Owner Operator vs Company Driver

My thoughts about being either an Owner Driver vs. Company Driver– having been both (17+ years with Landstar).

First, a little about myself. My name is Peter Crockett, and I am a retired truck driver. I became a truck driver in 1987 as a company driver pulling a flatbed out of Oregon. I ran the five western states getting paid $0.18 per speedo mile with no benefits, no stop pay, nothing.

When I decided to switch to pulling a van, I also decided to go to 48 states, and I came to realize that I hated forced dispatch. So, after much tire-kicking, I decided to go to Landstar (back then, it was Gemini – a company bought by Landstar). A short time later, I moved to the sister company Ranger, where I stayed (with a few name changes – Ranger Landstar, Landstar Ranger, and now just Landstar) until I got off the road.

In 2001, I got off the road and came to work for this Independent Agency of Landstar (DUV).

So, to sum it up, I’ve been in Trucking since 1987, and while I got off the road in 2001, I’ve been on the Agency/dispatch side ever since.

DUV/RKY Landstar Recruiting Agency

When I compare being an owner-operator to being a Company driver, please be aware I am talking in general. These are my opinions based on my years on the road. What worked for me may not work for you, and there will always be exceptions to any statement.

Most Owner Operators own their trucks. Some have a small fleet of trucks. Some Owner Operators have their own authority, while others lease their equipment to a company such as Landstar. I worked for a small fleet owner that leased equipment to Landstar. I ‘leased’ my truck from the fleet owner. So, while I did answer to the fleet owner, it was more of a partnership basis than an employee/employer relationship.

Forced Dispatch

The majority of company truck drivers must live with forced dispatch. That is where the driver is told where to go and when to get there and gets no vote whatsoever in the decision on whether a load is what he wants to take.

EXAMPLE: Back in the day, sometimes I felt like running hard, but other times I wanted to slow down and take it easy (perhaps sick or lazy). The underlying problem with force dispatch is the dispatcher does not consider how the driver is feeling, the types of loads they link, where they like to go, when or if they want some home time, etc. What if the driver’s spouse has issues at home, and the driver needs some home time? With a forced dispatch system, if the load doesn’t take him home, he doesn’t go back. PERIOD!

EXAMPLE: I remember several years ago, going down the road on my way to Newark, NJ, late in the month of December, listening to the chatter on the CB. A bunch of us were all running in the same direction and talking about the upcoming holidays. I’m bragging about planning to be home by the 15th (after dropping the load I was under), and some guys were whining about how lucky I was and who I had to pay off to make this happen.

After explaining how Landstar is a completely NON-Forced Dispatch System and why I loved it so much, this guy driving for one of the big companies talked about how he lived in eastern PA and had a wife and two little kids, and right before Christmas, he was on a load to Jersey, and that load took him past the house (less than 100 miles out of route) but because the load had to be delivered on the 26th, he was unable to be with his family at Christmas. And no, he never did get home until the end of January. And companies wonder why drivers quit.

Now, the above is a rather extreme example but a true one. Some companies have modified their dispatch system to one degree or another, but when crunch time comes, the customer will always come before the driver.

As an owner-operator, there is no forced dispatch. You, your spouse, and your bank decide how and when you run. You (the owner) get to decide if you can afford to slow down, go home, or take a holiday off. Since it is your choice, even if you may not like the choice you had to make, you can live with it more comfortably than if some dispatcher told you that you had to do it.

This is where some of you who aren’t in the trucking industry won’t understand. You think, “We all have jobs; we all have bosses who tell us what to do, so what’s wrong with that?” The difference is that when it’s 5 o’clock, you get to go home. Drivers are tied to their trucks. If a driver “gets done with his work early” (by getting to the consignee the night before), he can’t go home; he’s stuck in his truck, in some parking lot, with no bathroom or food – unless he pre-planned and brought it with him. So yeah, he’s done for the day, and he can relax, but no beer, he’s in a commercial vehicle. He’s off-duty for the night, but no shower or any of the other things the rest of us take for granted.

