What Is Power-Only Trucking?

What to know if you're on the fence about incorporating power-only trucking into your business

There are many ways to transport freight from one place to another and choosing the best option for your business can be tough. You may have heard of power-only trucking, but you might not be sure if it's the right choice for you.

For years, power-only trucking has been assisting shippers in meeting their deadlines while also staying within their budget. But is this shipping method right for your business? If it's a good fit for your supply chain, will it really make things more convenient for you?

Here at Revolution Trucking, we’ve been in the business of moving freight for years. Power-only trucking has been on the rise and it is making quite an impact. A lot of this convenience can be attributed to how well it fits into various supply chains.

If you're on the fence about incorporating power-only trucking into your business, this article will help clarify some advantages and disadvantages. In the end, only you can decide whether power-only trucking is best for your company. However, all the information you need to make an educated decision is below.

A power-only truck hauling lumber

Power-Only Trucking-What is it?

Power-only trucking is a hauling method in which the carrier supplies the truck driver and semi-tractor, also known as the "power unit", while another company provides the trailer. Power-only trucking in many cases provides a convenient solution for shippers who either own or lease the fleet of trailers that are used to move outbound freight. Power-only trucking is often used in conjunction with a "drop trailer" program, where the physical truck trailer that is “dropped” at a location without a set appointment window, to be loaded and unloaded at the convenience of the warehouse.

The process of employing power-only trucking is quite simple--for each shipper. With this service, shippers work with their transportation partner to find a “power unit” in the area instead of sourcing for truck and trailer capacity. This way, they can match the power unit to their loaded freight.

Oftentimes, the driver that their provider assigns is someone with a clean driving record and experience transporting similar shipments. After locating the best-fit driver and they sign a trailer interchange agreement, this external “power unit” firmly attaches the trailer’s kingpin to its fifth wheel. This action secures all of the freight before the driver hits the open road.

Companies That Use Power-Only Trucking

This method for freight transport is most commonly used by companies that frequently ship open deck or dry van commodities and own a pool of trailers but have few to no trucks or drivers around to pull the trailers.

The nature of open-deck and dry van freight often allows these types of commodities to sit fully loaded for an extended period until a driver is available.

Furthermore, as most companies that use this service don't have a semi-tractor and driver readily available to move trailers around their property, or yard, or from one dock to another, possessing plenty of room for inactive trailers is often a characteristic of power-only shippers.

Note: power-only trucking is only feasible for shippers if they have a pool of trailers as well as the space to leave them unmoved for extended durations.

Companies that frequently ship perishable commodities such as raw produce or other refrigerated freight rarely use power-only trucking as the timing of their shipments is essential.

The Advantages of Power-Only Trucking

There are several reasons why power-only trucking has become a staple in the supply chains of shippers across the nation. When something is dependable, affordable, and easy to use, why wouldn't you take full advantage of it?

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

  1. Utilizing power-only trucking creates efficiency in other areas of the supply chain.
  2. On the front end, it saves shippers money
  3. Perfect solution for when more flexibility is needed.

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

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

Since shippers don't need to wait for a trailer to load, they can prioritize efficiency in their production schedules and sustain their bottom line.

Coordinating pick-ups to fit each shipper's needs is often a power-only service provided by freight brokerages or 3PLs.

These providers locate truck and driver combinations for each shipment as needed to keep freight moving.

Doing so helps these companies stick to their deadlines and come through for their customers more reliably. They're never left waiting to load a trailer that's on its way.

2. Saves shippers money on the front end

Power-only trucking is a money-saving tool that shippers often use to save on freight rates. Many shippers prefer to avoid purchasing a fleet of semi-trucks and employing their drivers whenever possible because it is such a large investment.

Power-only trucking is helpful for shippers because it absolves them from owning and operating a pool of tractors, which can be expensive. This leaves these companies with extra money to put toward other areas of their business.

Additionally, truck drivers sometimes prefer power-only shipments to the full truck and trailer pick-ups. You see, truckers have to adhere to a set of 14 on-duty service hours within 24 hours, as dictated by government regulations.

Because time is money for drivers, they are always trying to maximize their efficiency. Power-only pickups let drivers save time by not waiting around for a trailer to get loaded.

