Will Growing Your Company Actually Increase Profits?

On Esta Klatzkin’s small business financial blog, a small business owner says that though he adds more people and equipment he isn’t increasing his net profit. He asks, “What am I doing wrong?”

If you’re an owner-operator who’s been working harder, running more loads and/or bringing on a new driver, that question may have been floating around in your head as well. Why isn’t the extra work showing up as additional income?

The Risk of Growth for Growth’s Sake

Klatzkin, a tax and financial consultant who specializes in providing tax accounting and financial services to owner-operators and other drivers in the transportation industry, explains that when a typical company grows, expenses increase as well which may absorb any profit.

For example, take a company that nets $50,000 on total sales of $1,000,000. That means the company is producing a 5% net profit. After totaling pay for a load, deduct wages, fuel, maintenance, travel expenses, etc., and you have your net profit.

If this company has a 40% gross profit (on loads sold), a $100,000 increase in sales should add $40,000 to the bottom line. “I say ‘should,’” Klatzkin explains, “because the increase in sales may cause the need for more equipment, space, or inventory.” For an owner-operator, additional wear and tear on the vehicle, more nights on the road, hiring additional drivers, increased tax burden, slow-paying customers, etc., can also diminish the impact on profits.

Keeping More of What You Earn

Good record keeping, careful cash-flow management, tax planning, accurate financial data and preventive maintenance can help owner-operators enjoy more of the fruits of their labors. Another thing to consider, according to Klatzkin, is whether growth is really the best route to increased profits.

“Growth for growth’s sake can be financially unhealthy,” she says. “A better way to increase net profit might be to increase the gross profit on all or most of the items sold.” In other words, a 4% increase in rates would add $40,000 ($1,000,000 x 4%) to this company’s bottom line – if the price increase doesn’t cause a loss of customers.

That’s a big “if,” you may be thinking. Increasing rates is indeed a risk, but Klatzkin says to focus on the value you offer your customers. “Suppose a company sells a top quality product and provides excellent service,” she says. “These are major facts in the competitive world. If 30% of the current customers account for 70% of the total sales, they are probably dealing with the company for reasons other than just low prices.”

This points out the necessity of keeping good records. You have to be able to pinpoint if 70% of your sales are in fact coming from 30% of your customers.

It also points out the importance of providing good service which for some carriers is worth higher rates. “Sell these customers on the fact that a slight increase in prices is necessary to maintain the quality of product and service that they expect and deserve.” Klatzkin says. “Good customers would like the company to be around in the future and should appreciate and understand the need for increasing prices.”

Learn more about this topic by downloading Klatzkin’s e-book, Driven 4 Profits: An Owner/ Operator’s Guide to Keeping More of the Money You Earn.

Weighing Options When You Need to Buy Parts

close up of diesel engine

There are plenty of risks to buying lowest-price parts, but buying the highest price part isn’t the answer either. What you really want is to find the sweet spot that’s right for your situation and your truck.

In Heavy Duty Trucking’s article, “Five Keys to Best Parts-Buying Practices,” Mark Terry, general manager, truck and bus at Yancey Bros. Co. (a Georgia-based dealer and parts supplier) explains that the cost-benefits analysis depends partly on how long you plan to keep the truck.

For “people who trade a truck every three to five years,” Terry says “it’s going to be original equipment parts wherever possible. But for owners of used trucks, the cost-benefits scale tips more toward all-makes. And, especially for someone who buys a truck and keeps it for 10 or 12 years, aftermarket parts exceed the price premium they would pay to the OEM or tier 1 suppler.”

Remanufactured vs. Rebuilt

Remanufactured parts are more expensive, but in the long run may be the better deal since they’ve been brought all the way back up to spec. Rebuilt parts are only reworked to running condition, usually aren’t covered by warranty, and may set you up for some unexpected breakdowns.

Parts that are remanufactured can be off brand or name brand. Name brand is generally less risky, but a reliable, trustworthy remanufacturer may be able to offer an off-brand part with the same reliability and better cost-effectiveness.

In “Part Smarts” on Overdriveonline.com, Rick Sullivan, a shop manager at Fleet Pride says his company offers discounted parts that differ from OEM only in that they don’t have parts numbers. “An owner-operator who’s in a cost-sensitive situation can go with quality, off-brand aftermarket parts that will save him 25 percent or even more and still be confident he has good parts that aren’t going to wear out faster,” he says.

In that same article, ArvinMeritor drivetrain products manager Sandy Landgren suggests owner operators, “look for remanufactured parts that meet QS9000 standard requirements.” Using parts that satisfy this industrial certification offers assurance that the part will perform well.

