Professional Truck Driver Types

When it comes to the trucking industry, anyone with experience knows there is no such thing as “a driver is a driver is a driver.” Truck drivers come in several varieties, or “types,” based on their working arrangements. To be clear, driver types are not the same as equipment types being driven or hauled. Driver types refer to employment situations. Many employment situations exist, and the information in this Driver Type section should provide you some insight into how and which of the situations and driver types may meet your expected lifestyle, work into your long-term career plans, and provide the working environment you might seek.

Different types of drivers will encounter different issues throughout their careers that run the gamut of trucking industry functions. From training and methods of become a particular type of driver to business/accounting/taxation knowledge, and personal characteristics that best suit varied personalities, you’ll likely find that driver types fit all shapes and sizes and, with effort, a driver with set goals can work under their preferred conditions.

What is a Company Driver?

Company Drivers are employed by specific companies that maintain its own fleet of trucks. Company Drivers are can be separated and discussed into 2 categories: (1) drivers working for trucking carriers that exist for the sole purpose of transporting freight of others (referred to below as Carrier Drivers), or (2) drivers working for companies that carry its own freight to support its own company’s product or service (referred to below as Company Drivers).

What is a Carrier Company Driver?

Carrier drivers are those employed by companies that exist for the sole purpose of transporting freight. Carrier drivers shouldn’t be confused with company drivers who, for the purposes of this reference source, can be defined as drivers working for a specific company for whom truck driving is a support role in helping the company achieve its primary mission.

In 2019, approximately 900,000 carriers conducted business in the U.S. These carriers ranged from a small business owner employing a couple of drivers to carrier with a fleet of thousands of trucks and drivers. The carriers can also include those falling in the “owner operator” category if managed as a distinct business (partnership, limited liability company, sole proprietor, etc.).

What is the difference between a “power only” carrier versus a “full service” carrier?

Some carriers are “power only,” meaning they own the trucks and supply the drivers but rely on those with whom they contract to provide trailers appropriate for the cargo being shipped. Others are full-service carriers, owning trucks and likely more trailers and provided terminal to terminal or similar freight services.

What are some pathways to securing a driving job with a carrier company?

Carrier drivers are in high demand, particularly among large carriers — perhaps those making up the top 100 or so in the United States in terms of fleet size and numbers of employees on staff. If you are interested in truck driving job for a carrier, you likely already know many of those based simply on the number of trucks you encounter on the highways. J.B. Hunt, C.R. England, Knight Transportation, Swift, Roadway, and PAM are all examples of well-known truck freight carriers.

Carriers searching for drivers normally employ recruiters, recruiting publications and websites (such as TheTrucker.com), and advertise on an ongoing basis for new drivers. The “new” drivers may be those just entering the occupation and in need of training or a period of driver under the supervision of a CDL holder, or they may be seasoned veterans of the highways who carriers are attempting to lure from their current employers.

Typical places you’ll find advertisements or solicitations encouraging drivers to contact a carriers’ recruiting department include billboards, especially in cities, near large truck stops and travel centers, and close to carrier terminals or distribution sites. You’ll also find carrier job advertisements in many of the industry’s professional publications and magazines including The Trucker Media Group’s national recruiting publications, The Trucker newspaper and www.TheTrucker.com/Jobs.

Is there an up-front financial investment required to become a Carrier Driver?

No, or at least not as a requirement of working for the carrier. If you find a carrier that does require a financial commitment on your part, run — do not walk — to the nearest exit.

Of course, all drivers will have some financial investment in CDL training and testing, but depending on the carrier who signs you, your expenses may be covered in return for your commitment to work for the carrier for a certain time period. And some carriers have in-house training programs that will pay you as you learn. You owe nothing, again provided you fulfill your commitment to work with the carrier. As far as carrier-paid training is concerned, understand you and the carrier are entering a contractual agreement. If you fail to hold up your end of the deal, you may owe thousands for training fees that never benefitted your carrier.

What are some personal characteristics needed to be a carrier driver?

In addition to the personal characteristics someone needs to be a good truck driver in general, there are unique aspects of being a carrier driver. Even though you may work for a carrier, and despite the fact most carriers constantly communicate with drivers via mobile phones, radios, or in-cab messaging systems, you need to remember you are a truck driver, and your boss may be hundreds or thousands of miles from you at any given time. It is important to remember that you are representing your company every time a vehicle passes on the highway or whenever you stop.

