Scott Keith | FleetOwner
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Owner-operators express their most common pain points

April 18, 2023
Parts availability and prices are among the biggest problems facing independent drivers who spoke to FleetOwner. According to a Truckstop survey, inflation is pushing owner-operators to readjust routes and loads.

With economic pressures including record inflation, still-high diesel prices, and volatile freight markets hurting the bottom line of even the largest carriers, owner-operators are having to stay on their toes as they navigate the winding roads of an uncertain second quarter.

According to a Truckstop survey of 500 owner-operators, 77% of respondents have booked shorter routes due to rising costs, while 72% have looked for lighter loads and 65% have booked fewer loads.

One owner-operator, John McCormick, driving for Oakley Trucking (No. 133 on the FleetOwner 500 For-Hire list), told FleetOwnerthat lingering supply chain issues have impacted both parts availability as well as his profitability. McCormick said he’d recently bought an actuator that normally costs about $500, but the only one he could find was on a website selling it for $2,000.

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“But I had to have it because the truck wouldn’t run without it,” McCormick said. “There seems to be a lot of that, a lot of price gouging.”

Sixty-five percent of owner-operators are spending more time and money maintaining their trucks to guard against expensive repairs, according to Truckstop’s survey.

McCormick also recently replaced the tires on his truck, saying, “They’ve doubled in price since the last time I bought tires.”

Another driver, Aaron Puterbaugh of Albertville, Minnesota’s Long Haul Trucking (No. 343 on the FleetOwner 500 For-Hire), also said that parts availability was his top maintenance headache, noting that for certain parts, the cost is “higher than it should be.”

Driver Andy Goettsch, who owns the Galva, Iowa-based carrier Goettsch Dispatch, which employs more than 30 drivers, said even on his new trucks, he perceives the quality of parts to be worse than in previous years, citing wheel seals as an example.

“I just don’t think the quality of the seals are there,” he said. “They tried to cheapen it up too much.”

See also: Tips to help carriers negotiate better spot rates

Better recruiting needs better training and pay

With the industry many thousands of drivers short of what carriers would like, current drivers are aware that their workforce doesn’t have the numbers it needs.

Puterbaugh said he sees fewer and fewer drivers entering the profession from younger generations due to the demands of the job.

“A lot of people don’t necessarily want to be gone for weeks on end,” he said.

However, some veteran drivers see the crop of new talent and argue that there need to be stricter requirements for entering the industry, arguing that, despite the driver shortage, quality is important.

“The biggest problem with the trucking industry today is training,” McCormick said. He reasoned that a person wouldn’t operate a train with only a few weeks of training, so why are drivers allowed to operate a tractor-trailer without going through more extensive education?

According to Puterbaugh: “It should almost be a requirement to have some kind of apprenticeship, and the people doing the apprenticeship should have a couple years of experience themselves.” He added that the employee-owned Long Haul Trucking requires two years of experience for its drivers.

One way to attract new talent while possibly alleviating the pain that existing drivers feel under the current market would be to look at trucking’s pay structures, Puterbaugh said.

“I would definitely say get away from the pay per mile,” he said. “I get paid a percentage of what the truck makes, so I more or less look at loads that pay better. I’m not chasing miles, I’m chasing money,” adding, “The technology is there to do an hourly pay, or some sort of salary plus hourly.”

See also: Veteran drivers teach how to reach 10 MPG

High diesel costs are another pressure on drivers, with 77% of owner-operators booking shorter routes due to rising costs such as diesel, according to Truckstop. Seventy-two percent have begun scouring for lighter loads, and 66% are spending more time rerouting to find more fuel-efficient lanes.

McCormick said diesel prices have been a thorn in his side, suggesting the government could do more to alleviate prices, such as by lowering fuel taxes.

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Scott Keith

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