Hot shot trucking (AKA hotshot trucking) involves hauling smaller, more time-sensitive LTL loads (less than truckload) within a specific timeframe and usually to a single customer or location. Hot shot loads are usually delivered using medium-duty trucks that pull flatbed trailers.
Hot shot truck requirements vary. Some hot shots need to be delivered a short distance, but others may need to go over state lines or even across the country.
What is hotshot trucking? Hot shot trucking is different from expedited shipping, which usually involves a motor carrier keeping vans, tractor-trailers, or even pickup trucks waiting on standby to get the job done. Instead of keeping expedited shipping vehicles on standby, hot shot hauling jobs are distributed to various drivers through load boards. This makes hot shot trucking a great opportunity for owner-operators looking for their next load or to make some extra money on the side.
Here we look in detail at how hot shot trucking works, the pros and cons, and how you can find hotshot transport jobs and loads.
What do hot shot truckers do?
A hot shot driver is an expert at delivering small, time-sensitive loads that need to be delivered within a specific timeframe. Most hot shot truckers are freelance owner-operators who own their vehicles and find their loads on load boards. But company drivers sometimes take on hot shot freight jobs, too.
Hot shot truckers usually have experience transporting various load types and the necessary equipment to do so. They’re attracted to hot shot loads because they pay decent rates, especially if a company needs a piece of equipment delivered quickly to avoid a loss in productivity.
For example, if a construction company needs equipment delivered to a job to keep a project on time, they might post it on a load board as a hot shot load to get it delivered ASAP. Late equipment deliveries can lead to company downtime or project delays — and lost revenue.
Truck types used for hot shot hauls
There aren’t many requirements for hot shot trucking. A hot shot trucker can use various truck types, but the most common are one-ton pickup trucks classified as “medium-duty” by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). These are generally classified as non-commercial vehicles, but you can use them for hot shot trucking if you have your operating authority, a USDOT number (if you’re hauling over state lines), liability insurance, and proof that you own a business.
Hot shot trucks typically fall under Class 3, 4, or 5.
Class 3 medium-duty trucks have a weight limit of 10,001-14,000 pounds. Some of the most common types are the Chevrolet Silverado 3500, the GMC Sierra 3500, the Ford F-350, and the Ram 3500.
Put simply, these are your basic heavy-duty consumer pickup trucks. They’re commonly used by contractors and last-mile delivery drivers, but you can also use them for hot shot logistics.
Class 4 medium-duty trucks have a weight limit of 14,001-16,000 pounds. The Chevrolet Silverado 4500, the Ford F-450, and the Ram 4500 are common examples. These are heavier trucks, but they’re still classified as non-commercial. If you anticipate hauling larger hot shot loads, you may want to invest in a Class 4 pickup truck.
Class 5 medium-duty trucks have a weight limit of 16,001-19,500 pounds. Common models include the Chevrolet Silverado 5500, the Ford F-550, and the Ram 5500. Class 5 is also where some of the lightest commercial trucks are categorized. The Kenworth T170, Peterbilt 325, and International TerraStar fall into this category.
Trailer types used for hot shot hauls
Choosing a trailer is a big decision. The type you choose depends mostly on the truck you’re using and the types of loads you intend to haul.
Bumper pull trailers
Bumper pull trailers are generally shorter and less expensive. They’re easy to use, so they’re popular with civilian drivers.
The one drawback to bumper pull trailers is that they don’t haul as many materials or as much weight. In most cases, the load you carry on a bumper pull trailer will be less than 10,001 pounds. They may sway or lose stability with heavier loads.
Loved for their stability, gooseneck trailers have a tighter turn radius than bumper pull trailers. They can usually carry larger, heavier loads, but they may require you to invest in a special hitching system. If you’re dedicated to hot shot trucking, you may want to invest in a gooseneck trailer over a bumper pull trailer.
Tilt deck trailers
Tilt deck trailers tilt at an angle so you can load heavy cargo more easily. Then you can turn them flat for transport. Although tilt deck trailers relieve you of a lot of heavy lifting, they do require maintenance. They operate using hydraulic systems that require filter and oil changes. You’ll also need to oil the trailer’s moving parts, so they don’t rust.
Lowboy trailers have a low center of gravity, ideal for the heaviest loads. They lay flat on the ground when they’re detached from your truck. If you need to transport a tall load, a lowboy flatbed trailer can help you clear certain height restrictions.
The one drawback to lowboy trailers is the minimal deck space. You might be able to take a heavier load, but you won’t be able to haul as much material at a time.
If you’re hauling cars or other equipment with wheels, a dovetail trailer is affordable and well-known, so they are easy to resell when you no longer need them.
One drawback: They hang low at the back of the trailer, so it’s difficult to haul anything up a steep incline without them dragging. Dovetails protrude out the back a bit, too, upping the chances you could be rear-ended.
Pros and cons of hot shot trucking
Hot shot trucking can be lucrative. It can be a great side gig with the right equipment even if you work a regular job. That said, it isn’t for everyone. Like other parts of the trucking industry, hot shot has pros and cons, both as a career and a lifestyle.
It doesn’t take as large an investment to get started with hot shot trucking. Class 3 trucks are much less expensive than class 8 long-haul trucks, and they’re cheaper to insure. The low startup costs are attractive to many drivers who want to strike out on their own but don’t want to haul large loads.
Hot shot jobs require tight turnarounds, so you can usually get premium rates for each job. You decide which loads to take and when you drive. You can even set your own rates, and you don’t have to worry as much about downtime.