Keeping a happy, helpful demeanor is a personal trait that will serve you well with both the general public and customers. Likewise, reliability, honesty, integrity, and self-motivation is necessary. You won’t have anyone looking over your shoulder or directing your every move. No one will tell you when to get out of bed in the morning or when to take a break or stop driving for the day (except the FMCSA, of course!).

If you choose to exaggerate or leave important information out of written records or during communications with your dispatcher, you will have to live with your conscience first and continuously thereafter. If your employer finds out you lack integrity in any area of carrier operations, you’ll probably be looking at TheTrucker.com/Jobs soon thereafter as you start your new job search.

How much money can I earn as a Carrier Driver?

Pay rates fluctuate on a regular basis, so it is difficult to pin down an exact range of income a carrier driver might earn in a given year. In-mid 2020, however, carriers earned, on average, $33,827 – $69,312 per year. The average salary for a carrier driver was $41,038. Remember many factors are considered in determining your earnings, so what you might expect today could be very different next week. It is a good idea to keep an eye on various websites tracking actual wages as reported by driver. These sites frequently offer information on various types of drivers as well, and they are updated monthly, weekly, or in real time.

Click Here to find current wage information for average heavy / tractor-trailer professional truck drivers.

What pay structures apply to Carrier Drivers?

An overwhelming majority of carrier drivers are paid on a “per mile” basis, although some may be salaried. Drivers paid per mile almost always earn far more than salaried drivers. To see pay structures used to pay professional drivers, Click Here.

What is a (non-freight carrier) Company Driver?

Non-freight Carrier Company Drivers as a subgroup are distinguished from Carrier Company Drivers in that they drive for employers having a non-freight distribution purpose. In other words, these Company Drivers work for large companies that may employ their own fleets of trucks to meet the distribution needs in support of the companies’ actual mission. Examples include Wal-Mart, Dollar General, Tyson Foods, McDonald’s, and similar companies. While all of these businesses have distribution needs, the sheer size and reach of the businesses make employing their own fleets and drivers less costly than contracting with a carrier. Most often, company drivers do the same type of work and follow the same rules and regulations as carrier drivers. And like carrier drivers, they drive trucks and haul trailers with graphics advertising the companies they work for. They are representatives of a company that end-customers see only on occasion.

What are some pathways to getting a Company Driver job?

Company driver jobs are likely not advertised as aggressively as jobs with carriers, but that by no means implies companies are not in search of drivers on a regular basis. Most of the companies directly employing truck drivers are well-known brands or company names. Driver positions are also frequently advertised on recruiting magazines and websites, including The Trucker Media Group’s national recruiting publications, The Trucker newspaper and www.TheTrucker.com/Jobs. Jobs may be of national, regional, or local scope.

Advertising for company drivers is not as widespread as for carrier company drivers because fewer jobs are available, businesses employing drivers often provide perks and lifestyle choices carriers cannot afford to offer, and the pay structures may appeal to a driver personality much different than those attracting drivers to carriers.

Is there an up-front financial investment required to become a Company Driver?

With even greater emphasis than that placed on carrier drivers, the answer is, “No.” Once again, if you find yourself talking to a company recruiter about a driving job, you should exit the premises if a financial investment on your part is mentioned. To the contrary, you should be expecting to hear what the company offers its drivers in terms of wages, pay options, bonuses, and perks that come with working for the company.

What personal characteristics are needed by a Company Driver?

In addition to the personal characteristics someone needs to be a good truck driver in general, company drivers should possess personal characteristics similar to those listed for carrier drivers. Keeping a happy, helpful demeanor is a personal trait that will serve you well with both the general public and customers. Likewise, reliability, honesty, integrity, and self-motivation is necessary. And as with carrier drivers, among the most important tasks aside from driving for company drivers is that they must realize that they are representatives of a company with thousands of workers in the US and internationally. A customer, consumer, or anyone else who has a negative experience with a driver will recall that experience whenever the company’s name is mentioned or its logo is seen. Remember, company drivers are in support roles. If someone is to have a disagreement with a company or its employees, it should be related to front line operations, not to those working behind the scenes

How much money can I earn as a Company Driver?

