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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Before You Go Into Trucking as a Career.....

People often go into the trucking career, driving big rigs both locally and across the country, for various reasons of their own. You may be one of those people looking into the opportunity, but firstly, ask yourself a  question: How much do I really know about the process and what it involves before I go committing myself? Or you could ask: What are they, the schools and trucking companies involved, NOT telling me?

What I would like to do right here is inform you from the inside before you go making a major commitment of your life. You’ll thank me - believe it. Let me just give you a taste of what you are told about trucking versus what the truth is that you will find. I have nothing to sell you, so don’t take a sideways glance at this information. I’m going to be straight with you as we lift the cover of advertising and by-pass the “I’m sorry that’s our policy” philosophies of trucking employees.

As an example, one of the things you are told about trucking, driving for a company, is that you will be paid per mile, and they quote all sorts of prices like “25 cents a mile” and upward. Which sounds nice until you discover that the pay is actually between zip codes. So let’s say for instance, you drive 2000 miles at .25 cents a mile, that would give you around $500 bucks for one trip. Do this twice a week and you have $1,000 a week. However, the miles themselves are only counted from zip code to zip code. What this means is that you might drive a few miles into the local area code to make a delivery, and you won’t receive a penny for those miles. The industry knows it’s a rip off, but they all do it, and they are not going to change. That is the sort of thing I’ll talk about here, so if you are interested, have a look further, and I’ll talk more about those things you aren’t paid for while you are working.

So, let’s say you want to go to a school to pick up training for a new career in trucking. Going on Youtube can be helpful as there are many schools that post classes about what you will learn in such schools. Just keep in mind that schools are often NOT like a college campus or the inside of a college classroom as you might see in those videos. They can be nothing more than a group of small, linked together trailers, like those you would see in a trailer park, where almost 50 students are crammed into one area with only tables and chairs. For some reason, despite the large number of students who go through trucking schools, the schools themselves can be rather “thread bare”.

This may make no difference to you as your own life situation has you on the skids, or you are over 50 yrs old and finding it hard to get work, but if you are used to a bit more physical comfort when attending school, then you might find yourself a bit put off. Are they just too upside down on their own costs of operating? Hard to say, but just remember that when they promise you a free breakfast and lunch while attending school, the breakfast can be a donut and coffee. The lunch is a small cold sandwich and a bag of chips with water. It’s difficult for me to say just why this situation exists, but you need to know it before you go into school thinking you will be taken care of while you are there.

The hotels offered during your stay can leave much to be desired. They aren’t the Marriott, they are more like the no-tell motel. They will offer a free breakfast that can be a tasteless buffet which is often cold. I do suppose that this is better than a donut and coffee - oh and by the way, that is a small 8 oz coffee which they only offer once, and with that box of donuts they order you can only have one donut to get your 6am or earlier start on a new day of trucking training.

Bring money. You simply can’t go to a trucking school with 20 bucks in your pocket. This is true even if you are being offered accommodations in the trucking terminal or a local hotel. You will be spending money over the long haul and if you run out too soon it could bring major problems. For instance, let’s say you are going out of state to a trucking school that takes two or three weeks of daily classes. You may have to stop taking your classes for several reasons and this will put you in school for much longer. In fact, with complications, school can go from two weeks to six weeks over night.

Do you have a class C license in your home state? You’ll have to stop school and go and get a class C in the school’s home state before you can ever get a class A in that state. Familiar with the DMV? You will live there. This could add many weeks onto your stay at the hotel or the terminal. Got enough money for that? Remember, you’ll have to quit your job to attend school.

Do you have a medical problem? Some folks go through the whole routine only to be turned away for diabetes, poor hearing, or even unpaid parking tickets. You’ll have to stop school, go back home, and pay those tickets. Got bus fare? You might need it for multiple trips.

There are many other reasons. If you are overweight, you’ll have to submit to sleep apnea testing in some cases, and the results will send you home - penniless and jobless. Trucking companies know how difficult this all is and they will want to put you under contract. (The contract does eventually end within a year, but you are committed until then) You’ll have to pay them for room and board and any school time you spend with them if you just up and quit after signing up.

