Am I Too Old To Become An Owner Operator?

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Truck Driver and Dashboard of Big Rig

This question was sent in by a trucker, a company driver.

Am I too old to become an owner operator?

I am almost 45 and a new driver. Give me a couple of years to know the business better before I jump into buying my own rig and I am almost 50.

Am going to be able to reap the benefits of being an owner operator or am I so late in the game that I will always be in the “paying it off” stage until I retire?

I am not 100% sure I want to be an o/o, though.

If, and this is a big if, I did want to own my own rig, it would probably be for a lot of the cliched “romantic” reasons.

As someone who loves to drive, who wouldn’t want to drive their own?

Who doesn’t want to get into “their” rig, set up the way they want it, that they have put their blood sweat and tears into, that they know if they take 1/2 day off somebody else isn’t going to drive it for half a day and change all 15 radio presets on it (long story…happens to me every week, I take a half day off and who ever is moving my truck around the lot changes all the presets…. drives me up the wall!)

There is pride in ownership. Even if your ride is a POS, it is YOUR POS, nobody else’s.

There is also the potential to be able to choose your loads/runs/companies with more autonomy. And the false(?) belief that you are working for your goals and wealth only, or at least primarily.

There is also the potential to be able to choose your loads/runs/companies with more autonomy.

Having said all that, I am also a pragmatist. I realize that a nice shiny Pete or Kenworth can be also a nice shiny anchor or a nice shiny prison cell.

I can walk away from my company truck any day I want and not screw up my credit rating.

My company truck doesn’t run? They fix it because if it isn’t running, it isn’t making them money. Also as I said before, I don’t know a lot about being an O/O or even the business in general, and by the time I am a little better versed and pay off a mid-priced truck, I could be looking at being in my mid-50s.

I don’t plan on working for ever. In fact, right now I am already trying to plan on how not to work and still eat in my retirement.

Reply From Dave, 35+ Years in Trucking

First of all, let me say what a good question this is and what a well thought out perspective you have on the issue….I’m impressed.

I’ll do my best to give you a decent answer to a complicated question with a few ramblings of my own.

I had to smile when I read some of your primary reasons for wanting to be an owner operator because they were some of the reasons I wanted to have my own truck.

I sure understand where you’re coming from.

I still take pride in ownership of my trucks and having someone mess them up or change them in anyway, including changing the pre-sets on the radio stations…..that would drive me nuts.

Clean Equipment

I tend to be a bit of a clean freak and hate it if someone disrespects my stuff or my space or my vehicles. It’s one of the big reasons, I started buying my own trucks.

If you’ve got to live in the thing all day, you at least want it the way you want it, in my case… clean.

Frankly though the only way to drive a nice truck back then was to own it. Companies back then didn’t have the need to attract good drivers by buying nice company trucks.

More Trucking Companies Are Running Decent Equipment

However, that’s changed now somewhat. Some trucking companies now run beautiful equipment and don’t slip seat. Gary Mercer Trucking in Ontario is a prime example of that practice.

However, as much as I enjoyed having my own trucks, I quickly learned that the business end is the important end of owning a nice truck.

You need to position yourself to maintain a profit margin high enough to support yourself and the nice truck. These days, that’s not easy. In fact, it’s damned tough.

Controlling Your Costs is Difficult

Controlling your operating costs when you can’t control fuel pricing that grows in leaps and bounds is one of your biggest challenges.

Most companies now pay fuel surcharges, but it never totally covers the cost of the increases at the pumps.

I say most companies now pay fuel surcharges because independents no longer have enough clout to get a customer to pony up when the fuel goes up.

There are some exceptions of course, but for the most part, the shipper will just tell the independent he can’t afford the increase and find a big trucking company who will do it for less.

The big company will hire owner operators to do the work, take on piece of the lower rate and pass what’s left onto you.

Your bottom line?

Less money, because the carrier is in this to make money and they’ll certainly make sure they’re happy with what they make before they worry about you. Freight rates are already too cheap these days.

Be an Owner Operator for the Love of Trucks and Driving

What am I saying here? It’s good if you see a romantic side to the business of being an owner operator, because the money these days sucks for the most part.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they’re called exceptions because they are few and far between.

These days, to survive as an owner operator especially in Canada, in my opinion, your best bet is to align yourself with a good carrier and there are a few out there.

But even the best of carriers, can’t control your costs, if your truck suffers major breakdowns. Neither can you.

Your only defense against this is to have good credit and a repair fund. I like to see this around at least $20,000 … just sitting in your bank account solely for that purpose.

Everyone’s Situation is Different

Not everyone can manage that, however. Perhaps you’ll be lucky and be able to bank enough before your first major breakdown. But that’s what you’re relying on…. luck…..not business sense.

Lots of guys I know these days own their own truck, just for the love of owning it, yet don’t rely on it as their primary source of income.

They own what I call ‘a hobby truck’, usually an older model truck they work on themselves and drive a company truck for a living.

Other guys with older model hobby trucks only run them on easy work that’s not hard on the old truck… short distance work to help control fuel costs and maximize profit.

Still, money in the bank as a back-up is still a good idea.

Everyone out there is in a slightly different position in life. There are so many influencing factors…. your mortgage costs, how many people your cheque needs to support, etc.

Therefore, your success as an owner operator has a lot of numbers involved and everyone has a different set of numbers, so there is no perfect answer to your question.

My own set of numbers has changed many times over the years, as you can imagine.. as my kids grew up and became self-supporting or as I paid off my house…. your numbers will change too over the years.

Being an Owner Operator Can Be Extremely Difficult For a Family

Being an owner operator was much harder on my wife and family than I ever predicted.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t be an owner operator for her sake.

It’s one life for a young single guy, but quite another when you’re married.

Changes for Company Drivers

My own personal belief is that company driver wages will increase because they have to.

Good drivers are hard to find and getting harder to find. Great drivers are like gold when a company finds them, now.

I believe great drivers will soon be able to command the wage they want, especially with the gradual disappearance of owner operators.

Company drivers can call it quits at the end of the week and go home, knowing they’ve earned enough.

Owner operators can work till they drop…. they tend to worry that there’s never enough money put away for the unexpected. That’s not a great way to spend a life….. working non-stop.

The Market Dictates the Outcome, Not Your Age

Do I understand your dilemma? You bet I do. I’ve lived it.

If you push me for a definitive answer, I guess I’d have to say that it’s not your age that matters here, it’s the market.

Right now, in my opinion, the market indicates avoiding the risk of being an owner operator.

It would be smarter to exert your pride of ownership efforts on a new car, or boat or some other toy that’s really a toy, not something you rely on to eat.

I hope some of this helps you.

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