As with carrier drivers, pay rates fluctuate for company drivers as well; however, they are likely more stable than those paid by carriers. In-mid 2020, however, company drivers earning were lumped with those of carrier drivers, meaning wages ranged from $33,827 – $69,312 per year.

Click Here to find current wage information for average heavy / tractor-trailer professional truck drivers.

What pay structures apply to Company Drivers?

Company drivers are typically paid as W-2 employees, and expenses related to equipment are borne by the company, the drivers’ employer. Company drivers are more likely than carrier drivers to be paid a salary, hourly wage, or by the specific route driven. This often results in lower earnings for company drivers. On the other hand, company drivers are likely to have more home time, earn steady pay, and may be eligible for overtime. To see pay structures used to pay professional drivers, Click Here.

What is a Lease-Purchase Driver?

Lease-Purchase drivers (LPDs) are drivers who often have experience driving for a carrier or company but are interested in taking a step toward greater independence and eventually taking outright ownership of their equipment. Lease-Purchase drivers have more control over work hours, jobs accepted, and routes driven than carrier or company drivers, but not as much control as Owner Operators.

What are some pathways to getting a Lease-Purchase driver job?

Many carriers, some companies with in-house fleets, and more frequently, small businesses work with Lease-Purchase drivers.

Carriers frequently offer lease purchase options to drivers. Under a lease-purchase arrangement, the carrier likely owns the truck but enters into an agreement with the driver in which the truck is leased to the driver for a fixed or variable fee (as specified in the least agreement). The driver pays the leasing fee on a weekly or monthly basis, a portion of which goes to pay down the “principal” and a portion goes to an agreed upon interest rate. If the driver remains with the lease long enough, the full original value of the truck will be paid off, and the driver assumes ownership of the truck.

Sometimes, balloon payments are required in addition to the contractual agreement. Balloon payments are written into the contract in a manner that requires a single payment when, for instance, 80% of the truck’s original cost is paid.

A driver exploring lease-purchase arrangement should research various carriers or company-specific information. Compare the pros and cons of each, look closely at those that appear to best match your level of acceptable risk, your abilities to operate a business, your forecasted expenses, and your lifestyle.

Keep in mind that most lease-purchase agreements allow the driver to walk away at any time (although all contracts and agreements should be closely reviewed to confirm these terms). The company, due to payments and interests exceeding depreciation, is left with a serviceable truck in its fleet, and the driver has no further contractual obligation, although all contracts and agreements should be closely reviewed to ensure there are no hidden costs.

Is there an up-front financial investment required to become a Lease-Purchase driver?

Yes. A lease-purchase agreement on a Class 8 truck likely has few differences from a similar agreement for a farm implement, specialized equipment to complete a task. Lease-purchase drivers may not have the same up-front expenses of a driver like an owner operator who might have to pay a substantial down payment, if not purchase a truck outright, but a lease-purchase arrangement is not without costs.

If a lease-purchase driver is required to make a down payment, it is the exception, not the norm. Credit-checks are not typically required as many lease-purchase agreements allow the driver to walk away at any time during the lease because the lease payments normally accrue at a level exceeding depreciation. If a driver does walk away, the company retains ownership of the truck, which is likely worth more than the sum total of the lease payments.

Weekly lease payments will begin shortly after the lease is signed, and operating costs will begin immediately. In some cases, a driver may have saved money to handle such expenses for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually, revenues will have to exceed expenses if the lease-purchase arrangement is to remain viable.

What personal characteristics are needed by a Lease-Purchase driver?

Lease-Purchase drivers will find that a blend of traits needed of carrier or company drivers and Owner Operators will serve them well as they take a step toward self-employment. Most likely, the trucks under a lease-purchase arrangement will come with the logo, color scheme, and markers of its actual owner. If not, the truck will at least be recognizable as the owner’s property with some sort of logo or lettering. This being the case, even though Lease-Purchase drivers are working toward independence, they still represent the carrier with its name on the side of the vehicle. Therefore, keeping a happy, helpful demeanor is a personal trait that will serve you well with both the general public and customers.

In addition to the personal characteristics someone needs to be a good truck driver in general, Lease-Purchase drivers are also faced with the need for business savvy, accounting and bookkeeping knowledge, experience with taxes, and an ability to remain up to date with current and forecast trends in the freight transport industries. Lease-Purchase drivers are required to pay all expenses for operating their trucks, and the expenses can add up to a sizeable amount of money.