Surprisingly, there are MANY very heavy people who go into trucking. Some of them are 300 to 400 pounds and it is surprising how they even manage to pass a physical. However, a lot of them do, but sadly, once a trucker is on the road, there are fewer and fewer of over weight people to run into on the road. The life is a hard one, and being overweight can make it just too much for most to handle. Personally, I would not suggest that an overweight person go into this career and drop their whole lives just to discover that their body will not allow them to perform correctly. It can be very physically demanding - don’t take that statement lightly.

Hey, here’s something you might not consider: beer. You like beer? Whiskey? Trucking companies have a no tolerance policy for drinking. They can call you at any time to go and take a DOT (Department of transportation) exam and if you have alcohol in your blood stream, you are fired. You can’t drink at all, unless you are on home time. Marijuana stays with you for weeks. Consider that. Mary Jane? You’re fired. No more school for you either, and the medical tests happen in the first three days. Need a second medical test done? That’s 100 bucks or more out of your own pocket.

Speaking of being fired, if you are driving your own car and get a ticket, ANY ticket. You can be fired. You’re not even driving the truck. Recruiters are there to bring you into the company, not to help turn you away, and those contracts that they get you involved with ensure the back side of the recruitment job, at least for a time. They won’t tell you everything. They lie like rugs. Remember that.

When you’re in the school you’ll have to learn several new cache’s of information. There are repeated tests on subjects like parts of the truck engine, parts of the truck and trailer and the resulting caution you must take to ensure that everything is as it is supposed to be. When it comes to certain DOT (Department of Transportation) requirements, these items can get you shut down and not earning any money if you are stopped while driving and are proven to have violations. Too many of those DOT violations and you’ll be called in on the carpet. Dealing with the DOT is serious business, they don’t play games.

You’ll also need to know how brakes work and the six individual brake tests you must perform for the teachers, and possibly for the DMV. This depends a lot of who is doing the testing, the school or the DMV. DMV testing can be ridiculously tedious, so it is better to have teachers in the school perform this test, however, you may have no choice.

Another note on the DMV, and medical issues. DMV may require a separate doctor to sign a certain part of your medical test in addition to your school’s medical exam. This means your doctor may be out of state in your home town, or maybe you don’t have medical insurance anymore because you quit your job to go to school. Well, you might feel good about Obama-care being available to you, but what you don’t know is that those appointments can set you back six weeks. Got money to wait six weeks? Got bills to pay?

That’s the government for you. Can you get your own doctor’s appointment, if you have insurance, for over night? Probably not, probably only within two to three weeks. So much for your two weeks of school. Hope you have enough money to live on. And a local mail box, because the government likes to send you a letter in the mail telling you when your appointment will be. Are you back home to receive it? There goes more money for renting a local mail box.

The school I am familiar with had students learning to drive in the second week. Maybe you have driven a gear shift before, in a car or similar vehicle. The ten gear and eight gear 18 wheeler can be a mighty challenge. It can be like learning to drive all over again. Some people adapt quickly, but most do not. Trucks you drive at the school have been around for forty years and they have the untrained student scars to prove it. Keep in mind that if you have trouble driving a manual transmission, that you’ll be doing it for about 9 or 10 or 11 hours a day if you make it all the way to being hired.

That’s right, truckers who drive alone must drive about 10 to 11 hours a day, and then they have to sit and rest somewhere for ten hours before they can drive again. Team drivers can be driving for 9, 10 or 11 hours on one shift. If you have a night time shift, you’ll have to deal with fighting driving fatigue and sleep. When driving a truck, all you’ll do in life is drive, sleep, drive, sleep. There is no such thing as driving two hours and then letting the co-driver drive for two hours. So on and so on. When he’s driving, you need to be sleeping, and visa versa.

Have a nice night sleeping in the middle of the day while your co-driver drops and locks trailers, stops and starts the brakes, has his own lunch and parks in noisy areas. When the load is not a long one, you’ll cat nap for most of the trip because there is always something to assist with in the middle of the night (your day) when putting the truck into a tight spot or pre-tripping for continued travel. The person in the sleeper always loses sleep time, and yet you need to be up and alert when you are driving so that you don’t kill someone.

