Tanker truck driving jobs are a specialized type of trucking.
This type of truck driving job requires highly skilled and attentive truck drivers. Hauling tanker trailers can be a very lucrative type of work but it still comes with its own drawbacks.
Before you pursue tanker work, make sure you fully understand the industry you’re getting in to. Most tanker work can be very dangerous, hence the better pay.
There are five primary types of tanker hauling that you can pursue as a trucker.
Each come with their own set of specialized skills, expected pay, hauling style, loading & unloading techniques, and HAZMAT requirements.
Before you start looking for tanker truck driving jobs, here is a helpful review of the different styles of tanker trucking.
If you know what you’re doing, it can be a great way to take advantage of some of the best paying trucking work out there.
5 Types of Tanker Trailers
There are five different types of tanker trailer work available currently. Although there are similarities with many of them, they will all be a little different.
1. Fuel/Gas Tankers and Diesel Tankers
What will you haul?
Petroleum hauling includes everything from hauling jet fuel for airlines to delivering gasoline and diesel fuel to gas stations and truck stops. The fuel is loaded in refineries. Due to the vast number of refineries across the country, this work usually involves short hauls.
Is it HAZMAT?
Absolutely. Hauling and handling petroleum products is still more dangerous than hauling general freight products, as these products are highly flammable. Drivers who are smokers should consider a different type of trucking.
Loading & Unloading
Petroleum products are usually loaded and unloaded by the truck driver. For the most part, trucking companies tend to utilize company trucks and company drivers, as opposed to owner-operators.
Compartment tanker trailers are used for petroleum products, often in the form of B trains, depending on the region.
I did this work for about 5 years in Western Canada and loaded in Calgary, AB and delivered to bulk stations and gas stations in the Rocky Mountains.
One of the downsides of this work, was even when wearing rubber gloves, my hands would still smell of diesel fuel!
It was difficult delivering to the gas stations as the area was small and cars at the station would cut in and out in front of my truck or park me in when offloading.
At the large bulk plants, though, there was no interference whatsoever. I would just drive it, hook up to pump off the product and that was it. Pretty easy work really.
Because of the constant demand by our society for fuel, petroleum tanker companies always seem to have lots of work. These driving jobs generate steady, reliable income for drivers.
One should be aware though, because of the constant demand for fuel, the work goes on 24/7, often requiring drivers to work night and weekend shifts. Slip seating is also common in the petroleum hauling business, to keep the trucks moving with this high demand product.
What are the perks of hauling fuel?
- Short hauls
- Lots of work available
- Easy unloading in large plants
What are the drawbacks of hauling fuel?
- Jobs not as readily available to owner-operators
- Difficult deliveries in small towns
- You will smell like diesel fuel
- High-risk transports
2. Chemical Tankers
What will you haul?
Chemical tankers are small tanks, cylindrical in shape, and mostly stainless steel on the outside wrap. I worked pulling chemical tankers for a while as well.
There are thousands of chemicals and each has its own specialized requirements. Common products transported in chemical tankers includes various types of acids, liquid fertilizers, de-icer, ethylhexyl, glycol, naphtha, solvents, and alcohol.
Is it HAZMAT?
Yes. You really need to be on top of things to haul chemicals. It can be a complex thing, without any margin for error.
Chemical tanker drivers are given a product book so they can reference the product book to read what HAZMAT code the product is on their trailer. Truckers hauling chemicals should act accordingly on how to treat the product, unloading procedures, and spill procedures.
Hauling hazardous product involves the risk of chemical spills and perhaps inhalation of hazardous chemicals.
There are potential dangers when the product is being loaded and unloaded in addition to when it’s being transported.
Chemical spills are a big deal. Even if a small amount of chemical is spilled, there will need to be environmental cleanup procedures which are extremely expensive. You don’t want to be a driver who makes such a mistake. Some of that cost might be yours depending on the circumstances.
Because these products are high-risk, companies often won’t pressure you to meet certain time constraints.
Loading & Unloading
Loading and unloading procedures with a chemical tanker depend on what the product is. This dictates what method will be used to offload.
Some of the more flammable products can’t be risked by running the product through a product pump, so they will pressurize these products down to keep them from exploding.
The chemical tankers can gravity drop as well. They can pump off the load depending on what the product is and they can also blow off product using pressurized offloading.
