Maximize your downtime efficiency over-the-road

Waiting is something that just about every owner-operator has to get used to over-the-road. Whether it's waiting to get loaded or unloaded, waiting while your truck is getting washed, waiting at a scale house, or (the list goes on and on) ... truckers tend to have a fair amount of downtime over the course of a day or week.

Make the most of that waiting time: 

Take care of your rig -- Check tires and lights, and clean windows. Review maintenance records.

Take care of yourself -- Take a walk if you can leave the rig. If you aren’t able to leave, do stretches or exercises in the cab. Answer mail, write emails and pay bills. Cook a meal, or read (or listen to) a book.

Plan -- Wipe off reflective tape while waiting or doing a pre-trip; you’ll be more visible and invite fewer inspections. Organize any clutter, especially on top of the dashboard -- a cluttered dash is an open invitation to be inspected by law enforcement.

Review your log status with regard to expected pickups and deliveries, and where and when your next stops are likely to be. Ask for directions to every stop or use mapping software, whether an app on your phone or software such as ProMiles or the many truck-specific GPS units.

[Related: How to avoid -- or ace -- inspections]

Otherwise, follow these steps for maximum efficiency:

Deliver on time -- If you deliver late, the consignee may assign your dock door to another driver and put you last on the list. Delivering 15 minutes late can cost a whole day or even an entire weekend. Deliver as early in the day as possible so you have a time cushion to get the next load. On appointment loads, deliver 30 minutes early. An empty trailer gives you plenty of options, but a load sitting on your trailer gives you only one option -- waiting to deliver.

Early departure also helps when winter or other weather poses potential delays. Leaving late is the major reason for service failures -- such as running out of hours on the morning of a delivery.

Manage fuel-related expenses -- You have to manage the cost of fuel and fuel taxes, as well as the cost of time to fuel, which usually is about 45 minutes per stop. The typical owner-operator carries 200 gallons of fuel or more but buys only 100 gallons at a time. Often it saves time to put 175 gallons in the tanks instead of continually topping off with 100 or less.

Be prepared to deadhead instead of laying over -- The time and money lost to a layover almost never can be made up. If the deadhead can get you to a good load within 24 hours, it might make sense.

If you’re leased, don’t surprise your fleet manager. Keep him or her informed of every detail that affects service and your schedule. Set a personal and reasonable goal each week for the miles you want to run and tell your fleet manager or dispatcher. Work with him or her to improve your miles and revenue. If you're independent, take a similar approach to your customer relationships. Any efficiency you gain is a sure bet to benefit those customers, too.

Don't forget the secret to success for any business -- serve your customer better than anyone else can.

[Related: 8-point plan to not just survive, but thrive, through the bottom of the freight markets]


Owners looking for additional money- and other management tips, among a myriad of other topics, can find more in the Overdrive/ATBS-coproduced "Partners in Business" manual for new and established owner-operators, a comprehensive guide to running a small trucking business. Click here to download the updated 2023 edition of the Partners in Business manual free of charge

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2022 edition of Partners in Business.
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