Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS

The Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS is as close to a trucker’s best friend as his or her trusty dog. Providing much more then just which highway to use, when to turn and how much farther to go, GPSs for commercial truck drivers have came a long time in a short time, and no doubt many new features are coming down the road.

The invention of GPS was a great thing, especially for the trucking industry. However, the early GPS systems were geared for 4-wheelers and as such while useful for truck drivers, to a point, they could also get a driver in a lot of trouble real quick. Every truck driver has to be aware of road restrictions such as height, weight or width limitations on their planned route. The first GPSs allowed for assistance with routing and route planning but after that, it was still not much more then a tool in the driver’s tool box. However, with the Rand McNally Intelliroute series of Truck GPS units, the GPS moves from being a tool in the driver’s bag of tricks but the Swiss Army Knife of all in one tools that long haul or flex route drivers need.

Highlighted features of the Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS

Weather – Show current conditions and forecast. Optionally choose from 10 different map overlays, including precipitation and wind speed.Weather and road conditions are the biggest single threat to your completing your assigned deliveries. Knowing what is going on in a timely manner permits you to consider alternate routes to avoid problem areas.

Fuel prices – View fuel prices on the map, or search by price, fuel type, or brand. When burning up 100 gallons of fuel a day, getting your maximum value for your money can add substantially to your annual net income.

Fuel log – Track fuel purchases by date and by state; calculate current and average fuel economy. When it comes time to file your IFTA reports – every 3 months – you will need much of this information. The Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS can assist you in maintaining your records accurately so you pay what you are suppose to pay but not over pay by paying fuel taxes in the wrong jurisdictions. Knowing your fuel economy can also teach you to be a better truck driver. Many drivers just drive until they need fuel and dump more in without paying attention to their driving habits, including bad habit that may be costing the money.

Team driving support – the TND250 allows you to keep timers and mileage separately for two team members. Every tool that allows the driver to maintain maximum utilization of the their log book increases your profitability. With the Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS, you have one more check and balance to assist you in not making a costly mistake. One wrong mistake on your log book could result in you being red-tagged out of service and fined $100s.


Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS

Screen shot of route

Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS

Weather screen


Highlighted features of the Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 520 Truck GPS has a large easy to read 5″ screen and comes with a windshield suction cup and charger. Once you take this co-pilot for a test drive, you will never drive solo again.


Come back on Tuesday, no one will unload you now

It was Friday before Memorial Day weekend, 2001. I was working for a Grand Rapids, Michigan based Expediter – mostly driving a tandem axle straight truck with a 26′ box bed. Being still low on the board I had not yet been dispatched. About 10AM, I received a call from dispatch wanting to know if I could do a HOT run to Tennessee. Dispatch said that it was a straight thru, 8-9 hour run, no stops, no delays, no nothing. Had to be there. I replied I had not problem.

I signed my truck out of the yard in Kalamazoo and headed about 1 hour west on I-94 for the pickup. It turned out that it was not a heavy piece, only about 1,000lbs, but it was 20+ feet long. It was a hydraulic cylinder for under ground mining equipment. The repeatedly asked me if I was going to be able to get this there by around midnight. I assured them that I was leaving with the equipment and I had enough fuel to not need to stop and this was my only assignment.

Once loaded (it took all of 5 minutes) and I strapped the box to the sidewall, I headed south. From where I was, it was out of the way to go west and pick up I-65 South near Portage, Indiana and it was equally out of the way to go east to I-69 South near Battle Creek. I was stuck with just taking US31 due south thru the center of Indiana – this dealing with all the cities and towns, stop lights, reduced speed zones and everything else.

Once to Indianapolis, I picked up I-465 to I-65 South towards Kentucky and Tennessee. The truck was governed at 58 mph so even on the interstate, going was not exactly speedy. Eventually, only stopping a couple of times long enough to use the rest room and get a snack, I made it to Tennessee. Once to Nashville, I turned onto I-40 East for the last short leg to the consignee.

After about 9 hours on the road (and rapidly running out of log book) I located my exit. My directions was that the Mine was about 2/10 mile north of the Interstate, at the end of a small road that paralleled the Interstate. I was thrilled beyond belief that at the intersection was several motels, as I needed a place to sleep because my truck did not have a sleeper and I lacked the hours to get back to Nashville.

