How to get an FMCSA Operating Authority

Letter of Authority

Deciding to get your own FMCSA operating authority and DOT number is a big step. Most use agents to help them get started. Unfortunately they cost a lot of money. I’m going to share with you all the different regulating agencies and how to contact them. By doing so, I’m giving you the ability to get set up with all of them so you can avoid paying an agent more than necessary. What better way to start your business than by saving money and learning compliancy requirements at the same time! Here are the basic Federal requirements (there are more and I’ll discuss them soon).

1. FMCSA Operating Authority “MC” “FF” or “MX” number

2. Department of Transportation (DOT) number

3. Commercial Insurance

4. *Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)

5. *International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA)

6. *International Registration Plan (IRP)

7. BOC-3

* These 3 are frequently done at the same time at your state or jurisdiction office. In most cases you can apply, pay and receive all of them in person and on the same day. It is wise to verify in advance what types of payments your state or jurisdiction will accept as they are all different.

FMCSA Operating Authority “MC” number

The FMCSA website states…

“In general, companies that do the following are required to have interstate Operating Authority (MC number) in addition to a DOT number:

Operate as for-hire carriers (for a fee or other compensation)”

Since the one time fee is only $300.00, I recommend every “For-Hire” carrier to not take any chances or run the risk of operating without having their MC (Motor Carrier) number. It is a fairly simple process and can be done through the SaferSys website (an FMCSA website).

Department of Transportation (DOT) number

I have never seen a truck or met a truck owner that wasn’t required to have a USDOT number. The FMCSA’s website states…

“You are required to obtain a USDOT number if you have a vehicle that:

Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous and transported in a quantity requiring placarding (whether interstate or intrastate).

OR

Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater”

and goes on to state…

“AND is involved in Interstate commerce:

Trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States—

Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);

Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or

Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.

You are required by FMCSA to obtain USDOT Number and comply with the Federal Regulations.”

The FMCSA concludes with…

“Apart from federal regulations, some states require commercial motor vehicle registrants to obtain a USDOT Number. These states include:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming”

Obtaining a USDOT number is free. The FMCSA made it convenient to apply for a USDOT number at the same time you apply for a MC number by using the SaferSys website. You will be required to complete and submit the MCS -150 form which defines your business to the USDOT before they will issue you a USDOT number.

Commercial Insurance

Once you have applied for your FMCSA operating authority you will need commercial insurance before your MC number is ready to be used legally. Your insurance company is required to notify the FMCSA once you have purchased your insurance. This process of the insurance company notifying the FMCSA of your policy and the FMCSA updating your MC number with the insurance does take time. Your insurance agent and/or company will be able to provide you with the coverage requirements from the FMCSA.

Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)

The Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) is a registration based on the number of vehicles (trucks) you operate. You can complete your UCR either through the UCR website or many times through your state you operate from. UCR is paid annually.

International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA)

IFTA accounts are free and depending on your state or jurisdiction you may or may not pay for the IFTA stickers that are required for each truck in your fleet. I normally start my IFTA account and receive my stickers on the same day I pay for and receive my IRP plates (which I will discuss next). Renewal each year is typically done either on a state or jurisdiction website or by mail. Filing your IFTA taxes is a quarterly requirement.

International Registration Plan (IRP)

The International Registration Plan (IRP) is the registration and license plates for all your vehicles. It is an apportioned registration. Meaning you will pay a portion of each states registration fee based on the percentage of miles you operate in each state or jurisdiction. When you apply for your first IRP you will be required to use “estimated miles.” This does not mean you get to estimate your miles. The estimated miles are provided to you by your state or jurisdiction. In most cases it will be your responsibility to put the correct estimated miles for each state or jurisdiction in the correct field. If it is not correct the IRP official (in most cases) will not fix the mistakes but rather give it back to you and have you fix them. That means going back to the end of the line. I failed to get the correct estimated mileage one time and it took me 3 hours to get back to the IRP official so I could pay my bill and complete my registration.

BOC-3

The BOC-3 is one of the most overlooked requirements by the FMCSA. The reason is simple. There is not a “check and balance” or verification process before being allowed to operate using your new authority. The purpose of the BOC-3 is to provide the FMCSA with a list of agents from the states or jurisdictions you operate in that will receive legal documents. The FMCSA describes it’s purpose this way…

“A process agent is a representative upon whom court papers may be served in any proceeding brought against a motor carrier, broker, or freight forwarder. Every motor carrier (of property or passengers) shall make a designation for each State in which it is authorized to operate and for each State traversed during such operations.”

Now I don’t normally recommend using an agent for much of anything. However, in this case it is best. Otherwise you will need to locate representatives for every state or jurisdiction and continually verify that the representative is still in business. Personally, I have enough to do without calling 50+ representatives every week or 2 to verify they are still in business. Through an agent, a BOC-3 will cost you a 1 time fee of normally no more than $50.00. A list of agents is provided by the FMCSA on their website.

Deciding to get your own FMCSA operating authority and DOT number is a big step. Most use agents to help them get started. Unfortunately they cost a lot of money. I’m going to share with you all the different regulating agencies and how to contact them. By doing so, I’m giving you the ability to get set up with all of them so you can avoid paying an agent more than necessary. What better way to start your business than by saving money and learning compliancy requirements at the same time! Here are the basic Federal requirements (there are more and I’ll discuss them soon).

