If you want to know how to become a truck driver, The Ultimate Guide to Truck Driving Schools will cover everything you need to know. Interested in a CDL, but not sure what kind you need? Chapter 2 – Class A vs Class B CDL – Which License is Better? will help you weigh the pros and cons of the two common types of CDLs.
Wondering what all you have to do and pass to get your license? Chapter 3 – How to Get a CDL : The Manual, Requirements & Driving Tests will give you a clear, streamlined road map through the confusing maze of hoops everyone has to jump through to get their CDL. From medical exams to which sections of the manual you need to study to the driving maneuver tests, we’ll cover it all.
Is one Truck Driving School just like the next? Definitely not. So how do you figure out which school to put your trust in when you’re about to hand over several thousand dollars? In Chapter 4 – What to look for in CDL Schools, you’ll learn how to quickly figure out which school in your area is the best. We’ll look at the questions truck driving students most often wished they had asked before signing up. And our Truck Driving School Finder is the most comprehensive database of Trucking Schools anywhere. Find schools near you. Compare everything from tuition cost to schedules to time behind the wheel.
Could you get a trucking company to pay you while you get your CDL? Yes, but you need to fully understand what your signing up for. In Chapter 5 – Free and Company Paid CDL Training, you’ll learn how to get trucking training for free. But you’ll also learn about the cons of such programs.
Once you’ve decided on a driving school, the single biggest thing you can do to ensure your success is to study for the written tests. Chapter 6, our CDL Practice Test – The Fun, Fast & Free Way to Study, will have you ready to ace your written tests in no time. Spend a few hours on the practice tests and you’ll have a huge leg up going into trucking training.
Soon you’ll be picking out the best truck driver training in your area and practicing for your written tests. First, let’s take a step back. In this introduction to The Ultimate Guide to Truck Driving Schools, we’ll make sure a trucking career is a good fit for you. You’ll find answers to questions like: How to become a truck driver? How much do truck drivers make? How hard is it to get a truck driving job? How much does trucking training cost? and How long does school last?
Is a Career in Trucking Right for You?
There are many reasons people turn to a career in trucking. Maybe every time you see a semi, you think, how much does a truck driver make? For most people it comes down to either making more money or finding a job they like better than their current one. For some, driving a big rig is a dream come true. If this is you, skip ahead to the next section where we’ll explore how to become a truck driver. Otherwise, take this trucking career quiz to explore if trucking is for you. Write down a “Yes” for each phrase that sounds like you and an “No” for each one that doesn’t.
Trucking May Be for You If …
- You are making less than $35,000 per year and need / want to make more.
- Solitude sounds appealing to you.
- You need to make a lot of money fast and are willing to tough it out for a while in the oil fields.
- You enjoy driving.
- Learning about how to become a truck driver is exciting for you.
- You want to have excellent medical and retirement benefits.
- Long hours are not a problem for you.
- You want to see the country.
- You prefer to work alone.
- Your interest in trucking goes beyond “how much do truck drivers make?”
- You dread going to your current job.
- You don’t mind being away from family and friends most of the time (unless you have a plan to drive locally)
- The idea of a simple life sounds appealing to you.
- You are self-sufficient and good at solving problems for yourself.
- You have a good driving record.
- Every time you go to work, you wonder – how much do truck drivers make?
- You want a recession-proof career.
- You like having each day bring something unexpected.
Add up each “Yes” and “No” and see what your totals are. If you answered “Yes” 11 or more times, trucking is likely a good fit for you. Was there one phrase in particular that got you excited? Or nervous? Ask yourself why that might be. Either way, keep reading and you’ll get a good feel for the life of a trucker and the pros and cons you can expect with a trucking career.
How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?