I turned up the access road and about 1/2 mile later I encountered a locked gate. I saw a guard shack, so I grabbed my paperwork, jumped from the truck and walked to meet the guard who had exited and walked toward me. I informed him that I had a piece of equipment for immediate delivery. He stated there was no one on the property, the mine was closed until Tuesday Morning, come back then.

I stressed that, No, I was told they needed this tonight, I just drove straight from Southern Michigan with it.

The gentleman continued to assure me that there was no one there, I could not unload, I had to return “next week”.

After about 10 minutes, and not sure how this was going to go down, I asked if there was anyone from the maintenance department there. He said he thought one of the managers was working, he would call down there to see. The guard steps back in the guard shack, and makes a telephone call. When whom ever he called answered, he explained that he had some truck driver that was insisting he is to be unloaded tonight and I have told him to come back on Tuesday, but he (the truck driver) refuses to listen to me (the guard). It was then the guard was asked what I was delivering and the guard, who had the load’s weight bills, read it off to the other person.

“Oh, okay. To where? Okay. I will send him down.”

With that the guard hung up the phone, handed me my paperwork and informed me that after he unlocked the gate, I was to follow the road to the right and into the area where there were several maintenance buildings. He told me which one I was going to and gave me the name of the person I would be meeting. He then, I believe, reluctantly unlocked and opened the gates.

I proceeded based on his directions to into the mine complex, arriving at the location requested. There a friendly man with a genuine smile and a warm handshake who welcomed me. He let me know where he wanted me to back in for unloading and once I did, he removed the crate from my truck and signed my paperwork. He then commented that there were a lot of people who were really mad at me, when I asked why – he informed me that since I did make it there (as the shipper had promised) it meant that he would be calling in his entire maintenance crew to repair the machine so the miners could work on Tuesday. And the repairs where going to require the majority of the three day weekend. Had I not made it there, they would have had the weekend off, the miners would have been able to sit and do nothing until the equipment was repaired later in the week.

He also offered me a tour (underground) of the mine. I politely declined. As I left the area, I waved at the guard, but he pretended to only slightly notice me. Sorry Buddy, like you, I was only doing my job – Pick up a HOT load and deliver it as fast and as safely as I could.

While the maintenance crew was may not have been happy losing their long weekend, the miners would have to work rather then sit and get paid because they could not work – I know that the owners of the mine and the owners of the company that sent the equipment were all happy that I did my job.

Trip Permits

Trip Permits

Trip Permits are (generally) short term special use authorizations for a truck to operate with a state it does not normally operate within or hauling an unusually large or heavy load, even in the base state the truck is licensed in.

Many trucking companies do not pay the registration fees for all their trucks to be operated in all states. They many only establish authority to operate their trucks in a hand-full of states where they do most of their business. However, occasionally they need to send one or more rigs to other states to deliver or pickup cargo. TO legally enter a state and travel it’s highways, it is necessary for the company to obtain a Trip Permit. This can be done several ways. The company can contact the state directly and complete the process or the company can use a 3rd party commercial truck permit service. [If you google.com or bing.com Trip Permits, you will get dozens of companies that provide these services.]

The states, for the most part of made the process easy because it is all about revenue collection. To get the permit, you pay money. Now there are exceptions to the easy to do policy. Some states are much friendlier to work with then others. Names will not be named. That is one reason many companies will just turn to a commercial permitting company. Since these companies do this all day long and many have agents on duty 24/7, the extra cost of using them is offset by their ability to navigate the processes for each state and get it right the first time. A permit with errors could result in major fines and problems, including the truck and cargo being seized, until the issues are resolved.

Another common Trip Permit situation involves the moving of large or heavy loads. Loads exceeding 80,000 lbs generally must have special use permits. Key exceptions are that in some states, such as Michigan, truck/trailer combinations may have extra axles and thus authorized proportionately large loads. However, these trucks are restricted to in-state only and also pay substantially higher registration fees in the first place. Regardless of obtaining a trip permit, a truck is not allowed to haul heavier loads without more axles/wheels so it is not a simple matter to get an over weight permit and then put more on your standard 5 axle/18 wheeler.

Special Use Trip Permits may be required for wide and/or tall loads. As a part of the permitting process, the state(s) will identify the routes the load is authorized to take, the hours when the load can be moved (generally not at night) and special equipment/banners/markers that must be attached to the load. Additionally, the trucking company may be required to hire ‘Escorts’ to either precede the load, follow the load or both. Extra ordinarily large loads may have a police escort leading the procession, two private escort cars in front of the load and one of them with a height pole to check for anything not high enough to allow the load to pass under, and then a following escort car to warn drivers coming up from the rear an attempting to pass the load. All these requirements will be noted and specified in the trip permit or authorizations.

