Do truck drivers make good money? This question comes up frequently and is usually asked by people who don’t drive semi trucks or are considering getting their CDL. This isn’t an easy question to answer unless we get into some details, which is precisely what I’ll be doing here today. The short answer to “do truck drivers make good money?” is “yes they do, but it depends”.
What most people don’t know is that there are many different types of truck drivers. Generally speaking, there are three types of truck drivers. There are company drivers, owner operators, and carriers. As a minimum requirement, every semi truck driver in America must have a CDL but after that things can go in very different directions.
Needless to say, most people never consider any of this when asking “do truck drivers make good money?” They just want a straight yes or no answer but talking about money is always so subjective and an answer to do truck drivers make good money is never straightforward.
In this post I’ll dive deep into this and attempt to shine some light onto:
- The differences of truck drivers
- What the income potentials are
- As well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach
Hopefully by the end of this long post, you’ll be able to answer the question of do truck drivers make good money or not and back up your answer with some solid info.
Different Types of Truck Drivers
As mentioned earlier, there are primarily three types of semi truck drivers. I will quickly go over the differences between them. We’ll look at their pay, expenses, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each one. There are also different variations to each one and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. This is necessary in order to answer the question, “do truck drivers make good money?“
Do Truck Drivers Make Good Money? – Company Drivers
In answering the question “do truck drivers make good money?“, we start with company drivers because this is usually where a truck driver starts their career. A company driver is someone who has their CDL and works for a carrier. Company truck drivers make good money without having to worry about running a trucking company or even owning a semi truck. Company drivers work as employees 1099 independent contractors for a carrier who provides them a semi truck and trailer and takes care of everything required in running a trucking company. The company provides them with a truck and trailer, loads to haul, pays for diesel, insurance, and often provides health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits.
Company drivers are usually paid by the mile and can make good money as long as they put on a decent amount of miles every week. In today’s market a company driver can find themselves working from $0.40 cents per mile to as high as $0.70 cents per mile. Pay ranges based on markets, experience, and type of work performed. A company driver running locally may find themselves being paid on an hourly basis, while an over-the-road company driver is likely to be paid by the mile.
Company Driver Advantages
The advantages of being a company driver is not having to run a trucking company with all of the headaches and hassles of having to do so. A company driver doesn’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on acquiring a truck and a trailer and they don’t need to pay for diesel, insurance, or look for profitable loads to haul. A company driver can move around different jobs and take different opportunities from different companies. Another big advantage of being a company driver is always making money whether the carrier has a profitable load or not.
Company Driver Disadvantages
There are also disadvantages of being a company driver. One of the biggest disadvantages is being limited in income. As a company driver, you can only make so much. If the driver’s employer makes $3.00 per mile, the driver will still make their $0.40 – $0.70 cents per mile (CPM). A company driver is a one-man-army and can never hire their own drivers to work for them. A company driver also needs to make sure they’re working for a stable company that has contracts with manufacturers, shippers, and brokers. If a company goes belly-up, the driver will be forced to look for a new job.
Do Truck Drivers Make Good Money? – Owner Operators
Usually after learning the ropes as a company driver, truck drivers often go to the next step of becoming an owner operator. An owner operator is someone who decides to purchase their own truck and lease on with a carrier such as A2C Logistics Co. Leasing on with a carrier gives the owner operator freedom to run how they please and where they please without having to run a full-blown trucking company.
The majority of the trucks people see on the roads today are actually leased on owner operators and small carriers. Owner operators dominate the American trucking industry. Most of the trucks running on the American highways belong to single truck owner operators or small carriers of six or less power units. As you can see we’re getting deeper and deeper in trying to answer the very general question of “do truck drivers make good money?“
Owner Operator Advantages
There are many advantages to being an owner operator. The number one advantage is being independent. A leased on owner operator decides where they want to go, how they want to run, and basically decide on how much they want to work and how much they want to make. An owner operator doesn’t have a boss or anyone forcing them to take certain loads. Another benefit of being an owner operator is not having to deal with everything that’s involved in running a trucking company, and there’s a lot to deal with. An owner operator leases onto a trucking company that deals with everything from finding loads, keeping them compliant, accounting, billing and invoicing, as well as a nearly endless list of other rules and regulations.
Owner Operator Disadvantages
As there are advantages, there are also disadvantages to being a leased on owner operator. One of the biggest disadvantages is having to operate under the rules of the cattier the owner operator is leased under. Not all lease programs are created equal and leasing on with the wrong company will cost the owner operator dearly. Unfortunately the vast majority of the lease on programs out there simply charge too much to take on an owner operator. Many companies struggle to find profitable loads for owner operators. Others charge ridiculous fees for things no one needs. Most companies hide all costs in 65/35 splits with the owner operator never really knowing where their money is going.
