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The Trucker’s Guide to Succeed in 2023

How to Survive in Any Economy

Trucker Guide Header In times of economic fluctuations, it’s crucial to make smart business decisions for survival. Whether you’re an independent owner-operator with one or two trucks or a carrier with a fleet, you need to know how to protect your profits. This means knowing how much money you aim to make after you pay your expenses, your cost-per-mile, and your monthly costs—at all times. While numbers will vary widely from person to person, profitability is the goal across the board. And in tough economic times, it’s imperative to know your costs and keep them as low as possible. Cost-cutting measures and operational efficiencies are key to building and maintaining a successful business that can weather any storm.

This guide focuses on three major areas where you can gain efficiencies that directly affect your bottom line.

  1. Fuel consumption
  2. Truck maintenance
  3. Time management
Semi trucks at Truckstop

1. Take control of your fuel consumption.

While fuel costs are considered “fixed,” meaning they can’t be controlled, there are some actions you can take to minimize your fuel consumption. Any one action might not seem like enough to make a big difference, but when they’re all performed in conjunction, the savings can help you squeeze out any additional profit margins.

Here are the top ways to lower your fuel consumption

  • Consider your tires’ rolling resistance. Rolling resistance refers to the energy it takes your tires to rotate, affected by the friction caused when the tire surface meets the road. The Department of Energy estimates that 4 to 11 percent of fuel consumption is due to tire rolling resistance. Industry studies show that a 10 percent drop in rolling resistance equates to about a one percent improvement in fuel economy. It might not seem like a big difference, but fuel economy gains are difficult to come by, and every little bit adds up.

    Grab that advantage by making an informed tire purchase. Strides have been made in tire technology, so you no longer have to choose between excellent grip, long tread life, or rolling resistance. Look beyond the purchase price to consider the long-term costs. Some of the priciest tires deliver both excellent traction and long life, making their true cost of ownership among the lowest, especially when you consider the fuel savings.

  • Don’t speed. Your fuel mileage decreases once your truck passes its optimal speed, which is around 60 mph. This means that every time you go over this speed, you’re wasting fuel (and money). Even a slight decrease in your highway driving speed can significantly reduce your fuel consumption, and only adds a few minutes to your travel time.

    According to the Department of Energy, every five miles per hour (MPH) you drive above 60 MPH is like paying an additional 24 cents per gallon for fuel. That’s because at higher speeds, your truck encounters more wind resistance and your tires encounter more rolling resistance.

  • Find your engine’s “sweet spot.” The “sweet spot” is the most efficient revolutions per minute (RPM) to run your engine. If your engine is working harder to drive at a certain speed, you will burn more fuel. The trick is to use torque, not horsepower, to pull your load. Pulling with torque means you’re sustaining your speed without overworking the engine. A good sweet spot is around 1250 – 1350 RPM. Every truck engine varies, so check your owner’s manual or your truck dealer to understand your peak horsepower and torque at a specific RPM. Just remember, the lower the RPM, the less fuel your engine will consume.
  • Get a proper fuel card. Large carriers with big fleets negotiate fuel cards that earn them points and discounts based on purchase volumes, delivering savings as much as a dollar off per gallon. Independent owner-operators can also negotiate for fuel discounts, but it’s your job to shop around to find the fuel provider willing to give you the best deal. Typically, owner-operators can save up to 30 cents a gallon with the help of a fuel card.

Truckstop can help you find a fuel card that works for your business. Truckstop Load Board subscribers can access our Partner Marketplace to find fuel card providers and other industry resources.

  • Plan your routes. Once you book a load, don’t just hit the road with no return plan. Make the most of every mile by doing what you can to eliminate deadheads and driving empty miles.

    Route planning can also help you avoid the temptation of speeding to meet a delivery deadline. For instance, if you’re facing an 8-hour haul and you only have 9 hours to get there, you might be tempted to up your speed, raising your fuel costs. If you plan your routes in advance, you’ll avoid these types of tight time constraints that wreak havoc on your wallet (and cause unnecessary stress).


