While running a Class 8 rig and trailer is by far the most common and well-known type of trucking, it is by no means the only one.
Hotshot trucking has grown in popularity over the years, filling a need for smaller loads, local runs and expedited transportation. It’s given numerous truckers opportunities to start their own businesses and make a good living, but it’s not without its downsides.
What is Hotshot Trucking?
Hotshot trucking is a niche trucking area that simply involves using a Class 3 to 5 truck and trailer, usually a flatbed, to run shorter and faster jobs. Hotshot operators will use regular trailer hitches or a gooseneck hitches in order to maximize their truck’s towing capacity. This type of trucking has been made extremely popular in recent years due to TV shows like “Shipping Wars.”
Hotshotting began in the oil fields in the mid 20th century when local trucking entrepreneurs would wait outside factories to rush desperately needed equipment out to the fields. Speed was of the utmost importance and a new industry was born.
Over time, companies created their own delivery fleets and the hotshotters needed to search for other income. They began to take on small contracts transporting equipment and local inventory, often for individuals as well as businesses.
Hotshotters typically use powerful but easily purchased Class 3 to 5 trucks such as the Ford Super Duty F series or equivalent. Usually the trucks have four axles, but some drivers will use a dually, extra axle or a diesel engine. It really depends on their personal preferences and budget.
Today, hotshotting has become a viable industry where truckers aren’t bound by the same rules and regulations as Class 8 rigs and can often get their business off the ground with less time and investment.
How does Hotshotting Work?
When it comes to finding loads, the drivers mostly rely on online load boards where they bid on jobs. Truckers need to know their exact on-the-road operating costs and take jobs based on their financial requirements. If a job pays very low, they need to decide if it’s worth signing up for it.
While finding deliveries is most important, it’s also essential to carry loads as often as possible. Drivers want to avoid running without a load on a return trip or “deadheading.” Any time a hotshotter is on the road without a paying delivery, it’s a loss to the bottom line.
In addition to load boards, hotshotters will also advertise their services or look for ongoing contracts with clients or vendors that will ensure regular income. Word of mouth and a good reputation is also very important.
Hotshot truckers usually run local or smaller loads, depending on their location and type of truck set-up. Sometimes they will run overnight or longer distances, but that decision is really up to the driver.
Some truckers will begin to specialize, but most try to keep themselves open to any opportunity. If they do focus on a certain type of load, they may purchase a closed trailer, specialty car carrier or refrigerated trailer.
One specialty where many hotshotters have found success is transporting cars. Other owner operators have found success in livestock, agriculture or even medical transport. It really depends on location and the available clients, as well as how a business owner/operator networks likers to run their business.
There are also times that a hotshotter will contract with a larger company or trucking service to handle routes or the odd job that needs quick delivery when it just isn’t worth it to load up a Class 8 rig.
While sometimes this defeats the purpose of running their own business, to some drivers it’s the perfect balance of freedom and a reliable paycheck.
What Are The Pros Of Hotshotting?
What usually appeals to most drivers is the ease of setting up their business and the lower initial investments. Unlike a Class 8 rig, which can set an owner back into the six digits and often require large monthly payments, a hotshot system can be set up relatively easily and for less money.
Securing a Class 3 to 5 truck and a simple trailer can be easy, requiring little money down and manageable monthly expenses if financing is required. There are many used vehicles and trailers available in great condition, which also lowers the financial outlay.
Another pro is the lower costs for insurance, local permits and ordinances. While owner operators are going to need to secure certain permits and licenses, it’s not going to be as difficult as someone running a larger rig operation.
Licensing is also a major advantage because in many states drivers are able to operate with a basic CDL. They can take classes in trucking and driving safety, but it often isn’t required. The fuel requirements are also going to be lower for a Class 3 to 5 truck.
Hotshotters also like the business model because they can set their own schedule and don’t have to be far from home. Many business owners love hotshotting because they can be home to spend time with their family every night. If you want to take a month off to vacation with your family, you can adjust your schedule and stack up the jobs before you take the time off.
Hotshotting also makes it easier to expand your business and fleet. Once an owner/operator reaches a point of expansion, purchasing more trucks or hiring more drivers is going to be much more in reach financially than what it would take with Class 8 rigs.
There is also the potential to make a lot of money on your terms. While you are still required to keep a log of your hours and your time behind the wheel, if you hustle and are able to keep landing gigs, you can make some good income.
If you can keep your cost per mile down and constantly bring in new gigs, you have the potential to make a very good living with a successful business.
Cons of Hotshotting
As a hotshot trucker, you are constantly on the search for more jobs. And not just one way, so you don’t end up deadheading and losing money.
Some drivers will become contractors for larger companies but sometime those gigs aren’t steady or require you to become part of their fleet, which defeats part of the purpose of being your own boss.
Another downside is that because you are running your own business or rig, you are responsible for any costs. Without the support of a larger business, any issues or repairs that arise will need to be dealt with by the hotshotter. And since the truck and rig are the driver’s livelihood, if you are not on the road, you aren’t making money.
It’s also possible that your local area may have a large number of hotshotters and you will have a difficult time finding loads. If this is the case, you will have to lower your costs in order to stay profitable. Some hotshotters have even relocated or base their business in underserved areas in order to make a living.
Seasonal issues might also affect your bottom line. During the winter months you will see lower amounts of contracts and will have to work harder to cover your bottom line or make sure you rack up more gigs during the warmer months.
Compared to a Class 8 rig, but you may find that there is more wear and tear on Class 3 to 5 trucks. As the miles rack up, little things will go wrong and you are more susceptible to bad roads, potholes or other highway hazards.
With a large truck you will find large outlays in repairs and service but it’s often less frequent. Class 3-5 trucks can require more regular service and repairs depending on what you are hauling and the types of roads you travel over. Trailers will also require service, a cost many drivers forget.
Probably the biggest con of being a hotshotter is that if you are not a businessperson or used to handling your own permits, accounting and other industry requirements, you will need to learn quickly or find outside help. So while initially it seems like the costs are lower, you may need to hire services, which can cut into your bottom line.
It might not even be that you don’t have the skills, but that you don’t have the time. If you are constantly doing runs and looking for new gigs, you might not have the time or energy to go over books, keep up your permits and pay your bills.
Hotshotting isn’t for everyone. However if you want the freedom of running your own business and deciding when you can work, then it might be for you.
However you are going to need to work doubly hard. Like running any business, you need to nurture your company but with hotshotting you also need to constantly be on the lookout for new gigs.
You will also need to understand that you are not only a trucker but a businessperson. You need to put in the work required to keep your new company afloat.
But if you want to be your own boss and do it for less of an initial investment, then hotshotting might be for you.