1. FMCSA Operating Authority “MC” “FF” or “MX” number

2. Department of Transportation (DOT) number

3. Commercial Insurance

4. *Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)

5. *International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA)

6. *International Registration Plan (IRP)

7. BOC-3

* These 3 are frequently done at the same time at your state or jurisdiction office. In most cases you can apply, pay and receive all of them in person and on the same day. It is wise to verify in advance what types of payments your state or jurisdiction will accept as they are all different.

FMCSA Operating Authority “MC” number

The FMCSA website states…

“In general, companies that do the following are required to have interstate Operating Authority (MC number) in addition to a DOT number:

Operate as for-hire carriers (for a fee or other compensation)”

Since the one time fee is only $300.00, I recommend every “For-Hire” carrier to not take any chances or run the risk of operating without having their MC (Motor Carrier) number. It is a fairly simple process and can be done through the SaferSys website (an FMCSA website).

Department of Transportation (DOT) number

I have never seen a truck or met a truck owner that wasn’t required to have a USDOT number. The FMCSA’s website states…

“You are required to obtain a USDOT number if you have a vehicle that:

Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous and transported in a quantity requiring placarding (whether interstate or intrastate).

OR

Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater”

and goes on to state…

“AND is involved in Interstate commerce:

Trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States—

Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);

Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or

Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.

You are required by FMCSA to obtain USDOT Number and comply with the Federal Regulations.”

The FMCSA concludes with…

“Apart from federal regulations, some states require commercial motor vehicle registrants to obtain a USDOT Number. These states include:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming”

Obtaining a USDOT number is free. The FMCSA made it convenient to apply for a USDOT number at the same time you apply for a MC number by using the SaferSys website. You will be required to complete and submit the MCS -150 form which defines your business to the USDOT before they will issue you a USDOT number.

Commercial Insurance

Once you have applied for your FMCSA operating authority you will need commercial insurance before your MC number is ready to be used legally. Your insurance company is required to notify the FMCSA once you have purchased your insurance. This process of the insurance company notifying the FMCSA of your policy and the FMCSA updating your MC number with the insurance does take time. Your insurance agent and/or company will be able to provide you with the coverage requirements from the FMCSA.

Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)

The Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) is a registration based on the number of vehicles (trucks) you operate. You can complete your UCR either through the UCR website or many times through your state you operate from. UCR is paid annually.

International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA)

IFTA accounts are free and depending on your state or jurisdiction you may or may not pay for the IFTA stickers that are required for each truck in your fleet. I normally start my IFTA account and receive my stickers on the same day I pay for and receive my IRP plates (which I will discuss next). Renewal each year is typically done either on a state or jurisdiction website or by mail. Filing your IFTA taxes is a quarterly requirement.

International Registration Plan (IRP)

The International Registration Plan (IRP) is the registration and license plates for all your vehicles. It is an apportioned registration. Meaning you will pay a portion of each states registration fee based on the percentage of miles you operate in each state or jurisdiction. When you apply for your first IRP you will be required to use “estimated miles.” This does not mean you get to estimate your miles. The estimated miles are provided to you by your state or jurisdiction. In most cases it will be your responsibility to put the correct estimated miles for each state or jurisdiction in the correct field. If it is not correct the IRP official (in most cases) will not fix the mistakes but rather give it back to you and have you fix them. That means going back to the end of the line. I failed to get the correct estimated mileage one time and it took me 3 hours to get back to the IRP official so I could pay my bill and complete my registration.

BOC-3

The BOC-3 is one of the most overlooked requirements by the FMCSA. The reason is simple. There is not a “check and balance” or verification process before being allowed to operate using your new authority. The purpose of the BOC-3 is to provide the FMCSA with a list of agents from the states or jurisdictions you operate in that will receive legal documents. The FMCSA describes it’s purpose this way…

“A process agent is a representative upon whom court papers may be served in any proceeding brought against a motor carrier, broker, or freight forwarder. Every motor carrier (of property or passengers) shall make a designation for each State in which it is authorized to operate and for each State traversed during such operations.”

Now I don’t normally recommend using an agent for much of anything. However, in this case it is best. Otherwise you will need to locate representatives for every state or jurisdiction and continually verify that the representative is still in business. Personally, I have enough to do without calling 50+ representatives every week or 2 to verify they are still in business. Through an agent, a BOC-3 will cost you a 1 time fee of normally no more than $50.00. A list of agents is provided by the FMCSA on their website.

Aside from the cost of your insurance and IRP, the entire cost to you should not exceed around $400.00. Many agents charge thousands of dollars. Since I’m always looking to save money and improve my profits, it only makes sense for me to spend a little time educating myself, complete the applications or filings, and saving money at the same time. If you want to learn more check out the category Business of Trucking.

Aside from the cost of your insurance and IRP, the entire cost to you should not exceed around $400.00. Many agents charge thousands of dollars. Since I’m always looking to save money and improve my profits, it only makes sense for me to spend a little time educating myself, complete the applications or filings, and saving money at the same time. If you want to learn more check out the category Business of Trucking.

Avoid the FMCSA ELD Mandate

Avoid an ELD at all cost! Straight from the FMCSA.