Buyer Beware

Both remanufactured and rebuilt parts have their risks. Rick Easterling, parts manager at Freightliner Trucks of South Florida in Riviera Beach says in this article, “it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying…If Eaton reman’s a clutch, they’ll throw out all the old springs and use new ones, but a guy selling will-fits might just put a flat washer under the old springs and call it reman’d.”

Easterling, who has 30 years’ experience in the truck parts business, also warns parts buyers to be on the lookout for “black paint reman’s.” A transmission, for example, may be freshly painted and look remanufactured, but it may have only been steam cleaned and had a few pieces changed. The seller may have replaced the outer bearings but hasn’t checked “the inner bearings and gear wear and clearance,” he says.

Brake shoes are sometimes called “remanufactured,” even though they aren’t truly brought back up to spec. John Thompson, sales manager, commercial vehicle NAFTA, at TMD Friction says if shoes haven’t been set in a die and pressed at very high tonnage, they can’t have been brought back to their original, factory shape. That misfit will mean you’re in for shorter brake life and more frequent maintenance.

“Some reliners only remove and replace lining,” he explains. “This is not the best starting place for a brake reline, as the high forces involve in braking will ‘stretch’ or distort the shoe in normal operating conditions.”

Cost Savings is Great, But Also Consider Value

In Heavy Duty Trucking, Meritor’s aftermarket business unit director for drivetrain, Aaron Bickford, says that lower-priced brake friction could seem like a deal, but premature wear will mean it has to be replaced more frequently, and “the parts and labor cost will quickly outrun any initial piece parts saving.”

Under spec’ing is probably not worth the savings either, says Sullivan: “If your brake linings are originally spec’d to 23,000 pounds, and you buy 20,000-pound linings to save money, you might have trouble.”

That sort of trouble from mixing and matching parts can be compounded on newer trucks that have electronic control panels. Unlike with older trucks, parts for more recent models require precision fit to avoid mismatches that can lead to breakdowns.

Working with a licensed parts dealer can prevent another problem: voiding your warranty. On Overdriveonline.com, Jim Lainio, a Ryder mechanic in south Florida, says, “If I put a bad-quality, off-brand turbo on a warranty engine, and a turbo blade comes apart, then I’ve got bits of turbo blade up around the pistons, and I’m out some big dollars for a new engine.”

Don’t Forget Core Value in Your Calculations

OEMs will usually grant significant discounts on a remanufactured part when you turn in the old part, according to Overdrive. In fact, David Schultz of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems says, “sometimes the core value is higher than the cost of remanufacture.”

Dealing With Unexpected Expenses

guy working on truck

Independent owner-operators have an enviable life in many ways, not least of which is being your own boss. But without the stability of regular paycheck it’s harder to be ready financially for the unexpected. And when you own your own truck, “the unexpected” can mean tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs and lost revenue.

And then there’s the expenses racked up thanks to severe weather or an accident. A slump in demand for your services takes a further toll on revenue. There’s no surefire way to prevent any of these crises from happening, but you can reduce the stress, the sleepless nights and the strain on your marriage by being prepared.

Stamp Out Debt

Eliminating as much debt as possible is your first step. Credit card debt is the worst. Interest rates on this kind of debt can go above 30%, much higher than for other kinds of secured debt, like truck and home loans. With such a high rate, paying down credit card debt is that much harder. As the interest compounds, you’re paying more and more interest and less and less of the principal.

Carrying debt on credit cards “keeps you poor,” according to consumer expert Clark Howard. With the high interest rate, you’re paying that much more for everything you buy on the card. It also siphons off cash that could go into savings. When an unexpected expense arrives, you have fewer resources to fall back on and are forced to put the charge on a credit card, perpetuating the vicious cycle of charging, delaying payment and accumulating debt that compounds at 30% per year.

Build Three Different Funds

Most people can get by with an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses, but when your work requires a tool as expensive as a truck, you really need three funds: an emergency fund to cover motel and rental car in case you’re stranded by weather, breakdown or an accident; a truck fund to take care of unexpected repairs; and an income reserve fund to live off in case you have to endure a dry spell in your business.

Establish a goal for each fund and begin channeling any surplus you can spare to these funds, starting with the emergency fund. Research what it would cost to rent a car from the farthest point in your range and return it in your hometown. Overdrive magazine pegs the cost of maintaining a four-year-old truck at 12 cents per mile to give you an idea what to shoot for with your truck fund. Three months’ worth of living expenses is a good rule of thumb for your income reserve fund.

