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1Introduction – first steps to a new career in truck driving.
Ever since CDLLIFE was founded, we have focused a building a community of professional truck drivers with the goal of doing everything we can to better the lives of truckers while they are on the road. Historically, we have done this by offering up news and entertainment specifically for the professional CDL Driver. CDLLife is approaching 300,000+ Facebook fans and we wouldn’t be where we are at today without the best truck drivers in America being apart of our family.
With that out of the way, it’s our guess that if you are here you are probably thinking about becoming a CDL truck driver. That’s great news! We would love for you to become an active member of the CDLLIFE community. Before you decide to take the leap of faith and start down the path of becoming a CDL Driver we want to take the time to help educate you on all of the ins and outs of the trucking industry.
We have put together the following beginners guide to becoming a CDL driver that we encourage you to read over in its entirety. This guide should give you step by step instructions, tips, and advice that will help you navigate the first year of a becoming a professional driver.
There is a lot of info here and all of it can be of great value to you depending on the type of career you are looking for. This guide should help you establish the correct expectation for what the life of a commercial truck driver is all about. We will try covering all topics that a new driver should think about before becoming a CDL Driver.
Let’s begin — Class is now in session.
For quick access or to jump to a step that you are interested in you can follow these links:
Step 1: Intro (you are already on this page)
Step 10: Free CDL Practice Test
Step 13: New Driver Starter Kit
Step 14: Shopping list for new drivers
Step 15: How to prepare for orientation
2What you need to understand before becoming a CDL driver.
So you are thinking about becoming a professional truck driver. While being a truck driver is an honorable, noble profession, there are many things– good and bad– every prospective trucker must know. To better understand some of the challenges that truck drivers face everyday we put together the follow list of potential problem areas that you need to be aware of before becoming a truck driver. We are not trying to scare you away from becoming a trucker. We are just trying to get you thinking about some of the harsh realities that drivers have to deal with. Remember, trucking is a lifestyle, not a job, but at the same time it can be very rewarding and it just might be the dream job that you never thought about.
Time with family and friends will be limited.
The first year on the road for a new driver can be difficult and some drivers have a hard time acclimating to the new lifestyle. Truck drivers often spend days at a time on the road. It’s not uncommon for new drivers that are going through training to spend up to 21 days, at a time, or more on the road.
This amount of time away from home can can be hard on the trucker and his or her family and its probably the # 1 reason why people decide against becoming a trucker. If you become a trucker you will more than likely, miss school events, birthdays, anniversaries, and many more important events. This can be emotionally taxing on you and your loved ones. Most trucking companies will try their best to get you home for important dates, but there is never any real guarantees so keep this in mind.
Fortunately, the advancements in technology make communicating easier. Programs like Skype and Face Time allow you to communicate “face to face” with your loved ones. Drivers no longer have to use truck stop phones for their nightly call home and most trucking companies have a passenger program where you are allowed to have a rider with you while you are working.
If you’re really interested, ask other drivers within the CDLLIFE community about how their families acclimated to the time apart. Most importantly, talk to your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or partner about their concerns. Have a game plan in place. Plan time each day to speak with one another. Talk about how you will spend your time together and make the most of your time when you are home.
Time and Financial Cost of Training
As with most things in life, the financial cost of doing something ends up being a vital piece of the decision making process. It’s no different when prospective truck drivers think about going to school to get their CDL. On top of the financial costs there is always the time commitment cost. Getting your CDL and becoming a professional truck driver won’t happen overnight, but with the growing driver shortage and the increased demand for new drivers the barrier to entry is at a historic low.
There’s a reason why we listed health as the third concern that new drivers need to be aware of. We keep saying this over and over, but trucking is a lifestyle. Truckers have long days, they are always on the go, their job requires them to sit for multiple hours a day, constant vibration of the truck might wear on the body, difficulty sleeping on the road, limited food options that turns into unhealthy eating pattern from some truckers, and bathrooms are only available when you are stopped. With all of this said what could go wrong. The good news is that many truck drivers find ways to cope and adjust to these issues. CDLLIFE has an entire section of our website dedicated to truck driver health and wellness so if ever in doubt or in the need for some healthy advice be sure to check that section of the site out.
No body like to be around someone that doesn’t take care of their own personal hygiene, but the life of a truck is no easy task. It’s not like you have a shower in your truck. In order to freshen up, most drivers forced to use the bathroom facilities at various truck stops or at their companies terminal. If a driver is under a tight deadline for a load they may choose to forgo the pit stop and pass on taking a shower. Being a clean driver isn’t just about taking a shower. Driver’s have to plan on doing their laundry on the road and usually this requires a driver to plan ahead.
Murphy’s Law (What can go wrong, will go wrong)
If you have never drove a truck before then you won’t be able to relate to the Murphy’s Law concept of trucking. What you need to know before you start driving a commercial truck is that whatever can go wrong, eventually will go wrong. So many things can go wrong on the road that you need to come into the trucking industry with strong shoulders and a persevering spirit. Most truck drivers are paid by the mile which means that they are only making money when the wheels are turning. When something unexpected happens that prevents the wheels from turning your pay starts to suffer. This means that whenever any little problem comes up your first instinct might be to get frustrated, lash out at a dispatcher or customer, and then before you know it you are quitting your job or getting fired for something that might of honestly been outside of your control. Lets list out a few common scenarios that might cause you some stress while on the road.
- Your truck will breakdown. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere forcing you to wait for a wrecker service or mobile repair unit to come and fix you.
- Maintenance on your truck that was supposed to take 1 day can turn into 3 in the matter of hours.
- Weather and traffic will cause delays which will impact both your hours of service and any potential pre-plans you had waiting for you.
- Your load planning can be cancelled on you or taken from you causing you to sit, miss home time, or come up short on miles for the week.
- Shipper’s that were supposed to be ready with your load are actually late getting it ready which means when you show up for your scheduled pick up you end up waiting. This makes you burn through your hours.
- Customers and receivers that are supposed to be ready to offload you are not yet ready when you arrive which wastes your time and forces you into detention.
- You logbook and hours got wasted by other peoples mistakes and you suffer because of it.
- You missed the payroll cutoff for a long load that you just finished hauling and now that load you were counting on to get you paid won’t be paid until the following week.
Now image a scenario when on the same load the shipper was delayed getting to you which forced you to wait a few extra hours, but guess what, because you were delayed picking the load up you won’t make your appointment time for the delivery window which means you now have to wait until the next day to get offloaded. Because of this unexpected delay your delivery is rescheduled until tomorrow, but you had a pre-plan for the next day which your load planner is forced to pull from you because you still have to make the delivery that got pushed back. Not you are now finally done delivering the load, but since your pre-plan got cancelled you are forced to wait for a new load which means you now have more ideal time. On top of all of this, that pre-plan that you were supposed to be on was the load that was going to take you home for the weekend, but guess what… home time not happening this weekend because your company does not have a back up load to get you there and the out of route miles would be too much for the company to eat so you have no choice, but to take your 34 hour rest at a truck stop. In this scenario, all of this happened because the initial shipper was late getting you the load. This one problem caused a chain of events that were outside of your control, but you were the one the ultimately got hurt the most because of it.
The point of all of this is to get you to understand that things will go wrong while you are on the road , but for the most part things should balance out. You might have a excellent 3300 mile week this week, but next week you had a couple curve balls thrown your way and you end the week with 1800 miles. Most veteran drivers understand this and if you are going to last in the trucking industry you need to be able to adapt to the situation.
Road Rage and Trucking
If you have anger problems or are someone who has common road rage in a personal car, just think about what that would be like in a 80,000 lbs wrecking machine. What if the above situation we explained had just happened to you? You just realized you’re not making it home this weekend. You need an outlet for your frustration, but if you have a history or road rage then becoming a truck driver is probably the last profession you need to be exploring.
Laws governing trucking get stricter and stricter each year. It can be hard to keep up and making a mistake and violating a regulation could be costly. Punishment for breaking a regulation can result in a warning, fine, termination from your employer, or even losing your CDL.
CDLLIFE is here to help. We provide news and bring you information on new regulations and how they apply to you. Be sure to check our site often.
Let’s face it, it’s not a truck friendly world. Many businesses won’t let you park your truck for the night and you will often find yourself in an area without a truck stop. If you don’t plan ahead, you may end up in a town with no where to park your truck. Plan ahead, if point A has truck parking, don’t head to point B yet.
Layover time, or time in between loads, can be relaxing or downright annoying. You could be sitting for days with nothing to do but wait…and you may not be paid during this time. Plan ahead, take books to read or other things to do to keep yourself busy. Take a bike or running shoes. Explore the area you’re in, you may even have to opportunity to lay on the beach for a couple of days.
Is this a career path for you?
While many drivers complain about their jobs, many would probably agree that they wouldn’t rather do any other job. Drivers get to see some of the coolest things. One driver said, “I saw the same shuttle take off and land, months apart and in different states.”
Being out on the open road, you’re not being micro-managed, you don’t have to sit at a cubicle, or punch the clock. Driving is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. You just need to decide if it’s the lifestyle for you.