All deliveries of chemical products are by appointment only, which can be a pain in the butt.
However, generally, the drivers don’t load or unload them. This is done by the refinery rather than the truck driver as compared to gas and diesel tankers, which are unloaded and loaded by the truck driver.
There is a lot of downtime with this type of work between loads as the trailer gets washed out after offloading. The wash centers are usually very busy, so there’s waiting time involved.
I recall upon one occasion, I waited for 5 days for a washout in Louisiana. I was paid 5 days of layover pay though.
Chemical tankers can be quite tricky to pull.
Depending on the weight of the product, these trailers aren’t often loaded to volume capacity, which creates a great deal of movement from the sloshing, like when changing gears, starting up from a dead stop, or in traffic going through stop lights.
You need to learn to shift with the movement of the product. This takes a while to get the hang of it.
For example, when you are in a mountainous area in the winter time, you need good traction when you’re facing uphill. However, these trailers are often only filled half or 3/4 loaded. As a result, when you start uphill the weight of the load travels to the back of the trailer and you break traction on your drive because all the weight is on the trailer tandems.
There are no compartments in these trailers nor any baffles to prevent sloshing of the liquid product. The reason there are no baffles in chemical trailers is because these trailers get washed out at specialty tank washes after each load in order to ensure there is no cross-contamination from load to load.
With baffles in a trailer, there are seals on the inside of the trailer which can trap particles of the chemicals which would contaminate a load.
These trailers are difficult to wash out, thus the specialty wash centres for this purpose.
The cost for the washout of a chemical trailer doesn’t come cheap either. It costs hundreds of dollars to flush and wash out these trailers. It’s a necessary process to avoid contamination.
Aside from challenges with hauling, drivers also need to monitor their hauls closely. Chemical trailers are insulated and underneath the stainless skin is a layer of insulation before the inner barrel for when products are hauled which needs to be kept at a certain temperature.
For example, a load of liquid wax would freeze up and gel if the temperature isn’t ideal and then it cannot be pumped off the trailer. If the product coagulates it won’t feed through the pump.
Someone driving a chemical tanker needs to stay on top of the HAZMAT regulations for their load in order to prevent costly cleanup.
What are the perks of hauling chemical tankers?
- There are a variety of products with different training requirements – specialized training
- Small tanks with a cylindrical shape means better gas mileage overall
- Safety standards are high – so driving tired isn’t expected
- Lots of paid downtime
- No loading or unloading is done by the driver
What are the drawbacks of hauling chemical tankers?
- Chemicals are high-risk and can be hazardous to your health
- Chemical spills are very costly
- Hauls need to be closely monitored
- There aren’t baffles to prevent sloshing
- Wash out is expensive
3. Pneumatic Tankers
What will you haul?
Pneumatic tankers are the large tanks which haul bulk dry product such as cement and plastic pellets. Dry bulk tanker trailers haul anything from sugar and cement to plastic pellets.
Is it HAZMAT?
The freight is not hazardous or dangerous in any way.
Loading & Unloading
These trailers are offloaded by pressurizing their products, usually using a large drum compressor which attaches to the tractor unit. They plug in the tanker and blow the product into a tank.
Dry bulk trailers have a high center of gravity as the tanks and compartments are cone-shaped to assist with the unloading process. They are typically high at the top, narrow at the bottom like a funnel so the product weight usually rides at the top of the trailer. This makes handling these trailers can tricky since they have a high center of gravity. These trailers are very susceptible to crosswinds.
There is no slosh factor at all associated with these types of tankers, so many tanker drivers prefer this type of work.
Dry bulk trailers tend to be large, high, and long as the products are lighter. As we all know, customers like to move as much product in one load as possible.
Hauling dry bulk in tanker trailers tends to be short haul work. Long haul dry bulk is normally done by rail.
What are the perks of hauling pneumatic trailers?
- The haul is not HAZMAT or dangerous in any way.
- There is no slosh factor to worry about
- Short haul work
What are the drawbacks of hauling pneumatic trailers?
- These trailers have a high center of gravity making them tricky to haul
- The design is susceptible to crosswinds
4. Propane Tankers
What will you haul?
Propane tankers haul liquid propane.
Is it HAZMAT?
Yes. Follow proper regulations for hauling this type of liquid.
Loading & Unloading
Propane tankers use pressurized offloading.
