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If you’re new to trucking or interested in entering the field, you might have come across a few unfamiliar terms and phrases. We know just how confusing and frustrating it can be to learn the ins and outs of a new industry. 

But getting a handle on trucking terminology doesn’t have to be a challenge. This blog post will cover 20 of the most common trucking industry terms and definitions to help you get started in your career. 

Common trucking industry terms

Backhaul

A returning load that brings the driver near their company’s terminal or home area. Backhauling requires planning for roundtrip hauls and mapping out routes to ensure goods are transported on every leg of a truck’s journey. 

Bobtail

A truck without an attached trailer at a given time is said to be “bobtailing.” Because a bobtail truck does not contain any freight, it doesn’t generate revenue for its owner. 

Broker

Also known as a freight broker, truck broker, or load broker, they act as the go-between for carriers and shippers, connecting truckers with loads ready to haul.

Check out some of our top tips for working with freight brokers.

Carrier

Also called freight receiver, a carrier is a company or a person who transports goods by land, water, or air. Carriers work with shippers to move goods from one place to the other.

Deadhaul

The practice of driving a semi-truck with an empty trailer (also known as deadheading). A deadhaul happens when a trucker returns the empty container to the point of origin. Deadhauling is not the same as bobtailing, which happens when driving a truck is driving without a trailer attached.

Detention

Most shippers and receivers have a 2-hour window to load or unload a truck. Any time after that window is considered detention time. During detention, a driver must wait over the allotted time to be loaded or unloaded, which can cause them to miss other pick-ups and cut into profits.

Dispatcher

A dispatcher directs the movement of trucks and freight. Usually, dispatchers communicate with truckers throughout their trips to monitor progress and address any issues or problems that may come up on the road. 

Learn more about dispatching with SmartHop.

Dry box

Also called a dry van, a dry box is an enclosed trailer that protects the freight from environmental hazards and doesn’t require temperature control. 

ELD

The abbreviation for Electronic Logging Device, which is an automatic device that monitors and logs a moving truck. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has mandated that all trucks have an ELD installed and operating at all times during their hours of service.

HOS

The abbreviation for Hours of Service. This is the maximum time allotted for a commercial truck driver to be on duty. Typically, this means that truckers cannot drive more than 11 hours within a 14-hour period and must take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving.

HVUT

The Heavy Vehicle Use Tax is an annual fee on heavy vehicles that operate on public roads based on a gross weight of 55,000 pounds or more. 

Lead time

The time gap between when an order is made and the date it is picked up. 

Load board

Also known as a freight matching service or freight board, a load board is an online marketplace that allows shippers and brokers to connect with carriers to move their freight. ‍‍Load boards give truckers the opportunity to find work quickly. SmartHop is not a load board, but we partner with top brokers and load boards to help you plan the most profitable strategies.

Lumper fee

A lumper fee is a fee you pay if the delivery site uses third-party workers to help load or unload your truck. You’ll find lumper services at food warehousing companies and other high-volume distribution centers. 

Owner-operator

A self-employed trucker who both owns and operates their truck. Owner-operators are typically experienced truck drivers who decide to run under their own authority.

Reefer

The slang term for a refrigerated trailer that keeps perishable goods in a temperature-controlled environment. 

Shipper

A person or company who is usually the supplier or owner of the goods shipped, also called consignor.

TONU

TONU stands for Truck Order Not Used and can happen when a trucker is prepared to pick up a load, or even at the location for pick-up, and the order is canceled last minute. A TONU fee is the charge that the shipper pays for the cancellation. 

Trucking authority

Your license and registration from the government that gives you permission to haul commercial freight as a trucking company. 

Truckload

For larger shipments, freight that typically occupies more than half and up to the full capacity of a 48’ or 53’ trailer. 


While this list of common trucking terminology is not comprehensive, it will provide you with a strong foundation to communicate clearly and confidently. To learn more about getting started in trucking, check out our guide to starting your own trucking business.

Get started with SmartHop

If you’re new to the industry, SmartHop has all the tools you need to run a profitable business while remaining in control. Take advantage of your free consultation today and see how SmartHop can help you jumpstart your business. 

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