Choosing a Carrier

Max Kvidera | April 01, 2011

When you consider moving to a new fleet, look beyond bonuses and other come-ons.


The recruiting wars are back. Over the last year, carriers have dusted off promotions designed to grab the attention of company drivers and owner-operators.

“We’ve offered sign-on bonuses in the past but quit when the economy went down,” says Betty Nix, director of recruiting at Boyd Bros. Transportation. “We brought it back in when it became tougher to get drivers. It helps.”

$1,200 sign-on bonus

FREE insurance for your first FOUR weeks

$2,400 lease completion bonus!

Recruiting pitches may be tempting if you’ve been contemplating a new lease, but savvy operators will look beyond the surface of bonuses and recruiters’ claims. Instead, their research will include key questions about pay, loads, routes, fuel surcharge and other business details.

Some of that investigation can be done by reading company websites and recruiting ads or materials, but much of the detailed information you need comes from talking to people. Networking with other owner-operators can give you the best information on pay packages, options and company culture, says Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

While operators say they want to work with a carrier that will treat them fairly and answer their questions honestly, detecting if that’s practiced is difficult. You can learn somewhat how they will treat you in talking with a recruiter or dispatcher, says Chris Brady, president of Commercial Motor Vehicle Consulting.

“How open are they to giving you information?” he asks. Ask for independent contractor references and other outsiders who might address the company’s business practices and reputation.

And remember: The best move may be the move you don’t make. Because of the thousands of dollars in costs associated with it, a move between carriers could hurt your business if it’s done for the wrong reasons.

“One move a year is very expensive and hard to come back from in less than a year,” says David Wolff, fleet lead business consultant at financial services firm ATBS. “If you move twice in a year, you’re probably going to be out of business.”

Pay package

Most operators switch carriers to generate more income, but moving to pick up a penny or two a mile more may not pay off. Rajkovacz says most per-mile rates among comparable carriers vary within a nickel of each other. Still, factors other than mileage pay can boost – or deflate – your total compensation.

“A carrier might offer you what looks like a high percentage and nickel and dime you on the backside,” Rajkovacz says.

Ask if fuel surcharges are available and if they are lumped in with the base pay or paid separately, recommends Brady. Wolff suggests checking if the fuel surcharge is nationwide or varies by region, and what miles-per-gallon the surcharge is based on; 6 mpg is common. Always confirm that 100 percent of the surcharge is passed along to owner-operators.