Considering that severe weather emergencies come with power outages that could make your credit card useless, keep a reasonable amount of cash on hand at all times. Also, make sure your credit card’s limit is high enough to cover expenses for getting home with all of your belongings in case you’re in an accident.

Finding the Funds to Do It

According to Mint.com, it’s more about finding the discipline to do it. Most people look at their checking account and conclude they can’t afford to save, but reducing expenditures and making saving a non-negotiable expense can make the funds mysteriously appear.

Being honest with yourself about the difference between wants and needs is key. Smartphones, cable TV, dinners out – anything beyond food, shelter and basic clothing is a want. Financial experts recommend you establish a goal for monthly savings and fulfill that before spending anything on wants.

How to Make it as an Owner-Operator

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Making your way in one of the most heavily regulated industries on earth can make you wonder if it’s worth it sometimes. And the increasingly expensive equipment required to be on the road may be sapping your revenue more than ever.

But there are drivers making a good living as owner-operators. How do they do it? One common thread among successful O-Os is their tendency to be business-minded tinkerers. They’re usually trying different approaches for being more efficient and cutting costs. They’re often studying up on the latest technology or on some new way to get better fuel economy. They talk to other O-Os to see how they’re dealing with challenges like detention time, new HOS rules, or getting good loads.

Know What It Costs You to Operate

Survival depends on bringing in more income than you spend. So the foundation for managing your business well is knowing what it costs you per mile to operate, including all your expenses and your salary. On the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association’s (OOIDA) website, you can find a spreadsheet that helps you calculate that number. Once you have numbers to work with, it’s easier to evaluate a load, track your profitability after you’ve hauled it and apply what you’ve learned next time a similar opportunity arises. Over time, having accumulated that kind of data allows you to make better business decisions.

Once you know what it costs you to operate, see if there are ways to reduce that number without making yourself miserable or driving your family crazy.

Understand the Regulations and Figure Out How to Do the Best Job Within Those Bounds

Before he drove a truck, Henry Albert drove stock cars. (He tells the story in this video.) He didn’t go to college, but raced stock cars in his early 20s and says that was his college. “The parallels between trucking and stock car racing are pretty interesting,” he says. “The people that made the racing rules usually didn’t even own a race track or a race car. Many of them had never raced a day in their life.”

These people changed the rules every year. So once a year, all the racers received the new regulations they had to follow. Albert says, “First, you decided if you wanted to keep racing with the new rules in place. If you did – it was the same rules for everyone – so you had to spend your time figuring out how you were going to make those rules work better than anyone else.”

There were always those who complained about the new rules, but other racers focused on how they could be the fastest within those boundaries. Pointing out the cleaner air we have thanks to unleaded gas, Albert says regulations have their place. “We all have to deal with the same rules. If you want to make it as an owner-operator, put your mind to work on how you can do the best job and still obey the law.”

A good place to start is to avoid the fines and delays that come from being a flashing beacon for FMCSA enforcement personnel. Click here to read How to Avoid Six Common CSA Violations

Become a Fuel Efficient Machine

Carlos Cruz, a struggling lease-operator, was ready to turn in his keys after a few months on the road. But as a last-ditch effort, he decided that on this final trip to the terminal, he’d follow all the advice about fuel efficiency he’d been hearing from trucking business gurus and see if it allowed him to recoup expenses and increase his take-home pay.
The experiment was a success, so much so that he decided to give his business another month. After 30 days his fuel mileage went from the 6.2 to 7.8 miles per gallon, a 1.6 mpg improvement that more than quadrupled his net revenue.

That was three years ago. Today Carlos continues his lease deal and can afford to live well on his income.

Details of his story are in Jim Park’s column on TruckingInfo.com, but the three habits he says make the biggest difference are:

  • Slowing down from 65 to 55 mph
  • Never idling
  • Becoming a “progressive shifting machine.”

More good info sources for boosting your fuel economy:

How to Avoid 6 Common CSA Violations

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This guest blog post comes from Daren Hansen, Senior Editor – Transportation Safety for J.J. Keller & Associates. Contact him at transporteditors@jjkeller.com.  It was first published in Heavy Duty Trucking.  

“A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers,” the Greek philosopher Plato once said.

Too bad he wasn’t around when the government was coming up with CSA.

Now four years old, the safety enforcement program known as Compliance, Safety, Accountability relies on almost nothing but numbers. And as numerous studies keep telling us — and as many trucking professionals already know — those numbers are not always reliable.

