Count before you jump

There’s been a weird thing going on: Owner-operators are driving fewer miles but making a lot more money. Back in 2003, the typical owner-operator was logging more than 11,500 miles per month, based on client data from American Truck Business Services. That dropped to 9,700 miles by the third quarter of 2006, partly because of a tighter hours of service rule.

The good news is that when the economy rebounded from the recession, rates came up as miles went down. The result was a stunning growth in income per mile, from 33 cents in early 2003 to 44 cents by the second half of 2006.

Still, if there’s one thing owner-operators are attuned to, it’s miles. You can’t blame any leased operator who’s watching miles drop month after month for getting itchy about his carrier. Before you scratch that itch, though, consider:

  • If carriers as a whole are providing fewer miles, you’d have to be very selective to pick one that clearly can grant more miles on a long-term basis.
  • It costs thousands of dollars to change carriers once you count lost income during downtime between jobs and while learning a new system. There also are those fixed costs that have to be covered while you’re not driving.

There can be a time when it’s right to consider a change, but it’s not as often as many people think. Smart operators know that most long-term improvement begins internally: cutting needless costs, buying the right equipment and maintaining it well, keeping good records, efficiently choosing hauls, and so on.

Miles are but one component of your net income. Make sure you understand your whole picture before jumping to conclusions – or to another carrier.
–Brad Holthaus, Publisher