Over all the years I have been involved in trucking there are some common concerns and challenges that come up again and again.
In this article, I am going to share ten of them with you and discuss what you need to know and look into further before you get started in trucking. Hopefully, you can use this information to help yourself do better in trucking from today on.
Very Important! You need to do your own research and your own homework – before you sign on with any school or any trucking company! Do NOT just get your information from a recruiter either. Do your own research and carefully consider the information you gather.
Discuss the realities with your family – if applicable. Otherwise, that will become a whole other source of friction and problems right out of the gate.
Then once you have all your information – then you can decide whether trucking is for you or not, and if it is, you can hit the ground running and do much better much faster than those who are not prepared will.
Alright, now that we have all that out of the way – let’s get into it;
- Time Away from Home
- Starting Pay
- Trucking Business Success
- Truck Driving School Costs
- Road Training
- First Year Objectives
- Maximizing Pay
- Trucking Career Plan
- Financial Management
- Driver Health and Fitness
Below we will get a bit more into each of these, but just remember there are many other things you will need to learn more about and take into consideration too – but this is a good start and a good step in the right direction.
1.Time Away From Home – This is one of the biggest hurdles and challenges for many drivers. Often when looking into getting a CDL and getting a first trucking job – this isn’t really addressed nearly as much as it should be, and that leads to bad decisions that are misaligned with reality. That of course leads to stress and frustration – and new drivers quitting within days or weeks of starting their first truck driving job with their first (and only!) trucking company.
Most new truck drivers (CDL 18 wheeler drivers) are going to go either OTR (Over The Road) or Regional when first starting out. This is simply because that is where most of the open trucking job positions are and where the trucking industry desperately needs more drivers. That means typically you will be gone for several days at a time away from home living out of your truck on the road. Expect a week to two weeks at a time with most companies and even longer with some. Can you handle that? Do you want to? How about family members that are affected by you being gone, can they handle it, and will they?
2. Starting Pay – There are a few factors that are going to impact your starting pay as a new trucker. The first is that most trucking companies are going to start you out much lower on their pay scales than they pay experienced drivers. So you are already going to be paid at a lower rate to begin with. Next is that you will not be as efficient at your job when you first begin as another driver who has developed the skills necessary and who is highly motivated will be. You will not be able to communicate as effectively with your dispatchers/load planners and others, and you are going to be new – that means you will get let desirable (and less profitable) runs in most cases just starting out. Add all these things up and your starting pay will probably be less than impressive for at least your first few weeks to your first few months.
Many new drivers (and their families) get angry and frustrated with such low pay – especially combined with being away from home and still adjusting to all that. So they quit – before their pay levels out. Know that going in. Expect it and work through it. In a few weeks, your pay will improve dramatically – if you know what you are doing, choose the right company, and work hard. But it takes time and it takes action from you (more on that in a minute). One other note here too – keep in mind when you are given pay information by recruiters – it is GROSS pay they are quoting, before deductions – and it is also the best-case scenario. That means more often than not it is exaggerated and you will never see that amount, and what you do earn will be much less.
3. Trucking Business Success – I have a Facebook group and a series of courses on Udemy and other resources for drivers which are all focused on Trucking Business Success. The key I want you to have right now is this – you are already in BUSINESS for yourself in trucking the moment you become a professional truck driver! It does not matter whether you are a company truck driver, a lease-purchase truck driver, leased on owner operator, or an owner operator with your own authority, in all cases you are very much in business for yourself!
This is critical to understand – or you will lose big in this business. You need to learn, and then you need to think about every load and every action you take in trucking. Which company you work with as a driver, what dedicated account or what type of runs you choose to do, how you communicate with other people – especially your dispatcher/planner and what you run – and refuse to run – will dramatically affect your income, your time at home and your life. Learn the fundamentals of Trucking Business Success and apply them from the beginning and you will do far better than truck drivers who don’t.