How much truck drivers make varies based on a number of factors. The first and most important is what broad catergory of trucker you fit into – over-the-road, regional, local, or oil field. In general, long-haul over-the-road jobs pay better than regional jobs, and those pay better than local jobs. If you’re willing to stay away from home for longer, you will usually make more money. This is both a good rule of thumb and an oversimplification. Various kinds of speciality cargo – flatbed, hazmat, refrigerated, tanker, livestock, etc – will pay a little bit more to quite a bit more. Oil field jobs, on the other hand, are on an entirely different (and more lucrative) scale. More on that in a minute.
How much does a first-year truck driver make? You can expect an annual salary of about $35,000 – $40,000 in your first year as an over-the-road truck driver after you finish training. Your second year and beyond you can expect to make between $40,000 – $60,000. Like most jobs, as you get more experience, you can command a higher salary.
Of course, experience is not the only factor when it comes to how much you can make as a truck driver. Another key factor is how much and how hard you work. If you are willing to stay out and rack up the miles month after month, you’re going to make much more than the driver who is constantly requesting home time. And if you’re the kind of driver who pushes and makes things happen, dispatchers are more likely to give you critical assignments because they know that you’ll get the job done. The trusted driver will rack up miles and money, while another gets left behind waiting on a load.
$40,000 – $60,000 is a pretty big range. All companies don’t pay the same. And some companies are better than others at getting drivers miles. So as a truck driver, one of the best strategies is talking to other drivers. Once you’re out on the road, take opportunities at truck stops, etc. to chat with other truckers. Ask who they work for, if they’re happy and how much does a truck driver make at their company. I did this in the oil field and upped my salary from about $60,000 to well over $100,000. Look around, ask pointed questions and do the math. It can mean thousands of dollars per year.
On top of this nice salary, usually truck drivers get excellent benefits. Health insurance, retirement plans, life insurance, and paid time off are common and definitely worth considering when you’re thinking about how to become a truck driver.
If your reason for turning to trucking is to make serious bank, there are a couple of routes to consider. First, you could be an owner-operator. Many owner-operators are making over $70,000 per year and some as high as $100,000 or more. It’s a great goal to work towards, but almost nobody becomes an owner-operator straight out of school. If possible, it’s best to avoid financing debt for your truck, which means you need to have enough money saved up to buy a truck. At the same time, knowledge and experience are essential to success as an owner-operator. You really need to know trucking inside and out to run your truck as an efficient and profitable business. After a few years on the road driving for somebody else, you may be ready to step out on your own and make some serious money as an owner-operator.
How Much Can You Make as an Oil Field Truck Driver?
Another option for making serious money as a truck driver is working in the oil fields. The shale boom has brought a huge numbers of oil field jobs, many of them requiring a CDL, to certain areas and states. Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Louisiana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, for example, have more than their share of oil boom jobs. There has been some decline in jobs since oil prices fell at the end of 2014, but there are still tens of thousands of jobs in these areas that didn’t exist a decade ago. Turnover is always high, so there are still oil field CDL jobs out there.
As a CDL driver, there are jobs to be had hauling water, hauling crude oil, hauling frac sand, on frac crews and many other smaller specialities. Jobs hauling waste water – the most common job for those straight out of school – frequently pay $60,000 to $80,000 per year. On a frac crew, which is what I did in the oil fields, you can make over $100,000 per year. Believe me, you are going to work long and hard in dirty, uncomfortable conditions to bring in that kind of money. But it is actually possible to land one of these jobs straight out of truck driver school. In fact, one of my coworkers on the frac crew was only in his early twenties, he was making over $100,000 per year, and it was his first job! As a rule, these oil field trucking jobs have a bunch of pretty big cons, which is why companies sometimes pay over $100,000 per year and still have trouble filling the jobs.
How Hard is it to Get a Truck Driving Job?
The great thing about truck driving is after a few weeks of trucking training, you have more job opportunities than most people with a college degree. Currently there are over 1.5 million trucking jobs. That means that about 1 out of every 200 Americans is a trucker – the jobs are there.
There is demand for even more truckers. According to David Heller of the Truckload Carriers Association, there may be as many as 200,000 long-haul trucker job openings in the United States! And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Expects 330,100 new trucking jobs this decade, a 20% increase.
