Many reality TV shows follow the same formula — find a unique profession, arm several of its practitioners with cameras and then sit back and watch the drama unfold. AE’s Shipping Wars is one such show, and, as a reality program with a focus on commercial trucking, it grants a unique look into the types of challenges truck owner-operators face.
Driving a big truck and having the freedom to dictate your own business operations might sound cool. The truth is, running your own personal shipping operation is hard work and brings with it lots of responsibilities. Being an owner-operator isn’t for everyone, so how can you tell if it’s for you?
You’ve Got to Have a Head for Business
Even if you’re the most skilled helmsman on the road, you might not enjoy taking on the added responsibility of running a business. When you drive for someone, your only concern is the task at hand. Fuel bills, maintenance, business development, all these things are concerns for the business owner.
Being a contract driver can be limiting in its own right. Your earnings will be capped based on your agreement with the company, and you won’t have much say in the type of truck you drive or where you drive it. If simplicity is the name of your game, this might work out just fine. If you want to try your hand at developing your own business, be ready to take some risks as an owner-operator.
Social and Financial Costs of Ownership
When you decide to own your own truck, think about how you’ll finance the operation. After all, the cost of the truck itself is one of the reasons some drivers never make the transition from employee to owner.
As with any big purchase, there are different approaches to financing the truck. Traditionally, you’ll want to place a large down payment to make your future payments affordable. Another approach is to accept higher payments so that in case something goes wrong, you’re not out your entire down payment and can recoup the costs of the truck by selling it.
There’s no magic bullet — you’ve got to decide where you want to take a risk and what your financial situation will allow.
In addition to concerns about money, owning and operating your own truck will impact your time. When you’re a hired driver, your day ends when you step out of the cab — not so as an owner-operator. Time not spent on the road is time you can use for repairs and upgrades. You’ll need to identify work opportunities and plan routes and lodging for yourself, all without going over budget.
Family and Health Concerns
For this reason, it’s recommended that owner-operators have a stable family situation or none at all. If you’ve got a young relationship or small kids who you want to spend time at home with, the role of owner-operator could land you in a bad situation. Free time will come at a premium.
The stress and long hours can take a toll on your health as well, so it’s important to be thoughtful of your health with you make the commitment to truck ownership. You’re going to be spending long hours on the road, off-time turning wrenches or taking your rig in for service and nights sleeping at truck stops.
If you’ve made peace with the challenges of owning and operating a truck, it can be a lucrative and rewarding career. Trucks are still one of the nation’s most important methods of transporting supplies and large items — it’s a job someone has to do, and if you’re working for someone else, you’re only lining their pockets, right?