On March 23, 2018, Peterbilt announced at the 2018 Mid-America Trucking Show that owner-operator Rick McClerkin was the winner of the one-millionth truck Peterbilt has manufactured since the company’s inception. Peterbilt’s giveaway included 1,500 contestants spanning the U.S. and Canada, but only McClerkin was ultimately deemed worthy of the “SuperFan” title.
McClerkin has been a truck driver since he was 17 – now he’s 61. Throughout his trucking life, he’s become a steadfast, loyal fan to Peterbilt. He uses two Peterbilt rigs for his owner-operator business, but has a collection of 11 other Peterbilt rigs – of which, seven are collector’s item vehicles (some dating back to 1918) manufactured by Peterbilt’s predecessor. He’s also got a museum that protects 50,000 schematics and drawings of Peterbilt rigs that attract the admiration of rig restorers and other Peterbilt fans.
What did McClerkin win? He takes home Peterbilt’s Model 567 Heritage that comes with a PACCAR 40k rear axle, PACCAR powertrain, MX-13 engine, PACCAR Automated Transmission, and custom chrome finishing. But it doesn’t end there – his Model 567 Heritage also gets free oil changes until a million miles!
McClerkin graciously said he’s not planning on using his illustrious grand prize for work. And rightly so – it’s taken him decades of hard work to get him eligible for the prize.
The Owner-Operator Dream: The Good and the Bad
Most truck drivers aspire to become owner-operators like McClerkin. He most certainly started out driving for trucking companies that had him hauling cross-country without being able to get home every week until he was able to save up enough bankroll to become an owner-operator. Now he says he’s making a lucrative income while getting home to his family every night because the majority of his work is hauling gravel, construction, and demolition supplies to local destinations.
What’s so great about being an owner-operator? Truck driving companies own rig fleets and contract with CDL-holders to drive their trucks to deliver hauls. Most usually pay truck drivers around 33 percent of the total freight bill. But if you’re an owner-operator, which means you own and operate your own rig(s), there’s no middle-man so you take home 100 percent of the total freight bill.
But buying your own rig is almost like buying a house – McClerkin’s Peterbilt Model 567 Heritage has a retail value of over $160,000! Sure, there are auto loans and other financing measures available, but you’re still looking at a hefty down payment and monthly payments that most 18 to 21-year old truck drivers simply can’t afford. In fact, there are only about 350,000 owner-operators registered in the U.S..
Most only become owner-operators after having been a truck driver for an average of 26 years. The average age of U.S. owner-operators is 37. Surprisingly, almost 50 percent of owner-operators have attained a college education, which means their schedules are ideal enough to allow for part-time or even full-time college. Even better, almost 70 percent of owner-operators have completely paid off their rigs, which speaks to the great profitability of owning and operating your own rig.
Becoming an owner-operator means you get more freedom and control over your hauls and rates. You can plan your shipments rather than suddenly getting blindsided by a company dispatcher who orders you to change routes to cover for another company truck driver. Instead of being forced to agree to a substellar rate, you can haggle with specific clients and shippers for higher or custom rates depending on factors that may make the haul easier or harder.
But being an owner-operator means you’ll have to do more than just drive a truck. You’ll have to do your own accounting, logistics, self-dispatching, and repairs. It would cut into your profits quite a bit if you didn’t learn to repair your rig for routine mechanical breaks. If you outsource these aspects of your business to field experts, you’ll have to pay them and manage them, which take a cut from both your time and revenue.
You’ll also have to retain your own lawyer to review and draft contracts to make sure they comply with federal regulations. You’ll have to get your own rig insurance, which can cost more than $8,000 a year.
But it’s definitely worth it. Most successful owner-operators make over $100,000 in net income. In comparison, most first-year truck drivers working for a trucking company make about $35,000 to $45,000.