5 more things members of the general public don’t know about truckers

| October 29, 2013

Find the previous entry in this occasional series here.


The cost of purchasing, licensing and maintaining a commercial vehicle is a considerable investment, one that you hope can be offset in a positive manner by the revenue said vehicle generates. There’s a misconception in the general public that truck drivers make tons of money. It’s easy to see the advertisements for pay of $1.49 a mile and assume if someone is driving 12,000 miles a month, they’re cleaning up. We all know there’s a decent living to be made, but mileage at those rates isn’t always there and the costs of operating out here are astronomical. Here are five more things to share with your non-trucking friends that may surprise them and help them understand that, while a lot of money can be generated by a truck, the cost of keeping one on the road demands it.

The truck
The largest and most obvious cost — beyond fuel — is the truck itself. A quick browse through the papers has rigs advertised from $7,000 to $218,000. A decent, mid-range, used truck with a sleeper and mileage under 500K should run $50K-$80K, which gives you a monthly payment approximately the same as the guy driving a new Cadillac like an idiot in the lane beside you. That’s all fine and well if you have a down payment and credit, but there’s a growing number of people who don’t have the credit to finance a truck, who become involved in lease-purchase plans offered through their company.


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(This article isn’t about lease-purchase plans, and the following example is used because it’s the only one I’ve ever seen actual paper documents on.)

A lease-purchase through one of the larger fleets for a two-year-old, mid-range truck with 180,000 miles on it runs the operator $525.00 a week. There’s usually an additional $1,500 for down payment, rolled in with taxes, tags and fees for Qualcomm and EZ Pass, taken out in weekly increments of around $150. That’s $675 (or 453 miles at 1.49/mile) a week, before fuel or maintenance, to operate.

Absolutely doable, but here’s the kicker.

You’re leased to the company and still dependent upon them to get you the miles you need to make these payments. In some arrangements, fleets might have little incentive to make sure you succeed in a lease, because walk-aways can be re-leased and another $1,500 down payment collected, on the same truck.

A lot of leases will include a balloon payment at the end in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, so even if you make every payment, you still have to come up with a chunk of money at the end of the lease. Also, if you’re leasing because you don’t have good credit, the lease may not be improving your credit score, as many won’t be reported to the credit agencies.


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Preventive maintenance is the most cost-effective form of upkeep. Keeping the engine oil clean and full is the most basic preventive measure you can take with any motor, diesel or otherwise. There are different schools of thought on commercial engine oil-change practices and policies, and it really depends on the individual owner or fleet as to how often it’s done. Some change the oil based on number of engine hours and some based on mileage. Either way, over the road drivers usually do some sort of preventive maintenance about every four to six weeks. The cost of an oil change for a commercial vehicle ranges from $239 to $289 at the major truck stop chains. The majority of the commercial diesel motors on the road today hold between 7 to 11 gallons (28-44 quarts) of engine oil, and have up to three filters.

There are ten tires on a tractor. Eight on the back called “drive tires” and two on the front called “steer tires.” A complete set of tier one, name brand drive tires can cost anywhere from $4,500 to $8,000. Putting top-of-the-line, virgin rubber on the road can cost more than $10,000. Again, there are different schools of thought on tires, some say running recaps is more cost effective, but even an entire set of recaps can cost $5,000. (A recap is exactly what it sounds like, an old tire casing that has been recapped with new tread rubber.)


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And whether or not you’re running recaps, tires wear according to what they’re hauling and where they’re hauling it. Unlike the FMCSA, tire companies have realized they can’t make all-encompassing statements about truckers, so with some exceptions they’ve generally avoided all-encompassing warranties. 

Petroleum fuel starts off as crude oil that’s naturally found in the Earth. When crude oil is processed at refineries, it can be separated into several different kinds of fuels, including gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene and, of course, diesel. Diesel fuel is heavier and oilier than gasoline. It evaporates much more slowly — its boiling point is actually higher than the boiling point of water. It takes less refining to create diesel fuel, which is why it used to be cheaper than gasoline.


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Since 2004, however, demand for diesel has risen and the price has been driven higher than gasoline. As of the writing of this article, diesel is advertised at anywhere from $3.68/gal to $4.26/gal. Price fluctuates with geographic location, but doesn’t seem to be lower in places closer to refineries. Some tractors can take on up to two hundred gallons of fuel at a time. At $4.26 a gallon, that’s $826 to fill the tanks, and at an average of 7 miles to the gallon, it would mean a cost of 61 cents per mile for fuel alone. How great is $1.49/mile sounding now? 