Advice from the CDLLIFE Community
Earlier this week, we asked drivers this question: What factors should a prospective CDL student consider before entering the trucking industry? What might he or she not know about the industry?
Here’s what CDLLifer’s had to say:
Think if you can handle isolation and long periods away from your family. Everybody thinks I’ll get my foot in the door and the get a local job so I can be home everyday– Sadly, there just aren’t that many local jobs to be had, and you’ll have to drive regional or OTR. Most folks quit when they realize that fact. It takes a special person to be a trucker and a special person to be a trucker’s spouse. – Freddie S.
It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. The meek shouldn’t apply. Decide what and where you expect to be in two years, and stick to that goal while putting up with low pay, long hours and the endurance it requires. Plan ahead– Don’t chase the myth of the magic 3,000 mile week; it’ll come once your experience allows it. Listen to the old timers, and don’t buy into the mob mentality that certain companies are good and certain companies suck. They all suck unless they have a fleet of 50 or less. Don’t lease or train until you have good experience. You learn on the road, not in CDL school. Good luck, and don’t give up in that first two years. You can make a career, and keep your record clean while accepting every load. On-time delivery is the name of the game, and your reputation as an individual will let you stand out whether good or bad.- Tyrone W.
Guard your CDL license. Treat it like a gold card. You will always be employed. And stay away from negative people. It’s going to be what YOU make it.- Stacy A.
If living alone in a box on wheels for weeks at a time sounds like fun, then you’ll love it! Find a good company! If you talk to a recruiter and he/she tells you things that sound too good to be true, they most likely are! That’s the norm with most companies! I drive for Super Service and my recruiter didn’t tell me anything that did not happen! No wild stories about miles or pay! The only time I sit is when I’m at a shipper, consignee or taking my 30 minute and 10 hour breaks! I run my a*s off but I work my hours to where the ONLY time I ever have to take a 34 is when I go on home time every 12 days! Most of all, try it! You’ll never know if you don’t try it! Just please, do everyone out on the roads and their families at home and your family, use common sense and BE SAFE!! If you ever feel like you can’t do something safely, DON’T DO IT! Stop, think and reevaluate your options to find the safe way to perform the task!- Sandy M.
I have run OTR for years and have always got my home time. I don’t ask for it; I tell them when I’m going home and I stand up to them. After all, I’m a grown man. Don’t let them push you around.- Mark W.
The very first thing you need to consider is that you will work twice as much as anyone else with a 9-5 job. If you’re married this will take its toll on your relationship.- Chris P.
If you don’t know how to do something or feel uneasy, ask an experienced driver I still humble myself with 17 years experience and keep learning.- David R.
Basically nowadays it’s worth the $200 or so per week pay-cut to be home every evening and have weekends off and actually have a life.- Alexander L.
There’s more to it that holding a steering wheel and driving down the road and you’d better like, love and enjoy spending quality time alone with yourself.- Karen J.
Keep a positive mind when doing OTR, it can be very stressful if and when you don’t know where you are going with 53 feet behind you.- Corey H.
Have pride in what you do; be professional. Don’t put your job before family. Run every load they give you, don’t be a crybaby and be scared to go to NYC or wherever because of some b.s. another driver told you. Take pride in your ride. Always pay attention. You never know what’s gonna happen. Be mindful of your surroundings and conditions.- Chris N.
Here’s a few things not covered yet. In ’95 or even ’85 you learned to drive and then drove. Now you’re going to be driving for a big company and not making much for the first year or so. The personal touch won’t be there in most cases, and you’re going to feel like a number not a team member. After a few years, I always suggest people try a smaller company. Learn about the business, not just the truck operation and learn about the truck. You’re not going to be a dispatcher, but if you can see how that side of this thing works it will help. You’re not going to be a mechanic, but if you understand how to identify a problem or can gauge how serious or not so serious a problem is, you’re going to be a value. You may not be a truck manager in any official way, but if you manage your time and communicate with the company, brokers, dispatchers, and other drivers in a valuable way you’ll do okay. — Just learn to imagine a how the dispatcher, company, customer, driver, distance, time, parking, truck, trailer, parts, load, reefer or tank or any other stuff… and then the most important part – YOU all fit/fits together and solve the problem don’t be the problem and it will be an okay job. You should always want a better job or better pay so be a better asset and you’ll find the home you want.- Joe G.
Be careful of anyone who has an ad in the pages of one of those truck stop books. Use your state workforce, Craigslist, indeed, etc. Find a company based near you ( home office not just a terminal) if you wanna be home. If you wanna stay out, look for good trucks, newer trailers and an APU. Companies hate idling, but you deserve to be comfortable. And like the others, bring what you can. Try to stay at rest areas or even Walmart. Truck stops are money holes, unless you need fuel or a shower, try to keep away. Be safe and ALWAYS, ALWAYS remember you have the final say. It’s your license, you can find another job getting your cdl fixed isn’t as easy. – Jarett M.
Keep your record clean and go local ASAP. Don’t job hop, as it will bite you in the ass down the road. Remember you’re in control of your truck, if you don’t feel safe, don’t do it. Make sure you don’t let dispatchers treat you like a dog. You can always say No.- Tim H.
Ask questions, always pay attention to trainer constantly work on that pre-trip and don’t expect to know everything the day you think you do turn in the keys because you will always be learning. Also expect long days and not seeing you family as much as you would like. Also don’t listen to drivers on what the best company for you will be only you can figure out what company suits you not every company is for every driver.- Steven M.
Don’t get frustrated and quit if you’re not being treated well, stick it out. I quit a great company with great potential to own my own truck because I got frustrated. Take the good with the bad. If you have a good fleet manager, you will be OK. Don’t get in a hurry. If you can’t handle being alone for a long time each week and living in a 6×8 closet, trucking isn’t for you. Set your mind to it have fun and you will be fine.- Josh P.
Everything every day is a learning experience– Heck every hour and minute is. Come into the industry with a open mind and willingness to learn. Listen to us seasoned veterans and do not be timid about asking lots of questions.- Josh B.
Never overdrive your level of experience. If your dispatcher tells you to do something that is illegal, DO NOT DO IT. They do NOT have your back. Remember to be professional. Never let anger get the best of you, you’ll lose in the end. Everything you do make sure you’ve covered your ass.- Susan R.
Not everyone out here is negative, but the truth is, trucking is not for everyone. Most everyone has a false idea of what trucking is before they get into it; be prepared for the realty shock. Once you get over that, make your plan and don’t let anybody stop you. A lot of what you see on here is not necessarily just negativity, it’s a dry sense of humor that a lot of truckers develop . Just remember to keep the rubber side down the shiny side up you’ll do well God Bless. – CJ L.
The actual driving is the “easy” part. It’s a lot more physical than most people think. Even pulling a box you’ll have to be able to get up and down out if the trailer, up in the motor, under the trailer, etc. The mental issues of not being home very often can get to you at first. Your friends will change. It takes awhile to really start making money but it will come. It’s a major lifestyle change for some. Carry yourself as a professional because you are and you’ll be treated like a professional. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, we all do, and remember to help your fellow driver out as well.- Brenda W.
That it’s hard work! I always knew that my husband worked hard, but until I got my license & started driving & helping with loads (we have a step deck) I didn’t realize just how hard! From driving, to putting up with all the regulations, eating all hours of the day & night, not sleeping well, strapping, chaining, tarping loads..it’s a very challenging job. – Peggy S.
Find a mentor, and remember, it not a job it’s a commitment to a lifestyle that’s very different then anything you’ll ever experience. It is what you make it. Oh, and like some on this page, stay positive there’s good & bad in every industry.- James B.
Can you sleep behind a team driver; how do you handle driving in snow; do you have road rage, do you mind being away from home; do you have bladder problems or IBS; can you deal with an assholes as a driver manager; does traffic in big cities scare you; do you mind eating shifty processed food; do you panic easy, and can you save money to possible prepare for the slim winter months?- Jeanne W.
You got to get at least 6 months to 2 years over the road before you can go local. Don’t think you will make awesome money at first, you got to do your time. Companies want you to stay out as long as you can. It’s not for everyone. Flat bed is where the money is.- Tonya C.
Being safe in whatever you do out on the road. If you push too hard you’re going to die or kill someone. Also taking care of yourself, and eating good is also important.- Zachary O.
While on the road, do not take advances on your pay. You will end up with $100 check if you’re lucky. Then you won’t have any money going home to support your family.- Scott H.
Its hard work for low pay, for long times away from home, friends and family, dealing with people who don’t care about you or what you do, and those who will try your patience at every curve in the road and on every hill in all kinds of weather (including the clear sunny kind). It’s a lifestyle that you can either do, or not do, because there is no try. I wouldn’t change it for the world because after you been in a while, the pay goes up, the idiots on the end of the phone get better, and its a helluva lotta fun!- Wolfy W.
Do they have any idea what it costs to live on the road. Food is anything but cheap, no matter where you buy it. What about being away from friends and family for weeks at a time?- Dennis M.