How much money can I earn as a Lease-Purchase Driver?

The countless implications related to Lease-Purchase drivers’ knowledge of the industry, experience in reducing expenses, ability to handle small maintenance concerns, and just plain luck impact the annual earnings of Lease-Purchase drivers. These drivers are often paid more per mile than carrier or company drivers working on a W-2 tax basis. But the extra pay per mile is often planned to allow Lease-Purchase drivers the greatest chance to succeed and become owners of their equipment

As noted, Lease-Purchase drivers pay for fuel and expenses including insurance, escrow for major maintenance, registrations, etc. While the gross 1099 payment may exceed that of a carrier driver, overall profit is likely similar to or even lower than a carrier-driver after expenses and taxes are deducted.

Another issue of note for those considering pursuing a Lease-Purchase arrangement is the cost of major mechanical repairs. Most Lease-Purchase drivers don’t enter the profession with a significantly stockpile of cash; if they did, they’d likely purchase a truck outright rather than leasing it. While trucks come with warranties, they can expire quickly, and when they do, we all know what happens — major mechanical failure somewhere between 10 and 1,000 miles after the warranty expires. Some carriers entering into Lease-Purchase agreements use a portion of the lease cost to set up a “maintenance escrow” account for the driver. You can always set up one yourself, and it is highly recommended that you do. But if the cost is included in the lease agreement, it is less difficult to pay and more difficult to access for other purposes. If you are lucky, any funds in your maintenance escrow account will cover that much dreaded major expense by the time your warranty does expire.

Click Here to find current wage information for average heavy / tractor-trailer professional truck drivers.

What pay structures apply to Lease-Purchase drivers?

Lease-Purchase drivers are paid by the mile, although as noted previously, they typically receiving a higher rate of pay per mile as the leasing carrier wants Lease-Purchase drivers to succeed, not to walk away from their leases. To see pay structures used to pay professional drivers, Click Here.

For tax purposes, gross earnings will be reported on an IRS Form 1099. The total amount report should equal the amount received in payments during the years; if it does not, it is in your best interest to find out why. You or the company leasing the truck may have made an error. And if you are in error, there is no better way to learn than making mistakes. After all, should you continue making the same error each year, particularly if it is to your detriment, you may someday discover that you missed on cumulated payments or tax savings representing a substantial sum of money.

Receipt of a 1099 form typically means that the driver is responsible for all estimated quarterly tax payments at the federal, state, and/or local levels. These payments should be sent to the taxing authorities on time to avoid having to pay penalties at year-end. Be sure to include the full amount of payroll taxes when calculating federal taxes and quarterly payments. Typically, the employer splits the payroll taxes with the employee; however, in the case of drivers who are for tax purposes “self-employed” or “independent contracting” the full burden of the payroll tax falls on the driver. After all, you are both employer and employee.

As you start off your Lease-Purchase arrangement, you’ll likely find it difficult to estimate revenues and expenses. This means it will be equally difficult to estimate and pay quarterly taxes. You may get help from fellow drivers with experience calculating revenue, expenses, and taxes, but remember all drivers have different situations. If you follow what another driver does, you’ll surely come up with different results.

With all this in mind, it is highly advisable that you seek outside bookkeeping and tax advice, especially before you gain experience with tax law related to truck drivers. Even then, tax law changes frequently, so to do a good job with your taxes and to avoid underpayment penalties, it’s best to leave the job to a CPA familiar with truck driver tax issues. It’s possible you’ll save more than the accountant’s fees when taxes come due.

What is an Owner Operator?

At its most basic level, an owner operator (OO) is exactly as it sounds — a driver who owns the truck he or she operates as an independent business.

For many truck drivers, becoming an OO means you have reached the pinnacle of the truck driving industry. You own, or have financed, the costs of your own truck in your own name. You decide who you will contract with, when you will contract, where you will drive, and the cargo you are willing to carry.

