How to start a trucking business: 7 tips to consider

February 28, 2023

A man standing in front of several semi-trucks.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Even for the most experienced driver, starting a trucking company isn’t always easy. There’s a lot to consider, from the freight you want to haul to what equipment you need to the regulations you need to follow. 

If you’re a company driver who's interested in becoming an owner-operator, review our seven tips on how to start a trucking business to help you begin. 

Owner-operator startup checklist 

1. Develop a business plan.

It’s a good idea to have a business plan in place before you start a trucking company. This will help you understand what to expect as an owner-operator and how much it can cost to start a trucking business.

As you put together a trucking company checklist, some things to think about include:

2. Determine how you will run your business.

As an owner-operator, you can choose to lease-on with a carrier and run under its authority, or you can decide to operate under your own authority. The route you choose will dictate a few things for your business, including compliance requirements you’ll have to follow and how you will get your loads. 

If you run under your own authority 

Owner-operators who run under their own authority may work with freight brokers to help them find freight or use public load boards to gain access to the spot market.  

If you lease on with a carrier 

Owner-operators who lease-on with a carrier like Schneider do business with the carrier as independent contractors and are not employees of the carrier. Usually, this means the owner-operator will be able to select freight from the carrier’s private load board. 

3. Figure out what type of freight your business is going to haul.

There are many opportunities available to owner-operators when it comes to deciding what freight they want to haul. Some options include:

  • Dry van freight.
  • Tanker loads.
  • Flatbed loads.
  • Shipping containers.
  • And more.

When you’re starting a trucking company checklist, consider these different freight options and think about:

  • What will fit your lifestyle.
  • What endorsements you may need.
  • How much experience is required.
  • Freight availability.
  • What equipment will you need.

Whatever freight you decide to haul, just make sure it’s a good fit for you and your business. If you decide to lease-on with a carrier, make sure they have opportunities that align with what you want to haul.

4. Get insurance.

The way you run your business and what type of freight you haul can affect what kind of insurance you need to obtain.

If you run under your own authority

When you operate under your own authority, you are responsible for covering all your insurance needs. This can include:

  • Commercial auto liability insurance.
  • Commercial general liability insurance.
  • Cargo liability insurance.
  • Workers’ Compensation or Occupational Accident insurance.
  • Physical damage insurance.

Insurance requirements can vary depending on what you haul. For example, owner-operators who move hazardous materials need extra insurance coverage.

If you lease-on with a carrier

When you lease-on with a motor carrier, the carrier will most-likely provide some of the insurance coverage. The owner-operator may still be responsible for, or may want to obtain:

  • Workers’ Compensation or Occupational Accident insurance.
  • Physical damage insurance (per equipment finance agreement).
  • Non-Trucking Liability insurance (often referred to as “Bobtail” or “Unladen” insurance).

You can go to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website for more information on insurance filing requirements.

5. Buy or lease equipment.

As an owner-operator, your semi-truck will be your business’ biggest asset. You can get equipment by:

The type of freight you decide to haul and how often you get home will dictate what equipment you need to get. Equipment considerations include things like:

  • Sleeper and day cabs.
  • Van trailers.
  • Tanker trailers.
  • Flatbed trailers.
  • Curtain side trailers.

6. File for your operating authority and USDOT number. 

If you run under your own authority

Trucking companies that operate under their own authority and haul goods across state lines are required to get a USDOT number, according to federal regulations. However, some states require intrastate motor carriers to have a USDOT number as well. 

In general, most trucking companies that travel across state lines are also required to have motor carrier authority (MC number) in addition to a USDOT number, according to the FMCSA.  

If you lease-on with a carrier 

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

7. Complete other registration filings.

If you run under your own authority

Once you have your operating authority and USDOT number, you need to complete, among other items, your:

  • Unified Carrier Registration (UCR).
  • Heavy Vehicle Use Tax (HVUT).
  • International Registration Plan (IRP).

If you operate in more than one state, you also need to get an International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) account. You can apply for an IFTA account through your base jurisdiction.

If you lease-on with a carrier

If you do business with a carrier and operate under its USDOT number and authority, the carrier may take care of some of the registration fillings for you.

At Schneider, for example, we pay the UCR fees for owner-operators who lease-on with us and run under the following authorities:

  • Schneider National Carriers.
  • Schneider National Bulk Carriers.
  • Schneider Transport Inc.

For owner-operators who lease-on with Schneider, we help facilitate the filing of the HVUT, but the owner-operator remains responsible for the HVUT costs. Depending on the gross taxable weight of the vehicle, this can cost up to $550 per truck annually.  

Owner-operators who run under Schneider’s authority have the option to register their truck under Schneider’s Indiana IRP account. However, owner-operators who lease-on with Schneider can also choose to register on their own.