At the top of the list are your CSA scores, perhaps flawed but visible to the world and used to decide if the DOT needs to pay you a visit, or at least send you a letter.

Pull the curtain on those scores and you can find a mass of interesting and (arguably) more reliable data: the raw numbers coming in from enforcement personnel on the front lines.

Besides giving insight into your CSA scores, the enforcement data can reveal important clues about your drivers and overall safety management. It can tell you where to focus your compliance efforts.

Let’s examine the top three CSA violations for both vehicles and drivers across the industry and discuss practices that can help bring the numbers down.

The Truck

Violation: Lighting

Ironically, broken lights are among the most “visible” of all violations. Maybe that’s why a whopping 28% of all roadside vehicle violations last year, out of 2.4 million inspections, dealt with lights or reflective materials.

A broken or missing light, reflector, or reflective tape is like an “Inspect Me!” sign and can result in a loss of six severity points in CSA for each violation (Three points for reflective tape).

Prevention: Drivers and maintenance personnel need to be aware that every light and reflector listed in Sections 393.11 and 571.108, even the license-plate lamp, needs to be operational at all times. The only way to verify compliance is to inspect the vehicle on a regular basis.

By conducting adequate pre-trip and post-trip inspections and reporting what they find, drivers should be able to spot violations — and get them fixed — before an inspector does. Carrying spare fuses is required, and spare bulbs can help too. Non-required lights do not have to be working, but any broken lamp can draw attention.

Violation: Brakes

One-fourth of all vehicle violations are for brakes, with over 1 million brake violations last year, each with four CSA points.

As with lights, brakes need to be inspected before and after every trip, but drivers need to be fully trained and qualified before doing any brake adjustment.

Prevention: Training is key. Make sure drivers know what to look for and when to get assistance with their brakes. The only way to find a brake adjustment problem is to carefully measure the stroke, and adjusting a brake that has an automatic adjuster won’t fix the problem (and may make it worse).

Violation: Tires

As with lights, bad tires are a sure-fire way to be stopped and inspected. The biggest culprit: tread depth. Overall, 11% of vehicle violations are for tires (half for tread depth), with a CSA severity of eight points.

Steer tires must have 4/32 inch of tread depth; other tires must have 2/32 inch.

Prevention: A comprehensive maintenance program that includes regular tire inspections is a must, including pre-trip and post-trip inspections. Drivers need to know how and when to check inflation (with a gauge!) and when it’s time for a replacement.

Drivers

Violation: Logs

So-called “form & manner” and “log not current” violations make up one-fourth of all driver violations at the roadside, far and above any other violation. A form/manner violation carries just one CSA point, but a log that isn’t current is worth five.

These violations are often frustratingly obvious and easily correctable.

Drivers need to fill out all required information on their logs and keep them current to the last time their duty-status changed.

Prevention: First, make sure your drivers know what’s required and what’s not required on their logs (see Sec. 395.8), and when it has to be filled in. When a driver is stopped for an inspection, the log must be current up to the time at which the driver got behind the wheel.

Make sure your policies reinforce these requirements. Review your CSA data to find the worst offenders and re-educate them on the rules.

Finally, investigate two things that can help eliminate many of these violations: pre-printing of common log entries (address, etc.), and electronic logs (which will be mandatory soon enough).

Violation: Medical Issues

One in eight driver violations is related to medical issues, often a failure to have a valid medical certificate. These carry a low CSA point value of one or two, although driving while physically ill is a 10-point violation.

Prevention: Track the expiration of your drivers’ medical cards and make sure they get updated, placed in drivers’ files, carried in the vehicle and turned in to the state licensing agency. Make sure drivers know exactly what’s required of them, and have consequences in place for those who fail to comply.

Some of these violations may go away once we have the National Registry of Medical Examiners, and once interstate CDL drivers no longer have to carry their medical cards (in Feb. 2015).

Violation: English Ability

This violation has been surging in recent years, currently at 9% of all driver violations and carrying four CSA points.

Compliance is complicated because there is no yes/no standard. Key for a roadside inspection is being able to fill out paperwork, speak with officers and answer their questions, all in English.

Prevention: Your hiring practices should filter out drivers who simply cannot meet the standard. Use training and practice to help drivers know how to respond to typical questions about their logs, their trips and cargo, their insurance, registration, license and their vehicle.

Even if you don’t pull the curtain on your CSA scores, a little training on these common violations may go a long way in improving them.