An OO is a “free and clear” small business owner. Likewise, those searching for freight shipment often prefer to deal with OOs and will pay more when the opportunity is exists. The availability of OOs allows for carriers or company fleets and employees to maintain a certain-size based on average business levels. When the average levels are exceeded, businesses will seek outside services to meet demand. The fact that an OO, by definition, means the truck’s owner and driver are one in the same removes the financial burden of a carrier or company hiring and training extra drivers when demand sinks to normal or below normal levels.

What is the difference between a “power only” owner operator versus a “trailer-owning” owner operator?

“Power Only” owner operators (OOs) are the first sub-type. These are individuals who own one or more trucks but do not own trailers. When working with a Power Only OO, the individual or company contracting the services must provide a trailer the OO will haul. Often, power-only owner operators lease their trucks to a company and operate under the leasing company’s DOT authority.

The second sub-type of OO is one who owns both truck(s) and trailer(s). This type of OO is even more of a true small business owner than a power only operation in that they run on their own authority, broker freight from various companies or work through a third-party broker and have freedom in negotiating the terms of contracts.

One might say that a “trailer-owning” OO can “call the shots” when it comes to contract terms. Of course, dealing with any OO who insists on setting all terms of a contract can become more of a burden on a clients and hassle than convenience. Remember, even as an OO, you still represent something — yourself and your company. If you build a reputation as someone difficult to work with, rest assured word will spread within the industry. Being reasonable and flexible based on a client’s needs is necessary if an OO is to remain in business.

What are some pathways to becoming an Owner Operator?

Perhaps the most successful path to a career as an OO is paying your dues as a carrier, company, and/or Lease-Purchase drivers. Soak in all the knowledge you mind can hold about everything trucking — the industry, the lifestyle, payment arrangements, federal regulations — everything included in this resource and much, much more. All this knowledge will serve you well when you achieve OO status.

If you are particularly lucky, you may be able to find an OO searching for a driving partner. You’ll likely be paid a salary, portion of profits, or per mile wage, and you may not make as much money as you would under other arrangements. But if you team with an OO who knows the trucking industry inside-out, is willing to share that knowledge, and who is someone you get along with, consider a mentor, and can stand living with for long periods on the road, the experience will become invaluable. In fact, serving an “apprenticeship” under an OO may be the best training as you save money to purchase your own truck.

Is there an up-front financial investment required to become an Owner Operator?

Yes, and likely more than any other type of driver. After all, OOs purchase their equipment and supplies. The start-up costs can be staggering, especially if you finance your equipment but don’t qualify for a low interest rate.

OOs, like lease-purchase drivers, are responsible for paying their expenses. But unlike lease-purchase drivers, they will have to do so independently with no assistance or tools a leasing company may offer.

For instance, in lease-purchase arrangements, the owner of the truck may assist the leasing driver in avoiding a lease-ending major mechanical failure by placing a portion of the driver’s lease payment into an escrow account specifically to avoid business failure from a single mechanical failure. An OO may have a similar escrow account; however, it has to be set up and contributed to on a regular basis independent of outside encouragement. The OO must have the business savvy and self-control needed to ensure funds are available for maintenance and repairs when necessary.

What personal characteristics are needed by an Owner Operator?

In addition to the personal characteristics someone needs to be a good truck driver in general, OOs need similar characteristics and knowledge, skills, and abilities as Lease-Purchase drivers; however, the level of an OOs knowledge and ability to operate within the industry and maintain mutually-beneficial relationships with clients must be developed to a level beyond that of any other type of driver. As an OO, you have reached the top of the heap when it comes to truck driving. There are no shortcuts, and through experience, you know how to react in virtually all situations ranging from personal interactions to truck repairs to working with your accountant if you are subject to an audit.

How much money can I earn as an Owner Operator?

In terms of gross revenue, you will make far more than any other type of drivers. The average OO makes $97,000 annually, with a range between $41,000 and $183,000. These figures are after expenses, so it is easy to see than even an early career OO might approach six figures in gross income.

Click Here to find current wage information for average heavy / tractor-trailer professional truck drivers.

What pay structures apply to Owner Operators?

On the one hand, the answer to this question is simple — whatever pay structure you want. But there are realities and customary ways of doing business in all industries, and the trucking industry is not an exception.

OOs have control over payment arrangements as long as they negotiate within the boundaries of the contracting company’s policies. This can offer several options for payment — per mile, per load, by route, flat fee, etc. To see pay structures used to pay professional drivers, Click Here.

