I get asked a question all the time. “Should I become an owner-operator?” 

Do I get it because I look like I’ve been in this industry a long time? Is it the trucker belly? Or the grey hair of wisdom sprinkling my hair and whiskers? (ok, a little more than a sprinkle!) Or is it because I drive a nice truck so I must be successful?

I like to think it’s because I’m approachable and I love getting questions from other people.

My first response is always the same. “Why do you want to become an owner-operator?” I ask this with all seriousness and no mocking whatsoever.

Personally, I loved being an owner-operator. Some days I wish I still were.

If the answer I get back is because they want to make more money, I think they’re doomed to a life of stress.

Why aren’t they making enough money as a company driver now? I start finding out that they usually fit 1 or more of these criteria.

  • They’re new in the industry (less than 3 years) and they think that o/o make good money.
  • They only want to travel a certain corridor like eastern Canada only or western Canada only.
  • They’re picky about what they haul, or how much work they want to put into their career. An example of this is drivers that only want to drop and hook.
  • Their friend/relative has promised big money to sign on at their smallish company.

If you’re not making money in a company truck today, you really need to examine what you’re doing.

What you need to do is learn how the industry works. Research the companies, talk to their drivers, examine the pay packages and see what areas pay the best. Check their carrier safety profile. This will tell you a lot. A poor profile is often due to drivers being improperly trained, or pushed too hard and just general inattention to safety. These companies will blame it on lots of factors except themselves. Stay away from companies like this. These problems can be found in large and small companies alike.

Once you have a better understanding of everything behind the scenes, you are better suited to become an o/o if that’s still what you want.

The second most common answer I get is that the person wants to have something to call their own. To be their own boss. Set up a truck how they want. Generally speaking, these drivers know that this decision will not bring them more money, but a higher level of accomplishment.

The same rules apply with a couple more keys.

Fancy is nice. Big horsepower is fun. And extra options make life easier.

Please, please remember that those all come with a cost. If you have a lot of money to pay cash for a truck and you’re not concerned about payments, then do what you want.

If you’re financing a large portion then keep in mind a couple important factors. Fuel mileage and maintenance are huge costs. For this reason I usually recommend a brand new truck. These days you need a good warranty and very low maintenance costs. If you can’t afford new truck payments, you definitely won’t be able to afford used truck fuel mileage or maintenance. What many often forget is that days in the shop hurt as bad as the shop cost.

I know of many used trucks I could pick up for very cheap but I can’t afford the fuel cost. If you gave me a completely rebuilt truck I still wouldn’t make the money I am now. Remember, I’m only talking long haul here.

I’ve heard lots of drivers claim that they want pre-emissions or used trucks because of the cost to buy and maintain.

Here’s my example. I’m not in the most fuel-efficient truck right now. I know I could spec a better truck but it’s decent. In 130,000 km’s (7+months) the lifetime average is 31L/100km. My 30 day average currently sits at 28L/100km. An owner I know parked his own 2- 2017’s and picked up a truck like mine. He saw what I was getting and he made the move. His trucks are in great shape and the maintenance is very low but the fuel difference pays for the truck.

I know a 2014 that’s in great shape. Decent fuel mileage but still not in my ballpark. There the fuel and maintenance would kill me.

My current truck won’t work in all situations but for what I do, it’s great.

This is where knowing the industry is vital. If someone wanted this truck to pull decks they’d be disappointed. Deck work can pay more but it would be offset by using a truck that isn’t best for the job.

I have spent my career chasing the harder jobs and learning all aspects and there were some mighty lean years because I didn’t pay enough attention to certain aspects.

I can afford to be more picky now but my driving record is clear and I have many miles of reliable and courteous delivery behind me.

You still want to become an o/o and need to make money? Spec the most fuel efficient and lowest maintenance cost only. Bling and beauty will have to come later when you don’t need the money as much.

Safe travels. I’m off like a herd of turtles.

David Henry
David Henry is a long haul trucker with over 30 years of experience. As a brain injury survivor he is always on a mission to help others deal with mental health wellness and to promote the trucking industry in a positive light. You can find him at @survivetodrive on Instagram and @crazycanuckdave on twitter.