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Keeping Semi-Truck Operating Costs Low

Trucking can be an expensive ordeal. This is especially true when you own or lease your own semi instead of driving a company-owned truck. Not only is the upfront cost expensive (hovering around $150,000), but the maintenance and annual expenses also pile up, usually costing around $180,000 to keep a commercial truck in a fleet every year. While many of these costs are unavoidable, there are several things you can be doing to minimize your operating costs to be as low as possible. Here are a few of our suggestions.

Slashing Fuel Costs

Fuel is one of the most expensive parts of semi-truck ownership, making up to 39% of operating costs. Depending on the area of operation, diesel can easily add up to over $70,000 a year alone. If you’re new to the industry, you might be unaware of the extent of this usage. To put it in perspective, the average car uses 500 gallons of fuel per year. In contrast, the average semi-truck uses 20,500 gallons annually, a staggering difference.

To help keep this lofty cost to a minimum, one thing you can do is to maximize your fuel efficiency. Every truck has a “sweet spot” where you’re going fast enough to make all of your appointments on time, but slow enough that you’re not burning unnecessary, excess fuel. To find your sweet spot, try monitoring your current fuel efficiency, and adjust your average speed accordingly.

Another way to cut down on fuel costs is to shop smarter when filling up the tank. As it does with normal automobile gas, diesel prices fluctuate drastically depending on the area. The U.S. national average cost per gallon of diesel hovers around $3.17. This changes by a few cents depending on the exact station and area, but there are a few ways to avoid overpaying. In general, diesel is more expensive on the West Coast. This is mostly due to the famously overpriced California. If you can, try to plan out your route so that you can avoid filling up in this expensive area. Additionally, if you have the resources to do so, alternatives to diesel fuel could potentially help you save on this massive expense.

Getting Affordable Insurance

Insurance is another sizable cost of operating a semi-truck, as there are over 9 different policies to buy and consider. The costs of these policies are usually around 4% of overall operating expenses, which may seem like a small fraction but is really thousands of dollars. While you don’t have a choice in whether or not you purchase these insurance policies, there are a few things that you can do to lower your rates and get the cheapest possible insurance deals.

One of the most important things you can do to lower your insurance rates is to keep your driving record as clean as possible. Drivers without any major infractions are considered less of a financial liability for insurance providers, and this trust translates into lower rates. While adhering to safe and orderly driving practices is important for the wellbeing of the public, it’s also essential for the wellbeing of your pockets.

Avoiding Unnecessary Repairs

Truck repairs can really add up, adding thousands to your annual bill. While it may sound counterintuitive, one of the best things you can do to minimize these costs is to pay more upfront. Being diligent about regular maintenance can actually lower your overall costs by preventing emergency repairs or paying for an accident resulting from faulty equipment. Waiting until equipment malfunctions or breaks down results in having to replace it all together rather than just taking proper care of it to preserve it.

Breakdowns due to poor maintenance can also lead to bigger issues affecting other tuck parts, or they can even leave you vulnerable to accidents that endanger you, the public, and your entire rig. Schedule regular maintenance to keep your semi in pristine working condition.

Schedule Your Routes Carefully

Since most truck drivers are paid by the mile, one of the best ways to optimize your pay per hour is to reduce idling time or time spent sitting in traffic. Any time where the truck isn’t moving is money right out of your pocket. While the conditions might not always be in your control, you can always make your best effort to avoid it.

Try to plan out your routes to avoid heavily congested areas during busy times such as the morning or evening rush. If you have the freedom to do so, take less popular roads during these times to try to skirt around traffic jams. While you might take a slightly longer route mile-wise, it will improve efficiency by allowing you to complete routes faster. Additionally, this can result in safer traveling due to clearer conditions, as traffic jams are often risky in terms of fender benders.

Maximizing Profit

When it comes down to it, driving a semi-truck is your career, and we all want to make a living wage. Keeping operating costs low is the best way to squeeze the most out of your salary. There are several invisible strains on your operation that you might not even realize. For example, truck stops sell more coffee than convenience stores, and the majority of these sales are to big rig drivers. Something as simple as streamlining daily purchases can make a difference in your daily profit margin. While you won’t necessarily be saving thousands by skipping that second cup of joe, making small changes can add up into healthy financial habits that save you big money later on.