In the modern day of computers and online services and the use of the IFTA and IRP, trip permits are not as big an issue as they use to, however, a career truck driver will likely encounter a situation where they will need to deal with them.

Michigan DOT Officer: Did you show me your log book

I had and enjoyable conversation with a Michigan State Police DOT Office one day coming back from Ohio. I was west bound on I-94 nearing the Jackson County line when the sign for the scales indicated they were open. I joined the stream of commercial vehicles in line to exit the interstate and cross thru the inspection station. Coming down the entrance ramp from a local highway was a State Police DOT Officer in his car headed toward the scales also. As timing would have it, he merged onto the freeway immediately behind me and followed me off the exit, of course he continued behind the scale office while I headed across the scales.

As I crossed the scales the Red Arrow lite up letting me they wanted to talk to me. I had no reason why as I was unloaded and at last check all lights where working. As I pulled around and parked, a Trouper walked out to meet me. As he walked up to the truck, after he introduced himself, he asked for my Driver’s License, Medical Card, Truck Registration, Truck Insurance and Bills of Laden. He did not ask for my log book, which ironically and amazingly was both up to date and accurate. I advised I was empty and those no load paperwork.

As he handed back my paperwork, he said “How about a quick safety inspection?” I, with a smile said “Absolutely. Especially since I don’t have a choice, do I?” The DOT Officer, realizing I was joking, laughed and smiled, the responded, “Nope!

We then proceeded thru the Prescribed Inspection of the brakes, tires, lights, safety equipment etc. Once done with no gigs, dings or we have a problem, the Officer asked me to come inside with him and he would, “give me gold star to take to my safety department”. As we got inside, he commented that he noticed coming up the ramp, where he was behind me, he noted that my license plate expired that month and he was wondering if they were expired yet. So I asked, “Oh. And you were hoping for an easy ticket?” Again, I was smiling and as he laughed, re commented “YEP!”

The DOT Officer then settled into the process to complete the paperwork showing that he had did his job of inspecting my truck and that I had done my job of operating a truck that was in proper maintenance condition.

Mean while the other DOT Officer working the scales was working on the paperwork for a multiaxle steel hauler, whom had already been inspected and was inside the scale house when I arrived. However, is was clear from the conversation between that officer and the driver, it was clearly not going well.

About the time the Michigan reprsentative of the DOT was finishing my paperwork, the other officer chastised the steel hauler about his log book. That was when my Police Trouper looked over at me and asked, “Did you show me your log book?”


“Why not?”

“You never asked”

“Oh, ok. Is it up to date?”

“Of course”, I said with a smile. “Do you want me to go get it?”

“No, I will take your word for it.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the steel hauler was looking even less pleased that it was clear I had passed my inspection and that I was having a much better interaction with the Michigan State Police.

About then, the Officer handed me all my paperwork including my truck’s sticker indicating I had passed a road side inspection. I prompt left before the trouper changed his mind and wanted to look at anything else – but not before I documented in my log book my time, Line 4, On Duty, Not Driving.

The moral to the story, if there is one, the Michigan State Police DOT Officer was doing his job at looking for unsafe truckers and illegal trucks and as long as I kept a positive, cooperative attitude, he remained fun and pleasant to work with.

International Fuel Tax Association (IFTA)

International Fuel Tax Association (IFTA)

The International Fuel Tax Association, Inc., is commonly simply referred to as the IFTA, and was formed to manage and administer the International Fuel Tax Agreement. The ‘lower’ 48 or contiguous US States and the 10 Canadian Providences are members and use the IFTA as a means to efficiently collect fuel taxes from motor carriers (trucking and bus companies) that use the highways in their jurisdictions.

The IFTA Mission Statement is: “To foster trust and cooperation among the jurisdictions through efficient and effective planning and coordination and oversight of activities necessary to administer the International Fuel Tax Agreement for the betterment of the members and our partners.”

While the IFTA is based in Arizona, the primary dealings are with the appropriate (revenue collecting) agency in the state where the trucking company is based.

