Taking the owner-op leap… yes or no?

“I got my CDL a last year and worked as a company driver for a while OTR, then went local hauling milk,” explained Jared B. “And while I love my job now I’ve always dreamed of owning my own truck. Financially I’m to the point where I could purchase one but mentally I don’t know if I’m ready. I’ve heard good and bad and have done research but I’m on the fence. One nice thing about being a company driver is you just drive everything else is the carrier’s responsibility. Should I take the leap?”

There are many factors to consider when thinking of becoming an owner-op. Foremost among them, of course, is the financial aspect. There is no pure right or wrong regarding how to handle this tricky and crucial detail. Experienced truckers gave their views on finance and other topics via truckingtruth.com.

“For some reason everybody thinks the natural progression of a truck driver’s career is to take a few years as a company driver and then become an owner/operator,” said a driver working out of Texas. “I’ve been a company driver for almost seven years. I have no reason to dream of owning my own truck. I have realized that learning this craft is a continuous process. I’m still learning better ways to be more productive.

“Trucking is a very cyclical business. Some previously outstanding trucking operations failed last year. It’s not a business model that has large margins. Everything about it needs to be large scale to be truly profitable.

“I never recommend owning your own truck. There’s good money to be made as a company driver. You just have to learn the secrets of how to be really productive at it.”

If a driver does decide to take the plunge, how they pay for their truck is another decision with more than one answer. One driver advised that “if you do decide to become an o/o, purchase your first couple of trucks in full, so you don’t have to worry about a monthly truck payment.”

Others felt differently, that having debt was not a bad thing.

“I cringe when personal finance pundits make debt sound like The Great Evil,” said Brett Aquila, founder of truckingtruth.com. “They claim getting out of debt is the ticket to economic freedom and prosperity. That is utter nonsense. I can understand why many people think running a business debt-free is the way to go. It’s not. Running a business with a huge pile of your own cash in the bank gives you the best chance of survival, and savvy business owners do that by using debt wisely.

“Running out of cash is the top reason businesses fail. Borrowing money has never been cheaper than it is today, and debt used properly is the number one driver of economic growth.”

When to become an owner-op is as crucial as deciding to.

“2019 was a down year for trucking and it’s projected this year also,” said Sid V. “The rates are real low right now. For now it’s keep saving and check back next fall.”

Said another driver: “Most people don’t realize how volatile the rates are and how the competition often determines what the rates are. In trucking the lowest price gets the work. The customers don’t research your safety record, and they don’t care if you’ve got bright shiny Peterbilts with chicken lights all over them. They want the best rate to move their freight.

“I’ve known many independents contractors earning less than good solid employees. My opinion as an experienced business owner is that you are way ahead of the trucking game as an employee.”

Rob T. from Iowa told a tale of how one owner-op claimed success… with a qualifier.

“I had an owner-op parked next to me,” he said. “He started asking questions about my employer and asked what they pay us. I told him and he started laughing, claiming he makes $70-$90 per hour for all his time in the truck, including sleeping. Then he started talking about how he hasn’t been home for months. He needs money to put his truck in the shop. He makes such great money but hasn’t been home because he needs to pay the upcoming repair bill on the truck.”

Some comments on that dubious story…

• “I’ve been listening to it for 26 years. We’ll still be listening to it 26 years from now.”

• “If I made that much per day, I’d never go home either.”

• “Still amazes me when I hear drivers bragging about earning 200k+ per year as o/o. I don’t even engage in the convo anymore. Gross and net seem foreign concepts to some of them fellers.”

Back to reality, trucker Michael W., who’s been both owner-op and company driver, explained in depth his opinion on the subject.

“There is money to be made out here, but it is not easy to come by, especially in this market,” he said. “Then we have the expenses, which are going through the roof. Let’s start with Insurance, it is going up, and I mean UP. Fleets are shutting their doors, and quite a few have closed up shop due to the rate hikes.

“Then we have the equipment. Most guys are not going to run out and buy a new truck; they are going to buy used, and they come with a laundry list of very expensive needs to keep on the road.

“I’m parking my truck, because I was living in it for months on end to make little to no money after expenses. I am going back to being a company driver. It’s just not worth it out here as a single owner-operator when everything is added up and accounted for.

“These inflexible HOS have severely cut into my bottom line. I’m an adult that owns and operates a piece of equipment and have driven it safely for many years. No accidents, no tickets, squeaky clean. I like to drive at around 64 mph, take my time, rest when I want, nap when I want, eat when I want, park when I want, outrun a snow storm when I want, etc. Well, I can no longer do that. I now answer to a clock on my dash. I figure it has cost me 30% of my income, real numbers.

“I now drive faster, and my fuel costs are approaching 45%. And I am not pushed. No one is barking at me to do this or that, but I still need to be productive with my time, and fight for parking. Yep, I am reminiscing. But here is the kick in the shorts: the rates are still the same, if not lower than when I started in 1989. My advice, stay a company driver if this is your passion.”

This article was originally posted by American Trucker.