4. Truck Driving School Costs – Trucking School is NOT free! You will pay for your training one way or another. In terms of just the costs associated with providing your initial training (the school’s cost), it is several hundred dollars minimum, if not a couple of thousand – depending on how efficient they are. Keep in mind they must do better than just cover their cost to survive – they need to be profitable too. So private truck driving schools can range in cost all over the board from a couple of thousand to as much as seven thousand dollars – or more. Many are at or near the $4500 range with some community colleges being as low as $2000 or less (because the government is paying the rest somehow). Trucking companies who have their own internal schools or training programs to help you get your CDL will often require you to sign some kind of contract to drive for them for a while to “pay them back” for their investment in your training. Some are ethical and good – many are not. Some will jack up the cost to thousands of dollars over what the same or better training would cost at a private school or community college. Some even engage in illegal and exploitative tactics with these things – and many have been successfully sued in the past – yet it doesn’t stop others from trying the same things. Be very careful about company-sponsored training that requires you to sign a contract. You are better off getting your own training at an actual school (in most cases) and arranging your own payments – then taking a job at a company that has a good tuition reimbursement program, and many do. That way you are not indentured to them and can leave anytime you like – and you won’t be gouged by double tuition rates and subbasement starting pay either.
5. Road Training – Truck driving school does NOT prepare you fully to do the job. Truck driving school prepares you to pass your skills test and get your class A Commercial Drivers License (CDL) so that you can then go find an entry-level truck driving job as a trainee with a motor carrier. The motor carrier will have a training program of some kind (if they are not completely stupid!) and they will require you to go out on the road with a Trainer for some period of time. They call this person different things such as Road Trainer, Driver Trainer, Driver Mentor, Training Engineer, Driver Training Specialist, Instructor, etc. which are all just the preference or the motor carrier. In essence, they all serve the same purpose – to be your instructor/trainer while on the road and help you learn and develop real-world practical skills so you can continue to learn on your own after training without tearing stuff up, or hurting yourself either – or at least that’s the idea. You should know the quality or lack thereof is all over the place. Some companies have excellent programs – others are near clueless. There is major variation even within a given company from one trainer to another. Some are great – some are terrible – and most are in the middle between the two extremes. You should also know that many carriers are so desperate for truck drivers they will let other rookie inexperienced drivers who are just barely ahead of you – become trainers! That means another entry-level driver with six months less total time on the road driving a tractor-trailer is going to train you… That is stupid – and in many cases negligent. Yet they do it anyway, and you just need to be aware of this and keep in mind your “trainer” may not be very far ahead of you and may not be able to truly teach you the critical things that can keep you alive on the road because they do not yet know these things themselves. Just be aware and be careful when choosing a company to get your training at. One other very important thing to know – many trucking companies use their “Training Program” more as a cheap team operation to move as much freight as possible as cheaply as possible (you are cheap labor and so is your rookie trainer with such companies). How can you tell? If the company requires or allows your trainer to get in the sleeper berth at any time while you are behind the operational controls of the vehicle (driving/backing etc.) then you are TEAMING and not training! Be careful!
6. First Year Objectives – We all want to get through training and initial phases of a new career quickly. Looking at it from the beginning, a year seems like a long time, yet in truth when you look back on it after it is done – it will seem like it flew by. It really isn’t that long of a time frame – and you are going to be very busy – especially if you learn and use TBS methods and tactics that I teach. The first few weeks you are going to complete truck driving school. The next few weeks you will complete your initial road training and then get your own struck and become a solo (or team) truck driver and continue learning on your own. This total time will take you probably 6 weeks to 12 weeks – or so just to get to that point. So let’s say the better part of the first quarter of your first year (3 months from start to finish of this phase). You have about 9 months left. During this period of time, your emphasis should be on learning and developing your skills and learning more about the business and the lifestyle of trucking for a living. It is also a time to review and refine your trucking and your life goals. At the same time, you will be working to operate more efficiently and more profitably too. Year one is your foundation.
