People get into the truck driving industry for all sorts of reasons. You may want to earn a good living without having to go to college for four years. Perhaps you grew up in a family of truck drivers and have always been interested in having a truck driving career. You might be tired of working in an office or factory and want more freedom and flexibility in your daily routine. The many ways you could have come into the trucking industry are as diverse as the number of ways you can start a truck driving career. So if you are interested in how to become a truck driver, here are a few of the most common routes you can take for getting your truck driving career in gear.
Route 1: Go to Trucking School
A common and direct way to get into a truck driving career is to go to truck driving school. Truck driving training programs and trucking schools operate either through a community college or vocational school, or they are part of a nationwide trucking company. You can find a truck driving school in most cities throughout the US. Typically a trucker school program lasts for 3 to 6 months according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- A training program will give you the information and hands-on training you need to pass the CDL exam and to drive a truck. Once you have successfully completed a truck driving training program you will be ready to take the knowledge and driving portions of the CDL test.
Trucking school costs approximately $4,000 to $6,000 depending on your location and the program. However, if you are going to a community college or vocational school you might be eligible for federal aid or work grants. Another way to save money on trucking school is to attend a program through a large-scale trucking company. Nationwide companies often offer to cover costs of truck driving training in exchange for a guarantee that you will drive for them for a set period of time after you’ve graduated from trucking school.
- The BLS reports that the Department of Transportation may soon require new truck drivers who are interstate, aka over-the-road, truckers to successfully complete a truck driving training program.
Route 2: Learn How to be a Truck Driver on Your Own
Provided that the DOT does not mandate new truckers to attend a trucking program, you can train yourself to be a truck driver. This route can be more tedious, since you will be responsible for finding:
- CDL training materials
- A tractor-trailer to use for training
- Someone willing to let you drive with them in their rig
However, if the cost of trucking school is a concern, then training yourself is a feasible alternative. Some of the training materials you may want to look into include:
- CDL practice exams online
- Practice books from the DOT
- Videos via DVD and on YouTube from truck driving training programs
Training materials can be costly if you purchase items yourself. However, you may be able to checkout items, such as training books and DVDs, from your local public library. Additionally, most large library systems offer online databases that include practice exams for professional tests including CDL exams. Check with your library to see what training resources they have available for starting a truck driving career.
Route 3: Find a Team Driver for a Partner
If you are interested in being a truck driver but concerned with the lonely aspect of the job, then team driving might be a perfect fit. A team driver is someone who works with another driver in the same tractor-trailer. The duo drives continuously, taking turns to meet hours-of-service rules for off-duty time. However, the truck is almost always rolling, which allows
the team to take more loads and drive twice the amount of miles as a solo driver. Truck driver teams, in general, make more money than solo drivers. If this seems like a good match for you look for someone who is interested in helping you train, so that you can drive teams with them once you have your CDL.
Under the guidance of an experienced driver, you can be apprenticed as you learn hands-on the skills you’ll need to apply once you are officially a truck driver. Start by finding someone willing to train you who wants to have a team driver. This might be a family member or friend. Alternatively you can search trucker forums and classifieds to find drivers in need of a teammate. Expect to spend a great deal of time with the person as they are training you, which is ideal so the two of you can determine if you will be able to live and work together as a team.
As with training on your own, you will be able to save money by training with a teammate. However, you will be responsible for learning the information needed so you are able to pass your CDL exam. While a teammate can help steer you in the right direction it will be your responsibility to learn the skills you need to become a truck driver.
Route 4: Become an Owner-Operator
For individuals who want to be self-employed the role of an owner-operator may be your best bet. You will be responsible for leasing or purchasing your tractor-trailer, as well as for handling all taxes, fees and licenses you need to start your own business. Most newbie truckers do not start out in the owner-operator position. After all, owning your own rig is a major investment, given that new tractor-trailers cost upward to a half million dollars. Typically an individual interested in a truck driving career will start out by working for a company or with a team. After many miles and loads delivered a trucker will be more prepared to make the decision to move into an owner-operator role.
- If you do choose to be an owner-operator you will be responsible for training yourself as a trucker, as noted in route #2.
Time to Get a Truck Driver Job
After you have received your CDL it is time to find a truck driving job. You will need a resume and access to truck driver job listings, which are available online, via word of mouth, and in newspaper wanted ads. Look around at the different types of truck driving careers available to you before you make your job selection. Here are the most common types of truck driving jobs you’ll find:
- Driving for nationwide companies
- Working as a local or regional truck driver
- Working in a truck driving team
- Driving as a long haul, over the road trucker for a SMB
Choose jobs based on the type of equipment you are most familiar with when you are first starting out. For most newbie drivers that go to trucking school you are going to be trained using a dry van trailer. This is the most common type of trailer on the road, followed by flatbed trailers and reefer trucks. In the early period of your truck driving career you will need real world experience behind the wheel to gain the confidence and respect you will need to make it in the trucking industry. You may want to avoid specialized loads, such as hazardous materials loads or oversized loads, when you are first starting out.
Increase Your Earnings Potential as a Truck Driver
When you get your CDL you are given the choice of which class to get: Class A, Class B or Class C. For most truck drivers the Class A is the way to go. However, a Class B allows you to drive a straight truck for regional loads. Long haul truckers will need a Class A. Class C drivers are typically bus drivers or those hauling passengers rather than property. After you’ve received your Class A or Class B CDL for trucking you can continue to boost your CDL by getting endorsements. There are several endorsements you can get depending on your CDL Class. The most important endorsements are:
- Hazardous materials
- Combo of Hazmat and Tanker
To get endorsements you have to take additional exams via the DOT. Also for the hazmat endorsement you have to pass a background check due to homeland security concerns. If you get the hazmat and tanker endorsements you will automatically get the combo endorsement on your CDL. Drivers who have these endorsements are eligible for a greater variety of loads. Additionally, loads involving hazardous materials pay much better due to the risk involved, i.e. explosive or toxic chemicals.
Getting endorsements is one way to increase your earnings potential. However, all newbie drivers have to start out at the back of the pack in terms of pay and loads available. In the trucking world seniority plays a major part of how much you can earn. This is due to the fact that those drivers who have been behind the wheel for the longest period have the most real-time experience in the industry. Experience and good work history pays off for those with a truck driving career. The only way you can achieve the status that will help you earn more is by putting in the hours, so be prepared to work hard as you make your way up the truck driving career ladder.