You sit all day, your food choices are mostly unhealthy options. I don’t care what anyone says, you can make a decent living and stay within the law, but you will not get rich. If you feel you must drive, buy a refrigerator, or at least a 12 volt cooler, and keep healthy goods in it. Stop that truck every 2 or 3 hours and take a 15-20 minute walk. Stop for lunch and walk for 30 minutes, and eat something healthy, NOT truck stop food!- Darrell R.
Learn how to read a map and know the size of your truck. A good percentage of “trainers” are only in for the team miles while you make “training pay.” If you’re not learning enough from your trainer, ask a lot of questions or ask for a new trainer.- James P.
You have to put your time in and get the experience with very little pay, then move on to bigger better things. I’m still working on the experience part, and the pay sucks for a rookie, but I love it and am very good at it.- Cathy C.
As a trainer, I try to make the driver aware of the fact that ( while away from home) to not let business and your personal life confuse you. It’s a rewarding lifestyle if you are patient enough for the rewards.- Scott H.
This is not another get rich quick scheme. Don’t live on cash advances, they’ll eat your pay before you get your check. Keep your food in the truck. Be prepared to wait a month for your first check if you’re going to be paid biweekly.- Russell R.
If it is what you really want to do, always be receptive to what more experienced drivers have to say. Don’t become overconfident, that’s when mistakes happen. Always try to learn something new every day. Also don’t become a lazy steering wheel holder who only pulls dry vans. Learn many different things ( flatbed, reefer, specialized.) and get endorsements. The more you can do the more you will learn.- Brad D.
The lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as some think. Take extra care of the companies you choose to drive for. And get everything in writing.- Lisa C.
The minute the truck didn’t scare you is the minute you’ll do something to wreck.- William C.
Don’t listen to all the negativity! Any job is what you make of it! Driving can be fun and rewarding! Yet very lonely and it does take its toll!!- Paul C.
My best advice just starting out, is try to get on a dedicated account if possible. Unless you’re running team, that’s about the only way to make a decent check just starting our with a big company. Yes you will more than likely have to unload freight, but not on all accounts. Your miles will be more steady and so will your paycheck and home time.- Brad H.
Research who they are going to work for and once there stay at least a year. All company’s starting out are gonna be the same. And don’t try to to home every week end; you have to get miles in to make money.- Eric M.
A driver must be able to quickly adjust to changing routes schedules & home time length. It’s a great occupation just not an ordinary one where you would be always staring at the same 4 walls & off for the weekends.- Betty W.
Also, you need to take into account that it costs an average of $120.00/week to live on the road. So if you make an average of $650.00/week, you really make $530.00/week.- John L.
I would say BE HONEST with dispatch. Don’t try to be a super trucker then want to be home every day. The dispatcher owns you and your family. Do EVERYTHING they say and you will get miles. Piss ’em off one time and the miles can be cut in half. It sucks but that’s the way it is.- Marty B.
The first thing I always recommend is for one to decide what type of driver they want to be. Otr, local, construction(water hauler, dump truck, etc.). When they figure that out, then they need to learn as much about that side as possible. The best way to do that is to talk with a seasoned professional with lots of experience. It helped me when I started out more than anything else, and prepared me for certain difficulties.- Aaron H.
Try it first. It does take a lot of guts. I give you credit that your main goal is to drive safely. Keep that in mind, if you are little late for delivery, it’s better to be late than kill someone out there. Get plenty of sleep when you can, eat right, and the rest will follow through. Things change everyday; that’s a good! Patience– You will need a lot of. The first time you do this, you will have a hard week, month, or a day. You will Learn from this; I guarantee it. If you have a question, or a problem ask other drivers for help, and pass it on to help out others. This means all super truckers, you know the ones that think they know everything about everything, and have a bad attitude to you. Be happy and drive safe!- Randy A.
Enter this profession with an open mind and a constant willingness to learn. You learn something new every day. Never think you know it all, because that’s when the truck will come and bite you in the ass. Get a plug-in cooler or find a company with APU so you can have a refrigerator, because eating at truck stops is expensive(10-18 dollars per meal). – Robert S.
Strap ur seatbelt on cuz it’s gonna be one helluva ride. – Jamie B.
3How much do truck drivers make and what can truck driver expect to make in their first year?
OK, now that we have discussed some of the challenges that you might experience as a truck driver lets shift gears and talk about the amount of pay you can expect to see. Let’s be honest, for many, the reason they are thinking about becoming a truck driver is because of the opportunity. So let’s dig in. How much do CDL drivers really make and what can a new driver with no experience really expect to see from a compensation stand point?
Average Pay for Truck Drivers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for tractor-trailer truck drivers in 2015 was $40,260 [i] This means the average weekly pay for a professional CDL truck driver is only $774.23 per week. One of the problems that is facing the industry is that on average, pay is too low for the amount of sacrifice that drivers must make to perform the duties of the job. In the last section we discussed many of the challenges that prospective truck drivers need to consider before deciding to join the industry, but normally the biggest concern is that Over-The-Road drivers will be out for multiple weeks at a time before getting back home. After getting a better understanding about the nature of the transportation industry and learning more about the average compensation for truck drivers it becomes easy to understand why many potential new drivers rethink their future as a CDL Driver. However, it’s not all doom and gloom and there is good news. Due to the growing driver shortage, the trucking industry as a whole has the challenge of figuring out ways to attract new talent to the trucking industry. Veteran drivers are on their way out of the industry so that means a new group of truck drivers needs to be trained up to take their place. Because of this, the trucking industry has slowly reached a tipping point. The current driver shortage has forced trucking companies to compete for the same driver pool of truckers and as a result OTR driving jobs are starting to pay more with an increased focus of providing more home time. This means current CDL holders who are looking for a career in driving OTR (Over-The-Road) have many different opportunities available to them. Truck Driver pay has continued to rise over the last several years and it does not look like it is slowing down anytime soon. With that being said there is no better time than now to consider becoming a professional truck driver.
How are truck drivers paid?
Normally, OTR Drivers are paid by the mile for the freight that that they haul, but some drivers can be paid by the load, by the day, by the hour, or even given a salary. The most common form of compensation is paid out by the mile. It sounds simple, but there are many qualifiers that some companies put into place that may limit the amount of money that the driver can earn. When searching for top paying driving jobs it is critical that the prospective driver asks the right questions to determine how they are to be paid since there are multiple variations in how trucking companies pay out by the mile. Some variations include, practical mileage pay, hub mile pay, and shortest route pay. On top of these different scenarios, the driver needs to determine if they paid for empty and loaded miles both. Some companies pay the same regardless on if the driver is empty or loaded while other companies may pay nothing for empty miles. Another type of pay is called sliding scale pay where the trucking company will pay a different rate of pay depending on the length of haul for the load that they are on. Overall, there are many different options for how trucking companies pay and when it comes time it will be your responsibility as a prospective driver to ask these questions to find out.
What can a new truck driver with no experience expect to make in their first year?
In order to help new truck drivers understand what they can expect to make in the first year of driving we took the liberty of polling our community of drivers by asking them the following question.
- From your experience, how much pay can a new CDL driver expect to make in their first year?
As you can see the from results above, over 69% of respondents said that new truck drivers should expect to make less than $40,000 in their first year. with just over 45% percent of respondents telling us that new drivers should expect to make $35,000 or less in their first year. If you are thinking about becoming a truck driver hopefully this gives you some insight on what truck driver wages are for first year drivers.
What is the top pay for truck drivers?
The problem with trying to figure out what the top pay for truck drivers is that there are so many different variables that determine what a truck driver can make that it makes it nearly impossible to through out an hypothetical number. For example: Is the driver a company driver, lease purchase driver, or owner operator. Is the driver’s miles consistent every week? Are they running dedicated freight that sets the driver up with regularly schedule pick-ups and deliveries or does the driver not know what they are hauling or where they are going and everything is day by day planned? Is the driver getting stop pay, layover pay, detention pay, unloading pay? The list is endless. The best advice that we can give is to make sure you do research, take notes, and request all of the compensation details be sent to you so you have it in writing. It is not uncommon for some company drivers to make $1,600 plus per week. Overall, In our opinion, if you are a safe driver and you are not making at least $1,200 per week there are probably better paying jobs out there for you. At the end of the day it just depends on what your overall needs are.
To better answer this question we polled our community of drivers and asked them the following question.
- As an experienced driver in the industry, how much money do you earn annually being a commercial truck driver?
As you can see from the responses the results we pretty wide spread. This goes to tell us that its difficult to come up with an accurate number because there are just so many different types of jobs out there. Based off of the results 47.5% of respondents said that they made between $50,000 and $70,000 per year as a commercial truck driver.
How competitive is the job market for CDL drivers?
It should be no secret by now, but trucking companies need more drivers and they are willing to go to great efforts to make sure that you know about it. Just look at all of the companies within our truck driving jobs section that is looking for drivers just like you. Stop in at a truck stop and drivers are exposed to dozens of trucking job magazines that are offered for free. Do a search on google and notice all of the advertising that you will see within your web browser. The point is that companies are competing for your attention. They need your services and a lot of them are now offering big bonuses and incentive programs all with the goal of getting the driver to sign up for orientation.
