Trucks side by side

A few years ago, trucking companies would regularly deadhead their trucks 100 or more miles to get to their next load. Today experts say that average has been reduced to around 60 miles. Fuel costs and other expenses make deadheading a losing proposition for trucking companies.

One solution to deadheading is backhauling. A backhaul is freight carried on a return trip back to or near your home base. In most cases, you will use a different shipper on the backhaul than you did for the outbound freight. For example, your driver may haul a load for a furniture client from Des Moines to a Walmart store in Olathe, Kan. He then drives to nearly Lenexa, Kan., to pick up a load of appliances from another shipper. The driver backhauls that load to your home base of Des Moines. 

The Re-Load

In some cases, you may be able to use the same shipping customer for the outbound load as well as a return trip. This is called a “round-trip load” or a “re-load.” Here is a fictional example of how that kind of arrangement works:

As the accompanying map illustrates, your company has just hauled a full truckload of furniture 550 miles from St. Louis (“1”) to ABC Distributors in Atlanta (“2”). Before the shipment arrives, you send a courtesy email to ABC asking if they have any loads that your company can haul on the way back to your home base of St. Louis. You tell them you are willing to haul a load at a discount in order to avoid returning home with an empty trailer. Your contact at ABC informs you that the company does need to move a load of carpets from Atlanta to Louisville, Ky. (“3”). You accept the load because it means that you will be paid for 420 of the 680 miles returning from Atlanta to St. Louis.

Cutting Down on Deadhead Miles

Backhauls do not have to be direct trips back to your headquarters. They can involve getting to other lanes you want to use. For example, your company moves a load from Cleveland ("4") to Miami ("5") for $2.30 per mile. The backhaul you are able to get from Miami only pays $1.10 a mile – just enough to cover your operating expenses. However, that backhaul gets your truck to Charlotte, where you have another load waiting that will pay your company $2.00 a mile. Even though your backhaul from Miami to Charlotte was at a greatly reduced rate, it is preferable to the empty miles of deadheading.

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