Manual transmissions take a lot of purposeful concentration for a time before the movements become second nature. This can wear you out fast, especially when you consider how you could easily kill another human being simply because you had a brain fade moment at the wheel due to your having to hold total concentration in order to shift over and over as you drive. And it has happened. (You could also fall asleep.)

So you’ll probably need chemicals. Do you like chemicals? Like having to get your body to be in a certain condition everyday for the job at hand? (not necessarily true for everyone) Some 5 hour energy caffeine shots work very well, and then to get to sleep you’ll need something un-habit forming (schools don’t recommend this, but you’ll need it), especially if you are having to drive teams and you’re trying to sleep in a sleeper compartment while a truck is moving. If you have never felt a full bladder in your lower gut responding to the vibrations caused by a truck as it is in motion, especially when you are trying to sleep, well you haven’t lived. Just imagine a bag of water on your car hood while you rev the engine. (And I have yet to mention the task of brushing your teeth on the highway at dawn) Something called a “piss bottle” will become common place.

Because of the way the business works, it can be difficult to get any exercise. Despite how rigorous the work can be, and it gets quite physical at times. Some people manage a little workout time with small dumbbells in the cab, or maybe you can go for a walk. But exercise is hard to come by and to keep a regimen with when schedules can change overnight. Health suffers, but you have to keep yourself awake and thinking because you are driving a death machine at 65 miles an hour for long stretches of time.

Schools and companies are often on the same page when it comes to drivers who owe child support. Much of the time, not always, but most times, a company will set up your monetary payments with mandatory payments toward child support being extracted even before you have seen penny one. This can be tough on you financially because you may already have debts to pay for, or maybe rents are too high where you live. Whatever the case, you will pay out those payments even if you have nothing left after wards, no matter how much income you produce. There is no getting around this. You’ll live in a truck while your kids and or your ex get all of your income.

Many times you’ll be on the road for four weeks with only four days off for personal time. Some schedules are 20 days out with 10 days off. There are also dedicated routes which run the same way over and over each week and you might get a day and a half break between runs. But, the bottom line is that if there are friends and family that you are used to seeing regularly, you will no longer will be able to, plain and simple. You will now be gone from their lives. Got a concert or a movie you want to see? It can be almost impossible to work the schedule for it.

If given a team situation, you’ll be expected to roll that truck 24/7 whether you are in shape to do so or not. Getting sleep and keeping it in the “bank” will be tantamount, and often you will feel that you do nothing but sleep and drive. Which can be tough since, you may have no chance to get up out of bed, have some coffee, maybe a little breakfast and even take a shower. Nope. You get up, you start driving most of the time. You end your shift, you might as well get some sleep. Over and over again.

Life on the road is filled with truck stops, which are set up to be helpful. They often have showers, with towels and soap, and toilets, of course. They’ll have redeem points for building up purchasing power for other items (loyalty points) and after a time one can buy expensive electronics at the truck stop with only the acquired points. Showers can be earned as well by points, and stops like Love’s, TA and Petro are open and available all times of the day for such personal hygiene. There can be problems with this system, however.

Much as I hate to say it, truckers are known for living like slobs. Not only can the tractor cab quickly turn into a garbage can on wheels, but your co-driver can become quite the Neanderthal with a lack of personal hygiene. Truckers sometimes go for more than a week without a bath or shower. (I know one who went for a month with only two showers) They live and sleep in their own filth. If you are their co-driver then you will live in it as well.

The human body stinks, plain and simple. When not washed continually, the odor can build up to stomach turning levels. How do you force a man to wash? You can’t. This is more common than not, so be prepared to smell your co-driver in ways you never considered before, all in a small 8X12 truck cabin.

When dealing with a co-driver, you are dealing with the general public most times. If you have ever worked a job at all, you know that many times you are forced by employment to work with other people with whom you have nothing in common, in fact you may never have ever been friends or even acquaintances with the other person in your entire life. You are at the mercy of a coin flip in the choice of co-driver and this can make the 24 hour a day “marriage” with a complete stranger a true adventure in human sociology.

