Creatures of habit
Owning a trailer also might allow you to adjust your operation to seasonal fluctuations in freight. For example, an owner-operator who owned a dry van might haul Christmas trees during the season and return to a more lucrative operation requiring a different trailer come January, Brady says.
Those pulling reefers, tankers and high-weight platforms (including flatbeds, step and drop decks, low-boys and goosenecks) have the highest earnings. Those trailers are pulled by more than half the high earners, a higher concentration than among the general owner-operator population.
Auxiliary power units drastically cut idling time, especially in applications that require a lot of waiting or that involve lots of overnight hauls in northern states. Increasingly, they’re proving themselves as fuel- and engine-savers.
“The guys that are buying them are the leaders of the pack in terms of being willing to invest in new technologies,” says Amy Egerter, spokeswoman for gen-set manufacturer RigMaster Power, based in Toronto.
Will Watson, vice president of sales and marketing for Reno, Nev.-based Auxiliary Power Dynamics, manufacturer of the Willis APU, says some fleets have “taken their trade cycles and have gone from a five-year to an eight-year trade” based on the extended engine life their system provides.
Owner-operator Ron Boudreaux of Lafayette, La., pulls a reefer for Raider Express of Fort Worth, Texas. Putting an Alliance APU on his Freightliner was a “real smart thing to do because it saves the life of the engine,” Boudreaux says. “To rebuild one of them, you’re looking at $12,000 to $15,000.”
According to the Behavior Report, a third of owner-operators have APUs and average $7,000 more in income than those who don’t.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2004 that installing an APU could save $2,000 a year in fuel. Based on the $3-plus per gallon prices in late 2005, a RigMaster costing $7,500 (including installation) would pay for itself in less than a year just in fuel costs, Egerter says, adding that if you factor in engine maintenance savings, and even at lower fuel prices it would recover its costs in a year.
Owner-operator Jerry Knight of Lyons, Neb., who’s leased to CRST Malone of Birmingham, Ala., recently paid $7,000 for a RigMaster. “It uses 1.5 gallons of diesel every 10 hours,” he says. “The engine uses that every hour.”
In January, after only 35 hours running the RigMaster, Knight estimated he already had saved at least $100 in fuel. “That’ll add up,” he says.
There are other technological options for auxiliary in-cab power, some much cheaper. Some fleets, for example, are ordering Webasto or Espar in-cab heaters on their new trucks.
Of all the financial practices that can help an owner-operator, one of the most critical is maintaining an emergency savings fund for major maintenance expenses. Less than half of owner-operators surveyed maintained such a fund, but they averaged nearly $9,000 more in income.