A Step-By-Step Account of Important and Relevant Details in the Process of Becoming an Over-the-Road, Long Haul Truck Driver
Here’s the basic steps in becoming a long-hall truck driver, or any truck driver for that matter. (Long hall trucking, which is the majority of the trucking industry, just means driving cross country and living out of your truck for 2 to 4 week periods.) Then I’ll explain each step with reasons and what to expect, because there’s some details about these steps that your going to want to know in order to make your life easier.
1. Find a trucking company that you want to work for.
2. Do the DOT (Department of Transportation) required physical and drug test.
3. Go to the trucking companies own, or their approved, truck driving school.
4. Pass your road test and receive your commercial driver’s license
5. Go out on the road with a trainer for 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the company.
6. Pass a final road test.
7. Get assigned your own truck…and the rest is future.
Those are the basics steps.
1. Find a Trucking Company that you Want to Work For
If you, first, know what company your going to work for, then you know: (a) the truck driving schools that they approve of, (b) will they front the tuition costs in the form of a loan?, (c) do they reimburse you for all or part of these costs during your employment their?, and (d) what you’re going to get paid.
Truck driving school tuition costs can range from, roughly, $2,000 to $6,000 dollars. Most companies will give you a loan to pay for these costs, and take out payments from your paycheck. Many companies will reimburse you for half these costs if you stay with them for a year. And some companies will reimburse you for the rest if you stay with them for 2 years.
Some companies that pay better than average do not reimburse the driving school loan at all. So it just depends on the company.
It doesn’t matter where the company headquarters is located. If you have to go to Ohio for truck driving school, the company will pay your transportation expenses and housing expenses. When you’re working you’ll still be able to take regular home time, as long as the company delivers in your area.
Just a side note, when your doing your driving school training, if your staying in a motel that the company is paying for, many companies will put 2, 3, or 4 people per hotel room to save on costs, for the 3 or 4 weeks of your driving school training. So if you can’t handle this, go to a driving school close to home, or get started with a company that doesn’t do this. You can ask the recruiter if they book more than one person per hotel room. Just more information for you.
As a rookie, you may want to start with a large company. Sure they are usually pretty strict on keeping accurate log books, and most of them pay you about .30 or .31 cents per mile after 6 months, going up a penny every 6 months or 1 year, but they are large and have lots of contracts. That means lots of freight. So they are likely to survive, and still have freight in so called “slow times” when small companies might go out of business.
Just call companies. Talk to truck drivers. What do they pay? What’s their reputation? Believe negative reviews on the internet with a grain of salt. Any big company, in any industry will get negative reviews. Microsoft gets people bashing them all day on the internet, and they are the most successful computer software company in the world.
So you’ll see a lot of negative reviews about Swift, Knight, Werner, Schneider, England, etc. But I’ll bet there’s way worse companies to work for that don’t have any negative reviews about them posted on the internet.
There are basically two computer software programs that most companies use to determine the amount of miles that you drove from point a to point b in order to pay you.
The first one uses what’s called “shortest miles”, and it’s the one that most companies use. It figures the driving miles from starting city boundary to destination city boundary–the two boundaries closest to each other. So you won’t get paid for the miles you drive while within the city limit of your starting point or destination point. Most companies pay this way, however.
The second software program uses “practical miles”. This pays you for all your miles (unless you take a wrong turn, and go off route). Just a guess, taken from my review of companies, but I’ll bet less than 10% of the trucking companies pay this way, maybe lower.
Another question that’s somewhat important is: What’s the average miles per load? The more the miles: (a) the less city driving you’re doing, (b) the more miles you’re averaging per hour, and (c) the more you’re getting paid. You can ask the recruiter this. Sometimes it’s posted on their website.
Other questions like how old are the oldest trucks, what kind of trucks, etc. etc., are all secondary, because it’s going to be similar with any big trucking company. At the time of this writing, most big trucking companies use Freightliners and Volvos. Peterbilts are the Cadillacs of trucks, and most big companies that handle all purpose freight and have lots of trucks don’t spend the money for them.