Worth It or Not? The Aerodynamics Debate

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They’re ugly. They don’t make enough difference in fuel economy to be worth it. They won’t hold up to road abuse. They don’t produce the savings I can get just by slowing down.

Drivers and fleets have plenty of reasons they’ve generally opted out of aerodynamic add-ons, and while it’s true they’re not smart for everybody, companies are getting better at making durable, effective drag reducers. If you’ve always written the things off, it might be time to re-investigate.

Henry Albert, a trucker since 1983 and a contributor to TeamRunSmart.com, drives a 2013 Cascadia Evolution and has been on a pretty well-publicized quest to achieve 10 mpg for over five years. In a recent interview, he says he’s achieved in excess of 10 mpg on many individual driving days. His truck is completely decked out, with side skirts, nose cone, a trailer tail and wheel covers.

“I have drivers tell me all the time, ‘side skirts don’t make that much difference,’ and they’re right – they only save between 2.5% and 3% in fuel cost. But they also say the same thing about the nose cone and the wheel covers and trailer tail, but cumulatively, when I put it all together, it adds up,” Albert says. The fuel savings of adding aerodynamic modifications to his truck covered his cost in six months.

On the other side of the debate are drivers who point to the weight of the add-ons and the fact that on certain routes, crosswinds in combination with accessories like trailer side skirts can actually create drag. In the comments section of this article, a driver who travels the I-80 corridor between Milwaukee and San Francisco, a route where he’s usually rolling through 25 mph crosswinds, installed side skirts. He reports no difference in fuel mileage and concludes, “There is only one way to good fuel mileage, and that is SLOW DOWN. I went from driving the 75 mph zones to driving 60 and have saved an average of 160 gallons per trip.”

But this driver begs to differ: “I don’t subscribe to the theory that slowing down increases profits!” In the comments section of an article on the trailer Kevin Rutherford developed for owner-operators, he explains that, “when you slow down, your are also reducing your per-hour revenue.” By way of example he says that a driver averaging 70 mph and earning $2 per mile grosses $140 per hour, while someone driving an average of 60 mph at that same pay rate makes $120. Since fuel only costs $11 per hour more to run at 70 mph, the 70 mph driver is $9 per hour more profitable. His philosophy: “Revenue first, then control costs.”

One way he controls his costs is by employing an undercarriage device and nose cone to diminish aerodynamic drag. He uses an Airman undercarriage add-on, which is designed to move with the tandems, unlike the skirts that are stationary. He says, “For every slider hole you move the skirts away from the tandems, your efficiency decreases. At a certain distance, the efficiency is actually worse than no skirts at all. The 5-6% fuel savings I’m getting from skirts is only achieved at the 40-foot California setting. Utilizing both the nose cone and Airman, I am achieving 7.2-7.4 mpg running @ 75 mph in 75 to 80 mph states, usually grossing 75-80,000 lbs and am hitting 11 mpg empty.”

An option for drivers who determine trailer side skirts aren’t right for their situation are tractor wheel covers. As Mario Bravo, marketing manager for Flow Below points out in this article, one advantage of making a modification to the tractor is that you get that fuel economy benefit even when the trailer is sitting in a customer’s yard, unlike trailer side skirts. “The higher a fleet’s trailer-to-tractor ratio, the more standing time, and no aerodynamic device saves anything when the vehicle is sitting still,” he says.

His company’s AeroKit consists of panels that close the gaps between a tandem’s drive wheels, and others that guide air as it leaves the tandem area. Circular covers block wheel indentations and reduce turbulence.
The advantage of being an owner-operator vs. a fleet manager in this situation is that owner-operators many times run dedicated loads and/or routes, according to comments in this article by Mitch Greenberg with SmartTruck Systems.

He points out that they also tend “to measure their fuel mileage more consistently and run the same equipment day in and day out. Any differences that stem from aerodynamic add-on devices will more effectively and directly present themselves, Greenberg says, due to the aforementioned variables being so controlled, which is often not the case for large fleets looking to implement aero devices.”

There’s no one right answer and every driver needs to test for himself what combination of equipment, accessories and driving skills will create the best results.

Nifty Apps for Truckers

smart phone apps

Depending on your device and driving style, there’s a smart phone application out there that will make the miles roll by a little easier.

Here’s a list of apps that score well – reviews average four stars or better – on Google’s Android app store.

Avoid Traffic Delays

Waze Social GPS, Maps and Traffic is free and consistently scores top reviews on AppCrawler and the Android app store. Fellow Waze users drive with the app running, which contributes real-time traffic and road info. Helps find the cheapest gas station along your route with community-shared fuel prices. Allows Facebook users to meet up and coordinate on the road. Includes voice-guided navigation, automatic re-routing as conditions on the road change, and ETA notifications for those you designate.