[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/heavy-and-tractor-trailer-truck-drivers.htm (visited March 06, 2017).
4What veteran truck drivers love about their job.
There’s nobody better to talk to about the trucking industry then a veteran driver. Thankfully, CDLLIFE knows a few of them… We asked our community of drivers to provide us with their top reasons on why they love their job. If you end up deciding to become a truck driver we are sure that you will end up feeling the same way about trucking that some of these veteran drivers feel now.
In order to give prospective truck drivers an idea of what veteran drivers like the most about their job we we asked drivers on our Facebook page to list three things they like/love about their jobs the most. This is what they said.
Dan Hallowell III-
1) The view from my office window changes continuously and drastically.
2) The people I meet and the history I am privileged to see across our beautiful country. In my opinion, I am on permanent, paid vacation!
3) Plenty of time for quiet, contemplative reflection.
The sunrises only truckers get to see, people staring because GIRL is driving that big truck, and the look of panic when you button hook across the nose of a car.
-2 steps from bed to office.
-Office view changes every few seconds and I can see more things in 3 days than some will see in their lifetime
-No boss hovering over my shoulder.
1) The people I meet at truck stops.
2) The feeling that without me and people like me behind the wheel, no one would get their goods! “If you bought it, a truck brought it!”
3) Knowing that my 2nd grade teacher told me that no one would pay me to look out a window and I’m proving her wrong with every mile!
Honestly, the solitude, the scenery, the pay.
Sight, freedom, and sunsets.
Travel, my woman is with me, and they pay me for this.
The fact that I choose my salary– it’s truly based on my determination– also my office view, and I’m not governed at 62.
My teacher said that I would never get a job looking out the window. He was wrong.
People I meet , places I see , and seeing the sun rise and sun set through my windshield.
The view, the ride, and thousands of places to go!
Donny Damaged Goods Simpson-
Our marriage, our home, our dogs (trucking provided all of that,I met my husband on the road, the bonus check for getting our hazmat license provided our down payment on a house and our first puppy was found in a truckstop in Atlanta)! I am thankful for trucking!
1) No meetings.
2) Entertainment around my truck that civilians have to pay to watch…
3) See #1.
Chris N Carol Barrett-
Being with my husband, seeing the country, meeting new people.
The open road, meeting new friends, and quality time with my husband/team mate & dogs.
Quitting time payday and vacation.
Get to travel all over.
No boss looking over my shoulder.
Having kids give me the arm pump, and getting complimented at the stops.
Karl A Barton-
1.)Payed 2.) Road 3.) Trip.
$ paid vacation+freedom.
My 180 scenic view, the open road, and my air condition office.
Steve Lazybones Strange-
The open road. Setting my own clock being my own boss. And the looks I get from kids and adults when I’m loaded. Oh, and the open road. Did I say that already?
Taking as much time off as I need to, and nobody telling me what to do or where to go.
Freedom of the open road.
The quiet solitude away from everybody.
Jasen Len S-
Travel, paycheck & my own mobile office. Lol.
Talking with the older generation of drivers and hearing the stories, the adventure of running over size, and the challenge of living life as a driver.
Seeing new and different places, being able to take care of my family, and meeting cool people.
The view keeps changing.
Can shop for all kinds of different foods depending where you are.
Get to go to a lot more races and stuff like that.
Freedom to work when I want and where I want. No northeast and no California.
Independence of owning my truck, money and the company I leased my truck to. Yes, I do love my job!!
5Understand the different types of truck driving jobs within the trucking industry.
It may be easy for a prospective driver to think they want to start earning their living driving a big rig, but have you put much thought into deciding what “type” of truck driving job is best for you? Do you want to be a company driver or do you have aspirations of owning your own truck and becoming an owner operator? Are you able to run OTR freight or does family constraints require that you be home every night? If you don’t know the answer or haven’t given it much thought you might want to spend some time learning about the different types of truck driving jobs available within the transportation industry. Knowing the differences in job types will help you better discern which type of job will fit your needs to best.
Company Driving Jobs
The most common type of CDL truck driving jobs within the transportation industry is company driving positions. Company drivers typically get consistent pay, access to employer sponsored benefits, and steady home time. Most truck drivers start their driving career as a company driver. Company drivers are usually paid as a W2 employee. The company they work for typically assigns them with their own tractor to use while they are employed with them. Usually, company drivers do not have to pays for any of the fuel, scales, tolls, lumpers, or maintenance. Basically a company driver is just being paid for their time spent on the running running freight for the company.
Lease Purchase Driving Jobs
Once truck drivers get some experience they may get the itch to venture out to try something new. Some drivers look into lease purchase programs. Lease purchase trucking jobs are designed for truck drivers who want the opportunity to be considered an owner operator, but might not have the credit or available financing to purchase a tractor on their own.
There are many trucking companies that offer lease purchase programs. Normally, a trucking company will own a tractor and then agree to lease this tractor out to a potential driver for a fixed or variable fee due every week. The overall goal of a lease program is for the driver to pay the tractor off through a time investment of working for the trucking company while having the driver continue making payments until the truck gets paid off. Some lease purchase programs also carry with it a balloon payment that the driver is required in pay off in addition to the weekly payments they already paid in.
Lease purchase drivers are considered an independent contractor are are usually paid via 1099 instead of the traditional w2 that company drivers are paid. Like owner operators, a lease purchase driver needs to put money aside every paycheck in order to pay for their taxes owed to the government. Lease Purchase drivers are paid more per mile than company drivers, but they are typically paid less per mile than a true owner operator. Lease drivers are required to pay for the own fuel and they normally need to cover many other misc expenses such as physical damage insurance, bobtail insurance, occupational accident insurance, escrow accounts for maintenance, plates, permits, etc.
Most lease purchase programs within the trucking industry do not require money down or credit check and more and more lease programs are offering walk away leases that enable to driver to break their lease at any time.
The biggest fear about lease programs is that if the driver does not get enough miles to support their truck payment they end up going into the negative for the week. When this happens the driver is not able to bring home a paycheck and as a result they end up looking for new work.
If you are considering being a lease purchase driver than our recommendation is to research each company thoroughly to make sure that the lease program is going to match up with the needs of your lifestyle. There are good lease programs out there and we have provided several resources to help educate drivers on what questions to ask your driver recruiter. Be sure to check these out for more details if you are thinking about becoming an lease driver.
Owner Operator Jobs
If you are a professional truck driver and you already own your tractor then congratulations. This means that you are one of the most sought after drivers in the transportation industry. Owner Operators are typically among the highest paid truck drivers in the industry and for good reason. Owner Operators allow trucking companies to scale their trucking company in fleet capacity without the need of investing in new equipment or hiring a new driver. Owner operators already have the equipment and they typically are the driver so companies that hire owner operators are able to kill 2 birds with one stone.
There are 2 types of owner operators with the trucking industry. The first type is called power only owner operators. These are owner operators who only own the tractor and they do not own their own trailer. This type of owner operator must haul freight for trucking companies or freight brokers that gives them access to a trailer to use so they can haul the freight. Many power only owner operators will lease their equipment onto a transportation company and will normally run under the DOT authority of the company they are leased on with.
The second type of owner operator are made up of an even smaller segment of truck drivers that owns both the tractor and the trailer. These owner operators mostly run their own authority and they broker freight from various transportation companies and 3rd party brokers. Like lease purchase drivers, owner operators are required to pay for their own fuel and they normally need to cover the other misc expenses such as physical damage insurance, bob tail insurance, occupational accident insurance, escrow accounts for maintenance, plates, permits, etc.
Local Truck Driving Jobs
Truck driving is a demanding profession. The work life balance for the typically OTR driver is poor because most truck drivers spend the majority of their time on the road and away from their family. Some truck drivers simply cannot work over the road due to family constraints or other limitations that demands their time be spent at home on a regular basis. If this scenario describes you then the only viable option for you working in the transportation industry is to try finding a trucking job that can get you home every day. The good news is that many transportation companies have local truck driving jobs, but at the same time, they also have a limited number of openings and you must live in the hiring area for the company with the local job opening. If you need local work research trucking companies that have terminals close to where you live. Chances are if the company has a terminal near your address then they might have local work as well.
Dedicated Driving Jobs
Dedicated driving is desirable because it normally provides routine miles, steady pickup and delivery times, consistent pay, and even regular home time. Many trucking companies reserve their dedicated driving jobs for current drivers that have proven themselves. Likewise, some companies will only assign senior drivers to their dedicated accounts once the driver demonstrates a good record of on time deliveries. Even though this is the case we have found several companies that offer dedicated driving jobs to new hires as a way to attract them to their company. If you are looking for a dedicated driving job visit our dedicated driving jobs page.
