By some measures, 2020 actually looks to be a very challenging year in trucking. Though the economy is growing, the industry is struggling with lower than ideal shipping rates and levels, as well as the ripple effect of tariffs.
Freighting companies are also facing a looming deadline that will require all commercial trucks to be fitted with an electronic logging device. Though ELDs will certainly increase safety for drivers and make it easier to track, manage, and share records of duty status, installing them is going to be expensive.
Add that to driver shortages, increased competition for jobs, manufacturing declines, and trade uncertainty, and you might be wondering why we’d even suggest that truck driving jobs can be lucrative. Well, things appear to be not that bad at all.
Finding a Niche Market
To earn more money as a truck driver, you’ll need to get yourself into a niche market. We’ll go over specific niches in a moment, but first, it’s important to understand that these jobs have greater than average expectations and demands.
Working in a niche market often demands:
• Greater risk
• More liability
• Higher skill level
• Significant experience (5+ years)
• Clean driving record
• Comfort with remote areas
Now, where can you find these profitable trucking jobs?
Companies that own their own fleet of trucks tend to pay their truckers more. The two largest company-owned fleets in the United States belong to AT&T and Verizon, respectively. But many other corporate interests also maintain a fleet, including Coca Cola, Walmart, Staples, Nestle, and Tyson Foods.
Working for a company with a private fleet can earn about $70,000 to $85,000 per year. To qualify, you’ll need a clean driving history. That means no preventable accidents and few if any moving violations. You should also expect to undergo a thorough background check and take regular drug tests.
Ice Road Trucking
Trucking that takes place over the most treacherous terrain in the country pays more because of the danger the drivers take on. If you have nerves of steel, you can earn anywhere between $20,000 and $80,000 for the season, which can range from six weeks to several months.
But remember that ice road trucking doesn’t actually involve roads in the traditional sense. The “roads” are frozen waterways that threaten cut off access to remote yet populated areas. Trucks traverse these icy lanes to deliver all sorts of supplies to mine and oil rig workers in Alaska and Canada.
Expect to battle extreme temperatures, winter storms, poor visibility, and yeah, the ice. Despite the risks, it has actually become quite challenging to secure a job driving the ice roads due to the popularity of the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers.
Another high paid trucking job pairs you with a hazardous load, rather than a hazardous road. Hauling dangerous goods like gasoline or another caustic and explosive liquid is difficult but very profitable.
There can be a learning curve to hauling liquids because they are constantly shifting and redistributing the load. Interestingly, driving a full load of liquid is actually safer than a partial load, because it’s less prone to dangerous sloshing.
You may also be exposed to chemical fumes during the piping off process with this kind of cargo, so extra care must be taken to protect your health.
If you’re looking for a challenge, you might consider looking for a job with a company that specializes in hauling oversized loads. An oversized load is one that exceeds 8.5 feet in either height or width.
If the load exceeds 12 feet, you’ll be required to have an escort or pilot car to ensure safe travel. Specialized permits are also required to transport oversized loads.
The hardest part of navigating with an oversized load is that most thoroughfares aren’t really designed for them. That can mean some creative maneuvering. The other challenge is that you need to travel quite slowly yet remain laser focused the whole time, which can be exhausting.
Specialty Car Haulers
Every car on the road was likely once on a huge specialty car hauler. It’s a job that poses challenges for even the most experienced truck drivers for a few reasons. One is that the cars are exposed to the elements, so the driver must be hyper-vigilant to avoid scratches, scrapes, and weather damage.
Another is that drivers are also typically expected to help load and unload the vehicles. Making sure that the vehicles are properly secured is of utmost importance. Special training is required for this. Drivers take on the risk of unforeseen damage, and cosmetic blemishes upon undocking will result in lost pay.
Team driving can be profitable, but there are pros and cons. Trucking companies like to hire teams because it reduces down time and shortens delivery windows for the shipper. The idea is that with two drivers, one can be resting while the other drives.
However, the required pace can still be exhausting and the drivers often suffer burnout. Pay is based on miles, so there is pressure to keep going at all costs. But when bad weather, loading delays, and heavy traffic inevitably come up, your compensation can be threatened.
Of course, the personalities of each team member also affect how successful a driving them can be. Husband and wife teams often do well because they are used to living in close quarters and aren’t feeling as much pressure in terms of being away from home.
The trucking industry is changing, and some drivers will be feeling the pinch in 2020. But if you are willing to step into a specialized niche, the rewards can be great. Niche jobs are best for people who already have significant driving experience and who have maintained a clean driving record.
Moving into one of these challenging positions is an excellent way for a seasoned pro to adapt to the changing market and keep taking down those miles.