Trucking has and always will be a staple to the economy. In the U.S., truckload market size reached $212 billion in 2021. Studies show the trucking industry is still growing, and revenue is expected to increase by 24% through 2024. What’s more, increased tonnage and the emergence of trucking-as-a-service will create even more opportunity for aspiring owner-operators and fleet owners.
Whether you want to get behind the wheel and experience the freedom of being your own boss, or you want to run a fleet of drivers with your own trucks, this guide is for you. We’ll cover everything you need to know about getting started in the trucking industry, namely how much it costs and how to budget for the greatest success.
Being a new owner-operator is a huge leap from working a 9-to-5 job. Rather than wait for someone to give you work, you set your own hours and choose your loads. This isn’t always easy in the beginning as you’ll need to gain experience before more profitable carriers trust you with their freight.
There is a higher start-up cost and time investment required to get started. For that reason, you’ll need to do heavy research in your area. Which industries are in demand, and what types of trucking jobs are most abundant?
Load boards are the easiest place for you to see active jobs and get an idea of what opportunities are available in your region.
Owner-operators lease or own their own truck, which they usually attach to a carrier’s trailer and haul a specified distance. This could be local or regional, which is called short-haul trucking, or long-haul (over-the-road) trucking, which spans hundreds or thousands of miles. The startup costs for an owner-operator typically run between $15,000 to $30,000 their first year. These include:
The initial startup capital required for an owner-operator tends to run high, so it’s often a transitional career move. Most owner-operators get their start in the industry as company drivers. This allows them to gain valuable experience, learn about the industry, network and save for their own rig.
While you can become an owner-operator without any prior experience, finding work may be harder. The experience you gain as a driver working with multiple carriers prepares you for your future as a business owner.
When you run the business behind the truck you drive, you have complete control over every facet of your work life. The more you know about what carriers and shippers need, the easier it becomes to market your truck and services as the best solution.
Once you start gaining experience and knowledge in the industry you may want to think about adding more trucks to run under your authority to help move freight and bring in more money. Fleets in the trucking industry, when run properly, can be a very profitable business, but it can also be very expensive.
Many insurance companies are very strict on growth in the first three years of a company starting their authority. If you start growing too fast not only can your rates soar, but they can also choose to non-renew your account. It is important to grow wisely and efficiently by choosing highly-qualified drivers, run well-kept equipment, invest in technology to keep your paperwork and documentation up-to-date and work with reliable shippers.
Many newcomers to the industry mistake the truck and trailer as one-in-the-same, but they aren’t. You’ll want to make sure a rig you buy is fixed with a tow hitch, so you can easily attach a carrier’s trailer to your truck.
A new semi-truck costs between $70,000 to $150,000. To buy yours, expect to put at least 20% down. This hefty price tag is why many new owner-operators or aspiring fleet owners decide to lease their first truck instead.
Leasing any type of commercial truck requires you pass a credit check and possibly put a small down payment forward. Your credit score will ideally be at least 600 or higher to get approved for the lease.
Costs of leasing a commercial truck range between $1,200 to $2,500 a month, depending on the vehicle. If you decide to do short-hauls or less-than-truckload (LTL) trucking, a pickup truck could have a flatbed or small trailer attached and cost you less per month.
Additional trucking equipment can run up to $3,000. Chains, belts, ramps and safety kits will all vary in price and quantity depending on the type of trucking you do. But as an owner, you’ll be expected to provide all the necessary equipment when you show up for a job.
Trucking companies may also need to pay for permits to operate their vehicles, usually renewed annually. Each state has its own permits and regulations, so you’ll have to research your local legislation to get the most accurate details.
Certifications and endorsements can qualify you (or your drivers) to haul specialized cargo or perform advanced trucking jobs.
One of the most expensive, recurring costs when starting a trucking company is insurance.
You will have to maintain the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) and Department of Transportation's (DOT) minimum level of coverage at all times. Every vehicle and driver must have valid insurance to legally operate.
The minimum trucking insurance requirements range from $750,000 to $5,000,000 per vehicle. This liability coverage, however, is only one small portion of the protection you’ll actually need on the road. Add-ons, called endorsements, can bolster your policy, ensuring your company has all the protection it needs, no matter what you or a driver encounter on the road.
There are more costs to consider depending on the business model you choose. While many fleet owners work from home, others want to expand and rent out an office space. They may also hire additional employees, like drivers, dispatchers, a designated fleet manager and financial adviser.
These costs will all vary by your needs and business size. However, it’s important to plan ahead and know that trucking company costs are far more than just vehicle expenses and maintenance.
It’s best to have at least $10,000 in starting capital to start your trucking business. If you already have connections or experience, you may be able to offset certain expenses that others may not know how to lower.
That being said, you should do your due diligence and research how much it costs to start a trucking business in your area. The industry you choose, the niches you service, and even state rules and regulations all play a role in how much you’ll pay to start — and stay in business.
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