Team Truck Driving Jobs
Team driving is when 2 drivers pair up in a single tractor and drive together to haul freight. Team driving allows companies to haul high mile freight and get it delivered quickly since the truck rarely has to stop moving. Many times, expedited freight is hauled by teams. Customers who operate with just in time or exactly on time manufacturing processes will typically employ teams to move freight quickly and efficiently.
Team drivers are extremely difficult for companies to recruit and due to the increased competition between companies team drivers usually demand the highest pay and largest sign on bonuses. At the same time, many CDL training programs operate as a team environment. The student will typically pair up with a driver trainer. In some cases the trucking company will then operate that truck as a team with the student driving as well as a driver trainer driving miles. Other times, the driver trainer is only allowed to log some many hours because he also has to spend on duty time training his student. It just depends on the company and the rules of the training program, but some companies have been known to use CDL training programs as a way to create a team truck.
6Learn about the different classifications of trucking companies within the trucking industry.
In step 5 we discussed the different types of trucking jobs within the industry so hopefully by now you have a better idea regarding the type of trucking job you want to strive for. However, there is another factor that you need to keep in mind and it has to do with the different types of “trucking companies” within the industry. Did I lose you? You may have thought that all companies were the same, but in fact, that this is not the case. Many drivers may overlook this concept, but in some respects, the differences in “trucking companies” can play a even larger role in a drivers income and overall happiness then the type of truck driving job they actual have. After knowing about the different classifications of trucking companies you should have a better grasp on which direction you want to tailor your career path towards.
For Hire Truckload Carriers
For hire truckload carriers is a classification of trucking companies within the trucking industry that earns their revenue by hauling other companies freight. If you work for a for hire truckload carrier you are working for a company that doesn’t actually manufacturer or produce anything. Instead, for hire truckload carriers sell their fleet capacity to other companies who are in need of logistic support and supply chain management.
Typically, for hire truckload carriers will contract out their trucks, trailers, and drivers to another company that needs their services. Since these types of companies do not manufacturer or ship their own goods their entire business model is based upon the freight demands of other companies.
The downsize to working for this type of trucking company is that freight contracts turnover and are offered up to other trucking companies to bid on. You might work for one of these companies today and you enjoy hauling the freight that they run, but it does not mean that they will always win the bid for that customer’s freight contract. This means you must be aware for the potential of the freight changing. Often times, for hire truckload companies have multiple customers to protect aganist the loss of one customers freight.
Another downsize to working for a for hire truckload carrier is that their drivers typically operate as part of a over the road network of drivers. This is not true in all cases, but generally, a for hire truckload carrier will have a large percentage of their driver fleet made up of OTR drivers and as a new driver in the industry this is where you may have to start if you want to change to move up.
Interested in working with a for hire truckload carrier? Explore these companies:
Top 30 For Hire Truckload companies ranked in order of revenue.
|Rank||Company||2015 Revenue (000)|
|4||J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.||$1,836,766|
|5||Werner Enterprises Inc.||$1,644,874|
|7||U.S. Xpress Enterprises||$1,346,000|
|10||Roadrunner Truckload Logistics||$1,175,594|
|11||Knight Transportation Inc.||$952,098|
|12||Ryder Dedicated Transportation Solutions||$895,538|
|13||Crete Carrier Corp.||$775,000|
|15||Celadon Trucking Services||$748,337|
|16||Heartland Express Inc.||$736,345|
|17||Universal Logistics Holdings Inc.||$696,134|
|18||Cardinal Logistics Management Corp,||$630,000|
|20||Mullen Group Ltd.||$559,477|
|22||Western Express Inc.||$520,079|
|23||Canada Cartage System||$466,463|
|24||Covenant Transportation Group||$449,029|
|26||P.A.M. Transportation Services||$417,050|
|27||Bison Transport Inc.||$406,981|
|28||Mesilla Valley Transportation||$397,716|
|29||Interstate Distributor Co.||$392,109|
There are hundreds of companies out there that manufacturer a product, but also control the distribution and supply chain of that product. Private fleets are comprised of companies that in addition to supplying the actual freight that is being hauled they also supply their own trucks, trailers, and drivers.
Truck drivers that work for a private fleet are generally an employee of the company that has the freight. For example, Frito Lay is a private fleet. Frito lays produces the product and they have their own drivers that delivers the goods through their own supply chain. FedEx and UPS also private fleets. They have their own fleet of truck drivers that work for them, but with that being said it is not uncommon for a private fleet to need help with their freight capacity. For example, FedEx and UPS may not have enough of their own trucks and drivers to support all of their freight demands so when this happens they may need to broker out their extra freight to other for hire truckload carriers.
Generally, drivers who work for private fleets are paid more and are usually more experienced. It is typically more difficult to get hired on by a private fleet. The downsize of working for a private fleet is that your job security is determined by the overall financial health of a single company. This mean as a driver you are more or less putting all of your eggs in the same basket. Since driver that work for private fleets are hauling the same product if that company begins to struggle or if things start to slow down their miles might suffer because the company does not have has much freight to haul.
Interested in working for a private fleet? Explore these companies:
Top 10 private fleets ranked by total tractor size.
Less Than Truckload Carriers
There is a large segment of trucking companies out there that operate what is know as less than truck load freight also known as LTL. If you think about shipping products from point A to point B there are numerous products that are being shipped to and from consumers, but whenever there is a product that is too big to be sent through the general postal service that’s where less than truckload carriers come into play.
A less than truckload company will typically operate either a 53′ trailer or doubles to move smaller products that need home or business delivery all across america. One less than truckload trailer might be shipping 10-30 different products to all different customers. LTL companies will have their drivers and dispatch schedule the delivery of these goods to the customers home or they may have the customer come pick up the freight from their local distribution center.
Companies that focus on hauling LTL will typically employee 2 different types of drivers. The first type of driver would be a line haul driver that runs dedicated freight from point to point. This may be distribution center to distribution center. Because these drivers run back and forth they typically get consistent miles, and regularly scheduled home time. The second type of driver the LTL companies employee is typically a city driver who runs a day cab making local deliveries all through the city. These drivers are usually home every day, but they also have to navigate city traffic all day and they are required to meet with numerous customers a day. One load might have 12 stops or more so a city LTL driver does a lot of freight handling.
Interested in working for a less than truckload carrier? Explore these companies:
Top 25 less than truckload companies ranked in order of revenue
|Rank||Company||2015 Revenue (000’s)|
|4||Old Dominion Freight Line Inc.||$2,972,442|
|6||Estes Express Lines||$2,367,000|
|10||Southeastern Freight Lines||$955,052|
|11||Averitt Express Inc.||$702,000|
|13||Central Transport International||$675,000|
|14||AAA Cooper Transportation Inc.||$595,368|
|16||Dayton Freight Lines||$452,817|
|18||New England Motor Freight||$388,000|
|19||A. Duie Pyle Inc.||$281,554|
|20||Day & Ross Freight||$270,148|
|21||Central Freight Lines Inc.||$205,000|
|23||Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc.||$186,974|
|24||Ward Transport & Logistics Corp.||$166,944|
|25||Watkins & Shepard Trucking||$159,000|
Another segment of drivers that work in the industry are drivers who work for household moving companies. This can bee a unique hybrid role that combines physical work with transporting the freight. The majority of the work that comes to household movers are from single customers that needs their household items moved due to a relocation.
People who enjoy physical labor or who wants to stay in shape might enjoy working for a household moving company. Each company has different relocation packages so some companies may offer moving packages that requires the driver to pack of the customers household with the assistance of some local help. Depending on the company, the driver might be required to pack up the customers goods, load them into the trailer, drive the freight from point A to point B, and then offload the household items at the customers new location.
The downsize to this type of work is the increase risk for injury due to the physical labor that might be involved. In addition, as a driver you can never anticipate the condition of the house the you will be moving from day to day so there might be times when you walk into a dirty house or are packing someone else’s mess.
Household movers can make great money though and the physical activity should help the driver stay in shape. Some drivers like the break up off driving as well so having the ability to drive half the time and then load and unload freight half the time is appealing to some drivers.
Transporting freight through tractor trailer is not the only way that freight is hauled throughout the world. Inter-modal drivers are usually local drivers that haul rail containers to and from the rail yard. For many companies, shipping freight through rail can be a much more efficient solution. The problem with using rail to ship freight is that shippers are still required to get their product to the rail depot in addition to making sure the freight is picked up again and delivered to the final customer.
This distribution process requires more hands to touch the freight. First, you need one truck and driver to take the freight to the rail yard. Then the freight is moved by rail the majority of the way. Once the freight arrives to the final detestation another truck and driver is required to pick it up to get it delivered to the final customer. Hypothetically, the normal truckload process would only have required 1 driver and 1 truck to haul the freight from point A to point B, but because the freight was shipped by rail it ended up requiring 2 drivers and 2 trucks to complete the shipping process.
Because there are more hands involved with shipping freight by rail it typically provides good jobs for drivers that want to haul freight locally. If you live near a major rail hub or shipping port you might want to look into companies that haul inter-modal freight.
7Step by step guide to getting your CDL.