Track Sleep Cycles and Wake at the Optimal Time

There are a variety of apps that monitor bedtimes, wake times, and sleep-time noise and movement to determine your cycle. Sleep Cycle seems to be the most widely used and most positively reviewed. The app relies on findings in sleep science to estimate what cycle stage you’re in and wake you when you’re least likely to be in deep sleep. Syncs with mysleepbot.com so you can get more detailed analysis of your sleep and help diagnose sleep apnea and other sleep problems. You can download it from the Android app store for $1.

Learn Something About the Country You’re Traveling Through

For history buffs and fans of local color My GeoReader combines GPS location technology on your phone to alert you to “talking points.” There over 130,000 of these preloaded data points covering historical markers, interesting bridges, UFO sightings, and more. The app is free.

Digitize all Those Receipts

CamScanner is also free and lets you use your phone’s camera to scan a document, crop, correct the contrast and send as fax or email. Send in your monthly receipts without having to find a fax machine. Archives all your scans so you’re ready when tax season rolls around with all your receipts stored in one place.

Keep Yourself Safe from Night Tornadoes

Red Cross Tornado App – When you can’t see the clouds in the dark, this app from the Red Cross will let you know if you’re near a tornado. Be sure to cross reference with an app that enables radar on your phone to avoid over-reacting and stressing out to false alarms.

Get Weather Predictions and Radar

MyRadar is a fast, easy-to-use, no-frills application that handily beats the Weather Channel’s app (which is $3.99), based on AppCrawler and Android store reviews. Displays animated weather radar around your current location, allowing you to see what weather is coming your way. Can zoom in and pan around the map to and see what the weather is like anywhere in the contiguous 48 states.

Find the Best Place to Stop Tonight

Trucker Path is free and lets you look ahead to truck stops on your route. See which have showers, overnight parking, RV dumps, restaurants. Includes up-to date information about weigh stations and truck stops, including reviews and directions. Find info on rest areas, CAT scales, truck washes, low clearances, motels, current weather, map views, and notifications for the opening and closings of truck stops.

A crowd-sourced feature also alerts drivers to openings and closings of weigh stations. Reviews are mixed on how accurate it is.

Find locations of: Flying Js, Love’s, TA Travel Centers, Pilots, Petro Stopping Centers, AM Best, Pacific Pride Commercial, Petro-Canada, Sapp Brothers, Roadys and other smaller brands, and thousands of independents.

One reviewer says while it omits quite a few places that are in his hardcover book, it’s so much easier to use – tap the screen and see all the options on your route. If what you want doesn’t appear, you can always cross reference with another info source.

Trucker Tools, also free, includes a truck stop locator with the same establishments covered as Trucker Path and a crowd-sourced portal for weigh station opening/closing info. It also offers trucker-specific restaurant, truck stop and service promotions information and real-time traffic updates. You can find latest and lowest diesel prices, live traffic, turn-by-turn directions and a truck routing and fuel optimizer.

The app has a chat feature, a way to find cargo insurance instantaneously, help with IFTA and DOT compliance, a jobs and messages board – and is voice-activated, so it’s more comprehensive than Trucker Path, but may be a bit more glitchy as well. Reviews on Android’s app store average a bit lower for Trucker Tools and the app scores more negative reviews on average than Trucker Path.

AllStays Truck and Travel is $10, but doesn’t require wireless service to function and is ad-free. Data is a bit more reliable and comprehensive as well. Includes truck stops, rest areas, weigh stations, WalMarts, Lowe’s, UPS and FedEx outlets.

Want to Find More?

Try App Crawler to find more apps for truckers. It categorizes user reviews by “positive,” “minor pains,” and “issues” to make it relatively easy to compare options. App Crawler’s engine will also suggest alternatives.

Marketing for Owner-Operators

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You’ve just left your carrier and gone to a new one – that uses agents. First step? Make up a brochure. That’s what TeamRunSmart Pro Linda Caffee’s friends did. The brochure showed a picture of the drivers and their truck, and listed all their qualifications. “In no time, they were busy with agents that needed what they had,” Caffee says. That’s job one in marketing any business – make your customers aware of what you’ve got and keep them thinking of you.

