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Too many truckers can’t do basic math

I’ve written in the past that I think driving school practices and commercial driving exams should have a serious overhaul. I think this revamp should include a math test. It seems far too many truck drivers, despite possessing other...


I’ve written in the past that I think driving school practices and commercial driving exams should have a serious overhaul. I think this revamp should include a math test. It seems far too many truck drivers, despite possessing other admirable skills, just can’t add.

This issue is more apparent at a smaller carrier, because we have more personal contact with our drivers and owner/operators. I’ve preached for years that truck manufacturers should not be allowed to have their own lending divisions.

Far too many drivers have become owner/operators who, had they needed to present a business plan to a traditional lending institution, would still be company drivers. As a small carrier, I prefer to have a vacancy than a full roster of owner/operators with poor finance management skills.

Exhibit A is the recruitment ads seen in magazines and truck stops. Those that garner the most attention are the largest and most graphically impressive. Pay levels rarely matter. Drivers traditionally flock to the larger carriers, or those with shiny new equipment.

We have all seen drivers reject work with a perfectly good company with good equipment and home time, to work for another carrier that may pay less or offer less home time, but offered some splashy iron to drive.  

Owner/operators are equally guilty, often leaning towards larger companies for the supposed job security. The last few years have exhibited the inconsistency of job security everywhere.

My advice: narrow your choices to a job description you like, then follow the money. We’ve all met that owner/op or driver who grumbles about making just enough money to survive, but refuses to consider changing jobs, or even the lanes they travel. There are drivers that will drive in any weather, in any traffic, but are horrified with the thought of changing jobs for their own betterment. I know of some small companies that still pay their owner/ops when the customer pays. These carriers usually don’t have fuel cards either, yet licence and insurance costs are deducted either bi-weekly or monthly.

After spending their own cash on fuel for two weeks, it’s still possible for the O/O to be handed a negative paycheque, because nothing they’ve hauled over the past two weeks has been paid yet. Despite that, many of these carriers boast owner/operators who have been on staff for several years. Why?

Exhibit B is the attitude of some drivers that someone else will always take care of their bad situation. Recently, we’ve heard complaints from tri-axle dump truck owners working on the new Windsor Expressway. They don’t feel that $63 per hour is enough, and I completely agree. The problem is, these operators agreed to work for that. That rate was fine a year ago, but unacceptable now.

A similar scenario happened years ago, when owner/operators with large auto parts haulers went on “strike,” protesting insufficient fuel surcharges. The Ontario Transport Minister even got involved to negotiate for these poor souls who were supposedly about to lose their trucks, while those in other sectors thrived.

My opinion then was that all involved were fools. The Transport Minister was far removed from his duties, and as far as the owner/operators were concerned: quit your job, and your whining. If the car parts hauler were suddenly 20 trucks short, rates would increase. If not, there are hundreds of other jobs to choose from. If you are already behind on your truck payments, you really haven’t much to lose.

Exhibit C is those who are paid percentage, yet are still trapped in the mileage pay mindset. I once employed a capable yet argumentative person who was firmly in this category. He once unloaded at the bottom of West Virginia. When told his backhaul was near the top of the state, he angrily asked if there was nothing closer.

There was another load 40 miles away, but since it paid $50 less, I suggested that he travel West Virginia’s hills empty rather than loaded, and enjoy his extra $50. His response: “Okay, but dammit watch these empty miles!”

You can’t reason with someone so unaware of basic financial logic. Other owner/operators hate travelling to areas where backhauls are traditionally scarce or cheap. A good carrier will charge accordingly for the headhaul, so even with a bad backhaul, the revenue is still on target. Not nearly enough operators grasp this simple concept.

Exhibit D, still too common despite the recent economic situation, are those who still don’t understand fuel economy. Jobs change, admittedly, but how many are running relatively flat country with tandem trailers, in a truck with 600 hp? How much money is flying straight out the stacks? Many long-time flatbedders still have high-rise bunks, costing a minimum of three quarters of a mile per gallon. Do your own math on the annual cost of that.

The easiest way to explain someone else’s apparent success while you are floundering, is to assume the other person is just lucky. Success doesn’t come by following the status quo. The phrase that infuriates me most is: “We’ve always done it that way.” This industry is constantly evolving, so frankly, if this is your policy, you’re going backwards. Don’t be afraid to change your habits or employment, and get new batteries in your adding machine.


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4 Comments » for Too many truckers can’t do basic math
  1. Joy says:

    Oh Bill, so true, so true! I deal with o/o’s all the time who don’t get it, who work along side some real “lucky” ones. When anyone asks me what I’d do with million dollar lottery winnings, my usual answer is that I’d keep on trucking till the money runs out! The downtime issue with some new trucks, however, has hit some of the good guys pretty hard. No matter how you slice it, when a truck spends a lot of time in the shop, even under warranty (which some folks have to fight for) it ain’t making money.

  2. Joe Ammons says:

    You really “hit the nail on the head”. I am a percentage o/o and I always run my trip income from start to return, in other words I may go from home to Ohio, reload for Texas, then reload for home. That is my trip and I calculate ALL miles run then do my math. Usually do that math ahead of accepting each load so I maintain my bottom dollar per mile for the entire round.
    To me it is the only way to do it, of course the main factor is knowing your actual cost per mile, and I don’t mean just fuel, every item from truck payment to tires insurance and oil changes are all broken down to cost per mile on annual basis.
    How do you know what you made if you have no idea what it really cost to get there?

  3. Bruce Outridge says:

    Bill,

    Great article, I have been preaching this for a long time. When I present to groups on becoming an Owner operator I spend more time dispelling myths from others who can’t run their own business properly. That’s why I put out my book Running By The Mile to teach the business end of running a business.

    Bruce Outridge

  4. Cecil says:

    All too true!!! If you can’t figure out what each expense is costing you per mi/km, then you deserve to go broke!

    What I can’t stand is the backhaul rate; Every trip should pay as a round trip and the return is empty. If you can hustle a backhaul, it also should pay as a
    round trip. NOW you are in the gravy!

    And for Goodness sake QUIT UNDERBIDDING YOUR FELLOW TRUCKER!!!!

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