How much does it cost to be an owner-operator?

August 25, 2022

An owner-operator holds the keys to her new semi-truck

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Before making the decision to start a trucking company, we suggest doing research to ensure you’re set up for success. First, we recommend reviewing our step-by-step guide on how to become an owner-operator and then determining the expenses associated with owning a semi-truck – which we review below.

Ultimately, the amount of money it takes to start your trucking business depends on how you finance a truck and what documentation you need. The cost of being an owner-operator once you are out on the road depends on what your monthly expenses are.

With help from tax and accounting firm for owner-operators, ATBS, we complied a general list of owner-operator expenses, including the cost of a semi-truck.

9 factors that impact how much it costs to be an owner-operator

1. Buying a semi-truck

If you choose to purchase a used semi-truck from somewhere like Schneider Used Trucks, you can expect to pay between $45,000-$100,000.

If you are leaning toward purchasing a brand-new semi-truck for your business, anticipate spending about $150,000-$175,000, depending on the make, model and options you go with.

2. Leasing a semi-truck

Maybe you don’t have a large enough down payment to buy a truck or you just aren’t ready to purchase one yet. If that’s the case, leasing a semi-truck from somewhere like SFI Trucks and Financing is a great option.

How a company markets the cost of leasing a truck from them varies greatly from company to company. Some companies only advertise the cost to lease the truck, others include all other costs associated with leasing.

When comparing the cost to lease a semi-truck from one company to another, it’s important to analyze them fairly.

Things to consider when comparing leasing companies to one another:

  • If the company follows a monthly or weekly payment method.
  • If the company requires a smaller or larger down payment up front, which could affect your weekly/monthly payments.
  • The type of truck, the age of the truck and the mileage on the truck that the company has available to lease.
  • What is all included in the lease payment (if it just includes the truck payment or if deferred security deposit costs and maintenance costs are also included).

    3. Documentation

    The documentation owner-operators are required to obtain vary by state. The below prices are estimates of what you can expect:

    • MC/DOT number: $300.
    • Business registration / LLC fee: $50-$300.
    • PrePass: $17.65 monthly.
    • IRP Credential: $1,750 – necessary if doing intrastate business.
    • BOC-3 Form: $55 – necessary if doing interstate business.
    • IFTA Decal: $10.
    • HVUT: $550.

    4. Insurance

    Insurance rates can vary depending on how much experience you have as an owner-operator and whether you operate under your own authority or if you lease-on with an established carrier. Most carriers, like Schneider, require owner-operators who do business with them to be insured.

    For more information about how much semi-truck insurance costs and what each type of insurance covers, check out our How much is semi-truck insurance blog.

    5. Fuel

    Fuel is one the largest costs that comes with owning a semi-truck. Most owner-operators who average between 8,000 and 10,000 miles per month, spend between $50,000-$70,000 annually or $4,000-$6,000 each month on fuel.

    To get an estimate of how much you will spend on fuel, take the price of fuel per gallon and divide it by what your average miles per gallon is. Then multiply that number by how many miles you expect to run each week.

    While fuel is one of the largest expenses associated with owning a trucking business, it’s also one of the easiest ways to save money as an owner-operator. Schneider, for example, has a fuel discount program that allows owner-operators to take advantage of discounted fuel at nationwide truck stops.

    6. Freight

    As an owner-operator, you’ll quickly realize that some of the ways to get loads will have fees associated with them, while others will not.

    For example, using a dispatching service or hiring a freight broker will most likely come at an expense, while relying on free load boards or leasing-on with a company won’t cost you anything.

    7. Truck maintenance

    There are a lot of factors that can impact the cost of truck maintenance, including if you buy a new or used truck, how much parts cost for the brand of truck you operate, where you get maintenance done, etc.

    If you choose to do business with a carrier, the company may have programs to help offset costs. Schneider, for example, has its Purchase Power Program.

    8. Food

    It’s easy to forget to include the cost of food in your monthly budget.

    To save on food costs, owner-operators can invest in a refrigerator and microwave to put in their truck and purchase food from grocery stores versus spending more on costly meals at restaurants.

    9. Taxes

    New owner-operators often forget they are required to pay taxes on a quarterly basis rather than having taxes automatically withheld from their paycheck like company drivers. It is recommended to set aside 25-30% of your weekly income for quarterly taxes.