Whether you’re an experienced truck driver or a fresh graduate of a truck driving school, you certainly hope the next job will be your last job. At the very least, you want to find a trucking company you can stay with for a few years. I’m going to walk you through how I did it.
This process is easily broken down into 5 steps.
- What are you wanting or willing to do?
- Is a big trucking company better than a small one?
- What are the risks of dedicated fleets and accounts?
- What lanes do you want to run?
- Exactly how does the pay plan work?
What Are You Wanting Or Willing To Do?
Have you already decided on an industry segment? Would you like to pull flatbed, refrigerated or dry van trailers? Each has their own unique challenges.
Flatbed Trucking Is Hard Work
Are you up to it? You’ll be required to throw chains or straps over freight as part of the securement process. You’ll also be required to tarp some loads to protect them from weather.
I’ve always preferred hauling flatbed freight, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. Although a lot of truckers would rather do nothing else, it has a few drawbacks.
- Straps and chains can be tough on the body, especially the shoulders.
- Tarps can easily weigh over 100 lbs each. I’ve found lumber tarps with shipping weights up to 140 lbs. Two tarps are required to tarp 48 feet of cargo.
- Rolling out and folding up tarps can be quite a task in bad weather.
- You will be over 13 feet off the ground from time to time.
- Dealing with the above will take considerably more time than closing trailer doors.
- You’re going to get dirty and sweaty.
- Flatbed freight tends to slow down more than the other two when the economy slows down.
Most flatbed pay plans will pay a higher rate per mile than van or refrigerated freight. However, not all companies pay you extra for tarping your load. We can cover this in more detail in the pay plan section.
The bottom line on flatbed trucking is simple, if you don’t want to do it, cross it off your list.
Refrigerated Freight Is Dependable, But…
Refrigerated vans pull freight that needs to be cold, often frozen. The drivers are not only responsible for piloting the tractor-trailer combo, The trailer brings on more duties.
- Setting and monitoring the trailer temperature. This includes pre-cooling the empty trailer to a required setting.
- The lion’s share of your pickups and deliveries will be grocery warehouses.
- Hiring lumpers, the laborers who unload and break down the product.
- Cleaning and washing out the unit as required for the load.
- Fueling the trailer as needed.
- Sleeping through the noise of the refrigeration unit as it starts and stops through the night.
Working for a refrigerated carrier can pay well. Most drivers will learn to navigate their way through the relationships with warehouse employees, lumpers and the other requirements of the job.
This segment of trucking is also less volatile to economic slowdowns. People have to eat. Produce will be hauled from the fields. The grocery stores need to be stocked.
The bottom line with refrigerated trucking is steady work and the possibility of higher pay if you’re with the right company.
Pulling Dry Vans
Usually 53 feet in length, a dry van has a lot of options for freight. Some have D-hooks in the floor, E-track side rails and other systems to secure freight that isn’t traditionally boxed.
I’ve hauled everything from toilet paper to 10,000 lb steel coils in a 53″ van. The motoring public has no idea what’s behind those doors.
Like the refrigerated units we’ve already talked about, you could be hitting many of those same grocery warehouses. I’ve also gone weeks without picking up or delivering anything grocery related.
Dry vans can really be the best of the three we’ve mentioned. No tarps or straps. The only refer unit waking you up at night is the one that parked next to you while you were asleep.
Other things to consider are hazmat, tanker and long combination endorsements. If you have these and you want to put them to use, you could certainly earn more.
How Often Do You Want To Be Home?
How long you’re willing to be away from home is your decision. If you don’t mind being out for 3 weeks, then coming home for 3 or 4 days, go for it. You can make a lot of money, and see the country.
On the other hand, I have decided I don’t want to work even a 5 day work week. With that limitation, I’ve worked a full time trucking job since 2010, but never 5 days per week. Today, I work approximately 3-1/2 days per week for an average of 42 hours.
Obviously, I’m not going to earn what I could over the road, but that’s a choice I made. When I changed jobs in 2016, I stuck to my guns and kept looking until I found a trucking company that had a job that met my demands.
Decide what you want your next job to look like, and stick to it.
Big Trucking Company or Small Carrier?
I’m writing this section out of personal experience. In 22 years of trucking, 16 of them were with small carriers. One company had under 30 trucks, the other had 7, but I was the only full time driver. The last one was 3-1/2 days a week.
Honestly, I miss those days with the small carriers. You really are part of the team when you work for a company that size. You know by name who’s finding the freight, booking your appointments and handling the payroll.
The biggest reward with a small fleet is job satisfaction. It wasn’t unusual to get a phone call asking how a delivery went, or just to give me my next dispatch. Communication is more open and your accomplishments are recognized.
Although not always the case, many small fleets have nicer equipment. I’ve never been assigned a classic big nosed Pete with a larger carrier. In fact, the chromed out Peterbilts I drove for years were practically detailed every weekend. Those trucks were head turners.