Like most everyone else who owns a truck, I have no desire to use an FMCSA mandated ELD. I was surprised to discover that not everyone will be required to use an ELD. There are a few exceptions to the ELD mandate. For over the road truck owners, there is only 1 possible exemption to avoid the FMCSA ELD mandate.

I began my research by reading the FMCSA’s 4910-EX-P. More commonly known as the FMCSA’s “Final Rule” for ELD’s. As a truck owner, what caught my attention more than any other was the following paragraph.

FMCSA also includes an exception for to those drivers operating CMVs older than model year 2000, as identified by the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the CMV. Comments have indicated and FMCSA’s research has confirmed that pre-2000 model year trucks may not allow the ELD to connect easily to the engine. While the Agency has confirmed that there are ways of equipping older vehicles to use an ELD consistent with today’s rule technical specifications, these are not always cost beneficial or practical. Further, the Agency lacks confidence that the technology will be available to address this entire segment of the market (pre-2000 model years) at a reasonable cost.

“CMV” is an abbreviation for “Commercial Motor Vehicle.” The FMCSA realized the challenges for pre-2000 model year trucks to meet the ELD mandate. While that in itself didn’t surprise me, what did is that the FMCSA is not requiring the costly retrofitting of ELD’s to pre-2000 model year trucks.

For all of us who already operate a pre-2000 model year truck, it will be in our best interests to keep our trucks on the road for as long as we possibly can. When the time comes, I plan to have my 1999 9900i International completely reconditioned. Everything including removing, stripping and painting the frame rails, replacing all wiring, gutting, customizing and detailing the interior, rebuild the entire drive line, a fresh paint job and anything else that needs done. While that all sounds expensive, it is far more affordable than a new truck that sells for around $150,000.00. Plus you can still depreciate rebuilding your truck over a 3 year period just as if you would by purchasing a truck.

I plan to keep my truck on the road for many years to come. In doing so, I will avoid the FMCSA ELD mandate until the FMCSA changes the rules again or until I buy a newer truck. Read more on how I keep my pre-2000 truck on the road in my other posts After Market Truck Parts and Junk Yard Truck Parts.

Meeting Potential New Customers

I received an email from a reader who asked some great questions for meeting potential new customers. He wrote…

“I have had my authority now for about 6 months and have been solely using brokers.  As you have already stated, the profit margins are very low and I feel the need to acquire my own direct customers in order to be more profitable and build up my company.  I am currently re-working my business model and after that I will make out my business plan as per your articles. The way you have described the processes greatly reduce my apprehensions.  Couple questions I do have are: What are some tips or the best ways to go about doing research on a prospective company, especially concerning what they are used to paying to ship out? Also, who determines shipping origination? For example, does a shipper control which carriers to use or would a receiver determine which carriers it prefers its shippers to use? I would need to know that to determine who to contact.”

First is determining the rates. As I mentioned in my Carrier Rate Agreement or Carrier Contract post, it is important to secure long term customers. I never concern myself with how much my customers are paying another carrier. All I focus on is ensuring I am successfully providing my customers with a rate that is profitable for both of us to succeed. This has enabled me to secure long term and successful business relationships.  However, in order to negotiate I had to at least have an idea what the rates were in the lanes I planned to be working within. What has worked best for me is using a combination of 2 different resources.

The first is brokers. As a rule, when I’m trying to learn rates for a new lane, I call 5 brokers and inquire about available loads they have posted. It is also important to note that different days of the week will sometimes have different rates. This is most common in the fresh food industries such as meat, dairy and produce. The best rates for produce tend to be on Monday and Tuesday with delivery before the upcoming weekend. Likewise, the best rates for meat and dairy are normally found on Thursdays and Fridays for Monday delivery. So plan to do your rate research more than once and change up what days you check it on. Locating free load boards is easy but I will share the ones I rely on the most when researching rates.

Pick A Truck Load – Dry van, Flat bed, Reefer and misc.

LandStar – Dry van, Flat bed, Oversize, LTL, and misc.

Car Hauler Dispatch – Cars, Trucks, Boats and Camper/Cargo trailers.

Once you have the rate quotes from the brokers, simply add 20% to their rates they are quoting you and that is the rate they are quoting to their customer. Then take the average of all the quotes you were able to acquire and you now have a solid rate for that lane. IMPORTANT – You’re not done yet! In order to be profitable in the trucking industry you need to know what the rate will be going back to your customer. Except for specialty loads that only transport product in one direction, we all need loads that get us as close to our customer as possible when we return. So do your rate research with brokers for returning loads as well. In most cases you will rely on those brokers for loads. So take their rates at face value (what they quote is what you will get). When doing the return research, be mindful of how many loads are available. For example, there are very few dry van loads out of south Florida. So you need to plan accordingly if you are taking dry van loads to south Florida.

The other way I learn the rates is directly from the potential customer. I will always do my research using the brokers before meeting potential new customers. Then when meeting potential customers I compare the 2 rates. Sometimes the potential customer will surprise you and the rate they quote you will be higher than what your research revealed. The reason is because they know direct carriers are far more reliable than a broker and are willing to pay additional for it. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened to me on 2 different occasions.

