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Dry Run Trucking: Costly Delays in Shipping

Resources > Dry Run Trucking: Costly Delays in Shipping
One of the most frustrating situations in shipping is a costly delay. Dry run trucking is the direct result of failed pickups in shipping. Learn how to avoid them here.
Published: March 24, 2022
Last Modified: August 28, 2023
Author: rltruckseo

Dry run trucking happens every day, and all across the country. They happen at air and ocean ports, rail terminals, and during drayage. These missed or failed pickups result in not only a delay in delivery but also an additional charge to the shipper. It is important to take the utmost care in understanding what a dry run is, the fees associated, and how to avoid them.

A dry run in trucking occurs when a carrier is unable to pick up cargo from a port or distribution facility on time. As a result, the carrier must reschedule the pickup and make an additional trip. This can lead to additional dry run fees, shipping delays, and port congestion.

There are a number of instances where a dry run can impact your shipment. This article will provide you with a good working understanding of how to identify and understand a dry run trucking.

Dry Run Trucking

What is a Dry Run?

Whenever a dry run trucking occurs, it means a truck driver was unable to pick up cargo for delivery at the designated time. The truck driver or motor carrier will then charge full price to make an extra trip to pick up any goods.

If the driver arrives but the cargo has not been released or made available, this is a problem. The driver/carrier held their end of the bargain. They came to pick up the goods, and they completed their work and arrived as expected. It’s natural that they would then charge fees for additional service.

Dry run fees can often seem confusing. If you’ve ever noticed one on your bill in the past, you now know why the fee is there. Dry runs can be unavoidable in certain situations. However, you can avoid the fee with careful execution and planning.

How Does a Dry Run Happen?

Shipping Container Yard

Dry runs can occur for several reasons. These occurrences typically happen due to outside interference or happenstance. In some cases, delays, errors, or mismanagement may be the culprit. 

The three most frequent reasons for a dry run are drayage, port congestion, and cargo release issues. The latter tends to happen during holidays or peak seasonal shipping. The mismanagement of shipments into a port with heavy traffic will undoubtedly increase the risk of a dry run.


One of the more frequent instances of dry runs in trucking occurs during the drayage process. Drayage is an intermodal freight solution for moving shipments from an ocean port, airport, or rail terminal to a nearby facility. 

Urban congestion can most certainly affect the outcome of on-time load pick up at or near drayage locations. These dry run occurrences from a drayage location are the result of incomplete transactions.

A dry run from a drayage terminal occurs when cargo slated for pickup goes unreleased or when congestion occurs. Additional trips will be needed resulting in dry run fees. A popular method for avoiding an extra trip to a drayage location is to perform a pre-pull. You can find more about this topic discussed below.

Port Congestion

Over the past few years, there has been a nearly insurmountable surge in port congestion worldwide – primarily caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The demand for goods has grown exponentially and congestion at the ports has caused various issues for drivers and carriers as a result.

The number of cargo container ships sitting off the ports in the United States is on the rise. The following table represents the growing congestion in major U.S. ports as of late.

U.S. Ocean PortsContainer Ships July 2021Container Ships Sept 2021
Ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach1435
Port of Savannah723
Port of New York-New Jersey22


Ports have worked to reduce the congestion by increasing pick-ups and drop-offs. Nevertheless, various issues can occur at a port which can lead to dry runs, such as:

  • Congested port traffic
  • Late arrival at the terminal
  • Miscommunication regarding cargo release

Due to these circumstances, failure to secure the cargo will result in a dry run fee without your load getting picked up. When this happens, you or the carrier will need to reschedule the pickup for the cargo.

Cargo Release

Another reason why a dry run may occur is a failed cargo release. Anyone who has ever involved themselves in international shipping has a working knowledge of port operations.

A common problem for drivers is receiving notification that cargo has become released.  Unfortunately, the shipment is not there or ready for pick up when they arrive. Most drivers will tell you that cargo release issues can, and will, most certainly happen. 

The reasoning for this issue is either a lack of communication or miscommunication between departments and management at the port or during drayage. The management team at the terminal will verify that cargo is released and ready for pick up. The driver will become notified when the shipment is prepared and available for pickup.

What are Dry Run Fees?

Sometimes miscommunications will occur from the shipping party, which can result in a dry run if they were unaware of a shipment in the first place. Dry run fees are charged when a cargo pickup fails to occur because the load was not ready for pick up.

The charge is applied by the driver or carrier due to a missed pickup and can range in price. Typically, the fee is not associated with mileage related to the pickup location of the cargo. 

Do Dry Runs Effect Shipping?

Empty Flatbed Dry Run

Dry runs can, and will, happen in both domestic and international shipping. Often, a dry run is entirely unavoidable and will undoubtedly cause a delay in shipping. Depending on the day of the week it happens, it could cause several days in total delay.

Dry run trucking impacts shipping in a number of ways, such as:

  1. Cost: An increase in the overall shipping cost is one result of a dry run. This added cost directly results from the additional trip that becomes necessary for the driver/carrier to make.
  2. Port Congestion: With port congestion, the driver has to wait for the port to clear out to pick up the cargo. The result can mount multiple additional fees.
  3. Drayage Delay: If a delay at the drayage terminal happens, then a shipment’s ETA can be pushed back.

Alternatively, dry runs can still occur efficiently if the loading of the cargo itself is efficient. However, it is also important to remember that damage and theft can play a role, and it’s essential to carry insurance with your trucking company.

Avoiding a Dry Run With a Pre Pull

The loading of a truck can be done overnight for an early morning exit. Depending on the urgency of the shipper, the truck can arrive early and stay overnight. This method serves itself as a way to “catch up” in the event of a dry run.

As mentioned above, the loading of overnight cargo is known as a pre-pull. The pre-pull is typically done before the last free day (LFD) at the port, saving on fees and time. The driver is assigned storage space to get the cargo loaded, avoiding a return trip.

Are Dry Runs in Trucking Avoidable?

Avoiding a Dry Run

Yes, dry runs are avoidable in most circumstances. However, they can, and will, happen. You can take measures to reduce the possibility of a dry run occurring. Having an experienced third-party logistics (3PL) partner at your side will certainly help avoid dry runs in trucking.

Several factors are involved in making sure that dry runs are avoided. First, you need a reliable trucking carrier that can make the pickup on time, every time. You also need excellent operational shipping management. Barring outside factors, having these two elements in check will help to ensure that dry runs do not happen. 

Avoid Dry Runs With USA Truckload

With R+L Global Logistics, get your shipments from the port without running the risk of an unnecessary dry run. Our team of experienced and friendly professionals will ensure the best advice at the best price.
R+L Global Logistics is the perfect all-in-one solution for all of your shipping needs. We offer unmatched customer service and delivery options to suit your needs. Contact us directly at (866) 353-7178 or click here for a free quote today.

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