How Do I Make More Money as a Truck Driver?

Flatbed truck hauling oversize load

Company drivers, owner operators, OTR truck drivers, regional drivers, and local drivers… What do they all have in common? All want to increase their truck driver pay and make more money.

How To Maximize Your Truck Driver Pay

As a driver, the most important step to increasing your pay is to make sure you have all of the endorsements on your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). These endorsements allow you to deliver specialty freight beyond what the standard CDL Class A permits.

Man in protective suit standing on a HAZMAT tanker
HAZMAT pays more for greater responsibility.

The more freight you can deliver, the more jobs that are open to you. The goal is to give yourself as many opportunities as possible to increase your truck driver pay. You can get these endorsements when you pass the written CDL test and get your Commercial Learner’s Permit.

Truck Driver CDL Endorsements Include:

  • Double and Triple Trailers (average salary $62,000)
  • Passenger endorsement for the transportation of individuals such as on buses (average salary $40,000)
  • Tanker/Tank Vehicle designed to carry liquid loads such as non-potable water,  milk, animal fats not fit for human consumption, and gasoline (average salary $50,000)
  • HAZMAT, or hazardous materials for transporting fluids and other materials that may pose a danger if exposed to the outside environment (average salary $50,000)
  • Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials for truckers transporting HAZMAT inside a tanker such as gasoline (average salary $50,000)
  • School bus, which requires the Passenger endorsement in addition to a separate school bus endorsement (average salary $30,000)

Trucking jobs that don’t need CDL endorsements:

  • Dry-van driving is the most common position in the industry; the truck driver pay for these positions is around $44,000 a year when going OTR.
  • Reefer/Refrigerated trucks carry items like frozen meat and other materials that need to have their temperatures regulated. These are also known as reefer trucks. Average salary $40,000, but this depends on if you go OTR or local.
  • Flatbed trucks have freight that is tied down onto an uncovered bed. Flatbeds are less common but offer a salary that is competitive with other non-endorsement driving. Additionally, drivers can earn extra tarp pay for cargo that requires a tarp.
  • Ice Road – There are specialty positions available that can really maximize the money that you make as a truck driver. Ice road trucking is the highest-paying and the most dangerous position. This job averages $80,000 a year.
  • Auto Haulers transport cars. Although these positions come with increased risk and danger, you are hauling expensive cargo. This results in an average salary of $60,000.
  • Over-dimensional loads require extra attention from the driver and involve specialized rules and restrictions along with coordination from pilot cars in order to haul oversize loads. Average salary is $60,000.

Here are some additional ways to earn money as a truck driver:

  • Less than Truckload (LTL) means the freight does not fill up the whole van, and it is gradually unloaded at multiple stops. The average salary for this position is around $20-25 an hour, or $50,000 per year.
  • Auto Haulers/Car Transport – Vehicles tend to be extremely valuable cargo, meaning you get paid more than your average freight. Your company wants you to be extra careful when transporting cars.
  • Harvest hauling is an opportunity to earn additional cash on the weekends. Truck drivers can haul grain for local farmers in between other loads.
    Truck driver standing in front of truck with livestock trailer
    Truck driver hauling livestock. Courtesy of AGCareers.com
  • Cattle Hauling or Bull Hauling is exactly what it sounds like: you will be hauling cattle and bulls. A safe and smooth drive is important for the well-being of the livestock. If you like animals and have patience, cattle and bull hauling can be a great way to earn high truck driving wages. Current livestock haulers believe there may be trouble in the future from regulations requiring Electronic Logging Devices, or ELDs.

Many companies handle multiple types of freight. If you are flexible in the type of loads you can handle, you have the best opportunity to find the driving jobs with the highest pay.

Finding niche specialty jobs is more difficult. With a few years of experience as a long-haul driver, you should be able to get the highest-paying positions in ice road trucking, LTL, over-dimensional loads, and car transport.

Training

One last method to earn additional money is to become truck driving trainer yourself! Experienced truck drivers with a passion to teach may want to apply to companies that offer training positions. As a trainer, you get paid for all the miles that you and the trainee drive.