The baffles in the tanks are present to help with the sloshing action of the liquids, back and forth. When you are pulling a tanker with liquids, they are usually good to handle, they back up well and maneuver nicely. Some are in B train configurations.
What are the perks of hauling propane tankers?
- Liquid tankers are often easy to maneuver
What are the drawbacks of hauling propane tankers?
- This is a HAZMAT haul that will require strict load checks and management.
5. Food Grade Tankers
What will you haul?
Food tankers are straight tankers, like chemical tankers, without baffles. These tankers are especially dedicated to food products since, of course, chemicals can never be transported in a food-grade tanker trailer.
Food tankers often haul things like animal fat, wine, milk and other types of liquid foods.
Is it HAZMAT?
No. These are non-hazmat materials. This work pays a bit less, but it’s nice, clean work without the risk.
Food grade tankers tend to average 43′ in length and hold a volume of product about 7000 gallons on average. There are no internal baffles in these liquid trailers. Customers fear contamination of their load of product by residue of previously hauled products in the trailer, which could get trapped in baffle walls and seams. It is also much easier for a wash crew to guarantee a clean trailer if there are no baffles.
Of course, this makes hauling a little tricky, just like with chemical tankers.
Loading and Unloading
Loading and unloading are often done by the respective shippers and receivers. This is especially the case with HAZMAT chemical loads. When the shippers and receivers are responsible, it helps control the multiple risk factors involved.
Product also unloads more quickly and efficiently without the restriction of baffles.
Product is usually loaded through an open dome in the roof of the trailer and unloaded through a 3″ nozzle at the bottom rear of the trailer.
Loads can be off-loaded by gravity drop. This is done by opening the valve at the rear of the trailer, attached to a hose feeding into an underground storage compartment, pumped off by a liquid pump or ‘aired off’ by pressurizing the trailer and forcing the product out through a hose in the rear of the trailer.
Finally, trailer washouts between loads are expensive starting at $200 for a simple hot water flush and ranging up into the thousands of dollars, should the trailer require an acid wash and scraping to remove hardened product. Shippers and receivers don’t wish to bear the even greater costs of a washout for a trailer with baffles.
What are the perks of hauling food tankers?
- This is not HAZMAT so it isn’t high-risk.
- Driver does not do the loading or unloading.
What are the drawbacks of hauling food tankers?
- The pay is less because it isn’t HAZMAT.
- There are no internal baffles so sloshing is a factor.
- Washouts are expensive
Benefits of Tanker Truck Driving Jobs
When it’s all about the money in trucking, tanker truck driving jobs can be especially lucrative.
There are not many companies which haul liquids, especially chemicals, due to the volatility. Not only that, but these types of jobs often require truckers with specialized training and experience. As a result, tanker truck driver jobs often pay better than other types of hauling.
In the same vein, hauling tankers is often more fuel efficient. Due to their round, streamlined shape, owner-operators tend to get some nice fuel mileage savings.
The liquid tankers usually have separate compartments and baffles within the tanks to separate products. This means that several different products can be transported with one tanker trailer. For example, the same tanker can haul no-lead gas, super, diesel, etc. on the same truck, in different sections.
Another thing I like about this type of work is that when I used to arrive at a delivery for my appointment, the company was ready to offload my trailer. Usually, there was no waiting, unlike at a freight dock, where it’s not unusual to wait several hours to be loaded or unloaded.
Also tanker/liquid/dry bulk work because of its specialized nature, involves empty miles. Sometimes, empty miles are substantial. Picking up at refineries often means lots of empty miles to a port location. However, trucking companies usually pay these empty miles, depends on the contract.
The ELD in my truck kept track of how long any of my wait times were so there was no denying of just how long my wait time was. It was all digitally recorded by the ELD. The tanker company never tried forced dispatch. Orders arrived by ELD and they were very cautious about what they would communicate to me.
They also didn’t want to push drivers to hurry or drive tired with explosive and dangerous chemicals onboard.
Downsides of Tanker Jobs
While there are many perks to driving tankers, there are still some drawbacks to consider. For example, a major downside to driving a tanker is the liability for the truck driver.
Companies love to blame the driver for all they can, so if something goes wrong when you are hauling tanker trailers, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be blamed for it.
I highly recommend having a Dashcam installed to prove that you were doing everything correctly in the off-chance there is an incident such as going the proper speed, following proper unloading/loading procedures, triple checking your haul, etc.
