How to make good money driving a truck
The trucking ads boast about the big money you can make as a long-haul over-the-road truck driver. They are correct. It is possible to earn a very good living driving a truck. Do not expect to jump in and become an owner-operator with a six-figure income early in your career. First it is necessary to learn the basics of handling the rig, managing your time, and dealing with inevitable setbacks due to unforeseen circumstances. Then you need to learn the nuts and bolts of truck-driving as a business.
The way to begin is as a company driver. Choose the company carefully. Ask around among other drivers. Eighty percent of what they will tell you is probably nonsense (80% of everything truckers say is nonsense) but by asking several you should be able to get a reasonable idea of a particular company. Three things you should insist on knowing accurately are the type of equipment you will operate (no cab-overs and nothing more than five years old), how often you will get home, and what kind of money you will make. Once you have chosen your employer and you are in the truck hauling a load, it is time to learn how to make money from your chosen career.
The first consideration is safety. Safe operation is critical and must be of primary importance. Taking chances will result in tickets and accidents and your career will probably be short. There are some folks who pay little attention to safety and get away with it. They drive too fast, tailgate, switch lanes quickly and without warning, rarely perform safety inspections, and falsify their logbooks. Some have been running that way for 30 years or more. I can assure you that the number of people who continue to work while following these practices is much smaller than the number who have been forced out of the industry because their bad habits caught up with them.
So follow safe driving practices. Perform safety inspections regularly. Check lights, tires, brakes, and the overall condition of the truck and trailer. Don’t just log it, do it. Keep all your paperwork, including the logbook, up-to-date. Stay at or close to posted speed limits. Move with traffic rather than trying to fight it. Do not tailgate. Use your signal when changing lanes. I use the turn signal when getting back on the highway from that pull-off in the New Mexico desert when there is not another vehicle in sight. If you use the signal every single time, there will never be a time when you should have and did not. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Rest when you need to. This is not a one-shot, deliver this load and you’re finished, career choice. If you want to be in it for the long term, you must follow safe practices.
Safely driving on mountain roads deserves an article of its own and that will be forthcoming.
So now you have learned and follow safe driving practices. How can you make any money driving the speed limit? Plan your run and run your plan. For a concrete example, take a run from Bryan, TX to Phoenix, AZ. The load delivers at 7AM Monday. Total miles come to 1100. So when do you start and how do you run? You can leave early Sunday morning, run very hard, tell lies in your logbook, go as fast as you can every chance you get, and arrive at the receiver Monday about 5AM. You will be tired, dirty, stressed out from the pressure of getting there on time, and will have to make up a bunch of stuff to enter in your logbook. When you have finished and you are sent to pick up a return load, you will not be in shape to run very far with it. Or you can leave Saturday, spend the night in West Texas somewhere, and get some sleep. Sunday morning head for Phoenix and arrive late at night. Monday morning you deliver and you are fresh and rested and ready to get another load and hit the road again. That is how you make money. The guy who did not leave until Sunday had some extra time at home but by Monday night you will have run many more miles than he.
I used to work as a dedicated driver. I hauled a specific company’s product from its factory to wherever it went, unloaded, picked up a load back to my home area, and then started again. Out and back, out and back. Regular home time. It was a great job. We would bid for the next day’s load on a seniority basis. The one with most seniority would choose from among all the available loads. Then the next most senior would choose from what was left. I never reached higher than about number 12 in seniority (3 guys had been there more than 25 years) but I ran more miles and made more money than all but 1 or 2. Some resented that fact and complained to me, “I have more seniority than you but you run more miles. You must be somebody’s favorite.” I told them, “No, it is because you chose a run to Dallas for Monday. I took Las Vegas. By the time you got out of bed Monday morning I had already run 1400 miles that week. There was no way you could make up for that.”
The point here is that in order to make money driving a truck you must work at it. If you have the idea that it should be daylight hours, Monday through Friday, and you can spend a couple of hours (or more!) fooling around in the truckstop every day, maybe you should go into another line of work.