To understand the purpose of the IFTA, you need to understand that each state assesses fuel taxes on fuel (both gasoline and diesel) which is primarily used for road construction and maintenance. There may also be state and local sales taxes figured into the price at the pump. Since each state will have different tax rates – both the sales tax portion and the road fund portion – prices at the pump between two truck stops, one on each side of a stateline between two states may have different prices. Even if the prices are the same, an issue is that if a truck driver fills up 200 gallons in state A, and then drives thru state B, to state C and then finally into state D, they have used the roads in 4 states but paid all the taxes to just one.

Before the establishment of the International Fuel Tax Association, each state collected its own fuel taxes and not all states used the same procedures. States generally established “Ports of Entry” that would issue permits and assure the tax collection. If a trucking company knew it would often be traveling thru multiple states, they might file permits for those states in advance. However, it was still a burdensome process on both the states and especially the trucking companies. A company with only a few trucks might be able to manage the paperwork, but as the company grew to more trucks servicing clients in more states, the paperwork and support requirements were business prohibitive.

Pre-IFTA trucks in inter-state commerce carried a special plate (“Bingo Plates”) upon which each state’s permit sticker was affixed. This system was inefficient and costly for each state to manage.

Post-IFTA, the driver’s purchases fuel as needed or based on company policy. The driver also maintains a daily trip log that keeps track of the mileage in each State (or Providences) by noting the mileage at each state line. The driver will also note miles on toll roads as some toll roads may have  a different fuel tax assessment. At the end of each quarter, the company uses purchased fuel information and uses a average fuel mileage (MPG) to calculate the taxes owed to each jurisdiction – regardless of where the fuel was actually purchased. The company then files a single report with their home state. The states, via working with the IFTA, then transfer the balances between themselves as a form of equalization.

It should be noted that it is possible to be owed a refund or owe additional taxes. This can occur if, for example, all fuel is purchased in a state with a low tax and yet a lot of miles are driven in one or more states with higher tax rates. However, if the Fuel is purchased in high tax states but a lot of miles are driven in lower tax rate states, a refund may be owed. The solution to this is to attempt to buy appropriate amounts of fuel in each state (at least with in reason if not to the exact amounts) so that you are paying applicable tax rates. Many new drivers (or even some older ones) that go to work for large trucking companies are often confused by the company’s use of a fuel purchase manager, since often they are told to stop and get limited amounts of fuel at multiple locations rather then one large purchase at a single truck stop. This is because the system is attempting to distribute the purchases across the numerous locations to prevent under or over paying the fuel taxes each quarter.

Three states [Kentucky, New Mexico, and New York] have a “weight-mile” tax in addition to the standard fuel tax. Oregon uses a weight-mile tax calculation.

The IFTA addresses the issue of payment of fuel taxes to the appropriate jurisdictions while the International Registration Plan or IRP address issues related to the vehicle registration and thus permission to even be operated on the highways of each state.

There are a lot of theories on how to reduce your IFTA bill, but none of them legally. If you drive miles in a state you are expected to report that mileage and you will owe that amount. The only way to owe less is to report fewer miles, but in the event you are caught cheating, the fines and penalties will eat up a lot more then the savings.

For owner-operators [O/Os] one area that could cost them money is if the leasing company uses a fleet average to figure average MPG as opposed to a truck average. Some truckers drive more efficiently then others and many O/Os like to driver newer, more efficient trucks. The result could be that the O/Os are assessed a lower MPG meaning they could pay more IFTA while the less efficient trucks/drivers benefit from the owner/operators higher averages.

Dockworkers and my first high priority load

I learned a lot about dockworkers with my first high priority load when I started work for a Grand Rapids Michigan based expeditor showed me a valuable lesson for dock workers who have their schedule.

I was called by dispatch about picking up a load of automotive parts just west of Detroit for delivery to an automotive assembly plant on the south side of Chicago. At the time I was driving a tandem axle straight truck with a 26′ box. I left my house, drove the leasing company’s yard where the truck was parked (in Kalamazoo MI) and headed east on I-94. I was about an hour from the pickup point when dispatch called me on the cellphone and asked my schedule. The broker had called in and said if we could not pick up and deliver by 6pm to abort the load. After talking with the dispatcher it was determined that I should be able to make it, so I continued on.

I arrived at the shipper and checked in. It was then that I found out the load was not near as important to these people as it was to the people in Chicago. (This attitude, by the way, raised it’s head numerous times in my short driving career.) I finally was loaded with about 12 crates of either starters or alternators (I forget which) and headed back west toward Chicago.

