What Is an Owner-Operator?
There are many options for entering the trucking industry. For example, you can apply for positions within large trucking fleets after gaining driving experience and obtaining your commercial driver's license.
Becoming an owner-operator is another way to join the trucking industry. These professionals run a trucking business and manage all aspects of daily operations. They're self-employed, meaning they set their preferred hours and choose their workloads. Learning more about owner-operators can help you decide whether you want to follow this pathway to start your career in the field.
What Do Owner-Operators Do?
An owner-operator is a self-employed small business owner. They manage all daily operations for their company and are responsible for all typical trucking business duties.
- Purchasing vehicle insurance: Owner-operators must buy and maintain a vehicle insurance policy for their company. Operators must apply for various insurance types, including liability, property damage, physical damage or motor truck cargo. They must also pay all insurance expenses and maintain safe driving habits to keep rates low.
- Meeting compliance standards: Commercial trucks must meet compliance standards from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies. For instance, you must obtain specific identifier numbers and keep your pollution emissions to a certain level. Owner-operators are responsible for meeting these standards and compiling the necessary data to prove compliance.
- Coordinating truckloads: Owner-operators organize and complete truckloads according to their workloads and schedules. They typically work with multiple clients and balance their schedules to accommodate different needs.
- Collaborating with other truck fleets: Some owner-operators also collaborate with larger truck fleets as independent contractors and accept work that aligns with their schedule or needs. This arrangement helps owner-operators find steady work while receiving majority pay. Owner-operators who use this option must balance their other responsibilities with their independent contractor work.
Many drivers prefer the owner-operator role because it gives them more independence and control over their work. Setting personalized hours and accepting certain workloads can boost your work-life balance and job satisfaction.
Owner-Operator vs. Company Truck Driver
Looking more closely at the differences between owner-operators and company truck drivers can help you determine which position fits you better. These are a few of the most significant variations between the two roles.
- Equipment type: The two positions have different responsibilities for using and managing truck equipment. Company truck drivers use company-owned trucks, which minimizes some of their responsibilities. The business handles all maintenance and related expenses for the trucks. In contrast, owner-operators purchase or lease the trucks they use while working. They must manage the overhead and maintenance expenses for the trucks. In addition, owner-operators have to define and follow maintenance schedules to ensure the vehicles remain fully operational.
- Expense amounts: The roles also have varying expenses. Overall, owner-operators face more costs. They must manage the initial startup business fees, such as purchasing equipment and obtaining permits. Owner-operator truck drivers also cover costs for maintenance, repairs, fuel, toll fees, insurance and other crucial aspects of vehicle management. Company truck drivers are not responsible for vehicle fuel, insurance or repair costs, making their annual expenses more manageable.
- Workload type: Workloads between the two positions also vary. Supervisors assign company drivers jobs. Drivers pick up and deliver loads according to their assigned work schedule, then take a designated break before the next project. Owner-operators have more control over their work — they find jobs through individual clients or with other approaches. In addition to driving responsibilities, owner-operators are also in charge of business responsibilities, like record-keeping and financial management.
- Payment process: Company truck drivers usually get paid based on the number of miles they drive. The exact rate depends on the employer and cargo type. Company drivers might also earn bonuses or overtime for additional work. Owner-operators use contracts to define their job obligations and payment requirements. The contracts outline the job length and specify the monetary amount they receive once they complete the workload. Owner-operators often negotiate pay with clients to find the range that suits them.
What Do You Need to Become an Owner-Operator?
Becoming an owner-operator means taking control of your schedule and job types. It also requires more preparation and actions than a company truck driver. These are some of the requirements to build a career as an owner-operator.
- Stable finances: Becoming an owner-operator requires several investments. You must purchase or lease a truck to complete jobs, which might be out of your budget range. You also must manage other business startup costs and ongoing overhead expenses. It's best to assess your finances before moving forward with these costs. If necessary, you can save additional money before beginning the process. Having an emergency fund also helps you navigate difficulties if they occur later.
- Commercial driver's license: If you don't already have a CDL, you must obtain one to become an owner-operator. This process follows steps from the FMCSA, which include getting a commercial learner's permit, completing entry-level driving training and passing a test to officially receive the license. You can use your state's CDL manual to learn the essential driving techniques and safety protocols. Many owner-operators start as company truck drivers before changing careers, obtaining their CDL during this process.
- An established business: You also need to start a business. The FMCSA needs proof of your operations before assigning you identifying information like a USDOT number. Create a business name, outline your objectives and build a growth plan for the next five or 10 years. These preparatory steps help you identify your goals, which helps with funding and management later. Then, register your business to make it official. Many owner-operators use the U.S. Small Business Administration website to complete this process.
- USDOT number: After launching your business, you can apply for a United States Department of Transportation number. This unique identifier helps the FMCSA monitor interstate commerce and vehicle behaviors. Companies operating commercial vehicles and participating in interstate commerce must acquire a USDOT number, or they face significant penalties. To receive a USDOT number, follow the FMCSA's registration instructions.
- Truck insurance: The FMCSA also requires owner-operators to acquire vehicle liability insurance coverage. Owner-operators can select other insurance types that suit their preferences, like personal property coverage or roadside assistance. You can explore rates with various companies and find the plans that work best for you.
Schedule a Demo With Bestpass Today
Owner-operators have more independence and control over their workloads, creating a more satisfying position. They also have to manage many daily business operations. Owner-operators can stay organized with tools like Bestpass toll management solutions. We've tailored our owner-operator solution to meet this position's unique responsibilities. The software streamlines toll payments, helping you save money and increase efficiency.
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What we offer is a way for service fleets, trucking companies and owner-operators to simplify their toll payments and get discounts on tolling. We provide violation dispute management services and allow your company to pay for your toll costs in one convenient place.