    Also, consider the number of off- and on-ramps. Your truck burns more fuel on an on-ramp as it works to get up to speed, so if you can avoid them to get to a fuel stop, all the better for your fuel mileage.

  • Understand the fuel surcharge index. The savviest carriers know how to negotiate their rates by understanding the fuel surcharge index. For example, if you see a rate that looks good but doesn’t account for the current fuel surcharge, you might be leaving money on the table. Even negotiating five more cents can move the needle and help you determine if you’re making enough money on a load.

    Consider these questions prior to negotiating your rates:

      – What is the best rate I can get considering the normal average of the fuel surcharge index over time?What is the normal fuel surcharge amount charged in a normal month?What’s the difference between the normal range and today’s amount? Is it fair, below, or above?
  • Know your lane data. Part of your route planning includes looking at the data in the lane you’ll be driving. You need to determine if the rate is competitive for each particular load for that specific lane. This will help you negotiate the best rates.

Truckstop Load Board Pro Rate Insights delivers the data you need to negotiate a rate that covers all your costs and pay yourself a decent wage.

Semi trucker checking oil

2. Stay on top of truck maintenance.

The thing about unexpected expenses is they’re unexpected! But know this: They will happen. In fact, the number one reason carriers go out of business is major mechanical failure without a safety net in place. That’s why you must have a preventative maintenance plan (plus a rainy-day savings fund) to minimize repairs. Keeping your equipment in tip-top working order will help prevent major breakdowns, but accidents happen, and failures occur regardless of how diligent you are with a maintenance schedule. A new transmission can cost up to $10k! Be prepared!

Here are the best ways to lower maintenance costs and get more miles out of your truck:

  • Make a maintenance plan and follow it. In broad strokes, preventative maintenance should include regular daily pre- and post-trip inspections; fixing defects as soon as you’re aware of them; and a scheduled program that routinely checks airlines, hoses, brakes, wiring, and alternators. A service schedule can help you stay on track when it comes to common maintenance checkpoints. However, you should still consult manufacturer recommendations as they can vary.

    A good preventative practice is to adjust your maintenance plan depending on the season. Extreme hot and cold weather conditions require different approaches, so make sure your plan accommodates seasonal needs. In hot weather, pay particular attention to air conditioning, coolant, your electrical system, and tire pressure. In cold conditions, extra care should be given to your windshield and wipers, your braking system, fluids, and tire tread.

      Some maintenance can be DIY to save money, but make sure to consult an expert for complicated issues that need the attention of a professional. The goal, of course, is to get your truck up and running and back on the road as quickly as possible. But it’s better to do it right the first time to avoid roadside breakdowns.

Maintenance Items

Normal-Heavy Duty

Severe Duty

Classic Lube 15,000 miles 15,000 miles
Battery Service 6 Months 6 Months
3-axle Alignment Every 12 months Every 12 months
Oil Change/B service 4,500 miles or 1,300 hours 35,000 miles or 825 hours
Air Filter Fuel Tank Vent 12 months 6 months
Power Steering Fluid Filter 150,000 miles 150,000 miles
Battery Service 6 months 6 months
Valve adjustment 150,000 miles then every 300,000 miles after the first overhead (valve adjustment) 150,000 miles then every 200,000 miles after the first overhead (valve adjustment)
DEF System Service 150,000 miles 150,000 miles
AHI Clean/Replace 150,000 miles 100,000 miles
DPF Filter Clean/Brake 400,000 miles 250,000 miles
Coolant Filter Replace 300,000 miles 150,000 miles
Coolant Replace/Flush 750,000 miles 750,000 miles
Transmission Filter/Fluid Replace 500,000 mi or 60 months 500,000 mi or 60 months
Fan/Accessory Drive Belt Replace 300,000 miles 150,000 miles
Differential Oil Replace 250,000 miles 150,000 miles
Semi trucker checking oil
  • Save money for maintenance and repairs. This might be easier said than done, especially when margins are already tight, but you can’t make money if your truck is inoperable. Even a small savings will help offset costs. Try to build up a savings fund that can handle a worst-case hit. Depending on the age and condition of your truck, the chart below gives a good guideline of what you should be saving.