Most certainly customers do have preferred carriers they use. I have made it a personal requirement of mine to be that preferred carrier for all my customers. The rewards for doing so include more loads, faster pay, better rates (over time), the best lanes and above all success for both my customers and myself. Read my post Trucking Customers – Vital for Truck Owners to see my best tips to becoming your customers preferred carrier.

Sometimes when meeting potential new customers they will tell you that their customer coordinates the shipping. This is common with volume buyers such as Walmart, Costco, Tyson, Goodyear, GE and more than I could ever list. In these cases, the potential customer will most likely not provide you with the receivers contact information. Don’t be offended. They are typically bound by the contract not to give out the information. Simply give your contact information and politely let them know that if they ever do need a carrier you’d be happy to provide them a quote. There are instances the potential customer will provide you with the receivers contact information. When that happens make sure to contact the receiver because chances are high that since you were given the information the shipper isn’t getting enough trucks to ship the product on.

Before meeting potential new customers, read my post Make a Business Plan. It details many lessons I learned when I was meeting potential new customers.

Thank you for the email. I hope to hear from you again soon. Above all, Good luck!

Trucking Customers – Vital for Truck Owners

What is trucking? Getting your customers (trucking customers that is) product to market so they can succeed and in turn make you successful. Welcome the responsibility your customer has entrusted you with… their success! That responsibility should never be taken lightly.  If you do it could jeopardize your own business. More importantly, realize the wonderful opportunity that responsibility offers you and the unlimited potential for your business’s success.  In any business customer satisfaction is always paramount. In trucking that means reliability and reliability begins with dedication to your customers.

1. Always be early for pickup and delivery. Never plan to be just in time (unless you are doing “just in time” service for your customer). That provides you with at least the possibility to overcome a flat tire, dirty fuel filter, DOT inspection, etc. and still pickup or deliver on time.

2. Set yourself apart and be the one carrier your customer can count on during the holidays. Holidays are the hardest time for customers to find reliable dependable carriers. If you separate yourself above your competition for the holidays your customer is more likely to give you their business during the slow season. They will want to keep you because you are there when they need you the most.

Be thankful for their business and never miss an opportunity to show your thankfulness like…

1. Be kind, wear a smile and always say “please” and “thank you.” No one likes working with someone with an attitude or a chip on their shoulder. Just like Grandma used to say “you reap what you sow.”

2. Give gift certificates. Not only to the person responsible for giving you their business but also the employees loading your trailer. It is a very inexpensive way to show the forklift operators you appreciate them and what they do. In return they will be more inclined to take additional care when loading your trailer.

3. Be understanding. Just like trucking has unexpected chaos our customers businesses do too. If you are not willing to be understanding, patient and cooperative do you think your customer will be understanding, patient and cooperative the next time your pickup or delivery is late due to a break down?

Treat all your customers as valued business partners. Always remember that a customer is who you send your invoice to and expect payment from. That includes brokers. Brokers are not the enemy and sometimes come in very handy when the need arises.

Locating potential new customers is not as hard as you think. With only 1 truck to offer my customers I have successfully negotiated contracts with and hauled for a variety of companies. To name just a few of the companies I have enjoyed successful business relationship with – Perdue Farms, Odom’s Tennessee Pride Sausage, Performance Food Group, Letica Corp., JL Gonzalez, Redline, Omni Meats, Saputo Cheese, Atlas Cold Storage, Gulf Stream Coach and many more. The key to all the successful contracts and business relationships I have enjoyed began with locating them. I’ll share with you how I found my customers in an upcoming post “Find Customers Who Need a Truck.”

How to be Profitable Owning a Truck

Standing in front of my 2007 Peterbilt.

David sent me a message that is all to common for new truck owners. His concern is how to be profitable owning a truck.

“How did you manage to make a profit? It seems as though I find loads but they are so underpaid that it feels I’m only making money to cover the fuel. I would appreciate any input you have!”

In order to answer David’s concern of how to be profitable owning a truck, “How did you manage to make a profit,” I am going to make a few assumptions.

1. There is a truck payment

2. There are no or few direct customers

3. “Agents” or “Professionals” are being used for some or all compliance

For me, initially profit did not come easy. In fact, in the very beginning it didn’t come at all. In my first week of owning my first truck I suffered a major set back. My truck blew out the front rear end. To make matters worse, the mechanic discovered that the previous owner had custom machined gears made and put them in both rear ends. So I had a decision to make. Give up or fight back. I have a “Never Fail” mentality so giving up wasn’t and isn’t part of my vocabulary. So I took the harder path of fighting my way back from financial disaster. My key decisions that helped me overcome my setback and succeed were as follows.

1. Do the hardest and most demanding loads because they pay the best

2. Run the maximum amount of miles I possibly could

3. Improve my equipment to lower my operating costs

4. Stay as tight fisted with my money as possible

While all those sound easy they can be very difficult to implement and stay committed to. I’ll take them one at a time.

