Understanding trucking terms: Headhaul, Deadhead and Backhaul – in North America

 In Business, Equipment, Fletes Mexico, Freight, infografía, infographic, NAFTA, NAFTA, NAFTA TLCAN USMCA, Supply chain & Logistics, Supply chain & Logistics, TLCAN, TLCAN, Transporte de Carga, Trucking, Trucking, USMCA, USMCA

Understanding trucking terms is  useful to help you understand shipping fees and shipping operations. In this post, we explain what the trucking terms “headhaul”,  “backhaul” and “deadhead” mean.


What is Headhaul?

In simple terms,  a headhaul is a load that is heading to its destination,  from point A to point B. Carriers want to have their trailers loaded with freight ready to be delivered at all times because a trailer rolling and loaded is more profitable than an empty truck. In that sense, a headhaul can be also be defined as the leg of the trade route that has the highest trailer volume and the highest revenue generating shipping lane from the shipper to the receiver.

What characterizes a headhaul market?

Headhaul markets occur when the demand for the lane by shippers is greater than the supply of freight capacity offered by freight suppliers. In this market:

  • Carriers have plenty of outbound choices
  • Freight shipping rates are high
  • Favours carriers

What is Backhaul?

A backhaul is a return trip over the same route.  If the headhaul was from point A to point B,  the backhaul will be done from point B to point A. As it is a trip carries do to the original point of origin, backhaul shipments are necessary to carriers, and are offered at lower rates than headhauls because of the light demand.

What characterizes a backhaul market?

  • Carriers have few options to get out of the market, then they are willing to negotiate price, rather than running empty.
  • Freight shipping rates are lower for shippers
  • Grater chances for deadheads

What is deadhead?

Is a trip a carrier does with an empty trailer. This occurs when:

  • Carriers need to deadhead to a destination to start a headhaul shipment.
  • Carriers perform a return trip with an empty trailer, after headhaul shipment delivery.

This is the worst-case scenario for a  carrier because an empty cargo means loss of money. Also, trucking deadheads can be dangerous for truck drivers. As truck deadheading weighs half as much as full ones, trucks are not anchored by the weight of the load and can become hazardous in bad weather.


Headhaul and Backhaul markets in North America

In North America, usually, there is an asymmetric demand for shipping services between Canada and the U.S and Mexico, which creates a divergence in the average headhaul (Canada and the US to Mexico) vs. backhaul (Mexico to the U.S.  and  Canada).  Seasonal freight volumes,  import/export reasons and general economic demand for local business are some of the reasons that cause shifts between headhaul and backhaul markets.

For example, the US Midwest is almost always a headhaul market,  while the center of Mexico is frequently a backhaul market. Sometimes, the trucking equipment is so scarce in certain parts of Mexico,  that the only option to have a load moving northbound from Mexico to the U.S.  or to Canada is to pay for repositioning an empty trailer to the pick-up point.

Mexicom Logistics specializes in the North American region and knows very well the different shifts that occur between the headhaul and backhauls markets in the region through the year. Based on our knowledge and experience, we are always able to provide our customers with the best option for their shipments. We provide them with options to be able to move their loads from places where others can not find equipment.



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Freight waves 


Marben Acosta Teran oversees the overall international B2B marketing strategy for Mexicom Logistics. She is passionate about building a solid brand while creating useful content for its audience. Marben loves learning more about the industry and being part of the Mexicom family.
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