Four years is a long time. In March 2012, there was only one major van lane paying $1.00 per mile: Philadelphia to Chicago, at 48¢ for the line haul, plus a fuel surcharge of 52¢. Of course, truckers were spending more than $4.00 per gallon for diesel in 2012, and you're paying about $2.00 now. You have other costs, though, and they add up to more than $1.00 a mile.
Is a buck-a-mile better than a deadhead? The "buck-a-mile" backhaul has returned to U.S. highways. There are about 200 lanes that pay $1.00 per mile or less. They're only 1.3% of the 18,000 possible lanes, but you might end up running one, just to avoid a deadhead out of Denver or another challenging market. Some truckers won't even accept a low-priced backhaul. They prefer to drive empty.
Get a good rate going in. The good news is that there are almost 2,000 van lanes with rates above $2.00 per mile. Chances are, those low-priced backhauls are paired with higher-paying head hauls. If someone offers you a great rate, check to see what's available for the return trip, and be sure the roundtrip average is profitable for you. TruckersEdge Enhanced shows you what other truckers got paid on that lane in the last 90 days, so you'll be forewarned.
Here is an estimate of the costs per mile to operate a Class 8 truck. Everyone's costs are different, but let's assume these numbers are average.
Here's some more detail. You can plug in your own numbers.
- Fuel costs averaged $2.12 per gallon in the U.S. last week. Divide your cost per gallon by your mileage. If you get 6.0 to 6.5 miles per gallon, your fuel cost per mile is between 33¢ and 35¢. In 2012, your fuel cost was $4.14 per gallon. In March of 2000, it was $1.49.
- Equipment costs have changed, so you should use your own numbers here. I estimated that costs rose 21% for leases and overhead in the past four years. Overhead includes monthly expenses for office space or parking, or employees who aren't drivers.
- Maintenance and tire costs vary, depending on your equipment. These costs have gone up since 2012. I'll add 6¢, for a total of 39¢ per mile.
- Driver pay has risen since 2012. If you include benefits, 45¢ per mile may be on the low side. (If you're the driver as well as the owner, you might not count driver pay as a cost. But you do need to pay yourself, so add it to the equation.)
Find your break-even number. If you add up all those costs, you get to $1.59 per mile or more pretty quickly. Whatever that number is for you -- and yours may be different -- that's your break-even number. If it's $1.59, then you need to average $1.59 for all miles, including deadhead. Otherwise, you lose money. That's why you need to load the truck and move it. Deadhead miles are a big fat zero, and it takes the same number of loaded miles. at $3.18 per mile, to make up for that deadhead. You're better off taking a low-paying backhaul -- just make it a short one, if you can.
Roundtrips must do better than break-even. When you take those buck-a-mile backhauls, you need to make at least $2.18 per mile on the head haul. Why? The average of $2.18 + $1.00 is $1.59. Remember, this doesn't leave you any profit, but it covers the bills.
Remember your indirect costs. You could park your truck instead, and you'd save on fuel, driver pay, and some portion of the maintenance and tires, but you'd still have to pay for insurance and the lease on your equipment. Those are indirect costs. You pay those bills every month, whether your truck moves or not.
Average rates may not be profitable for you. Right now, the national average rate for vans is $1.58. Remember that low-priced backhaul from Chicago to Philly? It paid $1.06 per mile this week, and the head haul was paying $2.03, for a roundtrip average of $1.55. That's not gonna cut it. What can you do?
1. Get paid more. Sounds great, but how do you do that? One way is to plan your roundtrips, and find out what rates you can expect in both directions. If the roundtrip doesn't pencil out, look for a TriHaul route. Example: Instead of heading straight back from Philadelphia to Chicago, take a load from Philly to Pittsburgh, then get a second load from there to Chicago. You'll make more money without adding a lot of miles.
2. Spend Less. If you can't make more money, you may need to cut costs. You've heard all the advice: Run your rig at a steady 55 MPH when you can, to improve your miles per gallon and reduce wear on the tires and engine. Don't idle the engine unless you absolutely have to. Avoid out-of-route miles and deadheads. Maintain your equipment, to prevent breakdowns and costly repairs. Pay off your debts, to save interest payments. When your costs are low, it takes some of the pressure off. You can afford to spend a little more time to find the best loads and to build solid relationships with your best customers.
Learn what other truckers got paid on the lanes you run, when you sign up for TruckersEdge Enhanced. You'll see the average prices paid on more than 65,000 lanes, based on real transactions between brokers and carriers. To add rates to your TruckersEdge subscription, or to get DAT Express with TriHaul route suggestions, call 866.487.8253.