If you are still with us up until this point that’s great! We have already covered a lot, but we are just getting started. Hopefully, you have a better idea by now about whether you still want to become a truck driver. The next few topics in our beginners guide to becoming a CDL driver will focus on the various ways that someone can go about obtaining their CDL. The information provided to you in this section should give you a high level overview about the various steps that a person needs to take in order to physically obtain the CDL.
History of the CDL
The Commercial Driver’s License dates back over 30 years, when Congress signed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Act of 1986 into law. The purpose was to improve highway safety by ensuring truck drivers were qualified to operate their equipment. The Federal Highway Administration developed testing standards for licensing drivers and on April 1, 1992, all truck drivers were required to have a CDL.
Truck driving schools existed before that time, but after the CDL law came into existence, schools became necessary, and while attending a school is not required to obtain a CDL, it was and still is one of the better ways to obtain your license. Today, schools teach almost everyone seeking a CDL the knowledge and skills necessary to safely operate a big truck.
How do I get my CDL?
Although there are federal guidelines in place for obtaining a CDL, each state has its own set of guidelines that must be followed in order to get your CDL. To operate a commercial vehicle across state lines (Interstate) you must be at least 21 years old. If you are 21 years of age or older you can present yourself to your local DMV office to fill out and submit your application for your CDL. There will typically be a application fee involved so verify the amount to make sure you have the funds needed to cover the application cost.
When you submit your application to your local DMV you will be required to take a series of CDL exams. Depending on the requirements of your state you will need to pass the general knowledge test. Once you pass the general knowledge test you will be able to get your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) which will allow you to start driving a commercial vehicle as long as another CDL holder is present in the truck with you.
After you have had some time to train behind the wheel and you start feeling comfortable driving a commercial vehicle you will need to schedule an appointment to take a driving skills test at your local DMV. During this test a CDL examiner will take you out and ask you to perform a series of truck driving maneuvers to ensure that you are capable of driving a commercial vehicle safely. Make sure you research this process because some states are overbooked and it could take months before the state can get you in.
In addition to the general knowledge test you are required to pass other tests such as combinations vehicles test, air brake test, and the pre-trip inspection test. If you want to add endorsements on your license additional testing is required such as the hazmat test, doubles/triples test, and the tanker test.
Don’t get too stressed about this process. There are a lot of options out there and plenty of resources to help you get your CDL. For most new drivers there are 3 different options that they can use to help them get their CDL.
- Option 1: Attend a local truck driving school
- Option 2: Qualify for a company sponsored training program.
- Option 3: Do it all on your own.
Each option comes with their own pros & cons so if you have not yet decided which method you are going to use to get your CDL then you need to continue reading before rushing off to your local truck driving school and paying tuition or deciding to sign up through a company for their company sponsored training program. We want to make sure that you have considered all scenarios and that you have been provided with the pros and cons of all options.
8Trucking Driving School vs. Paid CDL Training
Trying to decided between attending a truck driving school or signing up with a trucking company directly might be a challenging decision. Either option has merits and both options will put you on the right track for advancing your career. This section of our guide is dedicated to helping you decided what option is best for you. There are pros and cons to each option.
Should I go to Truck Driving School to get my CDL?
Attending a local truck driving school may have been the first thing that came to your mind when you initially started to think about getting your CDL. Truck driving schools do a great job of preparing you for the various written exams that you will need to take. They also have qualified driver instructors who normally can show you a few tricks of the trade. Truck driving schools offer classes catering to every student’s needs. But before signing up, it’s important to visit as many schools as possible. Inquire about tuition cost, job placement, class size and how much experience the instructors have.
How much will it cost to attend school? On average, tuition is about $4000, but this amount can vary based on your state and the availability of competitor school in the area. A general rule of thumb is that you will pay between $3,000 to $6,000 for tuition. The good news is that most people can qualify for student loans to cover the tuition cost. Truck driving schools will provide you with assistance for obtaining a student loan. Most trucking schools have a financial aid departments that can walk you through the student loan application process. Once you graduate from school and you start driving you will have 6 months before your student loans are due so this should give you plenty of time to start making some money before your first payments become due.
Keep in mind that there are trucking companies out there that offer tuition reimbursement so depending on the job you are looking for you may be able to find an employer that will help you pay back your student loans. Reimbursement programs are typically disbursed incrementally and then, only after working for a specified period of time. Some employers do offer full scholarships, but be cautious; terms and conditions can have damaging consequences.
Once you’ve selected a school, don’t expect to hop into a truck right away. About 20 hours will be spent in a classroom gaining the skills necessary to pass the written part of the CDL. In addition, class time can also be spent learning about federal regulations, log books, pre-trip, as well as map reading skills and trip planning. Some schools will offer simulator training, but this shouldn’t be considered as “driving” experience. Occasionally, guest speakers (truck drivers) will visit and talk about the industry.
The second portion of truck driving school is spent hands-on with the equipment. At this point, some schools may even offer a block of instruction on how to chain-up. The truck you’ll drive will usually be a sleeper cab with considerable mileage. Some schools will provide training on day cabs, single axle trucks or even a rig with an automatic transmission. You should expect to spend about 20 hours on a closed course learning pre-trip and basic driving skills followed by about 20 more hours driving on a designated route through your community. The typical route usually includes city and highway traffic situations: hills, stoplights, left and right turns, rail crossings and highway merge/exit.
When finished, you’ll take the CDL test. Successful completion will earn you the opportunity to begin your adventure with the transportation industry!
The advantages of going to truck driving school is that many people can find one close to home. This normally means they can stay home while attending school. This is a good option for people who still need to work full time or part time while attending school. Let’s be honest, we all gotta eat so you may not be able to quit the job you have to take classes. Some truck driving schools have night classes for people who need to work during the day and then attend classes at night.
Company Sponsored Training Programs
Another option besides enrolling at a local truck driving school is to qualify with a trucking company that offers a training program. As the driver shortage continues to grow, many companies are starting to offer training programs as a way to attract new talent to their company. Each company has slightly different requirements, but generally a company sponsored training program will not require any out of pocket expenses on your part. This means no student loans are required. In addition, the company who trains you will also guarantee you a job for them once your training is complete. Some companies even pay you a wage while you are training so you have money coming in. While all of these things are better in the short term it doesn’t mean that the program is free or the better option.
Normally, with a company sponsored training program the company will still charge you tuition, but they will defer your entire tuition cost as long as you remain eligible for the program and meet their predefined drive time requirements. Basically, after you complete their training program and get your CDL you start working for them for a lower rate of pay. The company then recuperates your tuition cost by having you as a driver who is being paid less money. In addition, the company who paid for your training will normally require you to invest a minimum amount of time in which you are not allowed to quit to find new work elsewhere. If you end up quitting the program or are terminated from the company before the training time frame is complete you most likely will be required to pay back the tuition cost. Some companies might prorate your remaining tuition cost so you may not be required to pay back the full amount, but nevertheless, with a company sponsored program you are at the company’s mercy. For lack of better words, the company owns you until you complete the program. In addition, with a company training program you have to travel to wherever their training facility is. This means that from day 1 of your never career in truck in you away. There is no transition period. Also, while going through the training program it is not uncommon for drivers to be out away from home for weeks at a time.
Questions CDL Students Should Ask Before Training Starts
Below are some questions you may want to consider asking trucking companies who sponsor training opportunities. Keep your questions open ended to gain a thorough understanding of what to expect.
- What are the financing requirements for my training?
- Can your send me an overview of the financing requirements?
- What funds will I need up front (if any) before starting school?
- Will you provide me a study guide to get my permit?
- How long does it take to get my CDL and training diploma?
- What endorsements will you prepare me for?
- Will I receive my diploma after training?
- Where is the training facility?
- What is the instructor student ratio?
- Will I receive travel assistance to the facility?
- Will I be provided meals and lodging during my training?
- What type of trucks will I use during training?
- Will I learn on a standard transmission?
- How many students do you assign to each truck during training?
- Will I learn to back and road skills with a 53 foot trailer?
- Will the trailer I use be loaded or empty?
- How do you prepare new drivers for unfavorable weather conditions?
- Do you use any simulators to train with?
- How long is the training to get my CDL?
- How are you meeting licensing / physical requirements set by FMCSA?
- Will I receive any pay during school?
- Once I finish the school, how long will it be before I can receive my CDL?
- Once I finish school, how long will I have to ride with a trainer or mentor?
- Does the trainer of driver finisher have a specific guide to follow?
- Will I receive a copy of the training guidelines they are supposed to follow?
- While I expect the trainer or driver finisher to evaluate me, do I also evaluate the trainer or driver finisher?
- What will I be earning while I am with the trainer or driver finisher?
- What will my pay be once I am released from my trainer or driver finisher?
- What is the hours I can expect to driver per day during the first two weeks?
- How many hours a day should I expect to driver after two weeks?
- How much emphasis will the trainer or drive finisher put on backing?
- Will the trainer or driver finisher focus on post trip / pre trip inspections?
- If paid for my own training, how does the reimbursement plan work?