I drove steadily, made only one short rest room stop, and made it to the consignee with about 45 minutes to spare. Would have been a hour sooner but again the people loading the truck was less concerned about my schedule then I was.

When I arrived, I learned more of the story about the shipment. This particular component was in such short supply that if I had not delivered it – they would have to idle the assembly line and send 1 boat load of workers home. After checking in with the gate, they directed me to the docks that I would unload at. Once there, I asked the forklift operator which dock spot he wanted me and then I spotted the truck as requested. I then waited patiently while he scratched off several Illinois lottery tickets before he finally pulled the pallet off my truck and moved it directly to the assembly line (it was some distance in the plant but I could see he placed the pallet right next to workers on the line.)

He then came back and unloaded the rest of my load and took them a different direction to where I assume was the warehouse storage.

About one and half hours after I checked in, I was finally able to check out. I guess the moral or the story is that the load is only hot before and after you pick it up and before you arrive at the consignee. Once you are there, the receiver is less concerned about it because they now know where it is – even if it is still on your truck.

I have always wondered if this dockworker would have ever unloaded me if he had hit the lottery.


International Registration Plan (IRP)

International Registration Plan

The International Registration Plan (IRP) is a cooperative reciprocity registration agreement between the 48 contiguous United States and the Canadian Provinces. Unlike automobiles, each state in which a commercial truck [or trailer] is operated, the states want the truck registered with them which included paying appropriate taxes and receiving a license plate. However, that could require a truck to display 50 or more license plates depending on where the company operates. And this would be for every truck power unit and trailer in their fleet.

Enter the International Registration PlanIRP’s fundamental principle is to promote and encourage the fullest possible use of the highway system. This is accomplished by encouraging and enabling trucking companies to efficiently and easily handle freight in multiple states, thus providing economic activities.

Rather then the motor carrier contacting each state registering their trucks, individually, where they operate, a base ‘Apportioned’ tag is obtained from the company’s home state. The company then uses the IRP to selectively register the truck in all states/territories where it will be operated. The IRP then apportions the truck’s registration fees to each of the accepted states. You can check the IRP’s website for specifics on the mechanics of this. Now rather then a boat load of paperwork and license plates, the truck has one plate and the driver carries a card with the states of authorization to operate in the cab. In the event of traffic stop by a police officer, the driver hands, among other things, the base plate registration and the IRP ID card. This allows the officer to know the truck is authorized to operate in that state.

As the more states a truck is authorized to operate in the costs go up, some companies will only ‘register’ the truck in a few states – those states the truck is likely to operate in. If a company only operates in the Pacific Time Zone States, it would not be prudent or cost effective or paperwork logical to also authorize 50 trucks with trailers to operate along the Eastern Seaboard.

The draw back for not registering every truck and/or trailer in every state is if the company is offered an opportunity to haul a load to one of the unauthorized states. The company can turn down the work, which may mean it would not be offered such loads in the future. Or the company can accept the load, but the truck could be ticketed and seized if caught driving without proper permits for every state along the route. This is another advantage of the International Registration Plan. The ability to obtain temporarily permits for those states to legally operate.

It must be noted that there are two types of permits that will need to be obtained, if necessary. The registration via the International Registration Plan, and the fuel tax permits via International Fuel Tax Association (IFTA).

A company can file and maintain their own permits, but like everything, there are costs both direct (membership fees) and indirect (manpower, training) to handle permits. This can be especially expensive in smaller companies. There are numerous companies that provide permit services. These companies can generally handle both IRP and IFTA permits as needed. However, temporary permits are much more expensive if used extensively over full year permits. A company would be much wiser to obtain all permits that they may need for the entire year. Another problem with temporary permits is that there can be delays in obtaining them for those last minute loads, risking missing deadlines.

This is only a brief overview of the IRP system and is designed to alert the truck driver to the fact that the International Registration Plan is something they need to be aware of with regards to their truck’s paperwork.

Your 1st Trucking Job

Your 1st Trucking Job

Once you have your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you will start looking for your first truck driving position. While it is possible to work an entire career for one company, most drivers will change jobs at least a couple of times. This is not a reflection of the drivers and their loyalty but a combination of numerous factors.

A key reasons drivers will change jobs, especially very early in their career is a lot of the best companies  for will not hire new/rookie drivers. Also, many desired jobs (daily work, home nightly) are very competitive with a lot of drivers applying. With a lot of drivers to pick from, companies will [generally[ hire the best they can, often the more experienced drivers.

