That’s only part of how owner-operators should evaluate their carrier, says Dowdy, chairman of the driver recruitment and retention panel for the Truckload Carriers Association. “Are there hidden costs in settlements? No hidden deductions? What deductions are above board? Are settlements correct?”
Another way of measuring your carrier is through news stories and, for publicly owned companies, stock reports, says Todd Spencer, spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Be wary of signs of corporate trouble when payments slow. Also, your lease should address fuel surcharges, and you should receive 100 percent of those fees, Spencer says.
The amount of home time, as well as a carrier’s faithfulness to honor its commitment in scheduling your downtime, are also factors in deciding whether to find another company. Randolph Rochelle of Arkansas, a father of three, was unhappy at his former job because he wanted more time with his family and church. Bruce Oakley Trucking offered more time home, and the 260-owner-operator fleet kept that verbal promise, but Rochelle hears of carriers that are less committed. “For lots of owner-operators, the verbal agreement just kind of runs out,” says Rochelle, who sold his truck in July and became one of Oakley’s port managers.
When you change carriers, consider the things you lose, such as good relationships and respect that you might have built up at your old carrier, says Sonricker.
You can also lose money. You lose pay for the time you are not working, and if you break your lease, you lose bobtail insurance and may incur termination penalties. Getting escrow money back can be problematic. “Sometimes there are backups and delays with getting the paperwork filled out,” Sonricker says.
Dowdy also recommends weighing your carrier’s benefits, such as discounts for tires and maintenance, before deciding to leave. “If you are looking for a trucking company where there is never a problem, then sell your truck and get out of the business,” Dowdy says. “You are looking for companies that don’t exist, instead of working through problems.”
Making sure the grass is greener
When considering a new company, other owner-operators are excellent sources of information. “Drivers’ word of mouth goes a long way,” says Joel Dandrea, vice president of the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association.
Check the facts, too, Dandrea says. Get a copy of their written policies. Read the company’s safety and out-of-service ratings on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website.
Ron Davis, safety director for Arkansas-based Bruce Oakley, says truckers should ask if the carrier is doing what it advertised. “Look for stability,” Davis says. “Is the carrier people-oriented? Do they have a good safety record? You want to see that they’re not just looking at
drivers like a piece of meat.”
Even as a truck owner, you should pay attention to the quality of the company trucks, Dandrea says. “What premium do they place on drivers? Do they enter safety contests or truck driving championships?” he asks.
Owner-operators need to ask more questions before leasing, such as the average length of haul, pay for deadheading and insurance. Gordon Klemp, president of SignPost, publisher of the National Survey of Driver Wages, adds that contractors should consider the cargo hauled and ask about down time as well. Most truckers want the benefit of a trip-reporting-delivery system and a toll-avoidance system, he adds.
Tom Sonricker, president of the North Carolina-based Transport Business Solutions, says weighing the pros and cons includes crunching numbers. “Lay it out on a piece of paper,” Sonricker suggests. One contractor he knew was ready to leave a carrier, but then he realized the amount of unpaid deadhead miles would eliminate the plus of extra pay offered at the new carrier.