Do the hardest and most demanding loads because they pay the best. For me this meant going back to LTL. To me LTL is some of the most aggravating freight there is especially with a refer. Fighting traffic to get all the pickups and deliveries completed on time, the unsavory atmosphere with most refrigerated freight shippers and receivers, the never ending “Wait” for the product and baby sitting the refer just to name a few. I point this out because I knew how much I hated it but it is what I knew had to be done to meet my self inflicted demand of “Never Fail.” So reached out to a broker I knew who specialized in refer LTL and I verified with my direct produce customer that he could buy produce and load me out of California. You know what, it worked too! To learn how to locate direct customers and find out more about customers in general read my posts “Trucking Customers – Vital for truck owners,” “Meeting Potential New Customers” and “Finding Customers that Need Trucks.”

Run the maximum amount of miles I possibly could. Along with recognizing the need to return to LTL freight I knew I had to maximizes my cash flow and profits. That meant keeping the left door closed and running as many miles as I possibly could. I knew what lane that meant I had to run. I gave up my modest Illinois to Florida and began LTL pickups in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa and delivering to cities throughout southern California. Then I chased produce up and down the coast with pickups and delivered it to Chicago. Yep, it worked as well!

Improve my equipment to lower my operating costs. This one takes the longest. My finances dictated what I could do and when I could do it. Bottom line is “Preventative” maintenance is vital. When you know something is going to need repairing, fix it on your terms not the truck or trailers terms! In doing so it won’t cost you as much money, down time or lost revenue. So even if you need to borrow or use plastic, always do preventative maintenance! When you can, make modifications to your equipment to lower your operating costs. If you look closely at the pictures there are a lot more changes than just the paint job to my 1999 International. I have a great post detailing many of the successful modifications and another post on how to save money on parts.

Stay as tight fisted with my money as possible. I have been accused of being a “tight wad” more times than I can count. I proudly ware it as a badge of honor! That may seem to contradict what I said about preventative maintenance when in actuality it goes hand in hand. Paying for something that cost a lot on your own terms is being frugal to the max. You are ensuring that even though it does cost a lot today, it is a small percent of the cost if you waited for it to be a disaster. Even though I wasn’t aware of my rear end issue, if I had, I could have gotten it fixed on my terms and not caused my financial crisis. So I learned two lessons from my first weeks owning a truck. First and most important, always have a financial back up plan and do better preventative maintenance.

As to my 3 assumptions to answer David’s question.

There is a truck payment. If you discover that your truck payment is simply unrealistic you do have an option. Purchase a truck that will be within your budget and sell your current truck. While that may sound harsh, it is the best and most financially sound option available to you. You can learn more about my truck choices and what I recommend in my posts “Choosing the Right Truck” and “Avoid the FMCSA ELD Mandate.”

There are no or few direct customers. Read the section above “Do the hardest and most demanding loads because they pay the best.”

Agents” or “Professionals” are being used for some or all compliance. In most all cases I have very little use for “Agents” or “Professionals” for most day to day compliance issues and in many other cases. I do my own IRP, IFTA, UCR, Canadian eManifest (yes, I go to Canada), MCS-150, Weight and Distance, Highway Use Tax, New York Highway Use Tax, Oregon Mileage Tax and everything I have failed to remember while typing. The reasons are simple. Once you do these for yourself you will become efficient (fast) at them, have a better understanding of your business and save in most cases thousands of dollars. All are a plus for you as a truck owner. If you’d like to learn more on how easy and low cost it is to get your own authority read my post “How to get an FMCSA Operating Authority.”

Last, choose an easy to use software to help you manage your money. I designed TruckBytes and continue to use it today with my own trucking company.

I hope my experiences and lessons have helped you know How to be Profitable Owning a Truck. If you have questions or would like for me to expand on anything I discussed in this post please let me know! I’m happy to accommodate.

Lease Purchase – What You Need to Know

“Lease Purchase” programs sound very appealing to a driver who wants to own his truck. Most carriers that provide “Lease Purchase” programs sweeten the offer even more by making guarantees that seem to mirror those of a true “Independent Owner Operator” (those who own their truck and operate with the own FMCSA issued operating authority). Guarantees like no forced dispatch, all the time off you want, all the miles you need, drive only the lanes that you want and more. Sounds good right? The reality is that entering into a “Lease Purchase” contract is the worst option to purchase a truck.

First lets look at the company “Road Runner,” AKA “Skinny Chicken,” who offered a Lease Purchase. Road Runner enjoyed the services of approximately 1,100 Lease Purchase drivers at the time of their demise. The real tragedy isn’t that Road Runner went bankrupt. The real tragedy was the devastating impact to all the drivers who entered into a Lease Purchase contract with Road Runner. To understand the financial severity of the loss the Lease Purchase drivers suffered you need to understand how the Lease Purchase programs work.

These 4 general requirements found in most all Lease Purchase contracts are the main reasons those who sign Lease Purchase contracts fail. They are:

1. Little or no deposit required

2. Escrow terms

3. Payment amount and schedule

4. Legally obligated to only operate with the leasing companies FMCSA issued operating authority

We’ll take these on one at a time.

1. Little or no deposit required means it will take you longer to fulfill your Lease Purchase financial obligation and actually payoff and own the truck.

2. Escrow terms are included so the carrier can collect additional payments separate and above the payment amount from the Lease Purchase driver. In theory this Escrow account is for licensing, truck repairs, tires, insurance and a variety of other expenses listed by the leasing company.

