Trucking seems straightforward but there are a lot of logistics that go into it.

Let’s find out what deadheading means and how it affects truckers and the amount of money they can earn.

What does deadhead mean in trucking: Deadheading is when you don’t have anything in the trailer behind your semi-truck.

This usually happens if you need to transport cargo from one place to the other, but don’t pick up anything for the return trip.

Deadheading can be dangerous as strong winds can topple the unbalanced trailer. While truckers may receive a small payment for deadheading, it is not profitable.

Those that have to travel long distances with no cargo can look at load boards to pick up jobs along their route.

What is Deadhead pay?        

Luckily, trucking companies do their best to minimize the miles spend while deadheading.

Not only do they want to maximize their profits but they want to incentivize truckers to stay on with their company.

You might be able to receive deadhead pay when you are driving without a load.

This is less than what you would make if you were transporting something but can still cover essential costs such as gas.

Deadhead pay is usually determined by mileage.

Drivers will record their mileage and then be compensated for this amount.

Just note that deadhead pay is normally for longer trips.

Short trips, where you return from a delivery with an empty trailer, are seen as standard and just something you have to deal with in the industry.

Why is deadheading expensive?

Truckers can potentially end up losing money if they need to deadhead and there is little compensation attached to it.

While deadheading once in a while is the norm, if you find yourself regularly in this experience, it is imperative to negotiate more money with your trucking company.

Even if you get paid a nominal amount, there are other costs associated with deadheading that the rate might not cover.

This includes the cost of gas as well as the extra wear on your tires.

Then, you can also think about how much more money you would be making if you were actually transporting cargo, and thus receiving your full pay.

What is a Deadhead route?

What is a Deadhead route

Once you are established in the trucking industry, it is easier to find ways to maximize your potential profit.

Picking up short routes while deadheading is one of these.

While most truckers have contracts with companies, there are also one-off routes that truckers can pick up.

These are usually accessed through load boards.

Truckers can look on load boards to see what routes are available to pick up.

Then, they can match the available routes with their predetermined deadhead route, and then still make money.

Unfortunately, extra planning is needed and sometimes the routes don’t match up perfectly.

Still, if you are in for a long and poorly paid drive, trying to pick up extra work is something to consider.

How do you calculate Deadhead?

Deadheading is simply the amount of distance traveled without any cargo in your trailer.

It is calculated through distance, with the driver having to record their miles.

The rate for paying for deadheading is rather small and just enough to cover the cost of gas and a bit of labor.

Most often, you won’t get paid for your deadhead driving until you have covered at least 1000 miles.

This is because there will be certain times when you won’t have any cargo, so companies will factor that into their overall pay.

While you may get deadhead pay if you are a trucker, if you are an owner-operator, you usually have to eat the costs of deadheading.

This is why the logistics of route planning are so important.

Why Is Deadhead Trucking Dangerous?

You might think driving with nothing in your trailer is safer than a full trailer.

After all, there’s no extra weight so driving is easier.

However, truck drivers are far more used to driving with cargo than without.

The sudden absence of thousands of pounds of cargo can lead to an off-kilter experience.

An empty trailer is very light but you still have to deal with the dimensions of the trailer.

Therefore, when you turn corners there is a greater chance of a rollover as there is no extra weight for stability.

Wind can also be an issue when you are deadheading.

The strong crosswinds, especially if you are driving in open areas, can cause the unbalanced trailer to tip over.

Heavy winds can cause chain reactions, especially if multiple semi-trucks are driving in the same area.

Anyone who is deadheading for long distances may want to check the weather forecast and alter their route if need be.

Truck drivers will need to adjust their driving habits when they are deadheading.

Slower speeds, especially around corners, are essential.

Are drivers trained to deadhead?

Even though truckers will start their training courses with an empty trailer, this is usually done over smaller distances.

Truckers won’t be driving empty trailers very far as their schooling is only for a few hours.

Furthermore, most truckers learn city driving, where the speed limits are lower.

Add in the traffic around them, and there is more protection from deadheading in congested city streets.

The real issue comes when truckers need to deadhead over long stretches of road.

The weather is a huge factor as wind or heavy rain can cause slippery conditions, even if you have plenty of experience.

As a car driver, you should naturally give any semi-truck you see plenty of space.

However, if you see a semi-truck moving around on the road, then this is a sign that the trailer is empty or not very full of cargo.

Give these trucks even more space, just in case.


Deadheading is when a semi-truck doesn’t have any cargo in it. Deadheading happens often, but usually with shorter routes.

To offset the minimal pay that deadheading brings in, truckers can look on load boards to pick up extra jobs.