Wendy Parker writes the George & Wendy Show blog, appearing several times a week on OverdriveOnline.com, dispatched from her ridealong position in the truck with her owner-operator husband, George.

Wendy Parker writes the George & Wendy Show blog, appearing several times a week on OverdriveOnline.com, dispatched from her ridealong position in the truck with her owner-operator husband, George.

Truck stop food has two things in common: it’s usually not good for you and it’s expensive. On the average, meal deals from the top three national fast food chains represented at truck stops are priced 15 percent higher than the same stores when they sit independently. At the Love’s in Batesville, Miss., a McDonald’s No. 4 value meal starts at $5.20 – which is a medium price, because small isn’t an option. You have to choose medium or large. At the McDonald’s three miles up the street, still in Batesville but free-standing and bereft of truck parking, a No. 4 starts at $4.65, and that’s a small, because small is an option here.

While it’s easy to automatically hate McDonald’s for charging more because they can, a quick phone call to both locations revealed a possible explanation. It could well down to whom the franchise is leasing from, and what they’re being charged to operate in that location. Apparently, the property is at a premium at Love’s, and to compensate for that, McDonald’s has to charge more to make up the difference. When I called Love’s to ask them why storefront lease prices were so high in Batesville, I was referred to corporate, where all dreams go to die, and was never able to actually pin a solid answer down. I did get someone to finally agree it probably had to do with the amount of foot traffic generated by the drivers who had no choice but to eat where they fuel.

  • Lesley Huff

    My husband is an over the road driver and has been for many years and was also eating out a lot and becoming overweight and unhealthy. Thankfully we found an easy way for him to have good for him food that was easy to prepare and he has not lost over 65lb. We would love to share his story with you all to help save money on groceries and become healthier.

  • Thomas Duncan

    Trucking the only business I know of that you can bust your butt gross $300,000 in a year and come up broke!

  • guest

    I do like to have your coments about how become healthy and a great

  • DE_from_NC

    I appreciate your article pointing out all the different “high costs” of running a truck but I must rebut you in one area- I don’t know where in the hell you are getting your tire prices from BUT THEY ARE WAAAAAAYYYY OFF FROM REALITY !! Now I’m NOT DENYING THAT TIRE COSTS ARE HIGH !! But no owner-operator, UNLESS HE IS DUMB AS A BOX O’ ROCKS, would come close to 10 grand for a set of 8 drives and 2 steers !! Are these tires 14 carat gold you’re speaking of ? Even a high dollar set of 445 super singles plus 2 steers won’t make 10 grand !! AND WHO IN THE HELL (if they run caps) would spend 5 grand in 8 recap tires ? I don’t know where you shop for tires, I just know I’ll never go there !! Case and point at my local tire dealer, I got 8 NEW Kelly KDA’s (1/32 shy of a FULL INCH of tread depth new !) for $2912 out the door with my casing trade ins. Like I said, I don’t know where you shop, I just know I won’t be going there !!

  • Eric

    In reply to DE_from_NC
    The article did not say anything about tire dealers it was from the truck stop prices. The big chain truck stops are money pits and suck all they can from you, and drivers still go to them. The new breed drive is getting ripped off and thinks he his getting a deal.

  • William McKelvie

    After reading a few comments, I would like to chime in as well, SURPRISE! LOL. Anyhow, recently a discussion on another ODM article proved, prices can differ from state to state, city to city and even right down the street. It does not matter what you buy, but it matters WHERE you buy. To just buy from any dealer and NOT CHECK prices? Foolish.

  • William Stanfield

    I know exactly how that works.

  • Christie Fields

    Why don’t you explain exactly how you do that. If I made 300k gross I would be far from broke.

  • haller

    as we all know cost per mile is around $1.07 plus fuel,,, THATS COST PER MILE….

  • Dee

    I would like to know where your tire shop is! I can get recaps at mine for $3000 and I am looking at $6000 for new.

  • mc661419 sunshine driven

    yeah i would like to know where your tire shop is. location with tires make a big difference too just like with the fuel.

  • Al Mel

    Pure 14K Gold?

  • jorge gutierrez owner operator

    have forgotten mention all fee

  • Sassy Caligirl

    Yes, please do share. My husband watches what he eats, mostly eats at Denney’s if he can. He knows what to order and how to eat healthy. He’s over by 25 pounds.