When you start looking at truck stop magazines or online for truck driving openings, you will see 3 common statements. They may be worded differently but they will say something such as:

  1. Students Encouraged (so new drivers are okay)
  2. 1 Year Experience required (Unless you can prove 1 solid year of OTR, do not apply. Even 6 months will generally not be sufficient.)
  3. 2 or More years required (Again, they are looking for someone that will require little to no training and those will sell then the sufficient experience will not be considered.)

You can always down apply. A driver with 20 years experience may at a company that will hire students, but not the other way around.

Companies will set these requirements based their ability or desire to train drivers. Regardless of your opinion of your driving skills and the fact that you completed a CDL Training course, you have a lot to learn about real world of trucking. Such as planning routes; handling changing traffic conditions; the proper paperwork/records; planning fuel stops; understanding different dock procedures and dealing with shipping and receiving clerks. And that is just the start.

Where ever you get your first driver’s job, you will be expected to work with a Driver’s Trainer in a team driving pairing for anywhere from two (2) to (6) months. Again, like it or not – but it will happen. The school taught you how to pass the tests – experience will teach you reality.

When selecting your first position (shall we not call it a job), you need to consider numerous factors. While clearly limited by your lack of experience, you will have fewer choices. However, that does not mean you have to settle for what is offered. Every person is different and every person has different desires. Plus where you live may offer opportunities now available everywhere.

Just a few of the things you will want to think about (and this is not inclusive)

  • Tuition Reimbursement. Some companies may offer to pay your school Tuition. Not all companies do. If this is important be sure to ask, even if not included in a company’s advertisement. If you do start with a company that pays your school costs, know the terms and make sure you can accept them. Most likely you have to agree to work their a minimum amount of time, often at least 1 year.  And generally they will not pay it all up front. They may pay it prorated over a year or more, or they might not pay any of it until the end of the year as a lump sum.
  • Where you will be working. Even companies that will hire new drivers may have weekly home time, while others you can expect to be OTR 25 out of 30 days. If you are single and want to make the maximum money – a lot of road time may be best for you. You may be driving coast to coast and border to border. Family demands may require you to spend more time with in a few states and home more often.
  • What you will be doing. Do you want to spend more time driving, you might look for a company that does more long hauls. It may pay less per mile, but you book more miles. Maybe you enjoy shorter runs, which means more time in and out of docks. Higher per mile pay but few daily miles on average. Do you hate sitting around waiting to unload? Some companies do most of their freight drop and hook – you back in to the specific dock, unhook the trailer and then hook to a different trailer and take off again. Sometimes the trailers may be dropped and/or picked up from a drop lot. Do you like a challenge – flat bed cargo may be for you. See Your Future Truck Driving Job part 2 for more info on types of trailers and cargo.
  • Rider Policy. Some companies do not allow any riders at any time under any circumstances. Others will allow your spouse or a child (16+) to ride with you under limited circumstances. Some are more generous then others. Under all circumstances, Federal Law and Insurance Requirements will demand that all ‘guests’ in your truck must be preapproved by the company. Pets may or may not  be allowed. If either of these are important, ask before you even waste your time setting up an interview.
  • Age of Equipment. Not much else to be said, but if other factors are equal, why drive a 10 YO rattle trap when you can pilot a new rig. Note,new trucks go to senior drivers, so you will get a hand-me-down.

Again, this is only a few of the things you will want to consider before you start you first career building position. But you will want to research because if you start at one company and leave after only a few months, you may find it harder to get a new position because the new company will be afraid to take a risk on you. And if you trade positions every year, again, companies may be afraid to hire you. No position is perfect, select one that is close your desires.

One simple way, after you have narrowed your selection of possible companies to work for would be go to any busy truck stop and approach drivers with your target companies in the fuel island or restaurant (never bang on the door of a truck) and ask this question “Knowing what you know now about [company name], would you hire on with them again?” You will get an answer real quick about the good, the bad and the important about the company.

Happy Trucking and welcome to your new career.

Truck Driving Schools and Training

Truck Driving Schools and Training

There are two (main) ways to get in to trucking, unless you personally know the owner or major player in a company. (1) Truck Driving Schools and (2) Company provided training.