Do Truck Drivers Make Good Money? – Carriers
Often, after being an owner operator for a few years, truckers decide to take the next step in their trucking careers and decide to become carriers. Unlike a company driver or an owner operator, a carrier is a trucking company that operates under their own Motor Carrier (MC) authority granted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCS) and their local state Department of Transportation (DOT).
Carriers have company drivers and are also able to lease on owner operators. Being a carrier is generally considered to be the peak and the last step in maximizing your potential in the trucking industry. There’s a lot that goes into operating a successful trucking company and being a carrier. Someone who decides to become a carrier has to stay abreast of all the laws and regulations and comply with all state and federal requirements in order to keep their MC authority active and operational.
There are many advantages to being a carrier. A trucker who decides to become a carrier sets their own rules and operates a trucking business that’s no different than any of the other large carriers out there. They have the ability and opportunity to grow as large as they want and to hire whichever company drivers they want. They can also lease on owner operators and grow their fleets that way. Carriers have the freedom to work with just about any shipper, broker, freight-forwarding company, 3PLs, and anyone else in between. A carrier has the ultimate freedom to build their business as much or as little as they’d like. The largest trucking companies operating in the United States are all carriers.
While there are many advantages to being a carrier, there are also many disadvantages. The first year of being a carrier is usually the most difficult. First off, there are extremely high expenses and very limited work opportunities. Generally speaking, in the first 90 days of becoming a carrier, 9 out of 10 brokers will refuse to work with them because of their new MC authority. There are other brokers who won’t work with new carriers for the first 180 days and even up to one year. The ones who do work with them, know that the carrier doesn’t have anywhere else to go so the broker isn’t open to negotiation on rates or terms. Something else to consider is that most brokers will require a carrier to have five load references from other recent shipments which the new carrier is unlikely to have since they’re new and are being rejected as it is. Starting out as a brand new motor carrier is extremely difficult.
Another disadvantage is how expensive things are. A new carrier has to pay for federally mandated minimum insurance coverage. The first year of having your MC authority translates to having incredibly high insurance premiums with only one or two truck insurance companies willing to insure a brand new freight motor carrier. In addition to this, if the driver working for the carrier has less than one or two years of CDL experience, they may not even qualify for coverage. At that point they’re left to pretty much one company that will insure them. Many truck insurers require a minimum of two to three years of CDL experience.
So Do Truck Drivers Make Good Money?
So tell me already, do truck drivers make good money or not? Well, as you can see, do truck drivers make good money is a loaded question. Being a truck driver provides a lot of choice and flexibility. It is my personal opinion that truck drivers make very good money. It’s pretty much the only job you can get with minimal training and absolutely no formal education but a high school diploma and still make excellent money. With limited training and high income potential, I see truck driving as a fantastic career choice.
There’s a reason why so many immigrants come to the United States and become truck drivers. They do this because it is one of the only job types that allows them to make very good money to provide for their families, obtain mortgages, finance new cars, fund their kids’ education, and live high-quality lives. If you asked an immigrant truck driver, do truck drivers make good money, they would undoubtedly say yes and likely explain their reasoning along the same lines as I’ve done above.
How Much Does a Company Driver Make?
Do truck drivers make good money? Well, a company truck driver can make $40,000 – $80,000 per year running basic equipment such as a van, reefer, or a flatbed. They can make even more money if they’re working for a company running specialized freight. There are even companies offering a six-figure annual income for company drivers. I had a friend who ran fuel for gas stations who made well over $100,000 per year and did this with full medical benefits, a 401k, and other perks. He had to work 14-hour days for this money but he also didn’t have to find the freight, pay for the truck, trailers, diesel, insurance, or cover any of the other expenses in running a trucking company.
Company Driver Pay – The Numbers
A truck driver might drive 12,000 miles per month so based on a per mile rate of $0.40 – $0.70 cents per mile, a company driver can make anywhere from $4,800 – $8,400 per month. So do truck drivers make good money? I think considering a company driver’s low level of investment and expenses incurred, it’s very good money.
Do truck drivers make good money? I think the answer is a definitely YES when it comes to company drivers but as you’ve seen in the previous sections, there are some disadvantages to being a company driver.
How Much Does an Owner Operator Make?
Do truck drivers make good money? When the question is asked in the context of an owner operator, the answer is a definite yes if the owner operator signed on with a good company like A2C Logistics Co. An owner operator leased on to a good company that provides high-paying loads and doesn’t charge an arm or a leg for leasing on with them is one way for an owner operator to make good money.
