Starting out as an owner/operator can be a difficult and complex endeavor. Purchasing the right long-haul vehicle, learning standard practices and procedures of the industry, and understanding how to file your taxes properly are just a few of the challenges rookie truckers face early on in their careers. This means drivers need to be aware of the pitfalls that often plague owner/operators, costing them time, money, or overall safety.
Here are the top three mistakes to avoid as an owner/operator.
1. Thinking It Will Be Easy
The decision to become an owner/operator can be done for a myriad reasons, but one of the worst cited reasons is because “it’s easy.” It’s not. To begin with, CDL training is not like getting a regular driver’s license; there are far more rules and regulations you must adhere to on the road. Furthermore, the training courses can last for up to 12 hours a day, five days a week, for three weeks depending on which state you get your license in. The test at the end of your training course covers general knowledge, combination vehicle types, exterior vehicle inspection, and even a test on air brakes. Drivers must also provide proof they passed a physical health exam or they will not receive their license.
It’s not just the licensing process that is difficult, either. Life on the road for a long-haul driver is tough, logging 11 hour days behind the wheel for days on end. Drivers must be cautious of other motor vehicles around them as well as driving conditions along their route. When stopped for a break, truckers must be cautious when leaving their truck and make sure their load, as well as their personal safety, is intact. Being a long-haul driver is difficult and can be dangerous, but if you maintain safe practices and stay cognizant of your surroundings, you’ll find success.
2. Neglecting Your Health
Another mistake novice drivers make is neglecting their health. The CDC has found that long-haul drivers are at an increased risk of dangerous health issues, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even diabetes. These health issues are usually due to an unhealthy diet combined with an unavoidable sedentary lifestyle. Physical health issues aside, the isolation from being on the road for days—if not weeks—can impact a driver’s mental health and emotional well-being. Long-haul drivers suffer from higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Protecting your mental health while on the road is especially difficult since there is a general lack of human connection for the vast majority of your time working. To combat these issues, some drivers perform calisthenic exercises at rest stops to improve their physical health and use hands-free technology to connect with their loved ones while on the road.
3. Ignoring Safety Practices
One of the worst mistakes truckers make is ignoring safety practices. Whether that be forgetting to perform an exterior inspection of the vehicle or driving for longer than the legal limit, ignoring safety practices is a surefire way to put yourself or others in harm’s way. Safety protocols are typically in place for a reason, and in the trucking industry, those reasons are serious. A semi-truck in the United States can have a maximum load weight of 80,000 pounds, which is not to be underestimated; a truck weighing 80,000 pounds traveling at a speed of 2 miles per hour has the same momentum as a 4,000-pound SUV traveling at 40 miles per hour. If a driver fails to perform a vehicle inspection prior to hitting the highway and has a blowout while traveling 70 miles per hour, the results could be cataclysmic.
Safety practices don’t just pertain to the vehicle. Drivers need to follow proper safety protocols when it comes to their rest and health. A tired driver is a dangerous driver, and it only takes a fraction of a second for something to go wrong. At 70 miles per hour, a vehicle travels over 100 feet per second, depending on the weather and road conditions. If an exhausted driver on their sixtieth work hour of the week closes their eyes for just one second, it could mean the difference between life and death for themselves and the people on the road around them.
Being an owner/operator can be an amazing and rewarding career for the right person. You get to travel the country seeing the beautiful landscape and meet new, interesting people in your industry. As you grow your owner/operator career, make sure not to let one of these three big mistakes have a negative impact on your profession or your life. Take your job seriously, protect your health, and follow all of the safety practices put in place. It’s that simple.
Working as a long-haul owner/operator is a difficult, dangerous career not meant for the faint of heart. Ever-changing road and weather conditions, unfamiliar locations, 70-hour workweeks, and almost total isolation—the modern owner/operator faces unparalleled challenges day in and day out. As the winter season creeps in, drivers have their work cut out for them as they deliver all of those unbelievable Black Friday deals and Santa’s nice-list promises. With that in mind, it’s imperative that owner/operators plan ahead for the harsh winter weather and prepare their trucks for what is sure to be one of the busiest holiday seasons to date.