Aside from possibly receiving blame, you may also take a hit immediately upon start up because of the specialty protective equipment required for hauling.
Special protective equipment is worn by drivers, to protect them from spills and splashes when loading and unloading. The special clothing and equipment are often out-of-pocket and pricey. For example, FR clothing is required for hauling fuel and can run $70 per shirt. Filtered masks are also utilized to protect the driver from inhaling dangerous chemical fumes.
Tanker truckers receive special training for handling and transporting chemical and petroleum liquid products. There are some products which are harmless such as liquid soap. However, most products can be volatile, caustic and flammable. This is high-risk hauling but usually has better pay.
All trailers require a wash-out after delivery. Sometimes it’s necessary to wait for the same trailer to be washed out, rather than picking up one that’s ready to go. There may be some waiting time involved here.
Finally, truckers are required to lug around heavy and awkward hoses for loading and unloading. Owner-operators must carry this extra equipment with their truck and storage of these hoses is awkward.
THE SLOSHING EFFECT
A major drawback to some forms of tanker hauling is the sloshing effect. Pulling a tanker trailer, especially one without internal baffles is much more challenging than pulling a standard dry van trailer.
If you’ve ever pulled a tanker trailer, you’ve experienced the sloshing effects. This aspect of hauling liquid loads can be very intimidating at first for the driver.
Some tankers have baffles (internal compartment dividers) and some don’t; it depends what the customer prefers and the nature of the product.
Baffles prevent excessive movement of the liquid product in the trailer. In these trailers, the internal movement of the product is minimal.
However, in a tanker without baffles, where there’s just one liquid product, it’s a completely different story. A tanker without baffles handles differently than any other trailer. The braking and handling of the trailer when driving is very different, due to the product movement.
If the product gets too much motion when the truck is traveling down the road, the movement of the product can actually take over the direction and control of the truck.
Just stopping at a set of lights, a stop sign, or just slowing down can be quite an adventure for the driver!
Try to imagine dealing with product movement on an icy road or in heavy traffic. It’s not a fun experience!
The sloshing movement factor is greatly reduced in compartment trailers with baffles, as the baffles control the excessive movement of the liquid product; however, some hauls do not provide baffles because of HAZMAT or company preferences.
Generally speaking, tanker work pays better than most types of truck driving jobs. Not so much the pneumatic tanks as there’s nothing hazardous usually on those trailers. Less risk = less pay.
Because of the special skill set required by the truck driver, the specialized trailers required, the dangers of handling and delivering the product, tanker trucking companies command a high price from their customers.
This is also one of the few segments of trucking which pays it’s drivers demurrage pay. They are paid for loading, unloading, and waiting time. That’s what sets this work apart from most other niches in trucking.
The tanker work that I did, paid:
- by the mile when the truck was moving.
- by the hour when I was loading and unloading.
- any and all waiting time for unforeseen delays.
- for layovers if the company wanted me to wait when empty and wait for a reload that wasn’t ready for a few days.
- for loading time, unloading waiting time, layovers between loads.
- premium mileage to New York, New Jersey area.
- offered a safety bonus at the end of every quarter if there were no log violations or incidents.
They paid me for everything I did; however, I paid my own insurance and plates, deducted over the course of the year from each pay settlement (Insurance was $5000/yr CDN dollars).
Hauling chemical tankers needs to pay better than other types of trucking jobs because:
- of the amount of downtime
- the hauls are high risk
- the hauls require specialized training
Most tanker truck driving jobs pay a mileage rate. However, there are a few companies which offer the owner-operator a percentage pay system.
Most tanker companies offer their owner-operators packages which include the following mileage rate plus fuel subsidy, hourly waiting time pay, loading, and unloading rate (pays more to use owner-operator equipment), safety bonus/incentive.
OWNER OPERATOR PAY RATE – EXAMPLE FROM AN ONTARIO, CANADA BASED TANKER COMPANY
This is an example of pay rate based from a Canadian tanker company.
For trips OVER 500 miles
$1.27-$1.30 mile + Fuel Subsidy For Liquid Chemical Tankers*
*(pay range approx, depending on experience and trucking company)
For trips UNDER 500 miles
$1.32-$1.35 approx. + Fuel Subsidy.
Other pay features include:
- Keep in mind that city deliveries or regular runs can be flat rate.
