Truck driver training opens many doors for employment opportunities, and increased pay and benefits. Going to a good truck driving school provides access to some of the best trucking companies that hire new CDL drivers. Top schools will give you a chance to hear from recruiters about trucking companies and the professional commercial truck driving jobs they offer. Because there are so many types of driving jobs, benefits and lifestyles, knowing what questions to ask a trucking recruiter is important. We can’t cover them all, but here are some helpful ideas (in no particular order):
What is the average age of company truck tractors?
Companies buy equipment at different rates. They sell older equipment, and buy newer based on a schedule. The average age is important because newer trucks usually means better maintenance reliability, and more safety features. The lower the average age, the better. A good average would be less than 3 years.
What brand of trucks do you run?
Some companies provide very basic tractors, while others offer higher end trucks. Freightliner, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Mack, Volvo and International are the primary equipment manufacturers. Ask what type and year of truck new drivers are assigned to.
What truck accessories are included in company equipment?
Ask about refrigerators, alternate power units, wifi or satellite packages, power inverters, and other comforts. Keep in mind that most of these types of benefits may not be available to drivers just starting out.
What safety features do trucks have?
Technology for tractor trailer safety is really improving. Ask whether company trucks have features like forward facing cameras (or rear-facing) that record traffic incidents, automatic or adaptive braking, lane departure warning systems, back-up cameras, and other safety technology. Generally, the more a company invests in these features, the safer the truck will be for the driver.
Are company trucks manual or automatic transmission?
Most of the biggest companies are now buying mostly automatic transmissions (sometimes called AMT). The “old school” trucker always wanted manual transmissions, since shifting has always been such an important part of being a driver. But times are changing. New AMT technology works very well, making driving easier and safer. Most manufacturers may not even make manual transmissions in a few years for over the road trucks. New drivers should really understand that shifting manual transmissions may soon be a thing of the past. So don’t be afraid to train in an AMT.
What is the average length of haul, and the average weekly paid miles?
Most drivers are paid by the mile, so this matters. It can depend on the area of the country, the type of freight, the shipping customers, and other factors. Try and get an idea as to how many paid driving miles you can expect in a week, since this will directly impact driver pay.
What is the company home time policy?
You have to expect that as a truck driver, you will be away from home. That’s part of the job, so don’t fool yourself. But companies know that driver lifestyle and family time are important. Most companies do their best to get you home when needed. Some runs are home every night, but this is somewhat rare for drivers just out of school. Ask whether home time is guaranteed every so many days (like every 3 days, every week, every 10 days, etc.). Also, what does “home time” mean? Does it mean home Saturday night, but out again Sunday afternoon? Or is it a set number of hours?
What is the pet policy?
Some companies allow certain pets to go in the truck. As you can imagine, pets can cause real problems in a truck, from chewing items, potty training problems, odor, fur, food, or worse. So companies have limits and restrictions. Mostly, they may allow small dogs or cats. But don’t expect to bring your pet marmot, python or pit bull.
Are there any dedicated accounts available?
Dedicated accounts are those where the driver is assigned to a specific shipper, and often a specific route. For example, the driver may run from one manufacturing facility to a specific distribution center. Dedicated has some advantages, such as consistent times since they do the run every day, same route, predictable hours, and usual personnel.
What ELD system is used?
Now that almost all hours of service logging is done electronically, you might want to know something about the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) system you will use. Is it easy, what are the policies, and what training will you get?
What is the company new driver training program like? Good trucking companies know that a driver that just earned their CDL is not yet experienced enough to drive solo right away. As a part of their safety program, these companies provide a driver training program for new drivers (often called driver mentoring or driver finishing). Find out how this works. Does it include additional defensive driver training? Simulator training? Load securement training? How many days or weeks are you in the program? Who are the trainers, and how are they trained? What is the goal of the program? How are you evaluated?
How much are you paid as a driver trainee?
Most driver trainees with larger companies receive training pay for the first few weeks, rather than per mile or per load pay. This is because you are doing more training than productive driving for the company. Pay is usually a set amount per week.