- What will my rate of pay be once I am released from my trainer or driver finisher?
Which option is better for me?
As we have already discussed, there are pros and cons to each CDL training method. New drivers just need to evaluate what their overall needs are. Everyone’s situation is unique. Some drivers will be better off going to a truck driving school where they can stay local, get their CDL and have more flexibility once they graduate. Other people might want to get paid right away and do not want to take out student loans for tuition so for them signing up for a paid CDL training program is the way to go.
Here is a recap on the pros and cons of each training method.
|Truck Driving School|
|Ability to stay close to home||Initial out of pocket cost|
|Good academic preparation to pass CDL Exams||No job is guaranteed after you graduate|
|Potential of night classes so you can still work||Might train in poor equipment|
|Qualified instructor to prepare you for driving test|
|More flexibility with job choice once you graduate|
|Company Sponsored Training Program|
|No out of pocket fees||Must travel to companies training facilty|
|Ability to get paid for training||Commitment to work for the company for a predetermined time frame|
|You already have a job when you get your CDL||When training is complete you typically work for lower wages|
|Might need to ride along and team with another driver during training|
9How to avoid failing your CDL training.
ARGH, nobody likes taking tests, and less people like being told what to do, but in order to get your CDL you must both. For some, passing their written exams and conquering their driving skills test is no easy feat. This means you need to study and be willing to listen to the instruction of your driver training. Here is some advice for things you can do to avoid failing your CDL training.
Go to School or Driver Training Ready to Work
Training to become a CDL driver can be difficult for some people because of the amount of technical information that needs to be learned in order to pass your written exams. Make sure you’re committed to learning as much as before you start. Remember – any fool can push a pedal down and crank a wheel, but that’s not what truck drivers do. You will be learning much more than how to hold a steering wheel correctly, such as complicated state regulatory procedures, engine and tractor maintenance and how to navigate legal issues that arise while you are on the road. Don’t treat CDL training as a “pay to play” scheme, because it’s not. So when you enter training, get serious, be ready to work and then make friends to form your network of support.
Adjust Your Attitude
Trucking companies put a lot of faith in their drivers. They don’t hire just anyone to navigate an 80,000 pound semi trailer through commuter traffic and hazardous highways. If you broadcast the attitude of a know-it-all without the skills to back it up, CDL trainers will make note and this might cause hiring issues for you later. Trucking involves a lot of aptitude tests and background checks. Fleet owners will want to know everything they can about you so during the hiring process trucking companies go to great lengths to conduct a thorough background check on you. Before starting your career as a trucker make sure your driving and legal records are clean. When you are in orientation or going through training make sure you present a positive attitude. Presenting a little positivity goes a long way.
Don’t Give Up
Truck drivers have to be self-reliant. Often times they’re the only ones looking out themselves. On the road they have to be smart, vigilant and crafty to keep things rolling smooth. You have to be the same way when training for your CDL. Don’t get us wrong – you should do all you can to make friends and build a network of professionals that can help you with certain things later. Just don’t expect help whenever you need it. While in training, don’t let things you find difficult frustrate you to the point of quitting. Truck driving is a profession, but it’s most definitely a skill. Skill requires practice and adjustments. Be ready to endure a lot of it while learning to drive. Every trucker will have a story of mistakes and how they overcame setbacks. Just make sure you’re ready to learn from these mistakes once you begin.
10Free CDL Practice Test
If you’re looking to get your CDL, we can help!
Taking online practice tests can help you better prepare for your exam and let you know what areas you need to study further.
Even if you already have your CDL and you want to get your Hazmat certification, these practice test questions will help you prepare!
11List of trucking companies that hire with no experience.
Congratulations, by now you should have your CDL so it’s time to start putting it to good use. One of the biggest complaints that we hear from new drivers is that they have limited employer options available to them when they are first starting out. The truck driving school you went to should be able to help you find a job with an partnering trucking company, but that doesn’t mean you are going to want to work with that employer. If you don’t like the options available to you right out of school you may have a hard time finding a trucking company that is willing to hire you due to your little to no experience.
Starting out in the trucking business can be a vicious cycle: to get a job you need experience, but to get experience you need a job. Initially, it can be difficult for new drivers who just got their CDL to land their first job. After acquiring your CDL you might have tried applying to several different trucking companies, but the application rejections keep rolling in. They probably sounds something like this. “Sorry, we can’t hire you because you do not have any recent experience.” or another might be “Call us back when you get 12 months recent experience.” You might not have realized that it could be this difficult to find a job after getting your CDL. After all, the reason you got your CDL was because you thought it would be easier to find a good paying job. So what the deal?
Even though the transportation industry needs drivers, most good paying companies expect applicants to have a minimum amount of experience behind the wheel of a tractor before they are willing to give the driver a chance. The simple reason for this is that, statistically, new drivers carry with them an increased risk of being involved in an accident. Many companies don’t want this increased risk so they simply don’t hire recent graduates until they have a threshold level of experience in. As a result, trucking companies that do hire drivers with little experience are higher risk and have an increased exposure to potential insurance losses. The increased cost that is associated with hiring entry level drivers is one of the main reasons why entry level driver pay is so low. Trucking companies subsidize the increased insurance risk, by offsetting it with lower wages for entry level drivers.
For a entry level truck driver this can be frustrating to hear. How does a new driver get a job within the trucking industry with little to no experience when no one is willing to give them a chance?
The good news is that as the driver shortage continues to grow trucking companies are starting to reduce their minimum hiring standards. Even better, many trucking companies now hire entry level students and if you don’t yet have your CDL some even have their own CDL Training Programs in place.
Trucking companies that hire with no experience.
- Pam Transport
- Roehl Transport
- CR England
- Swift Transportation
- US Xpress
- Stevens Transport
If you are having a hard time finding a company that will hire you spend some time researching one of the companies above. All of the companies above run over the road, but they are also big enough that they have separate divisions which should give you increased advancement opportunities for when you get a little more experience in.
12100 questions every driver should ask their driver recruiter.
- Is the company privately or publicly held?
- How many total employees does the company have?
- How many drivers does the company currently have?
- What is the company’s turnover rate?
- How many empty trucks does the company have right now?
- If the company has a lot of empty truck it might be a sign that more drivers quitting then they are able to hire.
- How many terminals does the company have and where are they?
- How long has the average driver been with the company?
- What is the passenger policy?
- What is the pet policy?
Operational Questions for Truck Drivers to ask their Driver Recruiter:
- What kinds of freight does the company haul?
- In what states does the company operate in the most?
- What is the ratio of driver mangers to drivers?
- What is the ratio of load planners to trucks?
- What is the average length of load?
- What is the average # of miles per tractor?
- How are the drivers miles calculated?
- Short Miles
- Practical mileage
- Household Movers Guide
- What percent of your freight is Drop and Hook?
- Are drivers required to physically unload freight?
- How many hours are free before the driver starts receiving detention time pay?
- Does the company have multiple stop loads?
- How long do stops take to get offloaded on average?
- Is the company forced dispatched?
- What happens if a driver refuses to take a dispatch for a legitimate reason?
- Are drivers able to stay within a certain geographically area or are they required to run wherever the company runs?
- Does your company use customer based freight or brokered freight?
- What percentage of the companies freight is brokered freight?
- Does the trucking company have an idle policy?
- Does the company use satellite communications?
- Does the company use E-logs or Paper Logs?
- If the company uses e-log which system is used? People-Net, Qualcomm, etc?
Equipment questions for Truck Drivers to ask their Driver Recruiter:
- What type of trucks does the company use?
- What is the average age of the company’s tractors?
- What is the average age of the company’s trailers?
- Do the trucks come equipped with APU’s?
- Do the trucks come equipped with power inverters?
- If no power inverters are installed can the driver install one aftermarket?
- Is there a wattage limit for aftermarket power invertors?
- Does the company “slip seat” drivers or assign drivers to trucks?
- If a driver takes extended home time is there a risk that their truck will be taken away and reassigned?
- Are drivers able to take the tractor home with them on home time?
- Do drivers need to be prepared to have a place to keep the trailer on home time?
- Can drivers leave the trailer locked up in a different location than the tractor on home time?
- Do the trucks come equipped with refrigerators?
- Do the trucks have single bunks or double bunks?
Question truck drivers should ask their driver recruiter about new hire orientation:
- How long is the company’s orientation process?
- Are new hires paid anything for orientation?
- Does the company pay for all travel arrangements?
- What method of travel does the company use?
- Flight, Bus, Rental Car?
- Does the driver get their own hotel room or are drivers required to room with another driver?
- Does the company expect the driver to pay them back for orientation expenses if the driver does not drive for them for a certain period of time?
- After orientation is finished how long will it take for the driver can get dispatched home to pick up his/her gear?
- Are pets and passengers allowed to attend orientation with the driver?
- Does the company have enough trucks for all of the drivers it hires at orientation or will the driver need to travel to another facility or terminal to recover a truck after orientation is finished?
Questions Truck Driver need to ask about compensation and pay:
- How does the company pay?
- Based off of my level of experience – how much is the company willing to pay me?
