What is an owner-operator vs. a company truck driver?

December 04, 2020

Two images, one of a male owner-operator standing in front of his truck and the other of a female company driver standing in front of her truck, are combined into one to show the differences of an owner-operator and company driver.

If you’re currently a company driver, you’ve probably heard the term ‘owner-operator’ or ‘owner-operator truck driver’ a time or two. And, if you’re new to the industry, you probably aren’t 100% sure what this title all entails.

To answer, “What is an owner-operator?” simply:

An owner-operator truck driver is someone who owns their own truck driving business. Owning a trucking company includes owning or leasing one or more semi-trucks and finding freight to haul, as well as handling the day-to-day responsibilities that come with owning a business.

However, we can dive a lot deeper into how owner-operators and company drivers compare, including what exactly owner-operators do and what their responsibilities are.

Owner-operator truck driver vs. company truck driver

If becoming an owner-operator someday is something you’re considering, it’s important to realize how your role is going to change. Here’s a quick comparison of how owner-operators and company drivers compare:

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Company truck driver

Owner-operator truck driver

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

Owns and operates an independent small business, which includes one or more semi-trucks they either bought used or new or one they lease from a company.

Picks up loads they are assigned by dispatch.

Has the freedom to select their own freight – either from the spot market (if they have their own DOT operating authority) or by leasing on with an established company and taking advantage of freight choice load boards.

Main responsibility is to pick up and deliver loads that are assigned to them.

Main responsibility is owning/operating a business – including finding loads, managing business expenses, making employment decisions (example: hire other truck drivers or back-office staff), hauling freight, doing the books, maintaining the truck and making revenue and earnings decisions.

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

Responsible, as a business owner, for all expenses related to owning a truck and a trucking company.

Is paid by the mile and sometimes receives loading/unloading pay, detention pay, performance pay, etc.

Generates business revenue by selecting freight to haul and executing on the freight (payment terms often set by a written contract). The method by which they receive revenue could be through mileage pay or an all-in/flat rate from each load they haul.

Probably became a truck driver for the stability, freedom and fulfillment that come with the job.

Probably became an owner-operator for the opportunity to own an independent business, generate revenue and have maximum flexibility .