Where The Big Trucking Companies Shine
Obviously, the smallest trucking company is the owner with one truck. According to Bizfluent.com, the largest is J.B. Hunt. They operate over 12,000 trucks. My current employer has about 750 trucks, the largest company I’ve worked for.
I went to a larger carrier for one major reason, benefits. A small company just can’t compete with health insurance and other benefits the way a larger company can. My benefits here are less that 25% what they would cost with the little guys, and with half the deductible.
Bigger carriers also have other advantages.
- Options to change fleets when life changes. This means going from OTR to local work, or getting on with a dedicated account.
- Alternative loads when freight slows down. As much as I dislike refers, I’ll gladly pull one when there’s no flatbed work.
- Opportunities to move up. Although this doesn’t happen often, some companies do move drivers to office jobs like dispatch, safety and recruiting. Keep in mind, these jobs usually involve a pay cut.
A larger carrier may be your best bet if you have a family or if you have a health condition that requires regular medical care.
Dedicated Accounts Have Risks
Big company or small, the one thing that pushes you over the edge in taking your next job might be that dedicated account. Be sure to understand exactly what “dedicated” means as far as your new job is concerned.
In most cases, that dedicated account means you serve one customer. You may not be picking up or dropping at the same places, or going back to the same location after every delivery. You’re just dedicated to the needs of that single customer.
In a few cases, that dedicated account involves a dedicated run. This could take the form of a multi-day run with several stops, or a simple out and back run that gets you home every night.
You have to ask yourself, what happens when that contract goes away? After all, contracts are won and lost every day. What are your options if this happens?
Even if losing that account means losing my dream job, I want the ability to stay with the same trucking company. Does the company have the business to keep displaced drivers while the dust settles?
I serve a dedicated account. I plan on finishing my driving career with the same trucking company, serving that same account.
Be sure to know what other fleets or options the company has for you. Who knows? One phone call could move you from your dream job to something even better in the same company.
What Lanes Do You Want To Run?
We don’t need to spend too much time on this one. If you have freight lanes you prefer, and others you want to avoid, take the job that fits your desire.
I decided back in 2010, no more East Coast. No New York or New Jersey. In fact, I wouldn’t go east of Ohio. Add that to the 4 day work week and you’ll know my options were limited. But I stuck to my guns, and I nailed it.
Exactly How Does The Pay Plan Work?
Several years ago, I considered a truck driving job offer that would have moved me from 29 to 42 cents per mile. It sounded like a big raise until I compared the 2 pay plans. I laid them out, side by side.
One big difference was how they calculated the actual miles paid. Even though the new job was supposed to be 13 CPM higher, It wasn’t even close. The new job would pay Household Mover Guide miles, a system based on the shortest legal route from one city limit to another with an 80,000 lb truck and trailer.
It’s not uncommon for this type of pay to come up at least 10% short of what you actually drive, so that 42 cent pay is really 36.
Keep in mind, many companies pay practical miles, a system that calculates the most practical route to and from the home post office of the shipper and receiver location.
In my experience, practical miles pay plans have always been about 5% lower than the true miles of the trip, bit that’s still better than household mover miles.
The difference was even larger for me. That tiny 29 CPM pay plan was actually calculated by travelling from the beginning zip code to the destination zip code. They’d then add an additional 2% to the calculation. I rarely drove more miles than paid.
Adding up the differences in mileage pay tightened the gap between these two pay plans, but it didn’t close them completely. After all, 13 CPM is a big spread.
After doing the math on stop pay, vacation and holiday pay, the 42 CPM job would’ve been a slight pay cut, so I passed.
Along with how mileage pay is calculated, pay plan comparisons need to consider the rest of the plan. After all, the devil really is in the details.
Most carriers have some form of stop pay, short haul pay and other incentives to make short runs or multi-stop runs worth your time.
How does each company calculate vacation and holiday pay? I’ve seen some carriers paying as little as $50 per day. Others paid a driver’s average daily income, based on the last 6 or 12 months.
Detention, layover, even drop and hook pay can make a big difference in your annual income. If you’re looking at more than one company, these things could be the difference.
Before you sign on, scan the forums, Facebook and other social media platforms. Reach out to a few drivers for their thoughts. Do they recommend their employer? Why, or why not?
Safety ratings matter. You can check out any company safety rating on the FMCSA’s CompanySnapshot page. All you need is the company name, DOT number or MC/MX number.
The trucking industry is full of opportunities. You should be able to land that dream trucking job if you do your homework and take your time. Don’t just jump into the next job offer.
Remember, the company that hires you is required to verify your employment history for the last 10 years. The more jobs you’ve churned through, the harder their job will be to bring you on. This could be a deal breaker if you’ve been a job hopper.
We at Trucking After Hours would love to hear about your job hunting journey. Reach out. Hit the Contact Page and let us know how it’s going.