Here are five tips for winterizing your semi-truck to stay safe and save money while on road:
1. Inspect Your Battery
Many people don’t know this, but extreme weather can zap the charge from a vehicle’s battery. According to Farm and Dairy, “Cold temperatures wreak havoc on batteries because they slow the chemical reaction inside of the battery. Though batteries can function under myriad conditions, the cold weather tends to degrade high-quality batteries and may render subpar batteries useless.” The last thing an owner/operator needs is to wake up to a dead battery as their truck sits in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, therefore losing valuable driving time and increasing expenses. Avoid battery problems by inspecting the battery connectors for corrosion, securing the mounts, and checking the electrical components. If the battery is over two years old, consider replacing the battery prior to peak season.
2. Install an Electric Block Heater
Diesel engines require significantly more heat to turn-over than their gasoline counterparts—the combustion range for gasoline is 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit while the range for diesel is 1,000 to 1,200. In cold enough temperatures, a diesel engine may struggle to turn-over, and during the most inclement winter weather, there may be no viable way for the engine to reach the necessary temperatures. This can be avoided by installing an electric block heater to keep the engine warm while the vehicle is off overnight, ensuring it rolls over on the first try regardless of the weather outside.
3. Check Your Tires
Ideally, drivers should inspect their tires religiously as tire blowouts account for roughly 6% of semi-truck accidents. The need to inspect tires increases with the colder weather as worn-out, damaged, or underinflated tires can struggle to gain traction in snow and ice, creating unsafe driving conditions. Additionally, owner/operators need to pack the correct size and number of tire chains in case their route takes them through a state where semi-trucks are required to use chains. Tire chains are an owner/operator’s best friend when driving on icy terrain; they can make all the difference between reaching your destination safely or sliding into a ditch—or worse. Stay prepared and plan ahead.
4. Inspect Your Cooling System
A semi-truck’s engine cooling system has to work overtime during the winter months. This is due to the fact that the harsh winter weather forces the engine itself to work significantly harder than in the warmer months. The cooling system should be thoroughly inspected and tested by a mechanic prior to the winter season to make sure no hoses are worn or damaged, hose clamps are tight and secure, and the radiator has no damage or leaks. If the cooling system fails, the entire engine will fail along with it, costing you precious dollars and quite possibly your deadline. The last thing an owner/operator wants is to be stranded on the side of the road with no fix other than replacing the cooling system completely.
5. Prepare an Emergency Kit
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, or how much you prepare, you still run into the proverbial—or literal—bump in the road. If an owner/operator finds themselves stranded in harsh winter climates while in route to their destination, it can be incredibly dangerous without the necessary supplies to ensure your safety and survival. Always prepare an emergency kit to protect yourself from the weather or other threats you may face while on the road. We recommend including the following items in your emergency travel kit:
● Extra blankets
● First aid kit
● Flashlight and extra batteries
● Canned food and bottled water
● Snow boots
● Snow shovel
● Flare and flare gun
● CB Radio
● Extra coolant, washer fluid, engine oil
● Extra fuel filter and fuel filter wrench
● Spare Diesel fuel
● Tire chains
These items will make sure you are safe, protected, and have extra supplies on-hand in case the problem can be easily solved—such as low oil levels or running out of fuel.
Picture this: You’re on the road and the inevitable happens… You get stopped for a roadside inspection. Such blitzes can happen at any time but are particularly enforced during certain times of the year. For example, Operation Safe Driver Week took place in July 2020. During that time period, law enforcement observed over 66,000 drivers engaging in unsafe driving on roadways and issued 71,343 warnings and citations.
There’s also the annual International Roadcheck. In this three-day period, the emphasis is placed on compliance with federal regulations, and inspectors use the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria to spot any violations. Last year’s International Roadcheck revealed staggering results. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of the 3.36 million inspections conducted, 952,938 driver violations were noticed, of which 199,722 were out-of-service (OOS) conditions.
At some point in your trucking career, you will be flagged down for a roadside inspection. Passing or failing inspection, however, is ultimately contingent on your preparedness. Listed below are the top four ways you can plan ahead to pass a roadside inspection.
1) Make Sure You Have Proper Documentation
There are a total of eight inspection levels. Level III inspection is specifically centered on the driver’s credentials, which includes but isn’t limited to a CDL review, medical examiner’s certificate, plus the record of duty status, and more. Among the top 25 truck driver violations last year, driving without a valid medical certificate ranked at #2. This is merely a one-point violation, but it’s easily avoidable when owners/operators keep themselves organized.