2. Do the DOT (Department of Transportation) Required Physical and Drug Test
If you like to drink a lot of alcohol or do drugs, you might want to just close this window on your computer, turn it off, go outside, and think about a different career, because most companies are pretty strict with drug testing. You might be able to find some rogue, independent, company, somewhere, that would hire you. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
I talked to a guy (kid) once, working for one of these companies. He used to hang with the Hell’s Angels. His truck looked old and beat up, was leaking oil and fluids everywhere, and had no Jake Brake–a Jake Brake slows down the vehicle by slowing down the engine–a must for heavy loads going down hills. The company didn’t maintain the truck at all. This type of thing may not be what you’re looking for, but again maybe it is. These types of companies aren’t advertised on the internet, or, sometimes, not even in the phone book.
So, you will have a day or two of orientation, usually before you even start truck driving school. There you will perform some lifting tests, and do a drug test, get a physical, and maybe get some other company information. The lifting tests consist of being able to lift various weights, up to 75 pounds, each weight 3 times at certain levels–at the highest level, over your head. There’s a pulling and a pushing test too. All the lifting tests, including pushing and pulling tests, are done while monitoring your heart rate. Together these tests take about 15 or 20 minutes. That’s all.
Then you pee in a cup and get an examination, including blood pressure check, heart rate check, hernia and eye checks.
The physical examination is separate from the lifting tests. You only have to do the lifting tests once, unless your hiring on to a different company in the future. The physical is required every two years for a commercial license, and is what qualifies you for the little green medical card that you must carry in your wallet at all times.
The company pays for the physical, as required by law.
You will probably receive 1 or 2 more drug tests, before your out driving on your own, which will be a couple months down the road. And then maybe random drug tests every now and then during your employment. If you keep a clean driving record this will minimize your drug tests.
3. Truck Driving School
Most truck driving schoos consist of about 4 weeks, roughly 8 hrs a day of: (a) preparing you for the DMV written exams, (b) practicing the pre-trip inspection, and (c) behind-the-wheel driving experience.
The first thing you do is prepare for the DMV written exams, so you can get your permit, so you can get behind the wheel. This part lasts about 1 week.
At the school that I went to, this consisted of memorizing the answer’s to different version of actual DMV tests. Some schools might make you read the commercial handbook of your state, from which the questions are taken from. (You can download a copy of the commercial handbook from the internet for most states.) The handbook and the DMV test questions are going to be roughly the same for most states, since commercial vehicle law is all based on federal laws.
You will study to pass 3 required tests: (a) general knowledge test, (b) combination vehicle test (tractor/trailer), and (c) air brake test. All tests are usually 15 or 20 questions and require a score of 80% or higher to pass.
Optional tests that you could take are: (a) doubles/triples test, (b) tanker test, and (c) hazmat (hazardous material) test. The optional tests are called “endorsements” on your commercial license. I would highly recommend taking these tests also–all at the same time. If you wait more than a year and decide you want an endorsement, you will have to retake all the tests again. If your driving school doesn’t prepare you for the endorsements, there’s an excellent website that you can study from, at night after driving school class called TestQuestionsandAnswers.com. There is a small fee, but I used it to get all my endorsements and passed the DMV tests the first time.
After you pass your tests and get your permit, you will be at a truck yard doing pre-trip inspection practice during part of the day and driving on the road the other part. Since there is usually a trainer and a total of 4 guys in a truck, you’ll probably only be doing actual driving for about 1 or 2 hours per day. This part of truck driving school lasts the remainder of the time–about 3 weeks.
The pre-trip inspection is about a 130 or 140 point inspection of the vehicle that is required by law to be performed, at the beginning of each driving day. This inspection also includes various air break checks that you’re required to perform before each work day. It’s not hard to memorize the pre-trip inspection with the truck sitting there in front of you, practicing it each day.