Trainers typically drive the newer trucks and enjoy certain perks that non-training drivers don’t receive, such as residual pay.  With this pay, trainers make a few cents per mile while their former students drive for the company.  This small sum encourages the trainer to keep in touch with the new driver, and, in turn, the new driver has a valuable resource should they encounter difficulty. 

“Minimizing the amount of work you do is your long term goal in trucking, I don’t care who you are. And make the most money and haul the thing that makes the biggest impact, that is, the highest value.” – Truck Driver 101

How Much Do Truck Drivers Make With Their Own Truck?

Owning your own semi-truck makes it possible to earn a six-figure income transporting cargo. The median pay for an owner-operator is $97,000, and owner-operators can earn up to $195,000.     Unfortunately, you get hit by a bunch of fees, such as maintenance, insurance, and other expenses, that reduce the total number.

Owner-operator with clipboard and red truck
Owner-operators have more paperwork. Courtesy of Sapling.net

Owner-operator truckers have the luxury of being able to choose their runs. Of course, this also means that they have to find them.

This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the time it takes to find a great job is unpredictable, and the time spent searching for a suitable route is completely unpaid.

On the other hand, this gives owner-operators a chance to cherry pick their loads and only select the best freight with the highest truck driver pay. This isn’t a job for beginners.

Additional Fees and Costs

While owner-operator pay is high, the additional fees quickly start to add up. Many truckers are familiar with most of the business expenses that come with owning your own truck, such as gas, insurance, and maintenance fees. Other profit reductions, however, may catch a new owner-operator off guard.

Owner-operators should form an LLC, get liability insurance of at least $750,000 ($1 million if transporting HAZMAT), and file all the proper forms (BOC-3 Form, IRS Form 2290, Unified Carrier Registration, and registration).  For new carriers, insurance premiums can range between $4,000 and $16,000 annually for one truck. 

There are many other deductions and expenses to take care of, so owner-operators should hire an accountant or set aside plenty of time for bookkeeping. 

How Owner-Operators Receive Payment

The first step is for the owner-operator to agree on their pay (a percentage of what the shipper makes) with the company. After an agreement is made and the freight is delivered, the business owner usually waits to receive payment from the receiver before paying the owner-operator.

Because of the delay in payment, new owner-operators need to have some savings while they wait for their payment. It’s important for owner-operators to confirm beforehand that taking on the load will actually earn money. If you’re not careful, you could break even or worse!

Be Wary of Shady Leasing and Contractor Agreements

OOIDA logo
The OOIDA helps owner-operators.

Drivers may opt to become an owner-operator by signing a lease agreement with a trucking company. In this arrangement, the company provides trailers, fuel cards, cash advances, insurance, and loads. An owner-operator lease typically consists of a low monthly rate and zero down at signup.

These leasing programs offer truck drivers great benefits and an easy way to get started.  It sounds great. But are there any drawbacks?

Unfortunately, enticing lease agreements also provide scammers with a convenient way to con truckers.

This typically occurs when the driver is unable to make lease payments due to a decrease in miles driven and an insurmountable amount of fees. For example, shady carriers may overcharge for insurance, fuel taxes, and mandated repairs at a company facility.

Although an owner-operator would never willingly agree to these unfair practices, they may be outlined deep in the contractor agreement.

To avoid falling for this scam, ask detailed questions about the lease agreement. If the contractor seems pushy or in a rush, walk away. The risk of financial ruin is not worth the trouble. Carriers that offer a legitimate owner-operator lease agreement don’t mind if a trucker decides to have the document evaluated by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Owner-operators that want to run their own business have a few distinct advantages over company drivers. They can avoid company favoritism, select the best loads, and choose when to travel. The downsides, however, are the recordkeeping and the latency issues associated with receiving payment. Many company drivers do go on to become owner-operators, but we don’t recommend it until you’ve been in the trucking industry for several years.

For company drivers looking to make more money immediately, you want to increase your miles. To find out how to get the miles you want, read onto our next chapter.

 

About The Authors
Contributors: Clyde Hoggatt (Technical writer for 5+ years), Jessica Cottner (Experienced writer with a background in travel and transportation).

Expert Review: William Mason (Current CDL Instructor and former truck driver with 20+ years of experience), Luke Nold (Experienced truck driver for 5+ years and published writer for Fleet Magazine).

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