Unfortunately, when you’re in a rush to hit the road, staying up to date with important documents can easily fall by the wayside. It’s helpful to already have a binder or folder consisting of the documents the inspector will need. Such documents include a driver’s license, registration, vehicle insurance, medical examiner’s certificate, record of duty status, annual inspection records, hazardous materials paperwork, IFTA card, and permit credentials.
2) Have a Pre-trip Checklist Ready
During a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) Level I Roadside Inspection, there are some equipment problems that can lead to trip delays, citations, or worse yet, an OOS order. In order to avoid the three aforementioned issues, make it a habit to address the following items daily: replace/mend deflated or worn tires, adjust brakes or other brake-related problems, secure your load, take care of oil leaks, and repair any damaged lights or windshield.
Another facet of the checklist needs to include understanding how your electronic logging device (ELD) works. In the event you’re flagged for an inspection, you’ll need to know how to email your e-logs to the inspector. This will help expedite the entire process quickly, so you can get you back on the road.
What if you covered your checklist, but encounter an issue and an unexpected inspection on the road? Be transparent with the inspector about anything that may cause further inspection. This can mean the difference between a waiver of citation(s) or incurring a violation. If you recently discovered the issue, tell the inspector and take steps to handle it promptly.
3) Keep up with the Maintenance of Your Truck
This tip goes hand-in-hand with having a pre-trip checklist. Staying safe on the road for you and others is the top priority—besides passing the roadside inspection. And the key to safety comes down to the upkeep of your truck.
When you start your semi-truck, take time to do the following:
- Check the tires for punctures, pressure, and air leaks.
- Ensure all your lights are working properly. This is not to be taken lightly. A broken light is a six-point violation, and in some instances, can result in an OOS.
- Make sure your truck’s windshield is clean. Not only is this highly important to your safety and that of others, but it also can make or break your chances of getting pulled over by law enforcement for an inspection.
- Perform a Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) to ensure you’re meeting the law’s standards for your truck. This includes checking things such as your battery, clutch, exhaust, and more. Covering all your bases by paying attention to detail can help you not only pass a potential inspection but will also help you stay safe.
4) Don’t forget to conduct a post-trip (and en route) inspection
Let’s face it: Roadside inspections are part of being a trucker in the U.S. Whether you’re a rookie or an expert truck driver, you need to get into the practice of conducting routine inspections en route and post-trip. A solid post-trip inspection gives you time to address an identified problem before the truck makes its next trip. Much like the pre-trip checklist, the post-trip inspection list is equally important. Though it’s time-consuming, such a task will help in keeping you safe for your next trip and possible inspection. So, take time to check major details such as the functionality of your brakes, windshield wipers, steering efficiency, and tire condition.
For more information on how to succeed as an owner-operator, visit our blog!
When you manage your own trucking company, you’re expected to handle all hauls with complete efficiency; and that’s on top of taking care of a long list of other crucial responsibilities necessary for your company’s survival. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, owners/operators have had their hands full as many companies rely on them to fulfill orders and accomplish essential hauls. But even as the workload increases, everything must continue to run smoothly. Experienced truckers know that requires superior management skills.
In this article, we’ll go over the top five responsibilities an owner/operator must handle on a day-to-day basis and how to manage them properly.
A recent survey found 78% of clients have canceled business transactions due to poor customer service quality; no clients equals no revenue. When managing your own trucking company, it’s essential to prioritize your clients in order to develop and maintain consistent, positive relationships. Once you arrange and schedule your hauls, you should communicate the details with clients and keep them in the know in the event of any changes. This demonstrates excellent communication skills and work ethic—two things absolutely necessary in order to create a steady workflow and a stable, profitable company.
Nearly 1 in 15 people work in what is considered one of the nation’s unhealthiest industries: the trucking industry. In 2019, a study from Business Insider found 7 out of 10 truck drivers were categorized as obese and about 17% were considered morbidly obese. When you’re sick and not on the road, your company loses revenue and crucial business opportunities. Try incorporating these lifestyle changes to combat any health problems and keep on trucking:
- When you’re done for the day, take some time to exercise.
- Develop and maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
- Cook our pickup healthy meals for yourself; skip the drive-thru.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Give up smoking for good.
