What is an owner-operator? Everything you need to know

January 29, 2024

A man standing and smiling near a blue semi-truck.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes 

If you’re a company truck driver, you’ve probably heard the term ‘owner-operator’ before. If you’re new to the industry, you may not be sure what it means to be an owner-operator. 

In this blog, we break down the owner-operator definition, how owner-operators differ from company truck drivers and how owner-operators get paid. 

What does ‘owner-operator’ mean?

An owner-operator truck driver is someone who owns their own truck driving business. As the sole decision-maker of their independent business, owner-operators have the freedom to choose:

  • What loads they want to haul.
  • Whether they lease or buy a truck.
  • When and where they operate their business.
  • Whether they do business with a carrier or operate under their own authority.

What’s the difference between an owner-operator and a company truck driver?

An owner-operator is self-employed and runs their own business, while a company truck driver is employed by a company. See the information below for more details on how the two compare:



Runs one or more semi-trucks that they either:


Has the freedom to select their own freight, either from:

  • The spot market (if they have their own DOT operating authority).
  • The carrier they do business with (some even have a private load board for owner-operators to select loads on).


Responsible for everything that goes into owning/operating a business, including:

  • Finding loads to haul.
  • Managing business expenses.
  • Making employment decisions.
  • Doing the books.
  • Maintaining truck(s).
  • Making revenue and earnings decisions.


Pays for all expenses related to owning a truck and a business, including:

  • Fuel.
  • Truck maintenance.
  • Insurance.
  • Documentation.
  • Etc.

Company driver 


Drives a semi-truck provided by the company they are employed by. 


Picks up loads they are assigned to by dispatch. 


Responsible for picking up and delivering loads that are assigned to them. 


Does not pay for fuel, truck maintenance, insurance on the truck or documentation. 

How do owner-operators get paid?

The way owner-operators generate revenue is often different from how company truck drivers are paid. There are generally three models for how owner-operators generate revenue:

  • Flat rate.
  • Percentage of revenue.
  • Mileage.

How owner-operators get paid – either a flat rate, percentage of revenue or by the mile – really boils down to how they get their loads and if they operate under their own authority or lease their equipment to a carrier.

Flat rate model 

When owner-operators do business with a carrier that has its own load board, one option to earn revenue may be through a flat rate for each load they haul. This method is similar for owner-operators who utilize brokers for their loads. At Schneider, for example, some owner-operators choose to follow this model and receive a flat rate, which is a combination of revenue and fuel surcharge. 

Percentage of revenue model 

Earning a percentage of revenue of each load that is hauled is another way owner-operators who do business with a carrier may be paid. At Schneider, for example, some owner-operators choose to follow this model and receive 65% of line haul revenue and 100% of fuel surcharge and accessorials on the loads they haul. 

Mileage model 

When owner-operators obtain their loads from a load board, loads are usually shown as a rate per mile. These rates vary by what load board they use, what type of freight they haul, etc.