7. Maximizing Pay – There are strategies that you can learn and use to make far more money much quicker than otherwise possible. For example – I can teach you specifically how to come right out of school and get on a dedicated account that pays you differently than just milage. You can be paid by the load, by the stop, and by the mile – along with other special pay. This type of work can earn you $60,000 to $80,000 or more – even your first year… BUT – this requires far more than average skills and abilities and determination. It also requires physical work in addition to better than good driving and close maneuvering skills – otherwise, it will not end well. Beyond all that – even with more typical OTR and Regional milage-based runs there are ways to do better there too which revolve around thinking, planning, and communicating. That can be a $20,000 difference in your pay the first year. Keep in mind none of this is typical – an average driver is just going to take whatever loads he or he is “given” and will wait to be told what to do. As a result, their pay and satisfaction will suffer and will be MUCH less than what they could have earned and the quality of life on the road they could have had too! This is part of that mindset difference between someone who thinks the TBS way vs someone who thinks like an employee.
8. Trucking Career Plan – To do better you need a better plan. So many drivers come to trucking just seeking a “JOB” and they treat it like that instead of as a business. That will get you by, but it will not get you ahead either. To do better you need specific goals and plans to be working towards. As you achieve a specific goal you set a new goal and begin working toward that – kind of like having a trip plan for your career. Before you begin it good to have an initial idea of what you want to do with your trucking career – and in life. Then once you get that first few months completed – sit down and reassess your goals once you have a very clear real-world understanding of trucking – and adjust if needed. There are so many different things you can do with your own trucking carer – and it is all up to you. For example – do you want to pursue the company driver path long term, be on a dedicated account, become a trainer, or rolling recruiter – how about becoming an owner operator? That may or may not be right for you – you have to decide that. Perhaps you want to team with your spouse or significant other and make well over $100k per year combined? How about starting your own trucking company as a fleet owner? Freight broker? Trucking repair shop owner – truck dealership – truck accessories – training and publishing company? What do you want to achieve and when?
9. Financial Management – What you spend is more important than what you make. Yet most people get this backward and think the solution to all financial trouble is just making more and more money. That doesn’t work very well though. The reason is that the same thinking that caused the trouble to begin with, will just cause bigger problems resulting in even more debt and more money problems if nothing else changes in how the thinking is done. If you have your money management under control that’s great and you can skip this section if you like. If on the other hand, you are having money troubles now – I suggest you start getting that fixed today. Go read Dave Ramseys stuff and watch his videos – take it seriously and start changing your life. Also, read more of my articles and publications on financial management too.
10. Driver Health and Fitness – You can be a healthy truck driver – or not. That is entirely up to you. There are a few things about trucking that make it prone to being used as an excuse to destroy your body and to do it relatively quickly too. The first is that trucking is not a physical job for most drivers. If you are running OTR and regional freight there is very little physical work for a van or reefer (refrigerated truck) driver and many other drivers. If you are on a dedicated account unloading freight every day (think beer, soda, chips, dollar stores, etc.) then you will get plenty of exercise – but that is NOT typical for most truckers. Most truckers have a more sedentary work environment consisting of sitting in that driver’s seat all day every day and not much else. That alone will destroy your body – if you let it. Add to that many drivers drink soda all day and smoke, eat chips, candy, and junk – then go eat the buffet in the truck stop before going to sleep. That’s a recipe for physical health destruction – and many have and many more are actively on that path now. Yet it does not have to be like that at all! For starters, you do need to take stretch breaks and get out and walk/stretch every couple or four hours. Second, do NOT drink soda!!! That crap is toxic and will destroy you, especially when you drink a lot of it. Drink water. eat better by buying real food from a grocery store (Walmart parking lost are big enough in most places) and cooking your own food. Even better consider a dedicated account that gets you some exercise too in addition to better money and often better home time!
The more you know about trucking the better you can do as a professional truck driver.
There are real ways that are proven to work – that will help you earn more and get better home time too. But these are not typical things that most new truckers know to do – and even many experienced drivers don’t know either.
Information is potential power – and when combined with the right training and mentoring, especially in trucking – it can make all the difference in the world.
It is possible to achieve more in your first two years in trucking than many truckers will ever accomplish in 20 years or more. Think about that.
You have the opportunity to immediately learn and then benefit from all the lessons that have already been learned by other people – including me, and many others. You can get all the benefits of decades of real-world experience and you can begin using it all right away.