Running on an empty trailer is a major problem in the trucking industry. Commonly called as deadheading, this scenario typically happens when you drive to and from the shipping and unloading points. The distance traveled while the trailer is empty is called deadhead miles. These miles burn gas and wear out your tires, pulling down your potential profit. A reduction in deadhead miles can significantly help your business achieve its financial goals.

You can calculate the actual deadhead miles by getting the total miles driven less the miles that are paid. The difference will be deadhead miles.

Safety Problem with Deadheading

Aside from money wasted on deadhead miles, there’s also a safety issue. An empty rig can be difficult to control especially with bad weather conditions and strong winds. Side winds can knock you around if you are not careful.

When traveling empty, set the trailer’s tire pressure appropriately to 10 or 15 psi. Full inflation is only needed on a full load. With an empty trailer, reducing the psi allows the tires to absorb bumps and keep the trailer from shaking and bouncing around.

DOT Requirement

When you are traveling deadhead miles, you are still considered officially on duty since you are moving a commercial vehicle. Because of that, make sure to keep your logs in order and indicate that you are on an empty load.

How to Reduce Deadhead Miles

While it’s safe to say that deadheading is part of the business, your load rate should be able to cover the cost. It may be impossible to always run fully loaded, but planning your route in advance can make a big difference. Many load boards allow you to see on your map any available load on your route. Even if it is just a partial load, at least you’ll not be running empty. 

Additionally, reducing deadhead miles is easier if you do it before accepting the load. Ask yourself if there are other loads that are closer. If there are, prepare your cost-benefit analysis and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

How to Offset Deadhead Miles Cost

Since you can’t avoid deadhead miles, you might as well just offset the cost. Some truckers do it by setting a minimum load rate. This means that they won’t accept any load that falls below their minimum rate. The minimum rate is the rate that allows the truck to run empty while still achieving the desired margin of profit. When computing your minimum rate, you may consider not just the cost of fuel but also the prorated wear and tear cost of tires. You could then use it as a basis when choosing loads.

Another common approach to offset the cost of deadhead miles is by implementing fuel surcharges. Typically, this is computed considering the trailer’s average miles per gallon, fuel cost, and total deadhead miles. You can then insert the fuel charges into the quoted rates.


If you are in the hotshot business, you can always expect to experience deadheading. While you can’t totally avoid it, there are ways on how you can possibly maximize your potential profit. If you know of other ways to reduce deadhead miles, please feel free to share with us through the comment box below.