Strength in numbers

| December 12, 2008

Arnold is one who’s found stability on his own. “I’ve hauled for my customers for 10 or 15 years,” he says. “They pay me pretty well and keep me pretty busy, but it’s not like I’d want to go out and get more trucks.”

The discounts large carriers offer to small fleet owner-operators on everything from new trucks to insurance can be difficult to pass up. “Essentially, they’re going to get all the economies of scale,” says Meeves of Werner.

“We pass our discounts along to the owner-operator,” says Greg Plemmons, vice president of Old Dominion Global. “For example, we’re currently collecting a 13.4 percent fuel surcharge, and we’re passing 100 percent of that to the owner-operator.”

“We help them get fleet discounts, fuel discounts, maintenance and breakdown support and national account tire buying power,” says Hingst of U.S. Xpress.

Discounts available through FedEx include tires, windshields and new trucks, Schriner says.

Most large carriers, including U.S. Xpress, offer breakdown assistance. “If their drivers break down at 3 a.m., they can call us, and we’ll help them get to the nearest vendor,” Hingst says.

ODD has a special arrangement, sharing expenses for a repair shop and mechanics with two other owner-operators contracted to FedEx. “We can do any kind of mechanical repair on a truck, unless it’s still under warranty,” Schriner says, but their maintenance schedule emphasizes prevention, not repair.

Arnold does most of his maintenance himself, including engine rebuilds at 750,000 miles. Arnold also pulls transmissions and rear ends off his Peterbilt 379s and takes them to Fleet Pride, a large parts distribution chain.

The small fleet owner, like a single-truck owner-operator, cannot qualify for a large fleet’s health plan because he is not an employee. This also is true for the small fleet owner’s drivers, unless that owner is able to provide a plan.

The potential bright side is that larger carriers can better absorb the costs of a health insurance plan, and most will pass those savings on in some degree. They do that by letting the small fleet owner pay all costs to participate in the large carrier’s program.

“We help them out with group health and dental,” Leathers says. He says small fleet owners who lease with Werner “have the opportunity to participate in the programs we have for our other employees.”

Most lease agreements will also offer at least some fleet management assistance, including dispatch.

“Normally a larger carrier will provide in-house communication and tracking so the small fleet owner can keep in touch with the trucks,” Hingst says. “We’ll hook up to his personal computer from our dispatch so he can monitor and communicate with his drivers.”

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