As mentioned earlier in this post, one of the biggest problems that owner operators run into are expensive lease on programs. Many companies out there charge 35% and higher to lease on which is simply too much. An owner operator needs to know their operating costs down to the penny before leasing on. If they have to pay 35% to lease on but then also cover their diesel, truck payments, trailer financing or rental charges, and often insurance premiums, they may find themselves making less money than company drivers who don’t have to worry about any of these expenses.
An owner operator can gross over $250,000 per year but depending on their lease terms, will end up netting a whole lot less than that. So if you asked an owner operator do truck drivers make good money, you’d likely get a mix bag of responses because so much would depend on their lease terms.
Owner Operator Pay – The Numbers
So let’s take a look at an owner operator’s pay and try to answer do truck drivers make good money when it comes to owner operators. For easy math I will look at what many of our leased on owner operators are grossing and then break down some of their expenses.
An owner operator might drive the same amount of miles as a company driver. So let’s say they drive the same 12,000 miles per month. Rates vary based on many different factors but again for easy math, let’s say they average $2.00 per mile. With that in mind an owner operator would gross $24,000 per month. They could make more but it would depend on market conditions, luck, what they haul, who’s dispatching them, and several other factors.
Plus it’s important to remember that an owner operator has to pay for all of their expenses which include the truck payment, trailer payment or rent, diesel, insurance, tolls, state and federal fees, the costs to lease on, and many other expenses. It can get complicated.
Companies charge varying percentages to lease on and those programs can include any number of expenses. A2C Logistics believes in being transparent so we charge 12% + deductions which means the leased on owner operator always knows what they’re paying for. The total cost usually comes down to about 19% – 22% plus driver expenses like equipment payments and fuel while most other companies charge between 30% to 35% in leasing fees alone.
So out of $24,000, the leasing cost of 12% would cost $2,880 but then there’s insurance which is $920 per month. Then there’s diesel which is about $6,000 per month. A new truck and trailer would cost around $5,000 per month depending on credit. Additional costs would add on an additional $2,400 per month (for dry vans), $4,000 per month (for reefers).
So let’s run the numbers. Do truck drivers make good money?
Total monthly gross income is $24,000 and the expenses have added up to $17,200 (dry vans) and $18,800 (reefers) so an owner operators net income is $6,800 (dry vans) and $5,200 (reefers). But you also have to remember that their brand new truck and trailer are being paid off and that an owner operator would make more money if they booked freight at higher rates while a company driver would make the same amount of money no matter what the booked rate is.
Plus it might seem that reefers make less money because of their higher expenses but you have to remember that we’re using a flat $2.00 per mile average and reefers almost always bring in more gross income than dry vans. So answering the question of do truck drivers make good money is tough because there are so many variables involved.
So do truck drivers make good money when it comes to being an owner operator? I think yes! They take on more risk but also have much more of an upside. Plus they get to eventually pay off their truck and trailer which would put an additional $5,000 back into their pockets every month.
How Much Does a Carrier Make?
So now we’ve arrived at the carrier in answering our question of do truck drivers make good money? Being a carrier myself, I would have to say, yes, absolutely. I believe carriers can make the most amount of money in the trucking business. Carriers are free to haul anything they want, work with any company they way, and hire anyone they want. Carriers have the ultimate freedom but as we all know, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.
Carriers are responsible for absolutely everything in their trucking business. Carriers have to pay all the bills, stay abreast all laws, rules, and regulations, and stay compliant at all times. They’re also responsible for the livelihoods of their employees and leased on owner operators. Carriers have to pay heavy use taxes, pay for IRP tags, pay and file IFTA taxes, as well as cover special state fuel tax filings and permits for states like New York, New Mexico, Oregon, and Kentucky.
When it comes to the question of do truck drivers make good money? Carriers definitely have the highest potential for success. The biggest trucking companies out there are all carriers and make millions and even billions of dollars every year. Small carriers with a single truck can gross $250,000 to $500,000 annually and even more. A carrier’s annual gross income all depends on the types of contracts they’re able to secure as well as the type of freight they haul.
Carrier Pay – The Numbers
We finally arrive at carrier pay in trying to answer the question of do truck drivers make good money. As mentioned before, a carrier has the benefit of hiring company drivers as we as leasing on owner operators but they have the disadvantage of having to run a full fledged trucking company.
The rates would remain the same as in the owner operator example since they’re both operating in the same market. So assuming a carrier puts on 12,000 miles per month at $2.00 per mile, they gross the same $24,000 but now the carrier has to pay the driver between $4,800 – $8,400 per mile.
