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Truck Driving Jobs by Driver Type and Trailer/Equipment Type


When it comes to the trucking industry, there is no such thing as “a driver fits all.” Truck drivers come in several varieties, or “types,” based on their working arrangements. Driver Types refer to employment situations of the driver, and each Driver Type comes with its own training requirements, personal commitments and responsibilities, lifestyle, long term career opportunities and working environment. The most common Truck Driver Types include Company Drivers, Owner Operators (or Independent Contractors), Lease-Purchase and Team Drivers.

Company Drivers
Company Drivers are drivers that 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 (Carrier Drivers), or (2) drivers working for companies that carry its own freight to support its own company’s product or service.

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.

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Owner Operators
At its most basic level, an owner operator (OO), or an independent contractor, 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 owner operator 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 owner operator is a “free and clear” small business owner. Likewise, those searching for freight shipment often prefer to deal with owner operators and will pay more when the opportunity is exists. The availability of owner operators 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 owner operator, 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.

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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 paid by the driver against the purchase price of truck until the full original value of the truck is paid off, at which time the driver assumes ownership of the truck.

Lease-Purchase drivers 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.

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Team Drivers
Team drivers are drivers 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.

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Whatever type of driver you are or plan to become, there’s one thing you’ll have in common with every other CDL holder on the road — you’ll be hauling some sort of cargo, whether it’s dry goods, refrigerated goods, gasoline, or livestock. And depending on the type of freight you’re hauling, you will need to learn to handle not only your truck and your freight, but the trailer you are pulling as well.

Like there is no “driver is a driver is a driver,” the same can be said for trailers or any other piece of equipment used to transport freight. Different types of materials require different types of trailers, and each type of trailer offers drivers its own challenges. If you spend a career as a driver, you’ll likely find yourself hauling more than one trailer type over the years; in fact, you may wind up hauling all of them. The most common Truck Trailer or Equipment types are discussed below.
For more information on the different types of trailers, equipment and hauling types, watch this video.

Automobile Hauling
Depending on the number of vehicles be carried, automobile hauling equipment may include a flatbed trailer or, more often, an open trailer with two “stacked decks” capable of hauling a dozen or more vehicles. After the lower deck of vehicles is unloaded by driving them down a ramp (a part of the trailer), the top deck is most often lowered using hydraulics until its ramps a capable of connecting the lower ramps so the remaining vehicles can be unloaded.

Dry Van
Dry vans are likely the most basic type of trailer in the industry and the type beginning drivers are likely haul upon gaining their first jobs. A dry van is normally a 53-foot box-like trailers loaded with non-perishable good (think of the historical term of “dry goods store,” and the type of products they sold).

Flatbed trailers are essentially exactly what the name implies — a base of steel or similar material mounted on a frame with axles and wheels. Flat beds often haul oversized load that cannot fit in an enclosed trailer.

Heavy Haul
In some ways, heavy-haul equipment is similar to a flatbed trailer hauling an oversize load. But that is just about where the similarities end. Heavy-haul trailers are designed specifically to haul items like large construction equipment and energy-generating windmill blades. Several types of specialized trailer equipment are used to carry these heavy loads, or “super loads,” as they are often called.

Household Goods
When referring to household goods hauling, the term is not necessarily another way of describing “dry van” hauling, although the two have much in common. But “household goods” are those carried in “moving vans” or “moving trailers,” equipment often rented or contracted for people relocating substantial distances from their previous homes. For the purposes of this description, “household goods hauling” refers to the use of tractor-trailer combinations in moving personal belongings from one location to another.

Intermodal hauling is normally applied to drivers hauling cargo that will reach its destination using more than one type of transportation method. While some consider truck routes covering interstates and city streets to be intermodal, the term is more often used when trucks carry cargo to and from clients for just a portion of the cargo’s journey. Railways, shipping along rivers or coastlines, overseas shipping using cargo ships, and shipping via airline may make up other portions of the cargo’s route from supplier to its end destination.

As the name implies, livestock truck drivers are those who pull trailers of live animals between locations. Livestock can include cattle, goats, chicken, or other farm animals — even chickens. Also, some drivers working for fish farms or state game and fish agencies may haul tanks of fish, also a form of livestock, to stock lakes or ponds where the fish are catchable or grow into a marketable size and weight.

Reefer or Refrigerated
Refrigerated trailers are those most often hauling food products that must be kept at low temperatures to prevent perishing. Drivers of reefers may operation within a region, or they may travel cross-country routes in performing their jobs. Driving a reefer, as opposed to a dry van, requires additional skills and responsibilities. Monitoring temperatures within the trailer is a vital task of reefer drivers, as if they vary from a specific range as determined by the product carried.

Tanker/Fuel Transporter
Tanker equipment is designed for hauling various types of liquids and gases ranging from water to gasoline to hydrogen or other chemicals. Tankers include trailer used exclusively for the purpose of hauling liquids and flatbed trailers with tanks secured to the trailer.

Expedited driving can refer to the delivery of products within a tight time frame or the delivery of a specific type of freight bound for a single destination.

Bulk Cargo
Bulk Cargo is a specific commodity hauled using various types of trailers and is delivered to a customer for use in a specific industry. In other cases, the bulk cargo is hauled from a producer to market. Bulk cargo includes grain, soybeans, corn, and other agriculture products; various liquids; coal, propane, gasoline, and other fuels; wood products like pulp wood and mulch; construction products such as sand and gravel; and recyclable materials.

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