What Does Deadhead Mean In Trucking? Definition, Cons And Prevention

The logistics industry consists of a wide array of different sub-topics, metrics, and processes to keep in mind as a fleet manager.

However, one of the terms that are absolutely essential and cannot be neglected is deadhead trucking.

In the following sections, we explain in detail:

  • What does deadhead mean in trucking?
  • What are the drawbacks of deadheading?
  • Tips for avoiding deadheading


What is deadhead in trucking?

Before we can get to the meat and potatoes or the practical part of this article, it’s key to focus on the basics – What is deadhead trucking in the first place? And what are deadhead miles in trucking?

Deadhead trucking, in essence, represents the process of a truck driver carrying back an empty trailer after successfully transporting cargo to a customer or specific location.

Here’s why.

Deadhead trucks have attached trailers but no freight. In other words, deadheading is simply operating a cargo-carrying truck or a semi-truck that’s pulling a trailer with no cargo to return to its original location.

The details surrounding deadheading are important as there’s another term in the industry that represents a similar situation – bobtailing. However, in bobtailing, the cargo carrying truck doesn’t have an attached trailer.

This is an inevitable situation for most fleets that results in significant losses. Some of the consequences include higher transportation and delivery costs, poor overall efficiency, and more.

As a fleet manager or owner, you may be familiar with the term deadhead miles. These are the miles that the vehicle has covered with an empty load.

So do trucking companies pay for deadhead miles? In most cases – no. There are companies that pay for deadhead miles after a certain milestone (for example, 100 miles). However, this isn’t mandatory.

Company drivers might receive payment for deadhead mileage, where owner-operators usually cover the costs.

Downsides of deadheading

While deadheading is considered something completely natural in fleet management, it goes hand in hand with a range of undesired consequences.

Financial implications

One of the most serious implications of deadhead trucking is the increased operational costs.

Just like loaded trailers, empty trailers require similar amounts of fuel. At the same time, they are not as financially rewarding as they don’t accumulate any income throughout the duration of the ride.

Put otherwise, deadhead trucking means that companies only incur fuel costs and other operational expenses yet don’t receive anything in return.

Environmental impact

Another serious threat of deadhead trucking is the environmental impact.

The higher your deadhead miles, the greater your carbon emissions. This can be detrimental for fleet companies oriented towards greener and environmentally safe practices.

Not to mention that deadhead trucking can compromise your brand and prevent you from positioning your company as a business with environmentally friendly processes.

Safety concerns

Last but not least, there are multiple safety-related concerns when it comes to deadhead trucking.

Deadheading’s contribution to road dangers

In situations of harsh weather conditions, the risks for drivers operating an empty trailer are higher. For example, winds, ice, and other factors are more challenging to tackle without cargo as the vehicle is more vulnerable.

For example, there are risks of the trailer flipping open or swaying, making the truck extremely hard to control.

Fatigue and stress on drivers

In addition, deadheading can have a negative impact on driver performance.

The motivation and excitement related to delivering cargo are associated with money-making opportunities and higher payments for drivers. On the other hand, carrying empty cargo could be demotivating, leading to stress and more frequently experienced fatigue.

How to avoid deadheading?

Luckily, there are several proven ways to avoid deadheading in your fleet.

Here are some of the most popular options:

  • Route optimization technologies – The first step in reducing deadhead trucking is to assess your existing routes via advanced technology. Precise route planning can help you bring down to a minimum your trips with zero cargo. For example, rely on routing software solutions to evaluate traffic patterns, weather conditions, fuel costs, any road fees, and more.
  • Load planning and backhauls – Load planning and scheduling is another fleet management area that you can concentrate on to reduce deadhead trucking. In the ideal case, try to organize routes for loads that require return materials. This can be done by other partners near the drop-off destination.
  • Collaborative partnerships with other carriers – Following from the previous point, you can work together with other carriers in your area to help each other minimize your deadheading. In this case, you’ll need to synchronize schedules and keep your drivers up to date with new plans and schedules.
  • Use freight matching platforms – digital freight-matching platforms serve as the nexus linking shippers and carriers, aligning their needs and capacities to enhance cargo logistics while minimizing inefficiencies like deadheading.


By utilizing these tips, you can bring down deadheading to a minimum, ultimately improving the overall performance of your fleet.

Wrap up

While deadhead trucking is a popular scenario for most fleets, there are practices that can be implemented to significantly reduce it. However, to achieve this, you’ll need all the available information you can get access to in regard to your fleet’s operations.

With real-time fleet insights, we can help you make strategic decisions and improve the efficiency of your fleet vehicles.

Ready to find out more?

Schedule a free online demo with Fleetpal and learn more about our solution.

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Mike Valnev