ATS Transportation Blog

What is Power-Only Trucking?

power only semi truck drop deck trailer

With so many methods available for transporting freight from A to B, selecting which is best for your business is no easy task. You’ve probably heard of power-only trucking and are feeling a bit skeptical about its benefits. 

Power-only trucking has been helping shippers meet their deadlines and get the most from their budgets for decades, but will it fit your business?  And, provided it fits your supply chain, can it truly make your life easier? 

Here at ATS, we’ve been in the business of moving freight for well over 65 years. During this time we’ve seen power-only trucking rise from the ashes and take this industry by storm. This is thanks — in no small part — to the convenience it can bring to the supply chains it fits. 

Let’s talk about power-only trucking, including some advantages and disadvantages to using it. In the end, only you can decide whether power-only trucking will fit your business. That said, here’s all the information you’ll need. . . 

What is Power-Only Trucking?

Power-only trucking is a method for transporting freight where a carrier provides the semi-tractor and truck driver — also called a “power unit” — needed to haul a shipment but not the trailer it’s resting on. In many cases, power-only trucking provides a convenient solution for shippers who either own or lease the fleet of trailers they use to move outbound freight.

The process of employing power-only trucking — for each shipper — is really quite simple. Instead of sourcing for truck and trailer capacity, shippers that utilize this service work with their transportation partner to find a “power-unit” in their area and match it to their freight. 

Usually, this is a driver that their provider knows — based on past history — has the expertise and ability to safely move each load. After the best-fit driver is located for and a trailer interchange agreement is signed, this external “power unit” snuggly attaches the trailer’s kingpin to its fifth wheel, safely secures all of the freight and hits the open road. 

What Types of Companies Use Power-Only Trucking?

This method for moving freight is primarily used by companies that consistently ship open deck or dry van commodities, own a pool of trailers and have little to no trucks/drivers around to pull them. 

The pick-up-and-go nature of most open-deck and dry van freight make it possible for these commodities to sit fully loaded — for what could become quite a bit of time — while a driver is found to haul them. 

Additionally, because the companies that use this service typically don’t have a semi-tractor and driver on hand to reposition trailers around their yard, or from dock to dock, possessing ample space for stagnant trailers is a frequent quality of power-only shippers. 

Note: power-only trucking is difficult for shippers without a pool of trailers on hand and the space needed to leave them for prolonged periods without moving. Beyond this, companies that move perishable commodities like raw produce or other reefer freight typically aren’t able to utilize power-only trucking as the timing of their shipments matters greatly. 

What Are The Advantages of Power-Only Trucking?

step deck freight shipment

There are several reasons why power-only trucking has become a centerpiece decorating the supply chains of shippers in this nation. And, when something works consistently, saves you money and makes your life easier, why wouldn’t you take full advantage of it?

For the shippers whose supply chains it fits, power-only trucking has several advantages: 

  1. It creates greater efficiency in other parts of their supply chain.
  2. It saves shippers money on the front-end.
  3. It provides flexibility where they need it. 

1. Creates greater efficiency in other parts of their supply chain

Power-only trucking — especially when done with assistance from a great transportation provider —makes it far easier for shippers to focus on other parts of their business. 

Since they don’t need to wait around for a trailer to load, shippers can focus on the efficiency of their production schedules and maintaining their bottom line. 

Often, power-only service providers — such as a freight brokerage or a 3pl — can preemptively coordinate pick-ups that smoothly fit each shipper’s needs. 

Whenever they need it, these providers find each load’s truck and driver combo to get their freight moving. 

Doing so helps these companies stick to their deadlines and come through for their customers more reliably as they’re never left waiting to load a soon-to-be arriving trailer.

2. Saves shippers money on the front end

In many instances, power-only trucking is a great tool for shippers hoping to save a bit of money on their freight costs. As you may suspect, purchasing a fleet of semi-trucks and employing their drivers is a major investment that — wherever possible — many shippers prefer to avoid. 

Power-only trucking allows shippers to do just that. Since they’re not responsible for the expenses stemming from owning and operating a pool of tractors, these companies are able to put this money toward other aspects of their business. 

Additionally, power-only loads can sometimes be more desirable to truckers than a full-fledged truck and trailer pick-up. You see, truckers are subject to a strict set of governmental regulations that dictate the amount of on-duty service hours they’re legally allowed — 14 hours within a 24-hour period. 

As such, drivers are constantly hoping to make the most of their time as time, for them, is truly money. To a driver, power-only pickups mean that they won’t have to wait around — thereby wasting their allotted hours of service (HOS) clock — for a trailer to get loaded.

Instead, power-only trucking allows drivers to pick up a load and take it to its location without leaving extra time — and therefore money — on the table. 