On average, the trucking industry rakes in $255.5 billion in revenue each year—but everything comes at a cost, and running your carrier authority is no exception. As a manager, it’s your job to track and manage your company’s expenses using organized and detailed records. In doing so, your company will have a greater chance of surviving, as you’ll be able to track whether your company is gaining or losing money. If you find you’re entering a potential deficit, you need to readjust how you operate and fund the major expenses (e.g. fuel, food/drink, insurance, and rigs) by developing a budget. Of course, there will be unforeseen expenses, so plan ahead by creating an emergency fund. Over time, you’ll learn how much you spend per month and how to lower costs and operate more efficiently.
It’s crucial to properly manage fuel usage and its expense. On average, truck drivers will log between 2,000 and 3,000 miles per week and more than 100,000 miles per year; this translates to around 53.9 billion gallons of fuel annually. Pair those numbers with the fluctuating diesel prices, and you’ve got a serious expense on your hands. However, there are ways to manage your fuel usage and minimize the cost, such as monitoring your rig’s tire pressure, minimizing idling, moderating your braking, and managing cruise RPM. Not sure if these things are helping you reduce fuel consumption? Try tracking your fleet’s fuel expenses before and after applying these changes, and see how much you save.
When you own and manage a trucking company, you are responsible for calculating and paying your taxes correctly each quarter, plus filing several tax forms and schedules, such as W-9, 11099-NEC, and Form 1040. If your taxes are not tracked or paid correctly, your business could be in jeopardy. To avoid any missteps, keep a profit and loss statement each quarter, set aside 25 to 30% of your weekly net income, and pay your quarterly taxes on time to avoid penalty charges.
Ready to start your career as an American truck driver? Want to learn more about what it takes to succeed as an owner/operator? Check out our latest post, 5 Things Owner/Operators Should Do to Achieve Success.
Trucking is an expansive and flourishing occupation—and it’s one of the industries that hasn’t slowed down during the current COVID-19 crisis. Companies and essential businesses turned to trucking, heavily relying on owners/operators to deliver their much-needed products across the nation. With this level of productivity and increased activity comes the question of success. What is now deemed “successful” in the trucking industry?
For some people, success is defined by what they have. For truck drivers, success is determined by their quality of work and the professional milestones they meet. But if you’re new to owning and operating your own business, figuring out how to measure success outside of just numbers can seem overwhelming. There’s so much more to success than sheer quantity or numerical values. In this article, we’ll break down the top five things you should do if you’re aiming for success in the trucking industry.
1. Be Positive
Trucking can be a strenuous job, but if you approach your career with set goals and a positive attitude, you’re more likely to beat out the competition and thrive as a business owner. It’s essential to consider your needs and desires to establish your short-term and long-term goals. Write out your goals and treat them as stepping stones to your future. Another tip for success: Try starting your day with “I get to” instead of “I have to.” When you work as an optimist, you can be 20 to 40% more successful than pessimists.
2. Health Matters
Successful business owners know a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, which leads to a healthy business. Researchers at the University of Georgia asked a group of people who make upward of $100,000 per year what helps them find success in their work. At least 75% credited their focus and drive to physical fitness. If your health is compromised by an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise, you’re almost guaranteed to spend more time in a doctor’s office and less time running and growing your business. An unhealthy lifestyle also leads to poor leadership skills and personal qualities, like tiredness and irritability. By staying on top of your health, you’ll be more energized, focused, and capable of taking your trucking business to the next level.
3. Focus Is Key
Business owners become successful by staying focused, committed, and driven. It’s easy to lose focus in the hustle of day-to-day operations; to grow your business, however, try incorporating healthy and productive habits. Each morning, write out your goals for the day then focus on them one at a time. When you focus on too many things at once, you lose up to 40% of your productivity. Working one goal at a time will help you hone in on the day ahead. While on the clock, eliminate distractions and stay committed to your goals. Combine your focus and commitment, and those around you will see you as a driven leader and someone they want to work with.
4. Work Harder and Smarter
Having a business means setting goals, achieving them, then working hard to outdo yourself on your next set of plans. A study from Harvard showed 3% of graduate students had written goals and plans. Ten years later, the 3% were making 10 times more than the 97% who didn’t have written goals. Make your goals achievable, then strive to achieve them. To work smarter, try placing your simple tasks and goals at the start of your day. It’ll give you a sense of accomplishment and help you conquer the more challenging tasks later.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Finally, don’t be afraid to fail. It works exactly how it sounds. Things don’t always go according to plan. Some things are past our control, and that’s OK. Successful owners aren’t afraid to leap, even in the face of potential failure. It’s important to lose any fear of judgment and view your losses as learning opportunities. To get to your future, weigh the pros and cons of new options, accept any outcome, then strive for the next best thing.
