How to become a fleet owner: 6 steps for owner-operators

March 29, 2023

A birds eye view of five white semi-trucks parked in a row.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Starting a fleet business can be a profitable opportunity for an experienced owner-operator who's looking to take the next step with their trucking company.

From hiring qualified drivers to getting more equipment, consider these six steps as you explore how to become a fleet owner.

What is a fleet owner?

A truck fleet owner runs their own business and owns or leases multiple semi-trucks.

They are usually responsible for things like:

  • Hiring drivers to operate the trucks in their fleet.
  • Maintaining the trucks and trailers in their fleet.
  • Finding profitable loads for their drivers and themselves to haul.
  • Handling the books.
  • Managing operating expenses, such as:
    • Insurance.
    • Taxes.
    • Fuel.
    • Truck payments.

6 steps to becoming a fleet owner 

1. Understand the costs of starting a fleet business. 

As an owner-operator, you already know how much it costs to run a trucking company. However, owning a fleet of trucks will come with some added expenses.

Think about your financial situation and consider:

  • How much will you pay your drivers?
  • How much can you afford for truck payments and security deposits?
  • How much will it cost for a facility or space to park your business’ fleet when it’s not in use?
  • How will more trucks and drivers affect your operating expenses?
  • How much will it cost to maintain your business’ equipment?

Understanding the costs associated with starting a fleet business will give you a better idea of how much money you need to have available when you put together your business plan.

2. Create a business plan.

Your business plan as a fleet owner may look different than the one you created when you first became an owner-operator. As a fleet owner, you’ll want to think about, among other things:

  • How many drivers will you hire?
  • What freight will your fleet business haul?
  • How many trucks and trailers do you need to get?
  • Will you do business with a carrier or operate under your own authority?
  • Where will you park your business’ fleet when it’s not in use?
  • What insurance coverage will your business need?
  • What are your financial projections?

Developing a solid business plan will help set your fleet business up for success.

3. Find qualified drivers.

As a truck fleet owner, your drivers will be a crucial part of your business.

Hiring reliable drivers with solid safety records is key. Consider this advice when you’re hiring your truck drivers:

  • Always interview someone before hiring them.
  • Require background checks and drug and alcohol tests to ensure all drivers meet federal safety standards.
  • Once you’ve hired someone, have them team drive with you before they go out on their own. That way they can see how you want things done.

You could also explore working with independent contractors if you don’t think hiring drivers is right for your business.

If you’re running under your own authority, you will need to create a driver qualification file for every driver you hire. Review guidelines from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

4. Update your insurance.

You will need to add any drivers you hire and additional trucks you get to your insurance policy. The type of freight your business hauls may also impact what insurance you need to get.  

5. Buy or lease extra equipment.

Your trucks are the backbone of your business, and it's essential to choose the right ones for your fleet.

Depending on your budget and business needs, you can choose to:

  • Lease a brand-new or used truck from a place like SFI Trucks and Financing.
  • Buy used equipment from somewhere like Schneider Trucks.
  • Purchase a new truck from a dealership or other vendor.

When selecting the right equipment to expand your trucking company, consider factors such as:

  • Durability.
  • Efficiency.
  • Reliability.
  • Safety features.

6. Add your USDOT number to your trucks. 

If you run under your own authority 

Since USDOT numbers are given to trucking companies rather than individual trucks, all the trucks in your fleet need to carry the same USDOT number. New trucks added to your fleet need to be marked with your company’s USDOT number to comply with federal regulations.

You should also update your USDOT and operating authority record with the FMCSA to reflect changes to your business, like more drivers or vehicles. 

Lastly, check with the state where your commercial motor vehicles are licensed to see if there are any additional requirements at the state level. 

If you lease-on with a carrier  

When you lease your business to a carrier, you run under its authority. That means your fleet can operate under the carrier’s USDOT number.