For insurance and other reasons, some companies won’t hire you straight out of school. But even with no experience, you will still have plenty of companies to choose from. With a year’s worth of trucking experience, you will be able to get a job with almost any trucking company. And most trucking companies are always looking for drivers. You will have options.
While job prospects for truckers are great, if you have a questionable driving record, a DUI, or a criminal record, most or all of the doors open to rookie truckers may slam shut on you. Even after you’re on the road, a DUI, a felony conviction, a drug conviction or a serious accident in which you are at fault can put a quick end to your trucking career. However, if you drive safely and don’t do anything stupid, you will always have a job.
In fact, the job market for truck driver training school graduates is so good, you can obtain a pre-hire letter from prospective employers before you graduate or even before you start trucking school. A prospective employer vets your qualifications (besides your lack of CDL), and issues you a pre-hire letter that says you’re hired once you get your CDL. It’s not a legally-binding guarantee, but knowing that you have a job lined up can take some pressure off. And there is no rule that says you can’t get 2, 3 or even 4 pre-hire letters.
Is it Possible to Skip Truck Driver School?
There is no law that says you have to go to Trucking School to get a Commercial Drivers License. However, getting your CDL without going to school is nearly impossible. Sometimes you can find a guy who owns his own truck who runs what is essentially a one-man-trucking-training operation. A guy like this can help you get your license and save you quite a bit of money. However, even if you get your license, trucking companies generally won’t hire rookies if they didn’t graduate from a truck driver school.
If you’re determined to go it alone, this is the only plan I would consider:
- Network or somehow find a small, local trucking company that’s willing to hire you with a CDL even if you’re not a trucking school graduate.
- Find a one-man-trucking-training-operation or an owner-operator who is willing to mentor you to the point that you can pass the maneuvers and road test.
- Make sure they own or have access to a Class A vehicle with air brakes to use for your driving test (and they’re willing to let you use it).
- Stick with the local trucking company you pre-selected for your first year on the road.
That could work. But there’s a reason that 99.9% of truckers go to truck driver school.
How to get Admitted into Truck Driver Training School
Getting into truck driver training school is not usually too hard. Trucking schools make more profit if they have more students, so they want to admit as many people as possible. Still, there are a few boxes you’re going to have to check off before you are fully enrolled.
First, you need a High School diploma or a GED. This is not a legal requirement. But this is a requirement at most truck driving training schools, and they will usually want to see proof in the the form a diploma or GED. This is actually the right-minded thing for schools to do because trucking companies will generally not hire anyone without a high school education or GED.
Age is another thing trucking schools will look at before they enroll you. You have to be at least 21 to drive a tractor-trailer across state lines, so you will rarely find anyone under 20 getting trucking training.
In order to get your CDL or even your Commercial Learners Permit (CLP), you must pass a physical examination which includes a drug screening conducted by a doctor that certifies you as being physically healthy enought to drive a commercial vehicle. Once you pass the physical examination, the doctor’s office will issue you a DOT medical card (more on this in Chapter 3 – CDL Requirements). For this reason, schools should have you get your physical examination and DOT medical card before you sign any contracts or pay any money. The school I went to coordinated with a local doctor’s office to perform the short exams for a small fee.
Finally, to fully sign up for truck driving training, most likely you will need to sign a contract agreeing to pay the school the agreed upon tuition cost. Take your time and read the fine print – it’s important to know what you’re agreeing to.
How Long is Truck Driver School?
In the vast majority of trucker schools, the training lasts for between 3 and 6 weeks. In the next section, Which CDL is best, I’ll discuss potential concerns about programs that are only 3 weeks long. There are also part-time programs, frequently at community colleges, that last much longer than 6 weeks. With some community college programs, overall instructional hours are much longer than the more common 3–6 week programs.
Many trucking programs set a minimum number of instruction hours that all students must receive before they graduate. 120, 160, and 200 hours are common standards for instructional length. Classroom time commonly lasts 1 week (40 hours).
