In German, any journeys made by empty trucks are called Leerfahrten. They waste time, fuel and money. Leerfahrt equals ‘waste’ for freight companies and a truck load of problems for translators. Here, I want to look at the best ways to express the phrase “Leerfahrten vermeiden”.Most dictionaries suggest ‘empty runs’ - it Googles 7,000 times, but seems to be much more popular with German websites than genuine English ones.
I wanted to find out which terms are really used, where and by whom.
Talk to Henry!
First, I gave my mate Henry a call. He works for a haulage firm and suggested ‘no backload’. Problem is – this implies the truck is only empty on the return journey, which isn’t always the case with Leerfahrt. Also, it doesn’t fit our sentence with vermeiden.
I was then dispatched on a trip down the information superhighway. In Britain, it seems that trade experts talk about avoiding ‘empty running’. This has over 20,000 hits on Google. I searched in U.K. papers. I found an article in the Telegraph, which steered me toward phrases like ‘empty trucks’ and ‘empty miles’. Both are legitimate, user-friendly and garner thousands of Google hits in context.
Talk on CB radio!
Compared to Britain, the U.S. has a much more diverse trucking lexicon, originally driven by the extensive use of CB radios during the 60’s and 70’s. Expressions such as ‘deadheading’ (travelling with an empty trailer) and ‘deadhead miles’ still feature prominently in American trucker forums. For a broader readership, the New York Times uses “empty truck miles”, which is more accessible to the average Joe.
Make the right moves!
For a more international term, try ‘empty truck movements’. It delivers over 6,000 hits from the U.S., U.K. and Australia and can be used for all types of reader.
Alternatively, switch the sentence round and use ‘maximising utilisation’ or ‘maximising payload’ for a more positive feel. This tactic is especially popular in the U.K.
All of these suggestions are viable, depending on who’s reading. I must say my own personal favourite is ‘deadheading’. But don’t be tempted to use it for British audiences – to us it’s a way of pruning flowers.
Martin says: Lieber Leerfahrten als Irrfahrten...