Finally, hot shot trucking is fun! You get to haul interesting loads on almost every job. Many drivers enjoy the challenge of hot shot trucking and take pride in the fact that they’re helping customers on a tight deadline.
Work can be unstable if you’re driving hot shot loads exclusively. Hot shot trucking pays per mile, so you can’t expect a regular owner-operator salary. You may also need to be ready at a moment’s notice to take on loads, and you will spend some time deadheading to get each job done.
You also have to maintain your vehicle yourself and comply with most of the same regulations as other carriers, including insurance laws, hours of service (HOS) logging, and drug and alcohol testing.
How much do hot shot drivers make?
Hotshot drivers can make as much as $100,000 a year or more, but that’s on the high end. If you ask hot shot drivers how much they make, they’ll give you all sorts of answers. But the median yearly owner-operator salary for hotshot truck drivers is between $49,000 and $75,000.
The amount you can make as a hot shot driver depends on several factors:
- The amount of time you’re devoting to hotshot trucking
- The equipment you’re using to haul loads
- The region in which you operate
- The number of loads available
- The types of loads you carry
- Your years of experience
- Fuel prices
- Your rates
- Your costs
How to find hot shot trucking jobs and loads
Some new hot shot drivers choose free load boards to avoid a monthly fee. But you get what you pay for. Free load boards aren’t always up to date or reliable, and they don’t always have enough well-paying loads.
When you search for loads on a load board like Truckstop.com, you get valuable rate information right at your fingertips and a high volume of well-paying loads. More importantly, all the brokers on Truckstop.com are vetted and approved, so you can be confident you’re getting the best loads from the most trustworthy sources.
Truckstop.com is the world’s first online load board. We’ve had a lot of time to perfect our product, so it’s one of the easiest to use. It’s a low-risk investment with a low entry price and no contract.
Searching for a load
After logging in to Truckstop.com, you’ll see the main dashboard and the option to go to the load board. Once there, click on “Searching” in the menu bar and click on “Loads” to start a new search for hot shot loads.
You can search for loads by origin and destination, but pay close attention to your trailer selection. Here, you can select “Hot Shot” as your equipment option to ensure you’re getting the right loads. Be sure to enter your maximum weight as per the restrictions of your vehicle.
You can choose to be notified when new loads post that meet your requirements with audible alerts. You can add up to seven additional search tabs at once if you’re searching in different lanes to maximize your results.
On your load results grid, you’ll see all the key information about each load on the line. Click on the load to open the load summary card to get the most important infomation. This is where you’ll find more information about the posting company and their contact details. If you like what you see, contact them to start negotiating, agree to a rate, and start hauling.
For additional load information and negotiation tools, click the “view more details” button within the load summary card for an expanded view, pictured here:
Finding good rates for hot shot trucking
Setting an average rate of $1.50 per mile is a good goal if you’re just starting. You could go as low as $1, depending on your driving costs and what you’re willing to work for. Eventually, you’ll want to set your rates in the $2-$3 range.
Before you start hot shot driving, itemize your driving costs. These typically include:
- Fuel costs
- Factoring/dispatch services
Ideally, you’ll be able to determine your cost per driving mile. Subtract this rate from your earned-per-mile rate to know how much you can put in the bank.
To find the best rates, search for loads that meet your specifications on Truckstop.com. Shoot for at least two to three of the best-paying loads to start and go from there.
You can also search for loads that will cover deadheads. For example, if you’re based in Dallas, TX, and you’re hauling to Jackson, MS, it only makes sense to pick up a load in Jackson to haul back home. This way, you aren’t wasting time or miles without pay.
Logistics and requirements for hot shot trucking
Getting the vehicle and trailer you need is important, but it’s a final step. First, there’s some paperwork to take care of before you can start hot shot trucking.
Even if you’re driving a “civilian” truck, you must register it commercially. You could be fined if your vehicle isn’t licensed properly.
As an owner-operator, you’re in charge of your driving logs. Use these to mark timing, distance, and the weight of your hauls under hours of service (HOS) regulations. If hauling over state lines, stay aware of each state’s regulations and how to document hour hauls for interstate transport.
Before you get into the business, do the following:
- Get your commercial driver’s license (CDL).
- Get properly insured (liability, physical damage, cargo).
- Get a USDOT number and MC number (for interstate commerce and regulated commodities).
- Understand HOS regulations.
- Know how to secure loads properly.
- Comply with brake standards and regulations.
To get a U.S. Department of Transportation number, apply using FMCSA’s Unified Registration System. FMCSA also lists the insurance requirements you need to operate. Or let Truckstop.com do the work to help get your authority.
A CDL is not always required for hot shot trucking, but it’s highly recommended. If your trailer has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more and the gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of the truck and trailer is 26,001 pounds or more, a CDL is required.
You can get a Class A CDL — sometimes called the “universal” CDL — through your state. Start with the CDL manual. From there, you’ll need to get a commercial learner’s permit (CLP), attend a CDL program, pass a knowledge exam, and pass a driving test. You’ll also need to undergo a medical exam to ensure you’re safe to drive.
Ready to find your next hot shot haul?
Check out 17 Steps to Start a Hotshot Trucking Business for tips on what you’ll need to get started.
Truckstop.com provides the best load board for finding hot shot loads anywhere. Sign up if you’re ready to start searching for hot shot loads now. Or contact us to learn more about how to get your trucking authority.