- What is the max rate of pay for your drivers?
- How does the company handle raises?
- What type of benefits does the company offer?
- Life Insurance
- Accident death
- 401K & retirement benefits
- Sick pay
- Payroll deduction programs such as a flex spending account or health saving account
- How long must a driver be employed before benefits kick in?
- Does the company offer a fuel bonus program?
- Does the company offer a safety bonus program?
- Does the company offer a performance bonus program?
- Does the company offer any sign on bonuses?
- How does the sign on bonus pay out?
- Does the company offer longevity bonuses or retention bonuses for tenured drivers?
- Does the company offer a driver referral bonus program?
- Does the company offer transition pay for changing employers?
- Does the company offer orientation pay?
Questions that truck drivers need to ask their recruiter before thinking about a “Lease Purchase Program”
- Does your company offer a Lease Purchase Program?
- Is the driver required to be a company driver first before becoming eligible to lease a truck?
- Are your hiring qualifications for Lease Purchase different than what they are for your company drivers?
- If so how are they different?
- What is required from the driver to get started with the Lease?
- Money Down
- Money in reserves
- Credit Check
- What type of equipment do you lease?
- Does the company buy the trucks from a dealership when a new driver starts or do new drivers use equipment that has already been leased out?
- How long is the lease for?
- How much does is cost each week for the lease?
- Are driver required to pay truck payments when they are off the road?
- Is there a balloon payment or a buyout at the end of the lease
- What happens if drivers are unable to pay this at the end?
- Does the company help driver finance the remaining balloon
- What are all of the “other” charges that drivers are required to pay in addition to the truck payment?
- What type of insurances is lease purchase drivers required to pay?
- Physical Damage
- Occupational accident
- Are drivers responsible for finding these insurances on their own?
- What type of escrow accounts does the company make the driver set up?
- Walk away lease escrow
- What happens to the driver in the event they are unable to finish the lease?
- Are drivers charged a fee?
- Are escrow accounts and maintenance accounts refunded to the driver when they leave?
- Do lease purchase driver get special preferences for freight?
- Are LP drivers paid for all miles?
- Does LP driver get 100% of the fuel surcharge?
- Are LP drivers paid by the mile or by Percentage?
- If by the percentage how will drivers know what they true percentage is?
- What type of maintenance is the driver responsible for?
- Will someone in the office keep track of when regular maintenance is due or is the driver responsible for scheduling their own maintenance?
- Where are the repairs preformed? Does the driver have a say in this?
- How often are driver paid? By the week or by the load?
- Do LP drivers need to have their own Trailers?
- If not, are drivers charged a rental fee for the use of the companies trailers
- Does your company offer any type of tax services to help the driver out when filing their taxes?
- What are the total weekly expenses for all charges on the lease each week not including fuel?
- Can driver get fuel anywhere or are they limited to certain fuel stops?
- Does the company keep track of all maintenance records for each truck?
- If so, can the driver see of copy of all maintenance on the truck before leasing?
- Can the driver get the contract for the lease sent to them before coming in so the driver can review the lease?
- What are the most negative things about your lease compared to what other companies are offering?
- Can you give me a name and number of a current Lease Driver so I can get feedback directly from a driver on how the lease works?
- Is the driver allowed to customize the truck, such as installing new wheels, shifters, seats, stacks, etc… before having it paid off?
13New Driver Starter Kit
CDLLIFE cannot take credit for this material, but we though it was so good we wanted to share. We found the following 2 videos of recommended gear that all truck drivers should have with them. These videos were shot by a veteran driver. The driver’s YouTube channel is BigRigTalk.
14Shopping list for new drivers
To go along with the videos from the previous step CDLLIFE has put together a list of all of the essentials that you might need that can be purchased through Amazon and shipped to you. We did the heavy lifting for you and sourced out all of the best deals. If interested, following these links to purchase some of these items today:
You’ve earned your CDL — congratulations! Now you’re ready to hit the road. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your truck, so it’s important to have some of the comforts of home, as well as all of the tools of the trade. We’re here to help!
It’s best to get your gear before heading out — have you seen truck stop prices? Stock up now, and be prepared for anything the road or Mother Nature throws your way.
We’ve asked veteran drivers what all drivers need to keep in the truck and there’s what they told us no driver should leave home without.
You don’t have to be a mechanic, but knowing how to work on your truck can save you a lot of time and money. Whether it’s replacing a mud flap, or dislodging frozen brakes, you’ll need a set of tools.
We recommend this 4.5-star-rated sturdy kit made by Stanley tools.
If it’s dark, and you have to replace a mud flap, you’re going to need a good, sturdy flashlight. We recommend this Stanley rechargeable, waterproof flashlight.
You can’t always hold a flashlight and work at the same time, so we also recommend investing in a good headlamp like this one from GRDE.
Eating on the road can get very expensive, very quickly. We recommend cooking in your truck. When you make your own meals, you’re not only saving money, you’re also eating healthier! Here are the items you’ll need to cook in your truck.
Burton is a name synonymous with travel cooking products. The Burton Induction stove is perfect for cooking in the truck!
Nothings better after a long, hard day at work than a warm meal. Prepare your meals in the morning, let them cook all day and enjoy them later! This 12-volt slow cooker is perfect for your busy days.
If your truck does not come equipped with a refrigerator, you’ll need a cooler to keep your food fresh. We recommend these coolers:
If you want to invest in a good refrigerator, you’re going to need a good inverter. Here are our recommendations for inverters:
Even if you don’t plan on cooking on the road, you’ll need to have an emergency stash of food on hand. Consider investing in some emergency food options.
As a truck driver, you must be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. We recommend keeping rain and winter gear on-hand.
After a long day, you’re going to need a hot shower. Take it from us, always wear sandals in the shower! Here are the items you’ll need!
Accidents to happen, always keep a first-aid kit on-hand.
The FMCSA has prohibited truck drivers from using handheld devices while driving. Avoid a hefty fine and invest in a bluetooth headset.
Lastly, and most importantly, you’ll need a navigation guide. Do not trust a car GPS, it could cost you! Whether you’re an old school Atlas driver or a modern driver, we’ve got you covered.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, head on over to our CDLLife store for more New Truck Driver starter kit recommendations.
15How to prepare for orientation
By now you should be well on your way to finally starting new career as a truck driver. You have narrowed down your choices for companies you want to work for and you have finally selected who the lucky employer is going to be. It is now time for new hire orientation. Are you sure you are prepared to go? Usually, all trucking companies will provide you with their own list of items that they want you to bring with you, but we thought we would cover some of the basics just in case. (This is by no means a complete list as some companies may require further information or documentation):
Classroom & Paperwork
1. CDL – Do we even have to list this? You should always carry with you no matter what, but through the years we have heard stories about drivers be kicked out of orientation because the forgot to bring their CDL. This is one of the most important documents you will need.
2. Social Security Card or Birth Certificate – For tax purposes companies need two forms of ID. Your CDL is one and your Social Security Card or Birth Certificate can be used as another.
3. A Voided Check – If a company offers direct deposit, you will need to make sure to have a voided check with you so that you can provide the proper numbers to the company. If you do not have a checking account many companies have the option of paying you via a Comdata card or some companies can load a Green Dot money card available for purchase at any Walmart. You will need to check in on this.
4. Social Security Numbers and Birth Dates – for spouses and any dependents. This info is typically needed to health insurance purposes if you are going to enroll in coverage and it could be needed for life insurance.
5. Detailed work history – This is probably the most time consuming thing that you will need to get together. Most companies require you to fill out a full 10 year work history in orientation so don’t be that driver that is holding up orientation for others because it is taking you 2 hours to fill out your work history.
6. A Pen and Notebook – You will want to have these things so you can take any notes you may need.
7. Medications – If you are currently taking any medications you will want to bring your supply with you so you do not interrupt your dosages. Ask your recruiter how long you will be away from home at a time so you can properly prepare. In many cases your Dr. can prescribe multiple months of your medication at a time if they know your profession does not allow you to get to the pharmacy frequently.
Getting on the Road
1. Bedding, sheets, pillows – No one wants to experience getting into a truck for the first time and being required to sleep on a mattress that does not have any bedding on it. Make your life more enjoyable by bringing bedding with you or having the funds needed to stop at a department store to buy new ones after you get into your truck.
3. GPS – Even though our phones have GPS these days you might have better luck with a GPS designed for Truck Routes.
4. Headset for your cell phone – It is illegal for any commercial driver to use a cell phone without a hands free device so make sure you can talk hands-free while on the road.
5. Laundry bag and detergent. We have found that having a bag for your dirty laundry and purchasing the Pod type detergent works the best while in a truck.
6. 1 Week’s worth of clothing. Depending upon how often you will be able to do your laundry and how much space you will have for your belongings we recommend bringing as many clothes as you can.
These are pretty much the basics. If you are going through a training program that requires you to stay in the same truck as your trainer then remember that you will be a guest in your trainer’s truck so pack as light as possible. Once you obtain your own truck, you can then make it your own home.