We asked Jim Purcell, founder of TruckerCountry.com a few questions about the red hot truck driving market. In case you didn't know truck drivers are in huge demand right now.
Q. Why are truck drivers so in demand?
A. You might have heard that, “If you got it, a trucker hauled it”. Or, “Without trucks, America stops”. These are not exaggerations, by any means. Many goods, at least in part, get transported by cargo ships, airplanes, and trains, but trucks are the only form of transportation that can deliver them (most goods, in large amounts) to and from a business’s front doorsteps.
Trucks are everywhere in our nation and move just about every product you can imagine! There are over 3 million truck drivers in America today, according to the latest statistics. There may never have been a better time to start a career in trucking. Because of the present driver shortage, as well as the usual additions needed just for replacements and turnovers, trucking companies are now offering more to attract new drivers; more money, better benefits, newer equipment, etc.
Q. How long does it take to get certified as a truck driver?
A. Generally, the process is as follows.
Prepare for and pass the official state CDL written exams. This can be before or during attending a truck driving school. Passing the exams gives a future driver a CDL permit. This permit allows them to get behind the wheel of a tractor trailer during training. Successful completion of truck driving school usually required passing the official state CDL Skills exam. This is demonstrating the ability to drive a tractor trailer; first on a closed skills test, then out on a road test.
Depending on the truck driving school, training can take anywhere between 2-8 weeks.
Q. What is the typical salary of a first year truck driver?
A. If the driver graduated from a high-quality truck driving school, and the trucking company doesn't require on-the-job training (in which case it'll be much lower for up to 8 weeks), he's probably ready to get out on the road right away. A brand new driver can make $.25-.30 per mile, driving between 2500-3000 miles per week. This equates to somewhere between $600.00 to $900.00 per week, not counting any extras like extra stop pay or bonuses.
Based on these numbers a new driver can expect to make about $25,000 - $35,000 for their first year.
Q. What are the different types of truck driver roles?
A. OTR (over-the-road) drivers operate heavy trucks and tractor trailers for long distances, and for long periods of time. These drivers work for motor carriers which usually deliver freight in all or part of the 48 continental states plus Canada. OTR drivers can expect to be on the road on average from one to four weeks.
Regional/Short-haul drivers: Carriers that haul regionally stay within a limited geographic area. Some stay in the same state, some branch out to bordering states, and some go to several states. More common are carriers that limit themselves to the eight or 10 western states, to the southern states, or to the East Coast. The drivers for these carriers operate similarly to that of an over the road driver, except they don’’t travel to all 48 continental states.
Local drivers can operate any type of commercial vehicle, but the majority will be smaller, straight trucks (vehicles under 26,000 pounds only, class “B” CDL). The bigger metropolitan areas will have more local drivers driving tractor-trailers.
However, if you're the adventurous type, and have some trucking experience, then maybe you can make it as an owner-operator.
Independent owner-operators must get their own operating authority. That is, they are a small trucking business. They are in control of EVERYTHING. This type of driver must have some business experience and know-how!
They'll need their own tractor. This could require several thousand dollars down payment up front, although there are "no down payment" opportunities out there for drivers with good credit. Depending on how "independent" you are, you may also need to secure your own trailer. Trailers are often leased to qualified owner-operators or companies.
It's much easier to get started as an owner-operator by buying a truck and leasing it onto a company. These drivers will either get paid by the mile (typically between $1 to $2 per mile) or receive a percentage of the load pay from the company. The company supplies the trailers, finds the loads, and takes care of much of the business operations.
Some companies will offer the ability to purchase one of their tractors. In fact, you could already be a company driver and the company may offer you the ability to purchase one of their trucks.
Many companies advertise owner-operator opportunities that "earn $200,000 (or more!) per year!" But drivers need to know the truth about how much money they can make before getting started. The $200,000 is "gross pay". That's before taking out operating expenses and taxes. Operating expenses include fuel, maintenance, repairs, etc. These expenses can add up real quick! That $200,000 can end up being a net pay comparable to that of a company driver. It depends on many factors including: cost of fuel, cost of truck and trailer repairs, choosing loads wisely, etc.
Many trucking companies are now offering lease-purchase opportunities. I've heard success stories; of drivers who got into trucks with no out of pocket expenses, had a great experience, and ended up owning the truck. But there are horror stories as well. Companies that unloaded their older (i.e., past their prime) trucks on new owner-operators who ended up spending a ton on repairs and sometimes having no net income for weeks at a time. Bottom line, as with any trucking opportunity: Do your homework. Research the company online. Talk to past and present drivers of the company. Think of the worst case scenario.