So assuming the carrier is left with the same amount as the owner operator plus we add back in the leasing fee of $2,880 but now they have to pay the driver $4,800 – $8,400, they’d end up with making a range of income from negative to positive. A carrier could lose $320 per month running a reefer and paying a driver top dollar of $8,400 per month. Or they could make $3,280 running a reefer.
On the other hand, a carrier could make $1,200 – $4,880 depending on driver pay and while running a dry van. Once again, this isn’t being fair to reefers because they generally gross a higher dollar amount per month but also have higher maintenance costs, fuel expenses, and insurance costs. Reality is that a company should not be consistently losing $320 per month. They should be making a profit so they’d either have to pay their driver less or find higher paying freight.
So there you have it, do truck drivers make good money? Well, when it comes to a carrier, they could lose money every month or make as much as $4,880 per month and higher from the $24,000 in gross income. Yes, their truck and trailer is being paid off and they’re not driving the truck but they still have a lot to lose if the rates go down by just a few cents per mile or diesel costs increase. Plus all this depends a lot on how much they pay the driver. Based on these figures a carrier could make an additional $2,880 per month if they chose to lease on an owner operator, something only a carrier can do.
In Conclusion… Do Truck Drivers Make Good Money?
So as you can see the question of do truck drivers make good money is definitely a loaded question with various answers that are all correct and have their place.
Ask a company driver, do truck drivers make good money and they might tell you yes considering they’re only responsible for safely driving the truck and delivering the freight. It’s a lot of responsibility because truck driving isn’t easy but nonetheless, being a company driver is the easiest and least risky way of making money in the trucking industry.
Ask an owner operator, do truck drivers make good money and they might tell you yes because they see a higher gross income. At the same time they might say it’s not worth it because of all the extra risk and expenses.
Ask a carrier, do truck drivers make good money and they might tell you yes and no. They might be getting excellent rates, inexpensive insurance, and deep discounts at the fuel pump and maybe even have a few leased on owner operators. They could also say no because they’ve been losing money every month because rates are down, diesel is up, and their well-paid company driver just got into an accident.
When I’m asked, do truck drivers make good money, I say that truckers do make good money whether they choose to be carriers, owner operators, or company drivers. It’s not easy work but it can be lucrative especially if one chooses to become a carrier operating under their own MC authority and develops strong business relationships.
The main thing is to never give up!
How I’d Do It!
If I was getting into the trucking industry, I would first become a company driver and learn the ropes. Using someone else’s equipment without having to worry about fuel, equipment costs, and all of the complexities of running a trucking company definitely has its perks.
Having worked as a company driver for several years, saving my money, and gaining experience, I would then look at financing a truck and a trailer. I would then look for a really great trucking company that leases on owner operators and study all of the differences in their offers. I would analyze the business and run a strong profit and loss statement to get an understanding of my break even operating costs. That would be a good way to arrive at an answer to do truck drivers make good money?
Having worked as an owner operator I would set aside more money while at the same time pay off my truck and trailer while not forgetting to keep everything well-maintained. Once I had a nice nest egg set aside, I would open up my own authority and pay for insurance while running that authority clock for a minimum of 90 days while still employed as an owner operator.
In the mean time I would work on establishing business contacts, obtaining all proper permits, licenses, and required documentation. I’d make sure to have everything set up for me to run if I needed to tomorrow. Once you’ve established yourself and are ready to hit the road, I would then hire a strong truck dispatch services company such as AFT Dispatch and work with the dispatchers to get the highest possible rates from freight brokers, freight-forwarders, direct shippers, and 3PLs. At the same time I would look for private clients locally, regionally, and throughout different states.
Eventually I’d work my way up to increasing my fleet size and begin bidding on RFPs to establish dedicated lanes and entering the contract market. This may take several years to achieve, although I’ve seen it done much faster than that. In fact when we started our trucking company American Freight Trucking, Inc., we started with a box truck and luckily were able to find local clients who gave us all the work we needed to upgrade to a semi truck.
I would not recommend starting with a box truck or any other type of LTL or HotShot equipment but that’s what we did and were very fortunate to make it and grow our business. If you’d like to know why I don’t recommend getting into HotShots, take a look at the video I produced which answer that specific question in much greater detail.
Do truck drivers make good money? I’ll let you be the judge of that. I say yes but you may disagree after having read this post. You can also ask ten company drivers, ten owner operators, and ten carriers, do truck drivers make good money? I promise, there’ll be 30 different answers!
If you’re a carrier or an owner operator wondering do truck drivers make good money, then you probably could make more. We dispatch carriers and lease on owner operators.
If you’ve had your MC authority for at least 90 days, click to learn more about our Truck Dispatch Service.
If you’re an owner operator with at least two years of verifiable CDL experience and a clean driving record, click to learn more about our Leasing Program.
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