3. Payment amount and schedule is the most straight forward section you will find in a Lease Purchase contract. It is simply how much your payments are and when they are due. Your payment amount can be a percentage or a set dollar amount and the schedule can be anything from weekly to bi-weekly or monthly.

4. Legally obligated to only operate with the leasing companies FMCSA issued operating authority gives the one guarantee that everyone should be extremely concerned about. It legally binds you to financially fulfill the Lease Purchase contract before you can operate under someone else’s authority or your own authority.

So what does all that mean? It means that the leasing company (the carrier) holds all the cards and you are at risk of loosing your entire investment. Take the case of Road Runner. When they went bankrupt it was without notice and immediate. All the approximately 1,100 lease purchase drivers were in the nightmare of their lives. First, they didn’t own the truck they were Lease Purchasing the bank did. So the bank repossessed all the trucks. Since Road Runner went bankrupt all their assets (property, bank accounts, etc) were locked up in litigation (court proceeding to determine which creditor would be paid how much from the Road Runner assets) for all the creditors Road Runner owed money to. That meant that all the Escrow payments that were made were also locked up in litigation. OOIDA filed a lawsuit that took about 3 years to settle but did not disclose how much of the escrow accounts would be refunded. None of the Lease Purchase drivers received a refund or partial compensation for their payments made toward the ownership of the truck. Many had made payments for years and should have been compensated accordingly. Unfortunately the legal term “Lease Purchase” means you don’t own it until the final payment is made fulfilling the Lease Purchase contract.

There are other just as alarming reasons to steer clear of Lease Purchase agreements. Since the Leasing company (or the bank they financed it through) has 100% ownership of the truck and you are legally bound to only operate under their authority they can impose one of the oldest tricks in the trucking business on the driver. They can (and many do) “Starve Them Out.” In other words they let you make your payments for 2 or 2 ½ years and then there just isn’t enough loads for you so you can make your payments and you are forced to quit because you are in default with your payments. The the Leasing company gets to start all over with the same truck with the next driver who will sign a Lease Purchase agreement. Another dishonest practice utilized by Leasing companies is all the fees they “forgot” to mention when you signed the Lease Purchase agreement. There are a wide variety of conjured fees such as admin fees, filing fees, HR fees, statement fees, parts warehousing fees, shop fees, parking fees and many more that you couldn’t hardly imagine.

There are more reasons not to enter into a Lease Purchase agreement such as high interest rates, lower priority to dispatch compared to company trucks, higher insurance costs and many more.

The bottom line is that Lease Purchase agreements are the worst possible way to attempt to buy a truck. I have never met anyone who said they successfully bought their truck through a Lease Purchase program. I have met countless who said it was the worst thing they ever did. If you ask someone who is in the middle of a Lease Purchase agreement ask if they have ever finished buying that truck. The answer will be “no.” If the answer is yes then email me the details. I’d love to hear about it and share at least one Lease Purchase success story!

Trucking – Never Been Better!

2007 Peterbilt & Reefer Trailer

There has never been a better time to own a truck and operate your own authority! Most truck owners would strongly disagree with me. Most all of my detractors would cite the high cost of fuel, the ever increasing maintenance costs and most of all the ELD mandate.

Lets start with the biggest obstacle to profitability. The ELD mandate. To be clear, I do NOT support the ELD mandate. However, if you are using an ELD there are a few nominal positives that have came with the FMCSA forced ELD mandate. Since the April 1st date of full enforcement the truck availability has dramatically decreased creating a vacuum of trucks and an increased volume in available freight. This has led to 2 very positive circumstances for truck owners. Rates are significantly increasing and load availability is excellent. So higher margins per mile and less down time between loads.

If high fuel costs are cutting into your profits then I strongly recommend you read my posts “How Does IFTA Work,” “Fuel Surcharge” and “Carrier Rate Agreement or Carrier Contract.” You should never loose profits due to the fluctuation of fuel prices. Likewise and equally important, neither should your customers. If you demonstrate fairness to your customers in your “Carrier Rate Agreement” and utilize a “Fuel Surcharge,” you will earn their respect and enjoy a long term business relationship together.

There is no doubt maintenance costs are on the rise for everyone. You can and should use all available resources to minimize your maintenance costs. Such as installing a quality “Oil By-Pass Filter” on your truck, locate “Junk Yard Truck Parts” and utilize “After Market Truck Parts.” All 3 of these will decrease your maintenance costs and down time while simultaneously increasing your profitability.

Without any doubt at all, the best way to fully maximize the current opportunities in the trucking industry is to own a 1990’s model year truck or older. In doing so your operating costs will be less (lower or no truck payment, lower insurance rates and no DPF or DEF down time / repairs / costs) and you will not be hamstrung with the ELD mandate. You will enjoy operating a higher quality of service and reliability for your customers and they will appreciate you for it. Anyone with a 1990’s or older model year truck will always be more profitable than a model year truck requiring an ELD.

Planning for a Negative Economy

Planing for negative economic swings is a must for all truck owners. There are plenty of warning signs that have been detailed recently by several economists and business publications such as lombardiletter.com, Fortune.com, Bloomberg and Fox Business that indicate our economy is beginning to slow. That means less freight transportation opportunities for non-essential items. Products such as: building materials, boats, RV’s, new vehicles, electronics, plastic products, books, general house hold goods and the list of products that will all be negatively impacted is endless. Avoiding transporting these types of products and choosing a more economy resistant product is your best defense against a slow economy or even a recession or depression.