Non-affiliated Truck Driving Schools
There are numerous truck driver training schools scattered around the United States. There are two sub-classes of truck driving schools – those operated as a part of a community college or other adult education sponsored training and independent For-Profit schools. The classes offered thru college or workforce education programs are generally cheaper then State Licensed For-Profit post secondary education centers. However, where you attend most likely will be affected by where you live and how much freedom to travel you have. If you have to pay for room and board also and your finances do not permit you to live apart for the (typical) 5 weeks of training, you may have to opt for a school with in driving distance to home.

While not exactly cheap to attend a truck driving school, the investment in time and money is minimum considering the cost of attending a 2 or 4 year college training program and with in weeks of starting school, you can be on the job and earning a paycheck. Starting income for a 1st year Over The Road (OTR) truck driver is easily $35,000 a year and depending on your exact employer and how hard you work, could be more. Most companies offer employee benefits, some starting only a few months after you first jump behind the wheel and haul your first load.

Some Truck Driver schools are accredited by the Veterans Administration (VA) to offer training to US Armed Forces veterans with the VA picking up all or a portion of the tuition costs. If you plan to request payment thru VA, check with the VA not just the school that the school is approved by the VA.

Different training schedules may available at different schools. Some offer a 8-5, 5 day a week program which are basically full time. While others may have weekends and limited nights during the week for students who must continue to work a job while training for a new career. Obviously the full time schools are completed much quicker, but if you have ot keep working to support a family or pay bills, the part time training may be a viable option.

While you will normally have to pay for your training up front, many trucking companies will reimburse you for your tuition costs (but not living or commuting expenses) if you hire on with them and stay a minimum amount of time, commonly 1 year but it does vary. Not all companies offer this so pay close attention to which companies do and which do not and more importantly the conditions you have to complete to qualify for payment. See Your First Trucking Job for a more detailed discussion on reimbursement of training costs.

When selecting a Truck Driving school, especially if you have several to pick from, you should pay attention the variety, the age and the condition of trucks and equipment you will be training in.

Trucking Company Provided Training
Some larger trucking companies, because of a continuous shortage of qualified drivers, have established their own drivers schools. The key advantage to selecting one of these programs is that there is no out of pocket costs for tuition and supplies as the company is providing them for you. Some will even pay a minimum salary while you are in school. (Some do, some don’t – check carefully.) The downside to this arrangement is that you agree to work for the company for the first year or more and if you fail to do it, as based on your specific contract, you will have to repay the company some or all of the costs to train you. And the company determines how much your training was worth, not you nor is it necessarily based on nearby independent schools. The other problem with not staying with company is that you may be establishing a record of undependability. See Your First Trucking Job for a more comments about jumping company to company.

Many programs operated by trucking companies are completed much faster then independent programs. Since most over the road truck drivers, especially in the beginning, will work in three week stints, basically 7 days a week for three weeks. These companies will also train their employees with the same mindset as opposed to the 8-5, 5 day theory that many full time schools will utilize. Since you are training in the class room and on the (drivers practice) range and also some on the road, you will complete the required minimums must faster then just working 5 out of 7 days. You can also expect to actually haul freight for the company sometime during the training.

Minimum Training Required Different states have different minimum training requirements, and there not going to be researched here as they are subject to change way to often. Some times require a specific number of hours in a class room environment and a designated amount of time practicing specific maneuvers and actual road time. Others, not so much, you have to pass a written test to be issued your Temporary Instruction Permit and then later you have to pass another written test and then a Skills test by an authorized (by the state) tester, and you get your Commercial Drivers License. Check specifically what the rules are for your state. If you live near a state line with another state, taking a class in the other state may not qualify you for a license in the state where you live.

Medical requirements While you are researching, check the specific requirements regarding your medical certificates. Again, different states have different – and very specific – requirements and methods to obtain a medical certificate authorizing you to drive an 80,000 lb monster down the road.

Going to a certified and accredited Truck Driver Training School is an excellent, fast and efficient way to become a professional truck driver.

Safety Inspections – The Right and Wrong Ways

Safety Inspections – The Right and Wrong Ways

Many truck drivers treat safety inspections as either not important or optional. However a professional truck driver understands that proper equipment operations is paramount to the truck being operated on the highways and not place the driver, the traveling public and the cargo at risk. Being a responsible truck driver means that the driver will pick up the designed cargo at the appointed time and deliver it where it is suppose to be when it is suppose to be there and in the condition it is suppose to be in. This can not happen if the there is an accident or a breakdown on the side of the road.