Make Sure Your Price is Right

But before you start spreading the word that you’re available, you have to be crystal clear about exactly what you offer – and what you can afford to offer. In this article, Kevin Rutherford recommends a thorough evaluation of all your expenses, what it costs you to run shorter- and longer-mileage hauls, particular lanes and cities. Based on those numbers, create a pricing structure with levels for each type of haul, lane and city. Over time, track your costs and continue to fine-tune.

Now you know what it costs for you to operate, you’re ready to hit the load boards, right? Probably not. Rutherford reminds us that “just because you set a price doesn’t mean anyone will pay it. Your competitors might outbid you.”

So before you get the word out, you need to get your ideas down on paper:

  • Where do you want to haul?
  • What areas or lanes do you specialize in?
  • What types of freight do you like to haul?
  • What makes you different from competitors?
  • What things do you do well?
  • What’s your special equipment or technology?
  • What’s your on-time record?

Your goal is to show that you offer something that’s of special benefit to your customers. “Ask yourself,” Rutherford says, “’if I were the customer, why would I choose me to ship the product? Would I be willing to pay extra?’”

That’s differentiation, and that’s what allows you to charge enough to make a reasonable living as a driver.

Get the Word Out

With your pricing and differentiation foundation laid, you’re ready to start getting people’s attention about what you have to offer.

Start simple, by calling or emailing everyone you know in trucking. As you discuss what you’re offering, you’ll learn more about what the market wants. Revise your message accordingly.

But all the contacts you have now probably won’t be enough to sustain your business over the long-term. You’ll need a promotions plan to broadcast your presence to a wider audience. The more people who are aware you’re available – and remember that when they have a need – the better your odds of surviving.

One way to make sure they’ll remember is to give them something with your company’s name on it. Henry Albert, another TeamRunSmart Pro, is proud of the fact that his company is the source of one of his customers’ favorite coffee mugs. Albert Transport invested in the mugs and printed them with the company’s name and contact info. He gives them to dispatchers and other contacts at the carriers he works with. Every time someone pours their joe in one his mugs, they’re reminded of Albert’s company. And they’ll remember that they appreciated getting something free, which everyone loves.

One dispatcher would get very upset if anyone removed his Albert Transport mug from his desk. “He drank his coffee right before making calls to schedule shipments for the following day,” Albert says. “So we were the first carrier he thought of every morning!”

Another owner operator uses his homemade barbecue sauce to make an impression, but you could also apply your company’s name to hats, jackets, key chains, calendars – things that are durable and are unlikely to be thrown out.

The thing is less important than the business relationship it allows you to begin to build – and continue to build by being a high quality carrier. Once you have that relationship, you can begin to anticipate customers’ requirements, which allows you to communicate exactly how you satisfy their wants and needs, and why they should use your company.

Three Ways to Get the Maximum Miles Out of Your Tires

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Can you get 400,000+ miles out of your tires?

In Three Top Ways to Preserve Tire Life in the March 2014 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking, Jim Park writes about a retired maintenance specialist who accomplished this feat regularly.

Ron Szapacs, former maintenance specialist for Air Products and Chemicals, admits the goal is too ambitious for some applications but says in long-haul situations and in the service of maintenance-focused owner-operators, tires can get close to the half-million miles mark before being retired. He says there are three keys to making that happen:

1. Identity the Proper Inflation Level and Keep it There

Consult your manufacturer Load & Inflation tables to help determine precisely where your pressure should be. And it is important to settle on a precise number. The practice of over-inflating just a tad to boost gas mileage and hedge against tire damage, according to the experts interviewed in Parks’ article, does neither.

In fact, most tires function best inflated only to the L&I minimums, which allows tires to maintain a larger area of contact with the road and reduces impact damage. Herman Miller, president of HJM Fleet Maintenance, says higher pressure may produce some “small increase in fuel economy, but I could never quantify it.”

And tires that are at higher pressure “are too hard to function the way they were designed to function – that is, having enough give in the casing to absorb impacts like pot holes and road debris, having the optimum footprint or contact patch.” he says.

2. Maintain Alignment, Balance and Keep an Eye Out for Other Mechanical Threats

The way your tires are wearing can tell you a lot about your truck’s overall condition, Park explains in Extend Tire Life: Learn How to Tell When Your Trucks are Killing Your Tires.

Suspension, steering, wheel mounting studs, bearings, alignment, balance, shock absorbers – problems in all these areas will show up in tire wear.

The American Trucking Association’s “Radial Tire Wear Conditions and Causes: A Guide to Wear Pattern Analysis” offers detailed categories to identify wear and track back to possible causes.