The payment arrangement may take other factors into effect including the location (i.e., deliveries along the highly urbanized upper East Coast corridor may be more costly than those requiring driving across the open highways of the Great Plains). Time of year, price of fuel, potential difficulties with regulations related to crossing different states or U.S.-Canada-Mexico borders, and the type of freight being hauled may also impact the terms of a contract.

In essence, an OO is free to take or deny any job. Likewise, some OOs have learned the profits of specialization. Whether it is hauling a specific type of cargo, delivering to specific areas of the country, or driving on an international basis, the more specialized an owner operator can become, the knowledge gained in service specialized or niche markets will often result in high profits, particularly if few other drivers serve the same markets.

What is a Team Driver?

A team driver is a driver operating with a partner who shares driving duties and other tasks with the other partner.

Team drivers allow carriers or company-specific fleet owners to haul freight over large distances in short timeframes. Delivery is much faster than utilizing a single driver, as Hours of Service regulations can be met for one driver while the other is resting. Team drivers often consist of spouses driving together or partners in an owner operator situation. Likewise, an owner operator may hire on another driver for the sole purpose of serving as part of a two-man team.

For more information about what it takes to be a Team Driver, watch this video.

What are some pathways to getting a Team Driver job?

In some cases, a team can be formed by two individuals who may own a truck together or when one works for the other driver. But more frequently team drivers are the result of carrier or company programs that pair up drivers to provide the benefits a team arrangement offers. Of course, these teams must be carefully selected and monitored. People do not get along for a variety of reasons. A team that gets along well, communicates, and has similar goals and expectations of the job is going to be far more efficient and productive than a team that does not like driving together.

Team Driver positions are also advertised in same ways as individual drivers, on recruiting magazines and websites, including The Trucker Media Group’s national recruiting publications, The Trucker newspaper and www.TheTrucker.com/Jobs, and typically specify the job listing is for a Team Driver position.

Is there an up-front financial investment required to become a Team Driver?

Financial investments of team drivers are similar to those in each type of driver listed. Particularly in terms of lease-purchase and owner operator teams, assuming an equal ownership, expenses and revenue will be split. On the other hand, if an owner operator hires on a second driver to improve services, the expenses are likely completely the responsibility of the owner.

What personal characteristics are needed by Team Drivers?

In addition to the personal characteristics someone needs to be a good truck driver in general, the answer to this question as it relates to Team Drivers is as varied as there are teams, but nothing is as important to team driving as the personal relationships built between the partners.

Look to all the driver types listed in this document, consider the characteristics outlined, and add working day-in and day-out with a partner to equation. You’ll likely recognize that a team driving arrangement complicates and trumps any other issue you may run into in terms of personal characteristics. If you and your partner are not a good match, notify your supervisor, or get out of the situation. There does not need to be hostility between team members for productivity to suffer. Chances are, both you and your partner will agree when a relationship is not working. Approach management as a team that agrees a change of teammates is necessary.

How much money can I earn as a Team Driver?

It’s difficult to pin down a salary range for team drivers as payment will differ between carriers and companies. Some may see a team driver arrangement as “2 for 1,” while other will recognize it as a productivity and profit-boosting arrangement.

Team drivers are in demand for their ability to make fast deliveries, sometimes referred to as “expedited” deliveries. For this same reason, they demand high pay, and if working for a carrier or company, can seek the largest sign-on bonuses. Companies have difficulty recruiting team drivers as a result of high demand and payment competition.

Likewise, it’s difficult for two drivers to simply be put in a cab and expected to live with each other for long periods of time on the road. The “team” in team drivers is vital to success. When the rare match is made and the perfect team is on the highway, a team driving situation can be lucrative for companies and drivers.

Click Here to find current wage information for average heavy / tractor-trailer professional truck drivers.

What pay structures apply to Team Drivers?

Payment arrangements for team drivers are often the same or similar to the arrangements carriers or companies have with independent drivers. The rate may be higher, but a per mile rate is typically followed for employee-drivers and possibly for lease-purchase drivers. Owner operator rates are likely to take into account the same provisions as single owner operator with increased payments provided for the more efficient service. Again, team driver situations can be extremely lucrative provided the team acts as one and meets or exceeds standards. To see pay structures used to pay professional drivers, Click Here.