My view of the best freight to haul is based on my business philosophy. I strongly believe in consistent and reliable cash flow. In trucking that means hauling freight that is the most reliable during both good and bad economic times. Currently the economy is booming and my article “Trucking – Never Been Better” outlines some of the best times I’ve enjoyed in Trucking. However, economies are ever changing and the days of our good economy are certain to end. Preparing now for a negative economy ahead of it’s impact on trucking is your best defense from a financial disaster.

Transporting food, especially refrigerated food, is the most consistent freight to transport that is the least impacted by a bad or down economy. Food is the last product that consumers stop purchasing. As such, choosing a customer that supplies refrigerated food products to the most basic supplier of foods to consumers is the most stable freight you can transport. If you have a choice to haul fresh beef to a grocery store warehouse or to haul fresh Caviar to an exclusive retailer you would be more secure hauling the beef. Beef products are purchased by a much larger customer base and are a staple of virtually every home in the United States and around the world.

Nothing is a guarantee. But it does seem obviously to me that transporting fresh food products that are a staple in almost every home refrigerator in American is the most resistant to economy swings. Thus they are the very best product to haul to enjoy a successful and profitable trucking business.

Make a Business Plan

Get it all in front of you!

Always make a business plan and write the plan yourself, from the first word to the last.

In the early 2000’s I received one of my most valuable business lessons. During a business meeting I had dressed in nice slacks, shirt and tie and was armed with several copies of my formal business plan anticipating to share it with all the individuals attending the meeting. There were a half dozen company representatives attending the meeting. All entered the conference room wearing jeans and casual shirts. They politely took the formal business plan I had prepared. Without even opening the front cover the CEO held up my formal business plan and said to me – “Joel I have learned that these mean nothing. I want to know that you know, what you are doing, what you need and that you know what to do with what you need.” The meeting was very successful and we did use the business plan. However if I had used a general business plan from the Internet that I had not written myself I would have been lost attempting to present it. I encourage everyone, always make a business plan yourself.

Just like going to an interview first impressions matter! Opening statements in a formal business plan are not an autobiography. They are to introduce your knowledge, research and plan to successfully own and operate a trucking business to anyone reading the business plan. No details or personal information (sports, politics, religion, likes, dislikes, opinions, etc.) should be included in an opening statement. Some exceptions may apply such as if you are planning to transport a sports broadcasting trailer your knowledge of sports venue locations and procedures would be significant.

Using your simple or rough draft business plan create an easy to read, professional income, expense and profit expectations report. Your lender will thoroughly dissect and evaluate this section of your formal business plan. Be prepared to answer his/her questions on the spot without hesitation and with confidence. In doing so you will be projecting to your lender everything you have in writing but with all the passion you can’t put on paper. This includes everything from your knowledge, experience, commitment, dedication, hard work ethic and never say die attitude. Since anything can be claimed on paper, what a lender hears in your voice, sees in your eyes and confirms with your body language means more than what is in your formal business plan.

Being prepared for setbacks or disasters (read my personal experience with my first truck in the “EVERYTHING ELSE” category) can be the difference between succeeding or failing. Surprisingly to me this is the one part of planning that the majority of all new truck owners overlook. Have contingency plans! The one thing that is certain is that everyone needs a contingency plan sooner or later. So including it in your formal business plan shows the lender you know and are prepared for the adversity that is part of trucking. There are many ways to establish a financial contingency plan and they are easier than you may expect. Above the borrowed amount for your equipment you can requested a line of credit as part of your formal business plan. That is my preferred plan as it does not include placing any additional assets at risk. However most lenders will require that the line of credit is secured against the truck (if the line of credit does not exceed its value less the borrowed amount), real estate, savings account, personal asset or other personal property. Other options may include intentions to borrow from an IRA, 401K, personal savings account or other such investments.

Once you are able to agree to terms with a willing lender it is time to find your equipment. Above all shop wise. Do not buy the first truck and trailer you see. Have several to compare and choose from before making your purchase.

Choosing insurance has become one of the easiest steps in starting a trucking business. Agents call insurance brokers and insurance brokers get quotes from a multitude of insurance companies such as National Casualty, Great West, Carolina Casualty, Northland and many more. So no matter which insurance agent you choose in most cases they all are receiving the same quotes back from the insurance broker. The one type of insurance I discourage truck owners from using is insurance provided by national trucking organizations or associations. The quotes I have received from these organizations or associations has been dramatically higher. In fact almost double in most cases! That said, you should still ask for a quote if you belong to one of these groups because there is always the possibility that, for you, they are competitive.

Create a Simple Business Model Part-2

Preferred Lane

After reading Create a Simple Business Model (part 1) you’re probably ready to start creating your own business model. Before you start, there is more to learn about a trucking business model.

Surprising to most new truck owners establishing your base rate is not what you will want to include on a contract for a potential new customer. But rather it is a bottom line rate where you are able to maintain an acceptable profit margin. Just as surprising to new truck owners is that your base rate will be different for different lanes, different directions and different seasons.

