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Company drivers vs owner/operators


Many large carriers offer positions for both owner/operators and company drivers. Any method of getting a moving truck hooked to a trailer is generally utilized. Smaller companies, for some reason, usually stick with one or the other. If they hire both owner/operators and company drivers, they usually have a solid preference one way or the other, as can be seen by the vehicle numbers. Since I don’t have a nickel invested in your company, I’m not trying to change your business model.

This column is meant to present pros and cons of each choice.

For the record, our own company’s original business plan didn’t include company-owned power units and drivers. Most of the times we’ve strayed from this plan, I’ve been generally disappointed with the results. If you knew the kind of impatient perfectionist I am, you’d see why I lean towards owner/operators. Also, company drivers willing to do flatbed work seem to be nearly non-existent.

It’s much easier to grow a company with owner/operators. Every expansion requires operating capital, and another trailer.  With owner/operators, your outlay is much less, because you didn’t need to also buy another truck. The flip side to this is your share of the revenue is smaller. An owner is usually fussier about vehicle appearance and maintenance (although I’ve seen exceptions to this rule), than a company driver. Appearance and obvious pride of ownership is a visible trait, one that improves the image of your own company. As the driver pool gets shallower, we’ve seen the work ethic of anyone in any industry to be decreasing.

An owner/operator often provides a more solid and predictable work pattern. This may either be from years of business experience, or the fact that an owner/op may often be older than a typically available company driver. As they have a financial investment at stake, they’re usually more apt to connect sensible, reliable work with financial success.

They may also have a little better concept of time management, again, from seeing the financial benefit. If the owner/operator hasn’t properly learned fuel economy skills, it comes out of his pocket, not yours. Some of the downfalls to owner/operators are that some will get a little power hungry, and may think they can refuse certain loads, since they also have money invested.

This attitude doesn’t fit with a company that has limited equipment.  We’ve also had a recurring issue with long-time owner/operators buying impractical trucks, because after years in the business, they rightly feel that they deserve a nice ride. But a big bunk, big engine, and a lot of accessories make for an often unworkable TARE weight.

We sometimes haul freight that pays by volume, so this is just a clear financial loss for everybody. If an owner/operator quits, and can’t be immediately replaced – which is usually the case – your loss, besides the revenue, is just a parked trailer, a possible monthly outlay of $700-1,000.

With company-owned trucks, more of the revenue stays with you, although your financial investment was higher. If you’re a former owner/operator that’s still driving, you have obvious pride in your equipment. Unnecessary damage can be infuriating. Your standards for interior cleanliness may be ignored. (My pet peeve was a previously immaculate interior reeking of smoke).

Some company owners prefer running their trucks, because if a driver leaves, after the usual due diligence, you can send the truck right back out. Unlike hiring a new owner/operator, a safety check, permits, licensing, etc., is already in place. On the other hand, how easy is it to find another good, qualified, safe driver? A parked truck could exceed $3,000 in payments and insurance, a complete out-of-pocket loss.

You have more control over company trucks. Paint colour, anti-idling systems, fuelling locations, are largely your decisions. A hired driver is less apt to attempt to refuse a dispatched load. Personal interpretations of labour laws may empower some drivers in such a way that they may not be as productive or disciplined in time management, translating to less revenue.  I’ve seen it require five company trucks to produce the same work as four good owner/operators. Key word: ‘good.’ We’ve often found that no matter what type of equipment you own, it seems every driver you interview wants something else. If your equipment is clean, well equipped and well maintained, with competitive remuneration, this can be terribly frustrating. Company drivers may often need to have routing specified. We’ve seen some drive extra mileage just to use roads they prefer, or strictly interstate routing.

This consumes extra fuel, which you’re paying for, and often causes unjustified hard feelings if the driver’s paid mileage is drastically different than the odometer. They rarely remember that they caused this issue.

Owner/operators are often guilty of the same offence; but in that case it doesn’t cost you anything except trailer wear and tear. Company trucks, obviously, rigidly adhere to your own maintenance expectations. Unless your owner/operators are as diligent as you are, this situation can cause strife, especially when their actions, or inactions, sully your safety record or reputation.

I’ve admitted where my preference on this issue lies, but it’s an apples to oranges comparison. Do you prefer red or orange?

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Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at williamcameron.bc@gmail.com.


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1 Comment » for Company drivers vs owner/operators
  1. mike says:

    been a shuttle driver for 5 years…work 60 hrs a week no days absent..contract expires soon..no road experience…offered a owner operator job…prefer a company driver and get the training i think i need….looking for advice….long or short haul ,does not matter…looking for professional advice

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