Ever live with an obsessive compulsive neat freak or slob? They don’t change just for you. How about one who has a sexual addiction? Would you like to have to spend time outside of the cab at a truck stop or restaurant on a regular basis while he has sexual relations in the sleeper? It can happen. It doesn’t have to be that drastic, the person could have bad allergies..... or be incompetent.... or have any number of personal ticks and quirks which can drive you up a wall. But you live with them at three feet away day after day. You might get lucky and have a great driver combo come your way, but you have to consider who and why people become truckers.

Speaking of sex. You'd be surprised how many times truckers are approached by women who want to join you in the cab. They want to "keep you company". They show up almost anywhere, too. They can come knocking on your door in the middle of the night out on the highway while you are parked on an off ramp. You could also be in a dark parking lot awaiting a shipment, and they will be there. Whether you take them up on the offer or not, is up to you, but there will always be a request for money. Be prepared for that.

Companies will hire people who have just served time in jail, among other personal histories and traits. Once in that cab, you’re married.

So how’s the money?

Keeping in mind that you drive an 18 wheeler, you drop trailers, you hook up trailers, you get trailers and tractors repaired, you fill out email reports on your activities, you constantly file the information on each bill of lading, you get stuck with other people’s repairs and incompetence in operating the business, you check the engine and trailer and tires constantly, you have to plan trips, you have to make arrangements with other drivers on exchanges and such, you have to swap out trailers in tight spots. What do you get paid for?

Driving. Driving with a load is all you get paid for no matter how else your spend time. Hours of arranging trailers and drop and lock will steal your time for no pay. You need to be driving between area codes or you get no money. Squat!

(Not everyone does this, some give you less pay for non-loads)


In the beginning you might get two to three loads a week, and the average money might be 600 dollars. Maybe. A year later you might be making about .38 cents a mile, but then all this driving takes time as well, so maybe you get two loads a week. That’s maybe a $1,000 dollars a week. Dedicated runs (same trip each week) are available, and they promise $4500 a week. You’ll be more under the gun and you only get a day and a half off each week, but it is more money than you will be paid while driving all over the country and having to deal with new situations each day.

Hazmat qualifications are also offered but the increase in pay is all hype. $4500 more a year just for Hazmat certification is hardly worth the day to day hassle and scrutiny you will be under if you have Hammad. The rules and routes are tight and police love to inspect you if you have the placards. It’s my own opinion, but when they say 4500 dollars a year is a massive increase for having Hazmat, they are hoping you fall for that. $20,000 a year is a massive pay increase. Trucking companies are guilty of much “car sales” techniques. If you don't get your hazmat certification before the first anniversary of your CDL, then you'll have to take ALL the tests over again to obtain it.

Eating well is a constant problem on the road. Healthy eating is hard to come by, and paying for food everyday gets expensive. A microwave is a good idea, but needs to be installed by the truck company. This can cost about $200-$300 dollars and takes a special power inverter which can cost about $300 bucks. A small 12V stove can be bought to keep in the truck, but you’ll have to eat lots of canned foods. Walmart and the 99 cents store will be your best buddies. Companies offer discounts through Walmart and they are a big part of the trucking system, as much as any truck stop which makes money in the millions due to 24 hours traffic.

You might think you’ll be seeing a lot of the country, but you’ll see mostly the highways. There really isn’t all that much that is special about America’s highways, even route 66 was closed down back in the 1970‘s. Interstates like the 94, 80 and 40 will become familiar territory as you truck across the country, and they are actually the better part of the whole driving experience. It’s the little US highways that cross through small town America with multiple stop lights and signs and speed traps that get to you the most. And small intersections can reek havoc on your driving nerves as you attempt to pull this long snake-like vehicle through a tight curve or roundabout.

Schools prefer that you NOT use GPS guides for the driving from destination to destination and they have good reason for this. GPS can often be wrong and lead you into a bad area, mostly due to changing conditions and a slow up-grade of information. The east cost can be riddled with low bridges that will wreck your trailer at 13‘6“ and this will put you out of work for a while. Another reason is that schools want no liability from telling you to use a GPS which will at times take your eyes off of the road. (Truck companies are full of crap, GPS is your best buddy on the road if you don't just blindly follow it)

The Rand McNally GPS for trucking is exceptional, however, and once gotten used to can be invaluable. It can plan an entire trip and then prompt you throughout the trip about what turns to take and where to go next. Now and then you’ll find yourself in a tight spot, but it happens infrequently. Rand McNally GPS can cost about $400.00 for a nice one. It’s very worth it.

