Being a truck driver can certainly be a rewarding and enjoyable career. As for how to be part of this industry, there are two main options. The first is being a company truck driver, and the other one is being an owner operator. When it comes to the company truck driver vs owner operator debate, it ultimately depends on what’s right for you. Below, we go over the pros and cons of each option so you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision for yourself.
Table of Contents
• Who is a Company Truck Driver?
• Who is an Owner-Operator?
• What are the Pros and Cons of Each Option?
• What is the Difference between an Owner-operator and a Company Truck Driver?
• How Much Do Company Truck Drivers Make?
• How Much Do Owner-Operators Make?
• Is It Better to be a Company Driver or Owner-Operator?
• Is Becoming a Company Driver Worth It?
• Is It Worth Being an Owner-Operator?
A company truck driver is a driver that works directly for a trucking company. In this situation, you use whatever truck is assigned to you or whatever’s available at the moment, depending on how the company sets things up. You haul loads as assigned during a specific number of hours per week. With this arrangement, you’re an employee of the company with no additional responsibilities beyond what’s related to your job.
An owner operator is someone who works independently. This means you would lease or own a truck and handle the pickups and deliveries yourself. It also means you would be working directly with shippers on mutually agreeable terms or coordinating efforts with freight brokers to manage the process of hauling loads. It can be a combination of the two as well, so there’s a fair degree of flexibility with how you could run your operation. There are three possible ways to work as an owner operator:
1. Lease-operator: With this option, you’re leasing your truck from a trucking company and hauling loads for the same company. In other words, your employer is also acting as your lender. In this instance, you’re not actually a true owner-operator since you’re still tied to a trucking company.
2. Lease-purchase: What you’re doing here is leasing your own truck from an independent third-party and hauling goods for a trucking company based on specified contract terms. This is sort of an in-between arrangement since you’ll be more independent but still have more consistent loads.
3. Self-employed owner-operator: In this case, you’re an independent contractor, meaning you get your own truck and secure your loads. There’s more freedom with this owner-operator option, but there’s also more responsibility on your part.
There are pros and cons associated with being a company driver and an owner-operator that should be considered as you determine what’s suitable for you. Here’s a closer look at some of the more common pros and cons associated with each option:
Independence is the most appealing perk of being an owner-operator. There’s a lot more freedom with hours and the types of loads you regularly deliver. Even more appealing is the fact that owner operators typically have a higher gross income. In fact, it could be as much as three times more than what’s commonly earned by a company driver.
The main drawback is you’re responsible for a lot more as an owner-operator than what applies to company drivers. The list includes:
You’ll also have to take care of your own health insurance if you don’t already have it. Additionally, there’s not as much flexibility with days off or vacation time since you’re not making money if you’re not actively delivering loads.
The top pro of being a company driver is consistency of work. You’ll also be a traditional employee, which means a regular income that’s also consistent due to established patterns with hours. Plus, many reputable companies offer perks such as reimbursement for meals and lodging along with sign-on bonuses and other bonus opportunities.
As a company driver, you’ll have to work a set number of hours. Plus, you’re typically not able to pick up last-minute loads that offer a higher pay. Your hours may also be longer than what’s common with an owner-operator arrangement. Additionally, you’ll be bound by the company’s regulations and guidelines for drivers, which may be a drawback if you prefer more freedom and flexibility.
The main difference is as a company truck driver you’re working under the direction of a specific company. However, as an owner-operator, you’re able to essentially set your own hours and determine how you prefer to run things. Now, you’ll still need to follow trucking industry guidelines and standards that apply to commercial drivers. Even so, pretty much everything else is up to you.
Each trucking company has its own rates. Generally, short-haul companies pay drivers by the hour and long-haul operations pay by the mile. The average with hourly wages from a company falls between $15 and $25 per hour. By the mile, the average is around 45 cents per mile. Typically, more experienced drivers start towards the higher end with earnings and newer drivers start lower.
There are two common payment methods for owner-operators: percent of the load and mileage. With a percentage of the load, there’s the potential to get much larger payments for bigger loads. However, your take can be lower for times when you have smaller loads to deliver. With the mileage option, you’re paid a certain amount by the mile regardless of the size of the load. If you work with multiple clients, you can always mix and match with how you make payment arrangements.
It depends on what fits your preferred working style and what works best for you financially. While it can definitely pay off to be an owner-operator over time, it does take some effort to get started. That said, there are resources, such as freight factoring, which can make it easier to become an owner-operator.
If you’re a newer driver or not as experienced with the inner workings of the trucking industry, you may prefer to start as a company driver. This doesn’t mean you can’t eventually become an owner-operator. However, this does tend to be an easier way for newer drivers to gain more knowledge and experience on the road and with the specifics of the industry. You may also prefer the company driver route if you don’t have the financial ability to work independently right now.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are more than 700,000 self-employed trucking businesses in the United States, referring to the owner-operator arrangement. It can be a rewarding career, and a great way to take more control over the role you play in the all-important trucking industry. Whether it’s worth it for you to work as an owner operator depends on several factors, including:
Here’s an in-depth video on the difficulties that truck drivers face, and this trucker’s take on the above video. Also here’s a video by Schmidt about whether being an owner operator is worth it for him.
As we mentioned earlier, there are convincing reasons to go the owner operator route. At the same time, working for a company if you’re a newer driver does give you a chance to gain more experience. We encourage you to explore the options for yourself so you can decide what’s appropriate for your situation and preferences.
If you have decided to become an owner-operator and you are ready to get your business set up right, we encourage you to work through the Start Your Trucking Company page.
At Pay4Freight we love supporting our partners to become successful owner operators and then grow from one truck to a multi-truck business. Curious about why you should aim for that? Read this article that explains more about a one truck vs a multi-truck business here.