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What Is Backhaul Trucking?

Backhaul trucking is a great way for truckers and fleet owners to make money on return trips while providing shippers with another opportunity to move their products where they need to go. But what is backhaul trucking, and how can you find backhaul loads and improve your backhaul strategy? Here’s what you need to know.

What is a backhaul?

A backhaul is a load that a commercial trucker takes on a return trip. So if you drove a load from New York to California, rather than driving back with an empty truck, you could pick up a backhaul from California to either New York or somewhere in between. This reduces unpaid mileage and keeps you moving without needing to wait around for a new load or take on deadhead miles. There are two types of backhauling: internal and external.

What is backhaul trucking?

Internal backhauling

Internal backhauling occurs when a company backhauls its own products. For example, a dairy truck might deliver a load of milk to a store and then backhaul eggs to its factory for making ice cream. Backhaul logistics are simple for internal backhauling, but most fleets rely on third-party backhauls instead.

External backhauling

External backhauling is a bit more complex. In this case, your original delivery is for one company (this could be your own company or a third party), while your backhaul is for someone completely different. There are plenty of backhaul loads available in most areas, but you will need to find them.

Why you need a backhaul strategy

A backhaul strategy will help ensure not only that you minimize deadheading or driving with an empty truck but that you actually make money when carrying backhaul loads. Here are some things to consider when planning your backhaul strategy:

Backhauling improves fleet operations.

To maximize profits and efficiency, you need to keep your trucks loaded, so you get paid for all your miles, both to and from each destination. There are costs associated with backhauling as well as deadheading, though, so it’s important to make sure you know your break-even point.

Costs that need to be accounted for:

  • Fuel: As of November 2020, the average cost of diesel in the United States is $2.38 per gallon. Assuming your rig gets 6 miles per gallon, your fuel cost is just under 40 cents per mile. Of course, the exact number will depend on where you fill up.
  • Leased vehicles/equipment: You’ll need to fill in your own numbers here since the cost of a new rig could easily exceed $140,000, while used equipment can be much cheaper.
  • Maintenance: Including tires, 15 cents per mile is a reasonable estimate for annual maintenance on your rig.
  • Driver compensation: This varies dramatically but averages around 36 cents per mile.
  • Insurance, permits, tolls, etc.: Miscellaneous costs can add up quickly. Plan to spend at least 7 cents per mile total.

Add it all together to figure out your break-even point. Different authorities estimate the total cost of trucking to be around $1.38$1.59 per mile, but your numbers could vary.

Now consider this: If a truck runs 100,000 miles per year at 6 miles per gallon, it’s using about 16,700 gallons of fuel per year. At the current diesel price of $2.38 per gallon, one truck’s fuel cost is nearly $40,000 a year. If a private fleet accepts backhauls to cover even half of those miles, it can save more than $20,000 per year/per truck!

How to find backhaul loads

You can find some backhaul opportunities by communicating with other carriers, but working with a broker is often a better way to achieve success. Even better, use a digital load board. Load boards are basically online marketplaces that connect carriers with brokers and shippers to move products around the country efficiently and cohesively.

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Carriers identify where their trucks are and where they want to go. Shippers list the loads they need to have hauled. Brokers act as matchmakers between shippers and carriers. A load board provides the tools and technology that all three parties need. But not all load boards are created equal.

The Truckstop.com Load Board connects tens of thousands of carriers and brokers. It’s a complete solution that includes freight matching, planning and tracking tools, transportation management systems (TMS), real-time rate analysis, and innovative payment solutions. Truckstop.com is also fully integrated with most of the major software solutions in the industry. 

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