4. Pass Your Road Test and Receive Your Commercial License
At the end of truck driving school you either go to the DMV or have a DMV certified instructor of your new company give you a test consisting of: (a) pre-trip inspection including air break checks, (b) backing and cornering tests, and (c) a road test. If you pass, and you will if you worked during driving school, you go to the DMV and get your commercial license. Or if you’re already at the DMV, you go inside and get your commercial license.
Most big companies have there own DMV certified testers that give you your road test at the companies facilities. These guys want you to pass. They are not trying to flunk you. Taking the road test at the DMV would be tougher because they really have no interest in whether you pass or not–and some evil DMV employee might even make it tough on you.
If, by some chance, you don’t pass the first time, you can try again. I don’t know how many time you can keep trying–it probably depends on the school–but I remember a lady from my driving school that flunked 3 times during a 1 week period and then finally passed.
You shouldn’t have a problem if you studied. Look up the meanings of truck parts on the internet. When you get all those truck terms spinning in your head, it can fog up your head and make you feel dumb, and actually make driving harder. It’s a proven fact. So use the internet to find out what all that stuff means. Believe it or not, it really will help you drive better. I passed all the tests I took the first time, written and driving, using that philosophy.
5. Go Out On the Road with a Trainer
This is the last leg of your journey. If you can just make it for 6 or 8 weeks (depending on the company) out there with some dude, or chick, in close quarters then you got it made. You’ll be paid during your training.
I’m not going to lie. This was the toughest part for me. When you think you know some things and somebody else is determined to teach you anyways, it gets frustrating. But this is the trainers job. They would feel pretty bad if when every student who walked away, they felt like they didn’t really teach that student anything because the student figured it out all by himself.
So my suggestion is, let the guy teach you, as long as he’s not putting you in danger, let him show you things, and acknowledge him for showing you how to do that thing that he just showed you. Most trainers are there because they want to help. There might be a small few that aren’t, and if you get one of those guys request another trainer with the exact reasons why.
While on your training you’re going to attain 80 to 90 percent of your driving ability during those few weeks, because you’ll be driving, driving, and driving. You’ll do a lot of backing too. Maybe you’ll even do some bad weather/snow driving.
Before you know it you’ll have completed your training and you’ll get a few days off for home time. Just for your information, most companies don’t allow any home time during your training period. So be prepared to be out there, on the road, for all those weeks. If and when your trainer takes home time during the training, the company will pay for you a hotel room. If the trainer’s home time is in your home city then your set, and you can take regular home time at your home–but to be honest, this is unlikely.
Also, you’ll be paid during your training–with most companies it’s a flat rate of $500 per week–before taxes.
6. Pass Your Final Road Test
When your training is over, most companies give a final road test, including the pre-trip inspection and air brake checks. This test will be the easiest thing you’ve done up to this point. It’s basically the same road test you’ve already done. But now you feel much, much more confident.
7. Get Assigned Your Own Truck
We’ll, that’s about it. When you pass the final road test they give you your own truck and your off.
I hope that answers some questions. This isn’t every detail. But it does give you a good idea of what to expect when getting a truck driving job from a major, all-purpose freight haller.
Being a long hall trucker isn’t for everyone. Do you enjoy being by yourself for long periods of time? If your married or in a relationship, will your relationship stand up to you being gone 2,3, or 4 weeks at a time? I’m not knocking it. I do it. I find it to be quite theraputic–most of the time. But I know people that would never do it in a million years.
As far as pay goes, be prepared to make anywhere from $600 to $900 a week your first year, that’s driving about 2,000 to 2,500 miles a week.
And since your probably curious about me, I’m a long hall truck driver–been doing it a year. I’ve driven in every state in the United states, except for New York and the New England area states. I like it. At the time of this writing I’m sitting in a hotel room, waiting for my truck to be repaired–electrical problems. It’s my first breakdown. Per the tow truck driver, most of his big rig tows this days are from electrical problems. Apparently, too many computer chips trying to do too many things–at least that’s what the tow truck driver thinks. Well, time to get out of this room, and go get something to eat.