One of the most common culprits is running a truck out of alignment, a problem that can cost up to a third or more of a tire’s life expectancy, according to Mike McCoy, national accounts sales manager at Beeline. “If you’re seeing irregular wear, don’t wait until the tires are destroyed. A $200 alignment could repay itself several times over in reduced steer and drive tire wear.”

Balancing is also as “maintenance tough sell,” according to Park, especially since with new tires it’s rarely a problem anymore. “But what about hubs and brake drums that might be out of balance, or worn hub pilots that could cause an out-of-round condition with wheel or tire?” he asks. Plus, a new tire that starts out balanced can be knocked out of balance in as little as a month.

He recommends dynamic balancing compounds or balancing rings to help maintain balance, even where wear is already irregular.

3. Retread

Important as proper inflation and maintenance are for extending the life of your tires, nothing beats retreading to maximize your tire investment. According to Modern Tire Dealer magazine, a retread is about $140 less than the average price of a new replacement tire.

And, Park points out, “when you factor in as many as two retreads on a single casing, you’re tripling the value of that casing – but effectively getting three times the mileage from it.”

Bill Sweatman, president and CEO of Marangoni Tread North America says that using modern retread technologies from initial to final inspection is key. He says it’s important to commit to using a system that “makes the retread decisions or you and your tires based on optimizing total cost of ownership.” Do those two things and he says post-retread performance can actually be superior to original new tire life.

Why Owner-Operators Need a Truck Maintenance Plan

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That truck you drive every day isn’t just a tool. It’s an asset that can make your business more successful if you treat it well. A regular oil change for example, removes iron particles from your engine. “Having iron particles in your oil is like having sandpaper in your engine: It’ll wear out parts quickly,” says engine repair shop owner Bruce Mallinson.

To Satisfy Regulations

If the idea of sandpaper on your engine parts isn’t enough to make you uncomfortable, the fact that the government can take you off the road if your maintenance isn’t done and documented may motivate you some more.

Getting your authority means you’re also getting a DOT number, which means you’re on the FMCSA’s radar for a new-entrant safety audit. Sometime between your sixth and eighteenth month of operation, you’ll be subject to a thorough once-over by the Feds, according to Thomas Bray, Editor, J.J. Keller & Associates.

In “How Safety Audits Apply to New Owner-Operators,” Bray explains that the audit includes a check of six factors, including driver(s), operational, hazardous materials, accidents, general – and vehicle. The vehicle factor requires that the carrier be able to show a program for systematic inspections, maintenance, and repairs, and records of annual inspection requirement compliance.

If you’re operating more than one truck, the auditor will also check your driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) and will request inspection, maintenance, and repair records for every truck.

To Save Money and be a More Reliable Carrier for Your Customers

But if all you’re doing is satisfying regulations, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table, says Mel Kirk, vice president of maintenance operations for Ryder Systems. “You’re not running an effective preventive maintenance program if you see it only as an exercise mandated by the law,” Kirk says in this article on avoiding common maintenance mistakes. Maintenance should be seen as an exercise to assess the vehicle’s condition and resolve any issues before they create more expensive problems in the future.

The danger in putting off preventative maintenance is that it gets to be a habit, according to Bob Merrill, operation analyst for W.W. Williams. And every time it gets put off, the risk of breakdowns increase. Your maintenance plan should set standard intervals for component maintenance and include frequent checks so that breakdowns are eliminated. If you can do that, the program pays for itself, Merrill says.

Merrill’s sentiment is echoed in this article “How Much Should You Put Away for Maintenance?” by Bill McClusky, a 23-year veteran of the trucking industry. “Preventative maintenance can be expensive, but neglect is even more costly. Systematic PM saves you money in the long run by reducing the chances of equipment failure on the road and reducing time lost to repairs,” he says.

Again, “systematic” is a key concept and it’s easier to have the discipline to be systematic when you have funds available specifically for maintenance. The question then is how much to set aside to take care of your truck. McClusky recommends that for a new truck, you earmark five cents per mile. For older trucks, save more – a four-year-old truck or one with more than 600,000 miles needs 10 cents for every mile.

Once your maintenance costs reach the 13 or 14 cents per mile threshold, it’s probably a good time to look into investing in a new truck. Check out Team Run Smart’s “Upgrade vs Rebuild: When’s the Right Time to Invest in a New Truck?” to see a payment and maintenance cost analysis.

As another preventative tactic, establish an account with a truck rental company, which should reduce the time needed to get a substitute truck in case your truck needs major repairs. You’ll be able to keep your commitments to your customers, keep working and earning income, and reduce your stress level as well.