Now that you have the tools for success, it’s time to get to work.
Interested in learning what it takes to become a successful owner/operator? Check out our post, How to Succeed as an Owner/Operator. For more industry news and content, stay up to date with our blog. Ready to begin your career as a trucker, but need some financial guidance? Visit our website to view our list of services, and contact us with any questions.
5 Tips for New Semi-Truck Drivers
While being the owner-operator for a semi-truck can be hard work, it can be equally as fulfilling. If you’re new to the industry, you may be asking yourself a lot of questions about what success looks like as an owner-operator. First thing’s first, now is an amazing time to be getting into the booming transportation industry. New retail surges and the growth of online commerce has led to a higher demand than ever, resulting in a national driver shortage. This demand creates better opportunities for drivers, so you’ve made a smart decision by joining now.
Once you get into the business, there are many things that you can be doing to ensure that you flourish in this new role. Here are our best tips to help you achieve the most out of being an owner-operator.
#1: Choose the Right Truck
When it comes to purchasing your first semi-truck, the wide variety of options can definitely be overwhelming. You can go with a new or used semi, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. While a used truck may appear appealing originally due to its comparatively lower price, older trucks are also a liability for repairs. They have older parts and more miles on the engine, so you might spend more on maintenance than a newer truck. Additionally, with the newly enforced ELD Mandate, you may have to do some work to get the logging device that’s installed in the truck up to par.
While newer trucks have a slightly lower liability associated with them, it is easier said than done when it comes to purchasing. You will have to invest more money upfront due to the overall higher cost. If you don’t have a sizeable amount saved up in the bank, a new truck might not be as realistic of an option for you.
#2: Plan for Repairs
Planning for repairs is crucial, and it is a big part of every trucker’s life. If you own your truck, you are often responsible for these costs, so it is important to put money aside consistently to manage these costs effectively. Do thorough research and try to best determine your annual maintenance cost, and then put additional funds aside in case of a breakdown or other unexpected damage.
While each semi-truck is unique in terms of exactly how much care it’ll need, consider the mileage, age, collision and damage history of yours to formulate your savings. Additionally, if you sprung for a new truck that came with a warranty, don’t expect that it won’t necessarily need repairs. Even the newest trucks can have issues that won’t be covered by a warranty. Be sure to take good care of your truck; it’s a major money-making tool. Good care can minimize the overall money that you’d dump into repairs that were warranted by poor maintenance.
#3: Put in the Effort
We all want to have a profitable career. The average successful owner-operator makes anywhere from $1.00-$3.00 per mile, but what exactly does it take to make money as an owner-operator? Well, it mostly just takes pure effort. You have to put in the work to reap the benefits, as most carriers or clients won’t offer a salary payment system. Most drivers are paid by the mile or sometimes by the hour. This makes it so that your pay directly correlates to the type of work that you put in. Don’t expect a big salary in this position if you’re not willing to take on ambitious hauls. If you’re looking to make the big bucks, open yourself up to longer and bigger hauls.
Additionally, taking fewer days off in between hauls will not only boost your profits, but it can make you a more attractive option to potential carriers who are trying to get their cargo moved as quickly as possible.
#4: Seek out Successful Carriers
If you’re in this for the long haul, pun intended, job security is key. Look for an employer that is doing well themselves, as that gives more potential to your future with them. With the national driver shortage, many carriers are struggling, but as a driver, finding ones that still manage to be profitable will open up many more possibilities. Finding employment with a booming carrier translates into more hours and increased job security. Massive corporations such as Amazon, Walmart, and Uber have all been flourishing in this new modern age of trucking and have continuously been hiring while the driver pool of others has been dwindling.
#5: Define Your Goals and Habits
This is a big one. Before you get lost in this complex industry, it is important to figure out which route you’d like to pursue. Decide if you’d like to be signed onto a carrier, or possibly drive independently for a company such as Uber Freight. While there are pros and cons to each, the best choice will depend on what lifestyle you crave. While working independently provides freedom and flexibility, it’s not as consistent or dependable. Consider your unique needs and adjust accordingly.
Getting involved in the trucking industry can be confusing and complicated, but luckily, Mission Financial is always here to help you out. Check out our comprehensive blog for industry news and more tips like these!