Schools want you to use the hard copy physical maps and write down all your exits and routes and such. This can be done well enough, but is a lot more tedious and time consuming. Even large maps can also be hard to read without a magnifying glass, and it’s a lot of unnecessary work. The Trucker GPS is a great primary, with the back up being the hard book. Especially if you want to take the loops around major cities. This is important since city traffic can kill your work day and steal money from you. Most big cities have a loop but the GPS will not take you there.

Every now and then the company will require you to do city work. This is where you pick up trailers and move them from point A to point B within a city. They will pay you $15.00 dollars for this. Yes, 15 dollars. Small truck yards can be a major hassle to get in and out of and you’ll spend all your time parking and dropping and locking and re-setting just for 15 dollars.

Companies like Conway and Amazon are very tough and strict in their requirements and can be hard to deal with when working on their lots. Amazon will kick you off of the property if you are there too long, even if you are doing the paper work for their job. Conway (XPO) makes you legally commit to all sorts of aspects of the job by forcing their own “macro” or email on the Qualcomm system.

Qualcomm is an electronic records system that computerizes the truckers schedule and activities. Without it, you’ll have to keep log books the old fashioned way by drawing lots of lines and adding all sorts of hours and miles and so on. But, remember, you only get paid for driving.

Different companies offer different opportunities and pay but you have to be careful that it isn't all smoke and mirrors. A company may promise a $7,500 sign on bonus, but it only comes in parts and is contingent on you completing this or that requirement in order to get that bonus. Other companies tell you they start at 41 cents a mile but that is only for trips under 500 miles. This may be on a graduating scale as well, but the up shot of it is that the smaller the trip the higher the pay, which may or may not work out the way you would hope.

At this time, I think I will stop for now. I will continue to add things to this post as they come up, but for now I wanted to get this out there just in case some people who are thinking about this move would like more inside information. Good luck, and remember one has to stay with this kind of work to see it pay off in the long run.

Update: 11/12/2016

Now that my association with trucking has come to an end, I have several things to add and comment on. For one thing, there is very little money to be made in trucking unless you have certain conditions present or you are a driver who has been around for 30 years. In your first year you may make around 15K and then the next year maybe about 7K more than that. I spoke to many truckers over my tenure who told me they were proud of making .42 cents a mile after 15 years or so of duty. That is NOTHING! For all the risk you endure and the time away from home, you might as well go work for Macy's department store, or McDonalds for that amount of money. Only the old guys, who run cross country and haul for about 25-30 years are really making any money. There are, of course, exceptions everywhere, but you HAVE to be one of them to make any money here.

The company I dealt with is known as CRST Expedited, and while they changed their policy about not paying anything for driving without a load, the rest of it is pretty bad. Other companies dread CRST, they have little respect for them and consider this company a laughing stock. Even DOT officers will tell you that they are the top of the heap for violation points and whenever there is an accident with one of their trucks it is mandatory that they appear to do an inspection. This is not so for all trucking companies.

From what I saw, they will hire anyone, even 350 pound men and women who can't possibly pass a medical exam, but still manage to be out on the road as a driving heart attack just waiting to happen. Considering that this is one of the most unhealthy jobs I have ever been acquainted with, showers only once or twice a week, no exercise except when performing the usual tasks, you just might become physically ill just doing your job.

It's an unhealthy and filthy way to live, not to mention that driving across the country for weeks at a time keeps you away from your loved ones, and forces you to live up close and personal with a person (co-driver) which you have never met before and probably would never even be friends with.

Good luck to you if you want to go into this business. I hope you don't accidentally kill someone on the road. The problem is, I saw so much bad driving over a year and a half, that you'd be super lucky not to have some nutjob driver run into YOU. And then it's over for both of you, even if you walk away. I am sincerely glad that this nightmare is finally over, and I wish all people stuckin  unprofitable trucking good luck with going into some other field.    

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