trip.
  • Load Boards: Typically, load boards offer a convenient way to search for jobs that will work for the return trip. It can be challenging to search through all the listings to find the right route for the return trip at the right time.
  • Freight Pooling: Freight pooling services allow multiple shipments to move in either direction, helping keep the truck full. Freight pooling can include a lot of gig juggling and may be difficult to organize. However, freight pooling can help reduce shippers’ costs while increasing the driver’s profits.

Optimize the Trailer to Optimize Your Trips

It’s time to re-engineer the process surrounding empty miles and deadheading. For decades, logistics companies have been working to manage their trips and avoid costly deadheading manually. As margins get tighter, the tools to support route optimization must improve.

The right marketplace will be unique to the trucking industry while offering enough customization to be unique to each logistics company. Asset owners who want to rent out their trailers will have different needs than the drivers who want to manage load-outs.

How Reducing Empty Miles + Trailer Optimization = Real Sustainability Initiatives

Real sustainability initiatives need to address the core issue. Are you hoping to reduce emissions or cut fuel waste? Attacking empty miles is the best way to make your business more sustainable. When you travel fewer deadhead miles, you make each trip more productive.

Trailer optimization might include renting your trailer to someone with a return trip that fits their route. Rather than wait for unloading, your driver could take on another load for the return trip, and a different driver could relocate your trailer as part of a load-out job.

But coordinating sustainable trailer sharing also means having a realistic process to manage the job alignment. You can’t spend hours and hours trying to eliminate deadhead miles, or you are still wasting essential resources. You need a workable solution that doesn’t require staffing or eat away at your profits.

Badger Never Stops Working for You

Technology is continually optimizing how we operate. Just like you now use a GPS to guide your route, it’s time to use vHub to reduce your deadhead miles. vHub created Badger—a feature that doesn’t stop looking for the most optimized connections to help improve your asset utilization and profitability.

Badger uses your details (route, trailer, times) and checks them against asset listings (trailer details, location, availability, cost). By instantly assessing the data, Badger takes on the job of sorting through details and weighing out matches.

Like a honey badger, this vHub feature never quits—technology doesn’t get tired or need to clock out. You can use Badger to keep analyzing the possibilities, helping you optimize your routes as much as possible.

Interlock Helps Drive Business Logic

vHub also standardizes the asset-sharing process so you can feel confident in your agreements. With the Interlock feature, vHub helps you automate billing and payment processing as much as possible.

Interlock also helps you analyze the numbers with dynamic reports that help you make informed business decisions. You can’t optimize what you aren’t measuring. Smarter tools make it possible to do more and make the most out of every mile.

vHub Can Help You Optimize Routes to Reduce Deadhead Miles

vHub is an open network optimization software that helps you run your business and improve outcomes.

Are you ready to attack deadhead miles and optimize your routes? Sign up for your free account at vHub today and discover how our tools help you increase capacity and get more out of every asset.

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