Why don’t more people work as truck drivers?

I’ve been thinking a lot about turning 25, but I’ll get to this in a minute.

In my family, if you’re a guy, it’s just assumed that you’re going to be a truck driver of some sort — each of my uncles on both sides of my family, numerous cousins and my dad are/were all truck drivers (both long and short-haul), shunt drivers, dock people etc. My mom worked in admin for transportation companies for most of her working life (that’s how she met my dad!) and she swore that her children would never work in the transport industry.

Besides “driving” a truck as a kid/teenager and going on more long-haul trips than I can remember, I never really had any interest in entering the transportation industry. Besides, it’s common knowledge that, for insurance purposes, most companies only hire people who are over 25 and, when I finished high school a month after turning 17, waiting until 25 to become a truck driver seemed ridiculous — there wasn’t even anything related that I could do in the meantime! So I went to school.

Yes, so, since I’ve been thinking about turning 25, I’ve been thinking about how there’s, technically, nothing stopping me from becoming a truck driver (well, except for the license but I’ll get to that).

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details, shall we?

truck drivers

First of all, my interest only lies in long-haul driving, meaning that I would be away from home for a good chunk of the month. By doing long-haul, I could “live” at my parent’s house, but only sleep there a few nights a month. This is the perfect arrangement for me because a) My family is nuts and I can’t live with them full time and b) NO rent payment!

So let’s assume that I do a Montreal-Los Angeles run. How much would I earn with various companies?

My uncle’s company (employee driver):
Base salary: 2848 miles * $0.439/mile = $1250.27. Multiply this by 2 because you have to come back: $2500.54
Drop & hook payment (LA): $12.30
Drop trailer payment (Montreal): $6.14
Trailer washout (this company does a lot of meat transport): $12.30 times 2: $24.60
Pre- and post-trip payment: $18.45 times 2: $36.90

You earn extra money if there are delays at customs, at the loading dock, if you have to wait for a trailer to return home etc.

Google maps tells me that this trip takes 42h so let’s go with that to err on the side of caution. Regulations have changed and now there’s a significantly reduced number of hours that a driver can do in a day. In the US, the maximum is 11h, meaning that this trip will take 8 days round-trip.

What’s the grand total for 8 days of work? $2580.84 or $322.56/day or $61.45/hr. In a large company, you can do these runs almost continuously (about 3/month) earning you a monthly income of $7 742.52 or almost $93 000 per year. This company also has a good insurance package, bonus structure, profit sharing and RRSP plan.

(When my dad used to work for this company in the 90s, the regulations in Canada were MUCH more lax and he would do Montreal-Toronto, sleep for 4-5h, Toronto-Montreal, sleep for 4-5h, repeat for 6 days straight, take Sunday off and begin again. He made over $125 000 (in 2013 dollars) in the recession years).

My dad’s company (owner-operator)*
In the 2000s, my dad decided to become an owner-operator. This means that he would own his own truck, take his own contracts and get paid a lot more. The downside to this is that all the expenses of maintaining an 18-wheeler are borne by the owner-operator.

Let’s take the same example as above, but input the numbers for what my uncle’s company would pay my dad as an owner-operator:

Base salary: 2848 miles * $1.14/mile = $3246.72 times 2: $6493.44
Drop & hook payment (LA): $12.30
Drop trailer payment (Montreal): $6.15
Trailer washout (this company does a lot of meat transport): $12.30 times 2: $24.60
Pre- and post-trip payment: $18.45 times 2: $36.90

As an owner-operator, you would earn $6 573.39 for the same 8 days work. or $19 720.17/month

Expenses: Rigs can costs well over $100 000 new and, seriously? If I won’t buy a used car, I sure as hell won’t buy a used truck. Let’s pretend that I paid $125 000 for a new truck and got 100% financing** my payments would be $2 584.85 (5 years, 9%).

My truck would get about 6mpg (conservatively) which would cost me about $3 500 in fuel per trip (I think that I would get tax rebates on the fuel though… Not 100% sure) and my insurance could be about $3 000 per month. Additionally, you would have to pay for fuel upfront which means you would need a factoring company for trucking before starting a job.

So, barring no accidents or issues which would incur additional expense, I would have the following monthly expenses:

$2 584.85 (truck payment) + $10 500 (fuel) + $3 000 (insurance) = $16 084.85 per month or, $3 635.32. Not so great, but still, better than A LOT of jobs out there that require no education and as an independent contractor you can easily move to another company if you’re unsatisfied, claim business expenses etc. And, once the truck payment is gone, the income levels are much closer to ($7 700 vs $6 200)

Alright, so now that we’ve discussed the financial benefits of becoming a long-haul truck driver, let’s examine the costs (both monetary and psychological):

  • You need a trucking license. To get this license in QC you need to have a good driving record, pass a vision and medical test, have three years driving experience, pass a theoretical exam and two road tests. A driving school will charge about $1 500 and my family will, like with my driver’s license, insist that I pass “their driving schools” as well (which would be free, of course)
  • You need to be able to handle being away from home for long periods of time
  • You need to not be adverse to truck stop diners and bathrooms/showers
  • You need to stay calm under pressure (hmmmm…)
  • You won’t be working with people the same types of people that you’d find in an office. This could be a benefit or a drawback for some people
  • It can be physically demanding. That wheel is hard to turn and those trailer doors are heavy!
  • It can be stressful. You’ve got deadlines to meet, sometimes the weather can be fickle etc.

More pros!

  • While researching this post, I noticed that truck drivers are in seriously high demand. We’re talking signing bonuses and tuition reimbursement plans
  • Driving experience + my degree + my previous work experience would make me a shoo-in if I ever wanted an admin position
  • Maybe my biggest pro: I have no family, no apartment, no debt. I could literally save 99% of my income

*Here’s a fun story! My dad a few years ago merged his company with a woman who was BOTH my cousin’s half-sister AND my then-current-boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend’s best friend. Small world eh? #Quebec
**When I was researching this, I found a thread entitled “How can I buy an 18-wheeler if I’m 19 and have bad credit” and I laughed. Oh, how I laughed.

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