- $40/hr demurrage pay – for delays
- Layover pay $380/day (approx) depending on unload time & driver reset
- Tri-axle, quad empty and loaded are at different rates.
- Trucker is paid for utilizing equipment: pump, compressor, air, in-transit heat etc.
- Safety incentives, tank wash pay flat rate, sometimes hourly rate.
COMPANY DRIVER PAY
An example of company driver pay (subject to change with inflation and rate fluctuations).
- .45/mile minimum
- $30 hour waiting
- $30 pickup & delivery
- Drivers are normally kept busy with lots of miles.
Obligations for the Owner Operator
There are several obligations that an owner-operator getting into tanker truck driving jobs will need to abide.
Most tanker work is hazmat work, so if you decide to haul hazmat then you are expected to:
- possess a HAZMAT endorsement
- have a F.A.S.T. card
- have a T.W.I.C. card to allow the driver into the ports where a lot of the chemicals are loaded. Check out this complete guide to Getting a TWIC CARD.
Tanker work can require modifications to the owner operator’s truck. Some examples include:
- Pump, Compressor or Blower – A liquid pump is usually required. Maybe a blower as well. Beware of the pump equipment required by these companies. Many insist that the owner-operator provide the pump equipment at their own cost. The pump is a finicky and cumbersome piece of equipment.
It needs constant care and maintenance. I’m not convinced that the pay for using your own pump offsets the cost and maintenance required. Be sure to negotiate this factor if you’re considering doing tanker work.
Product pump was my cost as well – around $6000 CDN. A compressor to blow product off was a few thousand as well, but I refused to have one on my truck, which didn’t give me the availability to every load which became available.
By the way, the product pump is a finicky thing and requires a lot of maintenance. Mine often malfunctioned. Product pump would plug up with product easily before I had the chance to get it washed out. The washout facilities could be hours away from the customer, so it was usually nearly impossible to get a washout in time.
- Height Raise – I had to also raise the height of my fifth wheel. I needed to buy a new set of legs for the fifth wheel plate to make the front of the trailer sit up higher so the weight of the product would force it to run to the back, as my trailer unloaded through the back end. It costs about $1000 for this modification.
Don’t try to weld your own set of legs for the fifth wheel. There have been occurrences in this field of work where the welds have let go when the vehicle turned a corner or going down a hill and the whole tanker comes off and rolls over, when the fifth wheel didn’t hold. Spend the money and get this done properly at a qualified shop.
- Paint Code – Some companies have paint code requirements. Some offer assistance with the cost as part of the contract, if the truck doesn’t meet company branding requirements.
All in all, it could be up to $10,000 of equipment and modifications you’d need to invest in, depending on the company’s requirements.
In the U.S., some of the larger tanker companies are Groendyke, Miller, Enterprise, Actom, Schneider National, Indian River and Quality Distribution.
In Canada, the large tanker companies are Trimac, Seaboard Harmac, Gorski Bulk, Jade and TD Smith.
LIQUID BULK TRANSPORTATION TRUCKING COMPANIES
Liquid Bulk Transportation Freight Companies – The big liquid bulk companies in Canada: Seaboard Harmac, Gorski, Jade (western Canada), T.D. Smith and Trimac Transportation.
The U.S. trucking companies which specialize in liquid bulk hauling: Schneider National, Quality Carriers, Groendyke, Actom, Enterprise, Miller and Indian River (Florida based).
Hauling tankers is not work for the average driver with minimal driving experience.
There’s no room for error in this type of driving job. Drivers in this field of trucking are experienced drivers. There’s much more work and skill involved in this specialized niche within the trucking industry.
The upside to hauling tankers is the increased level of pay, no loading/unloading, higher safety measures, and you are paid for downtime. However, to do tanker work, the trucker must have eyes wide open and be completely aware of the risks, dangers, and liability.
Overall, tanker truck driving work for an owner-operator could put some pretty serious money in your pocket.
Many truck drivers aren’t paid as well as they should be.
However, this specialized niche in the trucking industry is one which usually keeps up with the cost of living. Company drivers and owner operators are usually fairly paid for their work.
A truck driver who is willing to put in the time and endure the sacrifices of a driving career, may as well get the best pay possible for your time and efforts.
Tanker work is not for everyone. But, if you’re a seasoned driver with a steady hand, the pay can be pretty healthy, especially for an owner operator.