Truck Age/Mileage

Savings Per Mile

New 5 cents
1 year or 150k 6 cents
1 year or 150k 6 cents
2 years or 300k 7 cents
3 years or 450k 8 cents
4 years or 600k 10 cents
5+ years or 750k+ 15 cents
When it comes to your numbers, make sure you know what it takes to run your truck, including how much you need to set aside for maintenance, and negotiate that into your rates. It’s this type of planning and negotiating that separates the successful driver from the one who’s barely making it. Given the shortage of carriers, you have the upper hand. Most brokers and shippers won’t hesitate to bump up your rate by 5 or 10 cents, especially if you have the data to back it up.

In addition, you should also be thinking about your truck’s “use cycle.” If your truck has a million miles on it, for example, you’re likely looking at a host of mechanical failures that could take you off the road altogether. At some point, it makes more sense to consider buying a new or used truck that requires less repairs and that you can consistently rely on.

man using phone

3. Make the most of your time.

You’ve heard it at least once, probably more: In trucking, time is money. But it bears repeating. Whether you’re a new or seasoned owner-operator, you’re running a business. Effective time-management can make or break you. The more time you spend on the road making money, the better. You will not be compensated for the necessary back-office tasks that still must be done, including creating invoices and billing brokers, looking for brokers to work with and fostering relationships, tax reporting, and FINDING LOADS, the very heart of your business.

Here’s how to make the most of your time:

  • Find loads faster. Use a load board that serves up not just quantity, but quality loads. A sub-par load board might boast that they post “over a million loads every day,” but often they are rife with duplicate loads, old loads, and loads posted by imposter brokers. Use a load board that delivers quantity plus quality. Otherwise, you’ll waste valuable time chasing after loads that lead to nowhere. A quality load is one posted by a verified, vetted broker at a fair rate that aligns with industry data.

The Truckstop Load Board helps you find the right loads that match your requirements—quickly. You can compare loads side-by-side and make fast, yet informed, decisions. Learn how you can find your next load with Truckstop.

  • Find loads faster. Find the balance between booking high-paying loads and hauling more loads. Obviously, you always want to command the highest possible rate. The more loads available in each lane, the more negotiation power you have. But it’s also true that the more freight you haul, the better. The wisest carriers find the sweet spot. Sometimes you have to forsake a great rate so you don’t exceed your hours of service (HOS). In such instances, a lower-paying load is better than no load at all, if you can cover your costs and still make money.
  • Carefully consider your route planning. If you know how long you can be out on the road, whether it’s three days, two weeks, or 25 days, choose a string of several loads that will pay the most money for your time. Some of those loads might pay high rates, some might be a bit low, but look at the whole trip to find the combination that returns the profit you need for the time you’re out. Take the time to plan your route to maximize your time and earnings.
  • Ditch the time-consuming paperwork. Paperwork is trucking’s dirty little secret no one tells you about. Most owner-operators didn’t choose the gig because they love the tedious tasks of running an office. Still, it must be done. You need to get paid, so you need to invoice brokers. You need to file taxes, so you need to keep track of earnings and expenses. Invest in a Transportation Management System (TMS) that automates your business management tasks, freeing you up to process more loads and make more money.

Get paid faster with every load you haul by using Truckstop Factoring on the mobile app, Truckstop Go™. Learn how to lower the stress of billing and maximize your profits.

  • Make friends with electronic logging devices (ELDs). Currently, carriers are paid by the mile. That means the time you spend sitting in traffic, waiting for a load, or being idle because of circumstances beyond your control, is time wasted—with zero pay. So, if you’re detained by a shipper or stuck at a loading dock for pick-up, you’re not being paid for your time, even though your job requires you to be there. ELDs will change all that for the better, automatically recording your time so you get paid for it. You can even use this downtime to find future loads fast. And that’s time well-spent.

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