As a result, transportation service providers, such as freight brokers, have an easier time “selling” power-only freight to the carriers near these shipper’s facilities. 

The more convenient a load is for a driver, the more willing they are to service it. And, in this industry, a convenient load often comes at a relaxed rate. 

3. Provides flexibility where needed

As a shipper in a fast-paced industry, you know how important flexibility can be. Finding the capacity to meet your time frames, however, can often be difficult — especially with how tight the transportation market has been of late.  

Because power-only shippers have trailers on sight, they can essentially “store” their freight until its trucking solution arrives. The fact that they aren’t paying the expense of drop trailer service, while still getting the benefits of having one on hand to load at their own pace, is highly valuable.

In turn, having their trailers loaded and ready grants shippers the ability to source for power-only capacity where they are and when they need it. And — provided proper planning — urgently looking for a last-minute solution to rush freight out the door rarely becomes an issue. 

What Are The Disadvantages of Power-Only Trucking?

flatbed freight shipment driving down the highway

Although power-only trucking certainly has many upsides where applicable, it’s not without its flaws. Let’s talk about the main disadvantages of using power-only services to move your freight, which are: 

  1. Shippers need to maintain and service trailers
  2. It can become costly on short notice
  3. It can complicate supply chain logistics

1. Shippers need to maintain and service trailers

The companies that utilize power-only trucking consistently and vigilantly need to monitor and perform upkeep on the trailers in their fleet. Although maintaining a fleet of trailers isn’t nearly as expensive as routinely servicing a tractor, it’s not without its costs. 

Ensuring that the landing gear, brake lights and kingpin are in full working order and that each trailer is in adequate condition to haul each load before pickup, is very important. Should a trailer need to be replaced or fixed, this expense falls solely on the company that owns it. 

Upon arrival, drivers will fully inspect each trailer before they leave to ensure it is in full working order. If a driver isn’t confident in the condition of the trailer they’re set to haul, they may refuse a load — causing costly delays for the shipper. As such, routine trailer maintenance should be a top priority of power-only shippers. 

Additionally, for shippers hoping to add power only trucking to their supply chain, the initial cost of purchasing a pool of trailers to do so can be expensive.

2. Power-only can be costly on short notice

Although competent providers price each power-only load to execute the shipment, urgent shipments — power-only or otherwise — often come at a premium.

If a driver needs to deadhead to your facility, always expect to pay him/her more than you would’ve had your provider had better lead time to find you a solution. As a general rule of thumb, a window of 24-72 hours — before your load needs to be picked — should be more than enough time for your transportation provider to find you a competitively priced power-only solution. 

For shippers that move power-only freight consistently, the contracted rates they develop with their provider should mitigate some of these issues. Make sure to consult your provider — especially if you’re seeing increased freight rates frequently due to a lack of lead time — about whether a contracted rate may serve your needs better. 

3. Power-only can complicate supply chain logistics

Where power-only trucking can spark convenience for many shippers, complications can arise should a power-only trailer need to be returned to its origin. Since these trailers are pulled by external “power-units” transporting them back to a shipper's “home-base” following a drop-off can get costly — especially if each trailer isn’t utilized. 

To get the most from each trailer — in the interest of paying for limited deadhead miles — it’s important that the shippers using this service employ a high level of logistical oversight. Power-only trucking is really only feasible for shippers that can utilize the trailer space of a single trailer multiple times after following its initial departure.

As such, power-only trucking is best for shippers whose supply chain allows for one of two things:

  1. Return shipments from a destination back to the origin.
  2. Cyclical shipments ending at the original point (A - B - C and back to A).

For the shippers that can’t make the logistics of these demands work, power-only shipping can become costly as they’re constantly paying to move empty trailers back to their facilities. 

Get the Most From Your Power-Only Shipping Dollars

The price of power-only trucking is calculated in a lot of the same ways as other methods for freight shipping. As a result, it’s important that you understand all of the factors that impact your freight rates so that you’re better prepared to maximize your budget. 

Check out the cost/pricing section of our learning hub where we have plenty of resources outlining the exact factors that influence the price you pay for your shipments. 

Moving your commodities is only a small part of your business. But, the cost of these services can quickly get out of hand if you’re not careful. Make sure to do your due diligence today so that you’re better prepared to make the most of your shipping dollars tomorrow. 

If you would like to know how ATS can help you with your next power-only load, please reach out. We’re true experts when it comes to moving freight and we’d love to help your business in any way you need.

Tags: Shipping Services

ATS

Written by ATS

Family-owned since 1955, Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) is a values-driven company offering worldwide transportation solutions.

Work With a Transportation Provider You Can Trust

You don't want your freight in just anyone's hands. Find a transportation provider that cares about your safety and your reputation. Learn how ATS can help.

Connect With an Expert