Deadheading is still a problem in the trucking industry.

Deadheading is running an empty trailer as you drive to and from the shipping and unloading points. The distance that you travel while the trailer is empty is called deadhead miles. It burns gas, wears out your tires, and pulls down your potential profit. If you want your business to hit its financial targets, you must drastically reduce your deadhead miles.

But how exactly do you calculate deadhead miles? It’s quite simple: Just subtract paid miles from total miles driven.

Why Deadheading Can Be Unsafe

Aside from money wasted, there’s another more serious problem with deadheading — safety. An empty rig is harder to control in strong wind or inclement weather. If you’re not careful, side winds can knock you around.

So how do you cope with this problem? When traveling empty, reduce your trailer’s tire pressure. Specifically, set the tire pressure to only 10 or 15 psi. (You only need full inflation on a full load.) In this way, it can absorb bumps better and keep the trailer from bouncing around and shaking.

Keep a Log of Deadhead Miles

Some truckers may assume they’re no longer on duty when they’re traveling deadhead miles. But this is a mistake. You’re still considered officially on duty since you are moving a commercial vehicle. Because of that, there’s a DOT requirement to keep your logs in order and indicate when you are running an empty trailer.

How to Reduce Deadhead Miles

While running fully loaded is the ideal, it’s not always possible. But with some planning, you can drastically minimize deadhead miles. Check the load boards to see if there’s even a partial load along your route. And before accepting any load, check if there are other closer loads. If you find that there are, weigh the pros and cons (or do a cost-benefit analysis) before deciding to accept the load.

How to Offset the Cost of Deadhead Miles

Since deadhead miles are unavoidable, the best you can do is offset the cost by setting a minimum load rate. That means you won’t accept any load that falls below this number. This ensures that you can allow your truck to run empty while still achieving your desired margin of profit. When computing this minimum rate, take into consideration the cost of fuel plus the prorated wear and tear cost of tires.

Another strategy is to add fuel surcharges as part of the quoted rates. This is computed by taking into account the trailer’s fuel cost, average miles per gallon, and total deadhead miles.

The Bottom Line

As long as you’re in the hotshot business, deadheading is unavoidable. However, you can still maximize your profit potential by utilizing these strategies. If you have other strategies to reduce deadhead miles, please share them with us in the comments below.