One night while we were in a motel, the truck parked next to ours was stolen. We awoke the next morning with police in the lobby. Our room TV had a channel where we could watch the security camera feed. The camera repeatedly showed the evening before, when two men drove a car into the truck parking area, parked the car, walked between our truck and another truck, examined both trucks, entered the other truck from the passenger side door and in less than a minute started it up and drove it away. They stole that truck while the driver was in a motel room. We had no cargo and five locks on our tractor and trailer. We also had the curtains drawn, so people might think that we were inside. The driver of the truck is the primary security system.
As an Owner/Operator truck driver, I am often forced to respond to friends and family who ask us to visit or meet them somewhere with either, “I don’t know,” or “sorry, we can’t do that.” People usually respond as if we had said, “I don’t want to.” We live a life so different from the average American that just explaining it is next to impossible.
Some things are like any small business. When a person with a career or a job, whichever you choose to call it, gets a paycheck, it is your money. Yes, you have the expenses of getting to work, buying a car, owning a home, etc., but you can choose what kind of transportation, to ride with someone else, where to live, what to eat, etc. You get paid and then you pay expenses. The first difference between a business owner and everyone else is that there is no paycheck.
While this works differently with different businesses, we are paid by the job. We accept a certain load that pays a certain amount of money. Before we get any money, we have to pay certain expenses. If a trip (also called a load) pays $3,000, the first $1,000 goes to pay the agent, the company, record keeping, bill collecting, etc. Even though the people paying for the product pay $3,000, we only get $2,000. Out of that $2,000 we have to pay insurance, fuel, truck repairs, truck maintenance, truck payments and anything else the company we are leased to can picture as a “legitimate” expense. For example, we are charged $2 each time we send in paperwork for a completed trip. Faxes are $2-5 per page. Computers, air cards and cell phones, requirements of modern trucking, are paid for separately and the services have monthly charges. When we do get paid, the money is “loaded” onto a fuel card. If we want to spend our own money, we have to get an “advance” at the same time we get fuel (which can be done without a fee), pay $2 or more for an ATM fee, or wait several days to transfer the money to our bank account and use our debit card or checks.
If you listen to Dave Ramsey on getting out of debt, the first “baby step” is to get a $1,000 emergency fund. That is way too little for a business. While all businesses are different, an O/O should have $10,000 in their emergency fund. Anything under $5,000 in an emergency fund is asking for serious trouble. Trucking insurance has high deductibles. If a truck driver is involved in an accident, he could be forced to pay as much as $4,500 in deductibles. In addition, he will be without a truck (his place to sleep), so he will need a motel for several weeks. Food is always more expensive. Few grocery stores allow truck parking. Even fewer trucks have refrigerators or any way to cook food. But that’s ok, because most loads do not enough time on them to let you cook food. Health insurance is almost impossible because you are going from state to state. Networks are out of the question. If you can get health insurance, the minimum deductible will be at least $2,500 sometimes $10,000. None of these costs include eyeglasses, dental, clothing, personal needs, cleaning supplies, etc.
The lifestyle of a truck driver is more like the military than anything the average American can relate to. While we do not have dispatch, even with planning our own loads, it is still “hurry up and wait.” Shippers and receivers demand certain schedules, then take all day to load and unload. All day is not an exaggeration. Finding good paying loads is very difficult and time consuming. Maintaining good relationships with your company, agents, brokers, shippers and receivers is like maintaining a good relationship with a drill sergeant; next to impossible, but try as hard as you can.
The biggest expense, like all Americans, is taxes. Twenty years ago I used to see signs on truck trailers that said, “This truck paid $28,000 in taxes last year.” It has more than doubled. It might have ever tripled. A basic license plate (base plate) is $1,650 to run 48 states and Canada. The IRS has a separate HUT (heavy use tax) of $550. The various other permits before you can even get on the road for the first time total around $750. A CDL with HAZMAT is around $160 (varies by state). Some trips (all trips if you are oversize) require permits for that trip. There is a per mile tax for each mile you drive. There are fuel taxes, property taxes and taxes I am sure I have forgotten about.
Fuel is the next biggest expense. Truck, not including trailer, expenses are averaging around $2,600 per month. This includes payment, lease or purchase, and repairs. A set of 10 tires, 8 drive and 2 steer, will cost at least $4,000 dollars. They can easily cost more. Some own their own trailers and must figure those expenses as well.
Last year we “earned” $168,000. The money left over to pay bills with after expenses, including taxes, was just over $8,000. It is no wonder that people are leaving the O/O business at a rate of 15,000 per month.
One parting issue: We plan our trips based on where we will park. Finding a parking place can be the most difficult part of a trip. Some places, such as the IN, OH, PA turnpike system, have adequate parking every 30-45 miles. That is rare. Major cities, such as LA, Dallas, SF, Chicago, NY, Boston, Atlanta want the goods trucks bring but make parking impossible. Chicago and NYC have made even being in the city on the wrong streets a crime. This is increasingly common.
So if we tell one of you that we cannot find a place to park or that we cannot leave the truck unguarded, we are not saying that we do not like you. We are simply being honest. Just imagine if someone could steal almost everything you owned simply by driving your house away. Imagine what you think of as a huge parking lot for your favorite restaurant or mall with signs and barriers at every entrance with a big red circle and slash over a picture of a truck. That’s our transportation, our living space, our lives, prohibited from enjoying what you’ve invited us to or suggested we try.