Courting your next carrier

| March 25, 2009

Signing on with a carrier is similar to getting married: You should know the carrier well before you commit. Just as it is in matrimony, dissatisfaction with your partner leads to problems, and splitting up can be costly.

The best way to avoid irreconcilable differences is to ask questions early in the relationship, says Tom Weakley, operations director of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“A lot of carriers discourage questions, but a good owner-operator is going to ask a lot of questions,” Weakley said. Owner-operators’ biggest complaint “is the reluctance of management to get down to the nitty-gritty. They want to give generalities.”

Paul Taylor, a Burnsville, Minn., attorney who specializes in trucking law and employment, says the first question owner-operators have is how fast a carrier pays. Federal regulations require carriers to pay within 15 days after paperwork is submitted, but some carriers fall short of that.

Experienced owner-operators say other truckers provide the best information. Bruce Bryant, Overdrive’s 2008 Trucker of the Year, says truckers often approach him on the road, by CB or face-to-face with questions about his carrier, Landstar Systems. “If they’re not happy, they’re willing to tell you,” the Alabama resident says.

A driver can be jaded about a certain carrier, so get several opinions to ensure your information is not skewed.

Other truckers are also a good source for how much a carrier pays for typical loads, says Wayne Brown, who worked with moving and trade shows in his 14 years with Bekins Van Lines.

You can also discuss matters that a company representative might not be so candid about, such as available miles, preference for company drivers over owner-operators, pressure to accept loads you don’t want and to violate hours of service.

Think of beginning a dialogue with your carrier to develop trust, just as marriage partners do. To start that process, here are some useful questions to ask a prospective carrier.

1 What company
representative can I talk to besides the recruiter?
Find a terminal manager or dispatcher. Someone in such a position can provide more accurate specifics on matters such as average pay, says Jim Stewart, a long-time owner-operator. “If he can’t take the time to talk, you don’t want to work for them,” the Georgia resident says. “Go down there because it’s better to have a face-to-face with someone.”

2 What is the driver turnover?

Turnover exceeding 100 percent is not good, but neither is it uncommon. While turnover averages for large truckload carriers peaked at 136 percent in late 2004 and 2005, it was below 100 percent during parts of 2008 as the economy weakened. Turnover rates give you a general way to compare driver satisfaction among carriers.

3 Is your company financially solvent?

Carriers are not immune to the troubles shaking the rest of the economy. Their bankruptcies increased 130 percent through the first half of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007, according to the American Trucking Associations.

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