Since the start of my career in the trucking industry, I have heard this question more times than I can count. As I have been lucky enough to make so many truck driver friends many have come to trust my advice and judgement on issues in their lives and careers.
This question has likely crossed the mind of every truck driver at some point and that is, Should you become an owner operator or company truck driver? Which is better? Which would suit my lifestyle more?
To help you ease your decision-making, I'd like to discuss some of the perks and disadvantages of each truck driver type. I'll go into detail in the rest of the article. But if you’re in a hurry, or you make better decisions when you have visuals to help you, here’s a this table will help you decide if becoming an owner operator or company driver is more suited to your lifestyle.
The average income of a company driver is about $200,000.
The average income of a company driver is about $55,000.
The responsibilities on the shoulders of owner-operators are numerous. Common owner-operator expenses include truck/trailer lease/purchase, insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc.
The company driver goes home with most of their income intact.
Being the owners of the business, owner-operators can always take time off when they want.
The company driver is subject to the schedule of the employing company.
The owner operator has to build a network, keep tabs on load boards, and sometimes lobby before they get loads to haul.
The company handles this part.
Ease of Starting
An owner-operator business is relatively expensive to start. The owner has to purchase/lease trucks, trailers, and other necessary equipment.
Being a company driver is relatively cheap. The company provides most of the tools the driver needs.
It is often better to start out as a truck driver before you add the responsibility of handling a business to your table.
You can be a company driver with little or no experience.
Now to the details:
Owner Operator Benefits
Of all the things that attract truck drivers to being owner-operators, the net earnings is one of the most popular. The owner-operator can earn as much as $200,000 per annum. And this earning range is very flexible because you as the owner-operator get to decide how much you earn by determining what loads to haul or how long you want to spend on the road.
The flexible schedule that owner-operators have is another huge advantage. As an owner operator, you own your business, and you can decide to take the day off when it pleases you. At the same time, you can decide to work for as long and as much as you want to. You even get to decide what loads to haul in your truck. This flexibility is often one of the things the company drivers envy most about owner-operators.
Your truck, your rules. On trips when you feel the need for a companion, you can bring anyone along with you. It could be your loved one or even your pet. No company gets to decide who you travel with.
The truck driver shortage works out in your favor, as trucking companies need more truck drivers to help them keep their supply chain open and less congested. As an owner-operator, you go with your truck, determine your pay, and still decide what loads you want to haul.
Owner Operator Disbenefits
One of the biggest disadvantages of being an owner-operator is that you bear the responsibilities of running the company on your shoulders. You’re not only a truck driver anymore but also an entrepreneur. This means all the expenses concerning your business are deducted from your earnings.
Some of these expenses include maintenance, insurance, truck purchase, fuel costs, health insurance, taxes and many more. After all these expenses are deducted, an owner-operator may end up earning just as little as the company driver.
There’s no company to offer you benefits. Whatever benefits you want to enjoy, you would have to pay for them in full yourself.
While you can truly decide to work when you want, you might find yourself spending your time off the road doing paperwork or taking your truck out for servicing.
A company driver has no care for how the company gets its loads. All they do is to deliver what the company asks them to. Owner-operators, on the other hand, have to source for hauls themselves. In addition, they have to get shippers who are willing to pay them their worth.
Starting as an owner-operator is relatively expensive. The reason for this is that you need to secure a truck (by lease or purchase), take care of taxes, insurance, and maintenance fees.
Company Driver Benefits
Your paycheck is yours to spend as you like. Unlike owner-operators who often have to put their income back into running the business, company drivers keep all of their income. The company handles every other expense, such as truck maintenance, insurance, and many more.
Your off time is yours. While owner-operators often end up spending their off time catching up on paperwork and ensuring the business is in order, the company driver is completely off duty when they are. Someone else in the company handles the paperwork.
As a company driver, it is relatively easier to start and quit your job. This can come in handy when you only want to test the waters as a truck driver. Your company employs you after it has found out you are competent enough to drive its truck, then they provide you with everything else you need, including the truck, maintenance, sleeper cab appliances, and many others. And when it comes to quitting, all you need to do is to submit a letter.
Owner-operators, on the other hand, don’t have it that easy, as they are starting or closing up a business.
Trucking companies often offer benefits to employees (company drivers). Some of these benefits may include paid vacation, health insurance, 401k, etc.
In addition to having all your income to yourself alone, you’re also entitled to a steady income as a company driver.
Company Driver Disbenefits
You’re subject to Company rules. As a company driver, you are subject to the rules of your employer. If your trucking company has a rule against traveling with your pets, you would have to abide. If there are rules concerning what you can or can’t do in the cab of your truck, you have no other choice but to obey. This means driving whatever truck the company assigns to you, regardless of whether you’re comfortable in it or not.
Whenever you’re on duty, you may be overworked. This is because the trucking company may want to squeeze every bit of value out of you, forcing them to keep you on the road for as long as the law permits them. Apart from being overworked, it could also translate to you seeing your loved ones left.
Quite often, a company driver earns less than their owner-operator counterpart. But how much you earn as a company driver depends on the trucking company you work for. Before you go ahead envying the owner-operator, though, know that you don’t handle truck and business expenses from your income. The owner-operator has to.
Other Factors To Consider When Choosing Between An Owner Operator And A Company Driver
While the pros and cons up there may make your choice easier to make, we admit they aren’t enough to make the smartest decision concerning whether to be an owner-operator or a company driver.
Other factors to consider when choosing between an owner-operator and a company driver include the following:
Although both can be taxing on your health, emergencies are better handled by companies than by owner-operators.
For instance, an owner-operator who develops an emergency health condition may have no one to continue the business for them. Their health is directly tied to their income. And because they can’t get out to work, they don’t earn anything. Only owner-operators that have a network of drivers can escape this.
Company drivers, on the other hand, have the company to rely on. In some instances, the company still foots the hospital bills of their employees.
Your Financial Goals
Your financial goals can also help you determine where you end up. As a company truck driver, you start earning from the first day. But as an owner-operator, it may take some time after starting up your business before you become profitable. And when you eventually become profitable it might still take some more time before you are able to establish a regular income base.
So, if you can’t fit a lot of room for patience into your financial plans, maybe a company driver is what you should do.
Relationship with your family
We’re not even going to get into how complicated family matters can get. That’s way outside the scope of this topic. But we can definitely tell you that as a company driver, you may be expected to spend a lot of time on the road and away from your family. An owner-operator, on the other hand, has more control over their time. Do with this information what best suits your family scenario.
Are you a business person?
Being a truck driver is one thing. Being a business owner is another thing entirely. While both truck driver types allow you to be a truck driver, being an owner-operator also means being a business owner. So if you enjoy running a business but your heart still longs for the road, then you should try being an owner-operator.
Everything we’ve mentioned here should help you to decide whether to be a company truck driver or an owner-operator. Whatever your decision is, we trust that you’ll make the best decision for yourself.