My best example I like to use comes from my many years of experience hauling perishable meat and produce. During the winter months there is more produce in Arizona than trucks to haul it. Therefor your base rate will be higher during the winter months to haul produce for 2 reasons.

1. Most likely your customers shipping to Arizona know when produce season is because other carriers are calling them attempting to garner their business by offering lower rates.

2. During the summer months your rates to Arizona will also adjust higher compensating for the lower produce or general freight rates.


Produce haulers ideally will attempt to negotiate an all seasons year around rate somewhere between summer and winter rates. That gives them a consistent reliable cash flow they can manage their expenses with. It also gives their customer the added benefit of knowing their transportation costs. This gives the producer customer the ability to more accurately and constantly provide quotes to their customers. Knowing this and using it to your advantage will help you negotiate a quality long term contract both you and the customer appreciate.

To determine your base rate use the chart in chapter 1 to establish your expected expenses. Then divide the total cost of your expenses by the estimated total miles you anticipate operating. That is your base cost. However some customers may through you a curve and you’ll need an answer on the spot. Sometimes customers will say “our rates include the fuel surcharge.” In that instance you will need to know what your base rate is with the current fuel surcharge. I use this formula to establish my base rates.

Base rate without fuel surcharge:

Expenses = E

Estimated Miles = M

Base Rate = B

E ÷ M = B

Base rate with fuel surcharge:

Expenses = E

Estimated miles = M

Base Rate = B

Fuel Surcharge = F


(E ÷ M) + F = B

Using the method described in Carrier Rate Agreement or Carrier Contract calculate your detention pay. We all know that while we are loading and loading most of us do not receive anything additional. Customers will say something like “that’s in the rate” or an all time favorite of mine, “that’s part of your job.” I personally prefer to have an appointment time for pickups and deliveries because that gives me the strongest position to negotiate from. I will tell the customer “I only have a 1 hour window before it costs me money.” Now the negotiations have begun. Typically if the customer is comfortable with 1 hour before detention pay begins they will accept. Many times they will respond with a 2 hour offer before detention pay begins. If the customer is being unwilling I will tell them there is a rate without detention pay however it is much higher. If it is first come first serve it can work for you or against you. Either way, if possible detention pay should still be included in your contract. If the customer is unwilling to take responsibility for any detention pay you may want to re-evaluate if they are a customer you wish to do business with. For example I have been known to charge a rate 3 times higher than my normal rate quote if I am asked to take a load to Kroger in Shelbyville IN. That distribution center is known to not unload produce trucks for 6 hours or more (it happened to me) and in some cases more than 24 hours beyond their scheduled delivery. So taking the time to ensure you are comfortable without detention pay, especially with all the added pressure for compliance from law enforcement and the FMCSA, may well be worth your time.

Labor rates include everything from tarping, hand truck, tailgating, breakdown, pallet jack work, driving a fork lift and much more depending on the industry. Normally your customer will be familiar with labor rates especially if they have cargo requiring labor. Just like with detention pay you will need to negotiate for it and the customer will say the same things as they did for detention pay “it’s included in the rate” or “that’s your job.” Same negotiation skills are required as before. It must be noted that the majority of freight does not require an added labor. In fact I have frequently agreed to a contract with a customer with no labor rates even though I had to do some labor. Why you ask? Because I expected the customer would not want or agree to labor rates so I had it already figured in my base rate before I negotiated the contract. That is part of doing your market and customer research in advance of any negotiations.

Fuel surcharges have been a mainstay in the trucking since the late 1970’s. That was when oil and fuel first had it’s dramatic cost spike. Since then customers have grown to expect and accept fuel surcharges. Occasionally you will still find a rare customer or two that insists that this to is included in the base rate. However they are becoming few and far between. When negotiating a fuel surcharge with a customer who has never agreed to one you should first point out to them what they stand to gain from a fuel surcharge. A fair consistent rate that when fuel costs goes up yes they will increase their shipping costs. But likewise when fuel costs go down it decreases their shipping costs. Not to mention the added value in keeping you operating in the black and providing them with a guaranteed truck to get their product to market instead of relying on brokers or spending time on the phone trying to find a truck themselves. Both can be very powerful positions to negotiate from. Determining the fuel surcharge rate is easier than the negotiations. The industry standard for many years has been that truck owners accept the fuel cost in the base rate up to $1.00 per gallon and the trucks average 5 mpg. Thus each time fuel cost rise $.05 per gallon it costs the truck owner an additional $.01 per mile in fuel. Therefor for every $.05 the national average of fuel increases over $1.00 per gallon your fuel surcharge is an additional $.01 per mile.

When estimating your profit margin be reasonable and realistic. Any loan officer will be able to read through embellishments or exaggerations you may be tempted to use. Your goal when estimating your profit margin is to show any bank, credit union or investor that you have a solid understanding on how to earn a reasonable profit owning a truck and running it as a successful business.

Now it’s time to organize and create your simple or rough draft business plan. I have always been most successful using the philosophy that less is more when creating a business plan. In the simple business plan you are organizing all your customer base, costs, gross income and profit. Since this a rough draft it is the foundation for creating your formal business plan. Learn how to write and Make a Business Plan for trucking in my post Make a Business Plan.