Depending on the length and schedule, it may or may not be feasible to keep your job while you’re in school. We’ll delve into this more in the next section.
How Much Does Truck Driving Training Cost?
Exact tuition costs vary quite a bit, but the cost of truck driving training usually falls between $3,000 and $6,000. This may sound like a lot, and it is, but if you can get a job that pays $5,000, $10,000, or even $20,000 more than you were making before, your return on investment is excellent. Oftentimes, truck driving training will pay for itself in short order. If you get a high paying oil field job, you may make up for the cost of school in a matter of weeks.
Maybe several thousand dollars is beyond your budget. Later on in the Ultimate Guide to Truck Driving Schools, we’ll look at one type of CDL training that usually costs $2000 or less. And right now we’ll look at some ways to reduce, eliminate or at least postpone the burden of paying for school.
Strategies and Help to Pay for Trucker School
$3,000 -$6,000 is quite a bit of money. And many of us just trying to make ends meet don’t have that kind of money laying around. Fortunately, there are several strategies for dealing with the cost of truck driver training.
First, many schools allow you to defer tuition until after you graduate. This gives you a chance to get a job, get some money coming in and get on your feet before you have to start making payments. The school I went to allowed a couple months to pay back tuition, after which they tacked on substantial additional fees. Even more generous, some schools will give you up to six months before you even have to start making payments. The longer they let you defer payments, the more likely it is that additional interest is involved. So do the math and make sure you understand how any kind of payment plan works. Not every school is so accommodating – some schools require full payment before the first day of class.
Other trucker schools won’t offer you any kind of loan or deferment, but they have an arrangement with local banks or credit unions to offer their students financing. Most likely, these types of arrangements will require that you have at a moderately good credit score. If you have reasonably good credit, contact banks and credit unions directly and see what they can do for you. If you can find interest rates under 10% or 15% and pay it back within a few months of graduation, you won’t lose much money to interest. And a paid off loan helps you build your credit.
If you’re currently unemployed, many unemployment agencies will help you fund some or all of the cost of truck driving training. Federal grants are also available. Contact your local unemployment office to see if there any programs or grants that can help you pay for truck driver training.
Other great strategies for dealing with truck driver school tuition include trucking company tuition reimbursement plans. As competition for drivers remains high, tuition remimbursement plans have become increasingly common. Company sponsored cdl training, where your soon-to-be employer helps you get your CDL can also be a great option. Before you get too excited, this option definitely has some big potential drawbacks. We’ll explore both of these options in depth in Chapter 5 – Free & Company Paid CDL Training
What is Your Truck Driving Career Plan?
Are you ready to commit to a career in trucking? Do you want to drive over-the-road or regional? Do you want to drive in the oil fields? Are you hoping to find a job locally so you can be home every night? It’s important to keep asking questions until your answers and plans are clear.
In my experience, everyone at trucker school talked non-stop about jobs and potential earnings. Some of us changed our plans after talking with each other. Many of the guys I went to school with started out planning to go over-the-road, but ended up heading to the oil fields. Others intended to go to the oil fields, but ended up going over-the-road.
I also changed my mind a bit. My plan was to haul water in the the oil fields, but i instead decided to go into fracking because it offered considerably better money. This decision worked out fine for me, but I still think it’s risky to go into trucker school with a hazy idea of where you’re going to end up. Frequently, trucking students learn something that makes them see their job prospects differently. For many, that just means a slightly different path in the field of trucking. I just don’t want you to be the one who realizes that trucking isn’t for you after you’ve quit your job and started training for a trucking career.
You’re just finishing up the first chapter of The Ultimate Guide to Truck Driving Schools. In the next 5 chapters, we’ll keep exploring these and other questions. If your plan isn’t crystal clear now, it probably will be by the time you finish this guide. Stick with The Ultimate Guide and we’ll help you figure out what kind of job you want. We’ll help you find the best trucker school in your area. And we’ll help you get ready to start school and nail your written tests.