Are truck speeds limited?
Many companies restrict the top speed of their trucks for safety reasons. This is done through an engine governor that will not let it go over a certain speed, like 68 mph. Find out whether trucks are governed, and what the speed limit is. Responsible drivers control their speed, but it is good to understand company controls and safety policies.
Find out about back office personnel structure. Believe it or not, large trucking companies have all sorts of people backing up the drivers and performing non-driving jobs. These include dispatching, driver managers, recruiting, maintenance, safety, sales, accounting, IT, payroll, insurance claims, truck sales, and others. Get an understanding of what kind of driver support there is. Make sure there is a good, solid company standing behind you.
Where are company terminals located?
Get an understanding of the “brick and mortar” terminal structure. Companies have facilities that act as hubs for freight operations, provide maintenance, and offer personnel services and driver amenities (like food and showers). Knowing where these are located, and how convenient they are for you is important.
What are the company holiday, vacation and sick pay policies?
Know what the company offers drivers, how you earn these benefits, and the process for payment. Is there a waiting period? How is it earned? Find out a payroll and human resources (HR) contact within the company.
Ask about health insurance plans. Find out what medical, dental, accident and life insurance policies are offered. Get information on enrollment, premiums, deductibles, networks. Does the company pay all or part of the insurance? Is there a waiting period? What types of plans are offered? How do you get prescriptions? How do you use it on the road? Is a family covered, or just the driver? This can be complicated, so find out who the expert is at your company.
Are there any bonus plans? Trucking companies often have various bonuses that drivers can earn, based on performance. Bonuses can be based on driving with excellent fuel mileage, safe driving, on-time deliveries, new driver referrals, and others.
Is there tuition reimbursement? If you paid for your CDL training school, companies may offer tuition reimbursement. Plans are set up in a variety of ways. Most will pay on a monthly basis up to a certain amount per month, and a total cap. Ask for the specific policy, and find out how it is paid. Sometimes it can be paid directly to the lender if you have one, or to the driver. Keep in mind, if you leave a company, tuition reimbursement stops, and your next employer may not agree to it.
What other company benefits are there? Besides insurance, bonuses, and tuition reimbursement, some companies offer other benefits, like college scholarships, 401(k) retirement plans, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), and others. Ask your recruiters what other benefits the company offers.
How much will I be paid as a first year driver?
This is a tough question to answer since most driver’s pay varies based on miles driven, shipper account, bonuses, geographic region, etc. However, most recruiters should be able to provide in writing the average annual pay for all drivers, as well as new drivers. Ask what the average weekly miles per truck are; if you know your per mile pay rate, this could indicate average weekly pay.
Will I have an assigned trucks or “slip seating?”
Slip seating is when the truck is not assigned to a specific driver, but is rotated to whoever runs the load. So when you are finished with your run, another driver “slips” into the seat and takes the truck for their load. Most over the road companies assign a truck to a particular driver.
What is the company’s mileage pay policy?
Ask if there are certain miles when the driver is not paid? For example, “dead head” or “bobtail” miles? Deadhead is when the truck trailer is not loaded, and is being driven to another location to load. Bobtail is when the driver moves only the tractor, with no trailer. How are miles calculated? Is there loading or unloading pay? If you are looking at a flatbed company, is there tarping and load securement pay?
What is the company’s driver turnover rate?
Most trucking companies have a fairly high turnover rate. This means that they hire a lot of drivers, but many drivers move to another company. This is a fact of life in trucking, since drivers are in such demand that they are always looking for “greener grass.” Companies track their retention rates, so ask what that looks like, as it may be an indication of driver dissatisfaction, pay problems, dispatch issues, etc.
How much big city driving is there?
Some companies advertise “No NYC.” This is because large cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and others have significant traffic congestion. Many drivers find this difficult, frustrating and dangerous. So find out what states the company operates in, and what the city routes are if you are near major metropolitan areas.
Obviously, there are lots of questions you could ask a recruiter. These are just a few areas. But the more you ask, the more you learn. Going into a new profession, the more you know, the better!