Trucking Term

A Trucking Term Trio: Headhaul, Backhaul, and Deadhead

by Nadia Brosious

Time for a pop quiz, team! In one of our recent “trucking term” blog posts, we laid out lingo popular in freight industry circles, and now we’d like to revisit two Trucking terms and add yet another. Do you remember what backhauls and headhauls are? Extra credit for those who know what a deadhead is. There’s a difference between defining a word and understanding its function, so we’re going to break them down and explain what they are.

Knowing Each Trucking Term

It’s important to stay up to date with logistic slang if you are a frequent to shipping freight. while we go over this important trucking term trio take a moment and see how these three methods can save you or your business money.

The Trucking Term Trio

With there being a dictionary of trucking terms and having thousands to go through. Today we will be focusing on the three: deadhead, backhaul, and headhaul.


In our industry, a deadhead is not, in fact, a fan of the band, Grateful Dead. It might as well be a curse upon carriers for as much as we like encountering it in freight (which is not at all!). Deadheads happen when trucks make it to point B but have no backhaul to return. That leaves them with an empty trailer, and empty trailers are bad business. They are an occasional, necessary burden to bear while driving to a location that has a load ready for pickup. Otherwise, carriers should avoid them at all costs (to save on costs).

While most drivers are paid in the event of a deadhead (though typically not as much if they had cargo), it can cost owner-operators money, even out of pocket.

It’s not just a monetary danger for carriers. An empty trailer can endanger the driver. With a deadhead, trailers aren’t anchored by the weight of a load. This becomes hazardous in bad weather (even against a strong wind). Bad weather means an unwieldy trailer, which is perilous for everyone on the road.


Backhauls are a step up from a deadhead—a pretty big step, actually. These are the journeys trucks take, cargo in tow, back to (or near) their point of origin to start their next delivery. Drivers typically find backhaul from shippers different from their outbound load. This way they aren’t left with deadhead mileage.

Let’s say your driver has an outbound load from a primary customer in Jacksonville, Florida, for a warehouse in Richmond, Virginia. On their way back home, they drive out to Norfolk to pick up a load from a separate client, slated for delivery back in Jacksonville. The driver backhauls the freight to Florida and delivers it before heading home.

Backhauls aren’t always direct trips back to the home base and can involve dusting off another freight lane.

Another possibility for a backhaul is if the customer for your outbound load has a delivery for the driver on their return trip. This is what we refer to as a re-load or a round-trip load. It saves time and money since backhaul is a guarantee.

Because backhauls are necessary, even though they’re intermediary pickups, demand is lower, which makes rates lower. It’s important that the truck returns to its home base in good time to load up with freight from one of its primary customers. Since headhauls—as we’ll explain in a moment—are the best hauls, we suggest backhaul and avoiding deadhead.


And, of course, we’re saving best for last. For carriers, headhauls are the golden goose. Headhauls are the highest revenue-generating shipping lane. These are shipments that are closer relationally to the carrier themselves. They are usually easy to acquire loads from primary customers and promise a full truck; there’s no need to drive empty. These are the best jobs for everyone involved.

So, remember: love headhauls, hate deadheads, and embrace backhauls!

We Are Here For You

Are you having trouble sending your cargo or want to learn another trucking term? Read up on our past ” trucking term” blogs and let FreightCenter help! We are experts when it comes to shipping products both nationally and internationally. Our freight agents can ease you into the process to ensure it’s a smooth ride for both you and your shipment. Use FreightCenter’s free online freight quote tool to begin. For other locations, call our international shipping experts at 800.716.7608. Saving money doesn’t have to cost more in the long haul: Let FreightCenter be your “one-stop ship.”

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