  • Janet Roderick

    Maybe they were buying 18….not 10….tires?

  • karen

    talk about the toll on the family left at home, yes daddy makes a pretty good living for us, but the boys ,6 and 12 ,and I are home 98% of the time with out daddy :(

  • John L

    same way that in 2010 I grossed 167K as a solo driver and ended up with a gross adjusted income for tax purposes of – $32.00, that’s MINUS $32.00 after the Company I was leasing with rewrote the contract and changed the way that they calculated my fuel surcharge (and fuel economy was how I made my money) so that the company made more and got the truck paid but I went months without a paycheck and when I finally got one it was for $46.
    I was grossing all kinds of money every week somewhere around $6K but after the truck payment, fuel, maintenance, insurance, permits, taxes it pretty much ate it all up but before they rewrote the contract I was netting between $16 to $1900.00 per week.
    Must be nice to be able to change the contract whenever one feels like it.

  • CULover

    http://www.bridgecu.org/ Credit Union for Transportation Workers!

  • Daniel Kupke

    I understand what u r doing !! I bought a 1000 amp inverter and a crock pot to go along with my fridge and real food from a WaiMart n the first time I used that crock pot with it sitting in the pass floorboard cooking all day I knew I had stumbled onto some-thing ?? I ended up getting a 2500 amp inverter and all the other kitchen stuff (electric skillet coffee pot ect ect and a apartment size fridge ) and a 7000 watt gas gen at Harbor freight n could cook a better meal faster any-where I was (pick-up point del point rest area off on ramp ect ect) than I could get in a TS !!! It is to the point now that I hardly ever eat at a TS rest any more ??!! I’m a OO n can do what-ever I want but I’ve seen company drivers that were told they couldn’t have a inverter in their truck use this same routine ??!! The only difference is that they have a extra long set of jumper cables with one end cut off going to that inverter n the other end useing the clamps to hook up to the batterys while they r cooking ect ect ?? That crock pot or and that apartment size ref would run on that smaller 1000 amp inverter ??

  • Daniel Kupke

    Yeah n when u put that agienst $1.50 ,ilr freight u r running down the road for less money than that company driver ?? So “WHY” would a person do that ?? With all that risk n responsibitly ect ect ??

  • rqa

    are you sure if it cost 301,000 to make 300.00 you izzzzzz busted/////

  • rql

    I’ll bet its a freightliner or voolvoo and is a hog trough

  • rql

    denneys pancakes fat starch and nasty

  • ray

    do u comprehend ENGLISH

  • rlg

    don’t know what of shit box you have I run 6 petes wisc to fla and wisc to tex and it 1.35 a mile including drtiver

  • rlg


  • Daniel Kupke

    NO MELVIN it’s a Pete with a 100 inch sleeper !!! Now u got any more stupid questions ??

  • Daniel Kupke

    It;s all about the $$ DUDE ?? If I have a choice and will make the same $$ I’d be better off in a company truck with them paying all the bills n takeing the risk ?? Don’t get me wrong I love haveing n owning n running my own equip “but” there r times when letting some-one else have the other hassel’s of keeping everything up n the repairs done and fines paid at the scale house look a lot better especially if after everything is said n done that me n that company driver made the same $$ ??

  • Daniel Kupke

    No Bread No Pasta and No Potatoes n that 25 will come off ???!! Also small meals 4 or 5 times a day n nothing after 6 pm except water !!! No Soda !!

  • Peter

    Individual truck owner operators, small fleets (less than 10 trucks), are fighting to stay alive. Small companies receive no discounts like large fleets and that phrase,so much per mile, is a joke, much like described in the article above.

    The amount per mile you find out is not being paid like the company contracted, so you approach the company, they say you are the problem and your not traveling their routes. So you travel them only to find out you still are not getting paid as contracted. You have no legal batteries of attorney’s, so time to move to another company or go bust.

    What is actually hysterical (sarcasm), there is enough work out there that pays a decent amount, but it is being stolen by brokers, much like we have seen in recent articles. Only a minor few are sent to jail for gouging companies out of a few cents per mile/ per the loaded mile, tonnage mile, etc. on the hopes you will not check your receipts.

    The worst part about this statement I have made is, it has been happening for decades. I think as an organization we need to take a good look at what the “Root Cause” is, and not fix the band aid cut like we have been doing for decades.

  • Shawn L Hubbard

    Aww… that’s why I gave up OTR in 2009 so I could be home more. Best decision I ever made.

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