Embarking on a new career as an O/O

by Mark Lee

In my brief absence from these pages, I have been quite busy. Not my usual kind of busy, but busy expanding my knowledge of our industry. I have been doing it from the other side of the desk too, in a poacher-turned-gamekeeper kinda way.

My goal was to find out as much as I could about how it all works so I could decide which way to go in the next stages of my career.

Although I enjoyed my time in the office, the diesel fuel still pumps through my veins and it was only a matter of time before I got myself back where I belong, looking at the world through a windshield. That time has now come and my view from the windshield will be somewhat different than what I am used to.

I’m the one who will be picking up the bills from now on, so my love for the classic long-nose large car has to take a back seat to economics. However, choosing a truck wasn’t the first thing on my list; my main priority was choosing who was going to be paying me for my services.

Obviously rates were important, but not just a dollar amount, turnaround times and frequency of runs were also a priority. An extra few cents per mile can soon be swallowed up by a day sitting around waiting on the next dispatch.

I did a lot of research and finally settled on a carrier from my hometown. Not only do they meet my criteria for good miles, minimal downtime, a decent rate and a good reputation, I will also have zero bobtail miles as the yard is less than two kilometres from my house. I have spoken to many people who are leased on with them and they seem to offer a very good deal for the owner/operator, so I put pen to paper and signed on with them.

Next step was to buy a truck. Here, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Regular readers of my past columns will have no doubt about my feelings towards the unreliability of the newer engines, or rather some of the stuff that is bolted on to them in the name of emissions control.

Things have improved recently, so things are not as bad as they once were, but there is still a lot of stuff to go wrong and this all has to be taken into account when making the choice. The other consideration is, would it better to go for an older pre-emission truck and have nothing to worry about?

If only it were that simple. A pre-emission truck will have done a lot of miles, many parts will need replacing, in fact over time you could end up rebuilding the truck one part at a time. Going down this route does allow you start off cheap and you can also upgrade components as they need replacing and end up with a very efficient truck, but did I really want the hassle?

No, I didn’t, and my chosen carrier didn’t want that either. They have a ‘five years old or newer’ policy, so I was faced with a choice between nearly new or new. Now my thought process on this was that if somebody has a decent, reliable truck less than five years old, why on earth would they be selling it? I didn’t want to take a chance on someone’s cast off, so my decision was to buy new. Again, I did a lot of research. I also looked at what the larger carriers were operating and I kept being pointed in the direction of one manufacturer in particular.

My fellow trucking industry writers also pointed me in the same direction, as the vehicle in question has been awarded prizes by my colleagues. Dealer service was also a priority.

The truck that doesn’t break down has yet to be invented, so that was high on my list too. Once again, my decision was reinforced by my local dealer being an award-winning service provider.

So I went to the dealer, cut them a cheque for the deposit and ordered my new truck. I’ve gone for a full warranty package that pretty much covers everything from the bumper to the rear mud flaps. Hopefully I will not have to have reason to use it, but if I do, then everything is taken care of. Obviously I won’t be earning money while this is happening, but I won’t be getting a big bill handed over on completion of any work that is done.

Reading through what I’ve just written makes it all sound so easy – if only that were true. I have spent the past six months asking questions, doing research and calculations.

I wasn’t starting out from scratch either. I ran my own small fleet before I came to Canada, so I had an idea of how it all works, but the main thing that I knew was that I needed to plan and not just jump in feet first.

This industry doesn’t take prisoners, so getting it right the first time is very important. There are no guarantees that I have gotten it right of course, but I’ve increased my odds of success by doing the research and making considered decisions. Time will tell if those decisions turn out to be correct.

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  • So with all i hear about having your head checked if you want to be an owner operator now a days, is it really true that you obviously can make money if you do your homework? I think there is always opportunity out there if you are prepared to do the work and make sure your research covers everything from the company you decide to work and how to manage and set a budget, to finding and the properly specked truck for the job.I am interested in What truck you decide on picking? Congrats to you and i wish you much success.