Power-only trucking is beneficial because drivers are able to pick up a shipments and deliver it without extra time, which saves money.

Therefore, freight broker service providers have an easier time persuading carriers to take on power-only shipments originating from these shippers.

Drivers are more likely to take on a shipment if it is convenient for them and shipments that are easy to manage often have lower rates.

3. Provides flexibility where needed

As a shipper, you know how crucial flexibility is. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find the capacity to meet your timeframes — especially with how tight the transportation market has been lately.

Power-only shippers can keep their trailers on site, which allows them to effectively "store" their freight until a trucking solution arrives. The biggest advantage of not having to pay for drop trailer service is that you can still load the trailer at your convenience.

Having their trailers loaded and ready gives shippers the ability to find power-only capacity where they are and when they need it. And — given proper planning — urgently looking for a last-minute solution to rush freight out the door rarely becomes an issue.

The Disadvantages of Power-Only Trucking

As great as power-only trucking is, it definitely has a few downsides that should be considered before using this method to move your freight.

The main disadvantages of power-only trucking are:

  1. Maintenance of the service trailers fall on the shippers (if owned by them)
  2. If it's short notice it can be costly
  3. Complexity in the supply chain can make logistics more difficult.

1. Maintaining and servicing trailers is essential for shippers.

If your company relies on power-only trucking, then you need to be regularly inspecting and performing maintenance checks on your fleet of trailers. While taking care of a group of trailers is not as expensive as the needed to service a tractor often, there are still some costs associated with it.

Before a trailer can haul any shipment, it is essential to check that the landing gear, brake lights, and kingpin are working properly.

If a trailer needs replacing or repair, the company that owns it is entirely responsible for said expense.

Drivers always inspect each trailer upon arrival to make sure it's operational before departure. If drivers are concerned about the state of a particular trailer, they're within their rights to refuse the shipment — which as you can imagine creates huge setbacks and delays for shippers. Therefore, routine trailer maintenance should be one of the power-only shippers' top priorities.

Not to mention, those wishful shippers trying to add power-only trucking onto their supply chain would need to spend a lot upfront on purchasing a pool of trailers.

2. Power-only can be costly on short notice

Although most companies price each power-only shipment reasonably, urgent shipments — power-only or otherwise — typically come with a higher price tag.

If a driver needs to transport a dead head (empty trailer) to your facility, always expect to pay him/her more than you would’ve had your provider been given more notice and time to find you a solution. A window of 24-72 hours is usually more than enough time for your chosen transport company to find a power-only solution at a reasonable price.

If you frequently ship power-only freight, then you should develop contracted rates with your provider to mitigate some of these issues. Make sure to consult your provider — especially if you’re seeing increased freight rates 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

Although power-only trucking is typically more convenient for shippers, if a power-only trailer needs to be returned to its original location, complications can occur. As these trailers are usually pulled by external “power units,” it can get costly to transport them back to a shipper's “home base” after a drop-off – particularly if the trailer isn't utilized.

This service is more affordable because the trailers only travel empty for limited miles, so it's essential that the shippers using this service have excellent logistical management. Utilizing a power-only truck is only possible for shippers if they can use the trailer space multiple times after its initial departure.

Power-only trucking is best for shippers whose supply chain allows for one of two things:

  1. Return shipments from a destination to the original location.
  2. Cyclical shipments that return to the original starting point (A - B - C and back to A).

Power-only shipping can become expensive for shippers who cannot make the logistics of these demands work, as they often have to pay to move empty trailers back to their facilities.

How To Get the Most from Your Power-Only Shipping Dollars

Because the price of power-only trucking is similar to other freight shipping methods, it's crucial that you understand all elements impacting your shipment rates. By doing so, you're able to ensure that your budget allows for maximum efficiency.

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.

Though transporting your commodities is a small part of running your business, the cost of these services can quickly increase if you're not cautious. To avoid any problems in the future, take some time to do your research today.

If you would like to know how Revolution Trucking can help you with your next power-only shipment, please contact us. We’re passionate about what we do when it comes to moving freight and we’d love to help your business in any way you need.

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