For more information about how to get the most out of the trucking industry, check out Mission Financial!

DOT Overturns California Trucking Regulations


California tried to update its trucking laws to more closely resemble a typical work environment but was recently overruled. In an office setting, it’s suggested that employees take frequent breaks to stretch and refocus. Getting up from a desk and getting time away from the harsh blue light of a computer can be helpful for workplace wellness. While small breaks throughout the day are fine when you have to merely stand up from a desk, frequent breaks are more of an interruption than a relief for truckers.  When government regulations attempt to force them into the same box as office workers, their needs aren’t being properly met.

California’s Strict Break Requirements   

Typically, drivers get a 30-minute meal break per day and are not permitted to drive for more than 11 hours at a time. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit passed a law in 2014 that required California drivers to take a paid 10-minute break every 4 hours and a 30-minute meal break every 5 hours. The breaks were also required to be taken separately as to further break up driving. The law also pushed back total driving time allotted to 12 hours before stopping for the day to sleep and rest. These regulations are considerably stricter than the surrounding states’ rules, particularly the 10-minute break requirement that only adds tediousness to a drive. The inconsistency between states has drivers fearing for the efficiency and predictability of their routes.

Flaws in the Plan

While consistent breaks work effectively in a traditional office environment, the trucking industry is unique and doesn’t conform to the same standards of a typical workplace. After the passing of this law, national protest came from industry officials and benefactors alike. One group in particular who signed numerous petitions was the American Trucking Association (ATA). The law was designed by people who were supposedly unfamiliar with what truckers and transport businesses actually want and need. The law would greatly differ from regulations in other states, and therefore robs drivers of their consistency and routine. Having such different regulations from one state to another doesn’t allow truckers to properly plan their meal breaks and rest stops, as the timing would become complicated and tiresome.

Additionally, stopping too frequently breaks up work flow in a way that can actually be more tiring for drivers. In a more conventional office, breaks might help to relax and ease the stress of a workday, but for truckers, it can do the opposite. It also significantly cuts down on efficiency, so it’s a taxing financial regulation as well; less productive drivers mean longer transport times and more money spent per route. More time pulling off of the highway to take excessive breaks leads to less distance covered per day and therefore higher costs for transported product and harm done to the American consumer. In fact, driver productivity in California was reduced by three percent after these regulations were passed, according to an FMCSA Administrator.

FMCSA Grants Petitions

In 2018, the ATA filled a petition with the Department of Transportation (DOT) that proved all of the following points:

  • “California’s meal period and rest break laws offer no additional safety benefit beyond the safety benefit generated by the hours-of-service requirements
  • The laws are incompatible with the hours-of-service regulations enforced by the Department of Transportation
  • The meal and rest break laws cause an unreasonable burden to drivers and carriers operating in interstate commerce”

After a long debate, the DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granted the petition, stating that California trucking companies were no longer required to provide paid rest and meal breaks. While the law was initially set in place to create safer driving conditions for truckers, industry gurus asserted that more national consistency would lead to safer trucking practices as opposed to additional breaks.

Standards for American Drivers

While regulations that require excessive breaks can be a burden for productivity, the intent behind the California law was to decrease worker exploitation in the trucking industry, which is a persistent problem. Commercial truck drivers are often forced to work long hours without substantial breaks, and while California overstepped in execution, the industry is making strides by putting these necessities in a federally sanctioned domain. Truckers already work some of the country’s longest and most tiresome hours in our nation and need helpful standards to prevent their hard work from being exploited. Now that California trucking companies are no longer required to provide paid breaks, drivers can choose when and how they take them.

August 2015 Newsletter

Truck Tonnage Jumps 3.7% in July, Hits Second Best-Level Ever
Truck tonnage rose 3.7% last month, rebounding to the second-highest level ever with help from improved retail sales, housing starts and factory output, American Trucking Associations reported.

National Diesel Average Dips 0.2¢ in 12th Consecutive Decline
The average price of diesel fuel in the United States declined 0.2 cent a gallon to $2.615, the 12th straight weekly decline, the Department of Energy reported Aug. 17.

