You've seen the ads: "Make $80,000 your first year driving a truck!". And the ads are everywhere. My local newspaper here in Michigan in a county with nearly 15% unemployment is full of them. In fact, unless you're a nurse, a non-profit administrator or a truck driver there's no job in there for you.
Are the ads true? Well, to some extent they're true. Will you be making $80,000 after a two-week training course? No, of course not. Will you even know how to drive a truck after two weeks? Probably not worth a darn, but you WILL learn what you need to get your Commercial Drivers License, or CDL. And that's a start.
I've been long-hauling for almost 18 years. I've never made $80,000 in one year, although I do know a few guys who have-they were trainers who were paid extra for teaching students the ropes. The most I ever grossed was $64,000. Good money, right? Let's look at that:
To make $64,000. I worked 280 days-if you look at it as a typical 5 day week, that's 56 weeks a year. Actually I worked only 47 weeks. However, those weeks were nearly six day weeks, 70 hours a week and didn't see home for three weeks at a time. Total hours for one year add up to 3290 hours. Consider the grocery bagger who works 40 hours a week all year long: he puts in 2080 hours in a year. My 70 hour week, then equates to working over 82 weeks of 40-hour weeks. That $64,000 is starting to look a little less attractive, isn't it?
Surely, if I work 70 hours a week, I made a killing in overtime, right? Wrong. Trucking as are most transportation jobs, is exempt from Fair Wage and Hour laws. In fact, the vast majority of over-the-road truckers are not even paid by the hour-they're paid by the mile. Now, the budding wannabe truck driver's brain goes into paycheck-speculation overtime: "lemme see, if I drive 70 hours a week at 65 miles per hour, I'll make 4550 miles a week @ $.25 cents a mile which is $1137.50/wk which is..". . stop with the calculator already. That's not going to happen!
Unless you have a highly unusual job, or can stretch the truth on your logbook without a qualm (and without getting caught), you're not going to drive 70 hours a week. You're forgetting about the other, unpaid activities that come out of that 70 legal hours a week. Things like loading and unloading, fueling, pre-trips and post trips, traffic jams, waits between loads, truck repairs, securing and scaling loads and all the other things that it takes to keep that truck moving safely and reliably. Something to keep in mind: you can actually drive eleven hours a day. You can work fourteen hours a day. And work is not paid, only driving! A good driver, working for a good company will be hard-pressed to actually drive 55-58 hours a week. And it wont be at 65 miles per hour, either. Depending on how well you can organize your time-think efficiency-how good the freight situation is in the area you're currently in and how efficient your dispatch system is, you can average 2500-2800 miles a week.on a week you don't go home. So, a beginning driver can expect to make around $35,000 the first year if learns his job well, works hard and doesn't go home much.
Of course, you're not going home for dinner, or breakfast or lunch, ether. So, it's going to cost you to eat out there. And it's a funny thing about truck stops-they're not cheap: they have to cover the overhead on that big lot somehow. If you can eat consistently for seven days for less than $100/wk, you're a good planner and not a terribly hearty eater. And you're going to have to pay cash for a lot of things you wont get company reimbursement for: gloves, padlocks, hand tools, rain gear, satellite radio, CB. cell phone plan, cooler, sleeping bag, minimal office supplies-all tax deductible, so make sure and save all of your receipts (did I mention you'll need an expandable file?).
Since you're not at home to mow the grass-and it's still growing while you're gone, you're going to need someone to do that. Likely you will have to pay them. Same with clearing the snow, taking the car to get lubed, dealing with critical mail-all the things that make your home home'. If you're married, will your spouse be able to do all this? And, how is your spouse going to feel when there's a family emergency or an anniversary or a birthday or holiday and you're a thousand miles away?
OK, now suppose you've made it a couple of years-you've survived the never-ending stress and impossible timelines and ever-changing working hours. You're working for a good company who treats you well, your spouse hasn't divorced you yet. You're making about $42000 a year-and the economy goes to hell in a handcart.
No miles, no money. If the wheels aren't turning, you're not earning. Your miles drop to less than 1800 miles a week-after-week-after-week. Your company's scrambling for freight in an over-supply of trucks, meaning you're going to be hauling more loads you have to wait eight hours to get and that only go two hundred miles. You're still out there away from home, eating expensive food, making considerably less money. You're afraid to call home. Afraid to hear the final notice came on the utility bill and there's not enough left in the bank to pay it.
If you survive and prosper for over 5 years, you're probably making around $.40 a mile. You've learned the job and the road well enough to do your work comfortably. The stress is less. Your company starts to resent the fact they're paying you $60,000 a year. After all, they can hire a new driver for $35,000. When times get tough, you're one of the first people your company wants to wave goodbye to. Surprisingly, well-trained, seasoned, safe truckers are not valued in this industry. In a climate where a never-ending supply of new recruits can be found-either among the local population or imported via a variety of guest-worker' schemes, good old reliable expensive YOU are no longer the favored driver.
Back you go to the ads-they're still there, promising $80,000 a year. But now, you have experience. You wont start at $.25 mile. But you wont start at $.40 mile either in most cases. You find out starting with another company moves you backwards on the pay scale. You know better than to expect the $80,000 a year, but you aren't happy about going down to $45,000 a year.
You can make good money driving a truck: you won't make it driving for most major companies, though. The best bets for making good money are to pay your dues doing the grubby work of trucking for a few years and never stop looking for that great small company with a few well-maintained trucks and several lucrative chiseled-in-stone contracts for hauling specialty goods. Hauling specialized or oversized freight is another moneymaker, but the vast majorities are owner-operators. There are a few great trucking jobs out there, but it takes due diligence, a lot of dues-paying and building an exemplary record. And then, if you're lucky, you might find that perfect fit-and make that $80,000 a year. Unless your heart's set on driving a truck, better you invest your time in an education specializing in a well-paying career that lets you live like a human being and have enough time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.