As the root of being able to do his/her job properly and not endanger other uses of the highway or even people living and working along side the route being traveled, the driver should ensure that the truck and trailer is in proper condition.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandates that drivers complete a detailed daily safety inspection, indication the inspection on company designated forms and that records of such inspections be maintained by the company for review if necessary.

Long before the federal requirements were in place, truck drivers would do inspections – however, different drivers always had their own standards of what was necessary. Some would check the oil and radiator water level, turn on all lights and walk around the rig checking that lights worked. Many would ‘kick the tires’ to see if any were flat. Some used a tire thumper. In reality, this kind of inspection is deficient at best and ineffective in detecting many hazardous conditions.

The use of a form or check list is the only way to insure that you do not miss anything. Just a few of the key inspections a professional truck driver will repeatedly and consistently perform:

Low Air Pressure Alarms If t.he truck has been parked and all air has bleed from the system, then the driver will be able to determine that the low air pressure alarm is working. However, if for some reason (any reason) the system has normal operating pressure in the system, the driver should, with the parking brakes set and the engine OFF, repeatedly pump the brakes to use up the air in the tanks until the low air pressure light/buzzer go into alarm. Seems stupid? Well, going down the road at 75 miles per hour and discovering you do not have enough air pressure is a bad time to find out the warning system was not functioning properly.
Kicking Tires / Tire Thumper. Ninety nine out of 100 drivers will not admit this, but there is really only one way yo know if your tires are at the proper air pressure – a tire gauge. Is it convenient to check 18 tires for the right pressure, especially at 5 in the morning when it is cold and raining? NO. But thumping or kicking a tire will only tell you (at best) that the tire is not flat. It will not tell you it only has 70 lbs of air when it should have 110lbs. A low tire is a major safety threat. When a tire is lower then optimum air pressure, the sideways will excessively flex when operating at highway speeds. This sidewall flexing will cause a temperature buildup inside the tire. As the temperatures increase the tire is much more likely to separate the tread section from the tire body. The result is that now there are large pieces of flying tire on the road way which could strike another car/truck or leaves the ‘alligator’ in the middle of the highway which other drivers will now have to avoid. Also, since this will result in a flat tire on the truck or trailer, this could cause the load to shift causing a catastrophic accident. At the minimum, tire air pressure should be checked every few days and never less then once a week – convenient or not. Tire tread condition should also be checked each day looking for any deterioration or signs the tire may be breaking down.

Lights: Among the easiest and yet one of the most important safety checks. The FMCSA actually specifies that all lights affixed to the outside of every truck and trailer must be operational. This includes not only the obvious headlights, brake lights and turn signals – but also all forward and rear marker lights. These are easily checked by simply turning on all lights including Hazard Flashers and then walking around the truck and looking. While a technically proper check would best involve two people – one in the cab and one outside, it is sufficiently possible for a single driver to do this. And while we are on the subject, you even notice the guys with dozens and dozens of lights on their trucks to light them up like a Christmas Tree? The regulations, as stated, are that all lights must be operational at all times – not just the factor lights. Therefore, before you decorate your truck, realize that if there is a problem and one or more of these extra lights are burnt out that you can be ticketed for the offense.

Air Lines and Light Connectors: It is not enough to think these are properly attached and in good shape. You really must take the time to reach out and touch them. Check that they have not vibrated loose and are not suffering from and damages. Both the tractor’s and the trailer’s glad hands should be inspected. Insure the electrical/light connector is properly seated in place.

Under the Hood. Yes, you should check the fluid levels, but also take a few minutes with a flashlight to check belts and hoses. Assuming the engine is off, check belts for proper tension and look for any cracking or other defects. Hoses should not be leaking or have signs of bulges or infiltrations. Even in daylight a flashlight will help you spot things that may be in the shade of the cab, hood or other engine components. Look under the engine area for signs of leaks.

General Structure. While under the hood and as you walk around the entire unit, repeatedly check the frame and other major structural components for any damages. This will require stooping and twisting – but there is only one way to know.

Fifth Wheel Lock: Each and every time you hook to a new trailer and at least once a day, you should make a habit of checking the lock release to insure it is still locked and go under the trailer to visually check that the king pen lock is in place. The “pull test” is nice, but double checking is professional.

Maybe you pull the same trailer every day or drop and hook a numerous times per day – it is your duty as a professional truck driver to always inspect each trailer you are hooked to before you take it on to the highways and byways. Safety inspections will in the long run improve the possibility that you will be able to deliver your load on time and return to your family at home.