If you're new to the trucking industry, you might've heard the term, hot shot trucking (or hotshot transport). But what is it exactly? Drivers that do hot shot delivery are hauling smaller, time-sensitive loads to a location as soon as possible. These are often shorter hauls that might include transporting agricultural or construction equipment, heavy machinery or other materials that are needed for a project. Many owner-operators choose to do hot shot delivery because of the low start-up costs and independence that goes along with it. While it might seem like a niche within the industry, this type of trucking is often in demand and can be a great career opportunity for many drivers.
How does hot shot trucking work?
This type of trucking consists mainly of owner-operators who complete shorter hauls on a freelance basis, as opposed to being full-time employees of a trucking company. Drivers typically have their own super-duty pickups and trailers in order to do hot shot trucking jobs. From load boards, drivers can search and bid on jobs posted by businesses and clients. Load boards typically allow drivers to search for loads in specific geographic areas or along certain routes, along with the distance and cargo requirements. Depending on the distance, hot shot delivery could take as little as a few hours or as long as a few days to complete. Unlike other jobs in trucking that might pay per delivery, this type of work pays per mile.
What are the requirements?
1. Obtain a valid driver's license.
If becoming a hotshot driver seems like a good fit, then you'll need to complete some important steps before accepting jobs. First, you'll need to attain a valid driver's license. If you plan to carry loads under 10,000 pounds, then having a Class D driver's license will suffice. However, if you plan to carry cargo over 10,000 pounds, then you'll need to apply for a commercial driver's license (CDL). Having a clean driving record is also recommended so that potential clients know that you're a trustworthy driver who can safely transport loads.
2. Buy the right equipment.
You might be wondering which vehicle is the best hotshot truck for deliveries. There isn't one right answer. If you already have a super-duty pickup truck, then that's a good starting point. If you're looking to purchase a truck, make sure it can accommodate a trailer for heavy loads. Trailers to consider include gooseneck trailers, dovetail trailers and bumper pull trailers, to name a few. It all depends on what you plan to haul, and because of that, some drivers even opt for a semi truck. If you're just getting started, a pickup truck with a basic flatbed trailer is adequate.
3. Get trucking insurance.
Getting insurance is also an essential step. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires drivers to have a minimum of $750,000 in liability coverage before getting started. The liability coverage should cover any property damage, bodily injury or restoration costs post-accident. The FMCSA also requires drivers to have at least $5,000 in cargo coverage, but it's recommended that drivers have more coverage depending on the type of loads they plan to transport. If you plan to use a semi truck as your hot shot truck, then additional insurance might be needed. Choosing adequate insurance coverage so that you can operate legally comes down to the vehicle you plan to operate and the cargo you plan to haul.
4. Get your MC and USDOT numbers.
Once you have the right equipment and insurance, you'll need to apply for a motor carrier (MC) number and potentially a USDOT number. This ensures that your vehicle is registered with your operating state and grants you authority to transport regulated commodities. If you plan to drive interstate routes, operate a vehicle that weights 10,000 pounds or haul hazardous materials, then you'll need a USDOT number. This identifies your business for audits, compliance, crash investigations and any vehicle inspections that occur. You'll want to make sure you have your MC and USDOT numbers in order to operate legally.
What are the pros and cons?
- Independence: An appealing aspect of becoming a hotshot driver is the independence that it allows. Drivers choose their own loads, hot shot rate sheets and areas they service. Essentially, you get to be your own boss and can earn a good income depending on the number of hauls you complete.
- Local hauling: Hotshot transport is normally requested locally or regionally. This is beneficial for those drivers that prefer to stay closer to home and differs from other trucking jobs that often require drivers to operate nationwide.
- Less downtime: Because of the expedited nature of the work and because most hauls are local or regional, there is usually less downtime for drivers. They can complete a job and move onto the next one to maximize their time and earnings.
- Low start-up costs: Hot shot trucking requires little capital to get started. If you already have a class 3 vehicle and even a flatbed trailer, then you'll just need an MC number and the right insurance.
- Better pay: For many drivers, hot shot trucking jobs can generate a good income, especially for those willing to deliver loads overnight or haul during holidays when rates are often higher. Some hotshot drivers can even earn more than class 8 drivers with the right clients and jobs that get booked.
- Unpredictable: If you prefer the same route and schedule each day, this type of work might not be right for you. Hot shot trucking jobs can be unpredictable and demand can vary. For drivers used to earning a consistent income, the unpredictability of available jobs can be a difficult adjustment.
- Always on call: The downside of being your own boss is that you're responsible for getting your own clients as well. For many drivers looking to maximize their earnings, this means being ready for a job at a moment's notice, including after hours, on weekends and during holidays.
- Competitive: Because this career path appeals to many drivers, it can be competitive. There might be an oversupply of drivers and a scarcity of jobs at times, depending on the areas you service and the time of year.
Now that you know the pros and cons, you can decide if a career in hot trucking is right for you. If it is, get started by checking off the requirements. Make sure you have the right type of vehicle and trailer and obtain a CDL, if necessary. Get insured for trucking and apply for a motor carrier number so that you can operate legally within your state or even across state lines. This career path offers freedom and flexibility for those drivers that want it. Best of luck on the road ahead.