New Nonprofit Pursues Autonomous Collision Avoidance for Trucks
The Center for Automated Road Transportation Safety, based in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, which began operation last month as a nonprofit, said it will focus on the research, development, certification, and commercialization of autonomous collision-avoidance technology for autos, buses, and, especially, trucks.

Traffic Deaths Rise 14% for First Half of the Year
Traffic deaths increased 14% in the first six months of the year according to data by the National Safety Council, the Associated Press reported.

Study Shows Low-Rolling-Resistance Tires Aid Fuel Efficiency, Reduce Cost
A new study finds that tires designed with low rolling resistance are a worthwhile investment because they save a significant amount of fuel and cost about the same as tires that are not designed for low rolling resistance.

First 2016 F-650/750 Built at Ohio Plant
Ford and United Auto Workers officials Wednesday morning drove the symbolic first unit of the new F-650/750 series off the line at its Ohio Assembly Plant near Avon Lake amid cheers that followed congratulatory speeches.

Volvo, Mack Offer Pre-Paid Maintenance Plans
Volvo and Mack are offering pre-paid preventative maintenance plans as an option for fleets looking to reduce operating costs.

Peterbilt’s New Vocational Model 567 Enters Production
Peterbilt Motors Company has started production of its new vocational Model 567 with a set-forward front axle configuration.

ATA Senior Vice President Prasad Sharma to Join Transportation Law Firm 
American Trucking Associations Senior Vice President and General Counsel Prasad Sharma is leaving ATA to join the Washington, D.C., office of Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, company officials announced Aug. 13.

July 2015 Newsletter

Truck Orders Down Slightly in June

North American Class 8 truck orders fell for the fourth straight month in June, to 19,624 units, according to preliminary data from FTR, keeping with seasonal trends. More

Bulldog Hiway Express Brought Into Daseke Family of Carriers

Bulldog Hiway Express, the company of past American Trucking Associations Chairman Phil Byrd, is merging with the Daseke family of flatbed, open-deck and specialty carriers. More

Unemployment Lowest in 7 Years, Manufacturing Eases

Economic Watch: The nation’s unemployment rate fell 0.2 of a percent point in June to 5.3%, its lowest rate since April 2008, while 7,400 jobs were added in the for-hire trucking sector. More

ATA Names Supply Chain Security and Operations VP

American Trucking Associations promoted Boyd Stephenson to vice president of supply chain security and operations. More

Designing, Testing Tires for Drop-Deck Trailers Challenging

Dropdeck trailers with spread-axle tandems are torture on tires. Tom Berg explores one tire maker’s quest to design a product to stand up to the beating in his Trailer Talk blog. More

Security Firm Converts Armored Trucks to RNG PHEVs

A Southern California security company is converting its fleet of Class 5 armored vehicles into plug-in hybrids powered by renewable natural gas with the help of two vehicle modifiers. More

Great Dane Announces Supplier Summit & Innovation Challenge

Great Dane has announced plans for the company’s first Supplier Summit & Innovation Challenge taking place Sept. 28 to 30, 2015 in Savannah, Ga. More

Walcott Truckers Jamboree Kicks Off Soon

The 36th Annual Walcott Truckers Jamboree will kick off July 9 at the Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa. More

Truck Check Up Performs Diagnostics Analysis at the Pump

Noregon Systems’ Truck Check Up is an interactive, fuel-island based truck diagnostics station designed for use in heavy-duty trucks. More

TruckTech+ Provides Diagnostics to Fleets and Dealers

Kenworth’s TruckTech+ is a tool to enhance vehicle diagnostics by providing information on Paccar MX-13 engine health to fleet managers, drivers and dealers. More

Volvo Becomes Second OEM to Pull Out of MATS Next Year

Volvo Trucks has become the second truck manufacturer to decide against exhibiting at the Mid-America Trucking Show next year. More

Capitol Agenda for the Week of July 6: Round and Round We Go Again

Another month, another deadline, another chance for Congress to come up with a long-term solution for highway funding. The nation has ridden this merry-go-round before. Will it be any different this time? Here’s what’s ahead for trucking on Capitol Hill this week. More

Truck Orders Fall 26% in June, but Backlogs Remain Above Prior-Year Levels 

New Class 8 truck orders declined in June for a fourth consecutive month, but industry backlogs remain well above prior-year levels, ACT Research reported. More

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