Unlike carriers that wait to fill trailers with multiple loads, hotshot trucking generally takes incomplete or less-than-truckload (LTL) loads and dedicates the route and their schedule to a single customer. They only need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) if gross weight exceeds 26,000 pounds.
Hotshot trucking is believed to have originated in the 1970s in the oil industry. People would sit outside manufacturing facilities in their own trucks and, when an oil drill part was completed, run it out to the oil well. This created a niche, wherein owner-operators run items needed as soon as possible.
Hotshot trucking vs. expedited freight
Hotshot and expedited trucking are both for-hire operations and haul time-sensitive loads with no set lanes, but are not the same.
Hotshots are generally Class 3, 4 or 5 trucks pulling a flatbed or other type of trailer for extra capacity. They’re often delivering an item needed to prevent a failure, such as in the power grid, in a factory or plant, or a pump in an oil field. They also often tow cars, equipment, machinery, boats and even RVs. Unless they lease their hotshot to a business, an interstate hotshot trucker must obtain a US DOT number and a minimum of $750,000 in primary liability insurance coverage.
Expediters are owner-operators or companies with cargo vans, sprinters, straight trucks and/or tractor-trailers that make rush or emergency orders. They’re generally exclusive vehicle use and do straight-through delivery, meaning no stops or other pickups. If running interstate, expediters also need a US DOT number. Their liability requirements differ, though, depending on truck type.
Pros and cons of hotshot trucking
One of the key draws of hotshot trucking is the low startup equipment costs at higher per-mile pay. Buying a Class 3 truck and trailer is far less expensive than a Class 8 long-haul, and has less insurance cost. Other benefits include drivers being able to set their own price – often at premium rates due to the tight turnaround – and choosing when to take loads, as they work for themselves.
Hotshot trucking also comes with challenges. Work can be unstable, and drivers must be ready at moment’s notice and then may be deadheaded. Maintenance is often more frequent, and it’s difficult to maintain resale value of vehicles. Hotshot drivers must also comply with much of the same state and federal laws as other carrier types, including for insurance, licenses and qualifications, drug and alcohol testing, Hours of Service (HOS) logging and IFTA reports (depending on pounds hauled).
Pay structure of hotshot trucking
Hotshot trucking generally charges per-mile, with drivers setting their own prices, so rates vary widely. Charges change from one haul to the next, and per driver, depending on fuel costs, their truck and trailer combo’s mile-per-gallon and likelihood of picking up a return haul. Pricing is also based on the specific job at hand – how fragile the equipment is and how quickly it needs to be moved.
It’s important for hotshot drivers, as owner operators to truly understand their operational expenses so they can set prices that make the hauls they take worthwhile and keep them profitable.
How to extend the life of your truck
Truck and equipment depreciation should also be factored into pricing, but good equipment lifecycle management can help increase the ROI on the equipment investment. As these trucks often see high mileage and are pushed hard to meet schedules, preventative maintenance is key.
Timely oil changes and part replacements, such as clutches and breaks, helps extend the life of the truck. Ensuring trucks, trailers and components such as axles are rated at the right capacity for the load, or even higher, ensures safe hauling of freight and that equipment isn’t being overworked and degraded. Avoiding speeding, hard braking, accelerating and idling has an immediate impact on fuel as well as long-term impact on the health of a vehicle. All this helps prevent future breakdowns and allows truckers to operate their equipment into old change.
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