Starting Your Career as a Truck Driver
The open road, its calling you. Your ready to take the plunge, can I afford to get in, or do I have to work for the man. I see all these big trucks on the road, I want to be part of the action, I just don't know where to start, or what to expect. What should I do?
Welcome to the world of driving over the road. There are a bunch of different ways you can experience the freedom of driving and getting paid for it. The trucking industry is poised to grow dramatically. The need to transport goods will always be there, and demand will only grow in years to come. Don't think your options are limited to just semi tractor trailer combinations, we'll go over a variety of ways you can make a living driving.
The first, and most obvious, your standard 18 wheeler. Today's semi trucks have evolved into full fledged luxury vehicles, some having everything "Including" the kitchen sink on board. Your standard Condo model will surely have stand up height, with large bed, electric cooler for food storage, and color TV. This would be considered the bare minimum. The upgrades to this are almost endless. Some specialized haulers that have extra weight capacity (their loads are generally light) allowing them to add on an expanded living quarters. These can include full bathroom, with shower, full kitchen, add on generator and climate control so they don't run there expensive and costly truck engine through the night when sleeping. So how do you get into one of these units you ask. Simple, you pay one heck of a lot of money. You have two choices, owner operator or work for someone else who owns the truck.
Company drivers have the advantage that they don't have to buy the truck, or pay for repairs and upkeep. That's all well and good, the disadvantage is you will make less money. Not to say you won't make a good living, company drivers can do very well in the dollar department. But you must realize your a company driver. The company expects that truck to be moving all the time, they don't make money when it sits still. The normal for many companies is for you to be on the road for 3-4 weeks with one or two days home max. You can forget having an at home life, your whole existence just became the road.
Owner Operators will have more freedom. You can usually take yourself out of service as you need to. If its been an unusually busy month and you want the second half off to catch up on things at home, most companies have no problem with that. They realize its up to you to pay for and maintain your truck so if you feel your far enough ahead in the dollar department that you can afford to park it for a week, it's fine with them. Because you are the one making the truck payments, paying for the fuel, and responsible for service and repair, the pay is quiet a bit higher per mile. As an owner/operator you are an independent business man, complete with all the tax privileges that comes with owning your own business. One problem, you have to go out and buy the truck. A new semi-tractor will cost you at least $125,000. And up, depending on extras you may want or need. Usually financed over about 5 years, you can imagine what the payments would be. Don't forget commercial insurance, it doesn't come cheap either. Don't give up yet, there are other options.
Hot Shot Trucking, a term given to smaller trucks that carry less than 40,000 lbs. The most common rig would be a 1-ton Diesel Dually pickup with a 40' goose-neck trailer. These rigs can haul up to about 20,000 lbs depending on the weight of the empty truck and trailer. With this type of rig you can get into full time, over the road trucking, as an owner operator. With all the freedom and tax benefits of being self employed, you can get into a rig at a more affordable price. A new diesel pickup will run you about $40,000 and a trailer about $7,000. Expensive, yes, but a whole lot cheaper then a big rig. There are a number of nation wide companies you can lease to with this size rig. ACME Trucking, ACE Trucking, Western American Specialized Transportation, are just a couple. A quick search on the Internet will bring up many more. I personally worked for ACME Trucking out of their Cedar Hill Terminal just south of Dallas TX. It was a good experience that worked well for both them and I. Three years over the road gave me time off when ever I wanted it, and allowed me to see about 2/3 of the country.
The one main disadvantage in this type of truck is lack of personal space. I recommend buying a full four door model of pickup. You can set up the back seat area as an almost comfortable bedroom space. You may have to sleep at a bit of an angle as pickup cabs aren't wide enough to stretch out. It's not a bad compromise though as I found most of my trips were one day out and one day back. Occasionally I went long distance being gone from home 6 or 7 days, but that was about the max. On rare occasions ACME sent a truck as far away as Alaska, but that was a rare one.
You do need to be a good business man, I saw one guy rent a diesel pickup and get into trucking with it. His lease limited him to 40,000 miles in 4 years. His mileage limit was reached in 3-4 months, and bingo, he was out of business. I averaged 100,000 miles a year, taking at least 4 weeks off a year. Another person bought a used pickup that had about 90,000 miles on it. The finance company convinced him to lease it for 4 years through them. In the end he was stuck driving a tired truck with very high miles and when the lease was up he didn't even own it. Watch what you commit yourself to. Talk to other drivers before you make stupid mistakes.
Another choice is Expediter freight hauling. This is usually a single unit truck with a van box mounted behind a sleeper attached to the cab. Now your back to a stand up sleeper with room to move around. The whole premise of an Expediter is quick delivery of essential materials. This may take some of your flexibility away as most of their work is under contract and is very time sensitive. A major advantage is you loose the trailer, any driver on the road will tell you its less hassle when there is no trailer.
Still too expensive for your budget, or not quite what your looking for? Don't walk away just yet. Drive Away companies, another alternative, and you don't always need to buy a truck to do it. All over the country there are vehicle manufacturers who need there final product delivered to dealers. Fire Trucks, Ambulances, Motor homes, truck mounted cranes, specialized construction trucks, buses, the list is almost endless. Even delivering new Peterbuilt trucks is done by a company that is located just a mile away from the main plant in Denton TX. Where ever new vehicles are built, there is probably a drive away company operating close by that handles the deliveries for them. All over the area around Elkorn Indiana are Recreational Vehicle manufacturers. They all have new units that must be delivered to all corners of the country, with a 1-ton truck you can deliver new travel trailers, and 5th wheel campers. Again they usually operate through an established drive away company, but they are always looking for drivers.
I'm sure I haven't covered all the options that are open to someone that wants to travel the U.S. and get paid for it. These are just the most common one that have an established nation wide network. With a little creative thinking I'm sure you can think up a few I've missed. Don't worry if you have no experience, most large trucking companies will give you all the training you'll need to get you on the road, the down side is you have to commit to driving for them for about a year. During which time your stuck with what loads they want to give you and what time off you can get. It's by far a better deal to go out and get the schooling on your own, then you have the freedom to pick and chose what company you want to work for and if it doesn't work out with one you can switch. There is always a demand for drivers willing to work.
Article Originally posted on Yahoo Career by Curtis Carper