Therefore, forced dispatch, or the lack of it, is a big deal to most drivers. To me, it was a deal-breaker. I tried a big company for about six weeks but couldn’t hack it either. I was born and raised in Oregon, part of the Great Northwest. What did the company do when I got hired? Kept me east of the Mississippi the whole time. I was lost, too many people too many rude 4-wheelers, I was completely out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to go west, but no, they wouldn’t send me that way; they did not care what I felt or wanted.

Some companies are now offering guaranteed home time. You earn one day off for each week out, etc., or they offer to have you drive in a region of the country of the driver’s choosing, a minimum length of haul, and so on. These all help and can make life on the road more bearable, but when it’s all said and done, some drivers will say yes to forced dispatch, and some will say no. Most that say no either get off the road or become an owner-operator.

It’s All About the Money

Drivers are on the road for reasons beyond counting. Most will say it’s all about the money, that it is just a job, and so on. Some get into trucking because it’s what their family has always done, became too stressed out in their corporate career paths (guess how many attorneys become truck drivers?), because of wanderlust, or because they got laid off from the factory.

My point here is to most, it’s not just about the money. We all need to make a living; we all must pay bills. But, to most of us, it’s more about how we do it. Do we enjoy most of our days? Do we feel satisfied with what we did today? Are we looking forward to the scenery we’ll see today? Are you hoping for a great sunset tonight or watching God’s light show during a storm?

EXAMPLE: When I was on the road, I was making money, I was doing a job that many could not do (I took pride in my job), I sometimes helped others in times of need (road rescue), I sometimes made someone’s day a bit brighter, a few times I saved a life (or helped save a life), but one thing, I was never bored. Now, I’m off the road for good and am still in trucking, but in an office, doing the same thing day in and day out, still making money, but life feels a bit dimmer (to me) now, and I miss the life on the road at times.

At the end of the day or end of the year, most company drivers bring home more money than owner-operators do. Because an owner-operator bears the costs of doing business, things like rising fuel costs, etc., tend to hurt the bottom line. Company drivers tend to get paid by the mile, and usually, their only costs are road money (funds to live on, food, showers, etc.), a map or minor office supplies, and odd expenses like a ticket.

So, if owner-operators don’t (generally) make more take-home income than company drivers, why become one? Freedom. Freedom of choice. Lifestyle. For all the same reasons that anyone becomes a business owner! Except it’s all about the road, it gets into your blood, and will never let you go. I know many “retired” truck drivers. None that I know regret their time on the road. Many return to the road at least once or twice (I did).

Landstar, My home, My life

Is truck driving for everyone? Nope. Is the trucking industry for everyone? Nope. Is being an owner-operator for every driver? Nope. Is Landstar for every Owner Operator? Nope. But it is for most!

Web pages like this are all about opinions. And if you have read this far, you have got an idea of what makes Peter Crockett tick to a degree. I left a family business to become a truck driver, and by luck (and the grace of God), I found my way to Landstar. To me, this is home and will be home until I stop working (or win the lottery) unless I am somehow forced to leave.

Long ago, I chose a career path that tends to control my whole daily life. Some people honestly can work 9-5, go home, and be off weekends, and do that for their entire lives. Leave the job at the door when they get home and pick it back up when they leave the next morning.

And some people win the lottery, too.

I love Landstar! Landstar blue is in my blood! There are good points and bad points in all we do, in any job we choose, in any family we have. Landstar is all about the people.

  • Landstar is a trucking company.
  • Landstar is the largest Owner Operator Company in the U.S.A.
  • Landstar is a 100% NON-Forced Dispatch.
  • Landstar has career paths for retired truck drivers.
  • Landstar has small fleet owners that are always looking for drivers (and those fleets are to be NON-Forced as well).
  • Landstar lets you choose when to go home.
  • Landstar lets you choose where to run.
  • Landstar lets you decide what loads to take.
  • Landstar lets you decide what equipment is right for you.
  • Landstar wants owner-operators to stay with them forever.
  • Many Landstar Agents (and Agency personnel) are the second generation.

Trucking is a service industry. Landstar is all about service. And guess what? Professional drivers tend to take pride in what they do. They’re all about service, too! Customers don’t care why you are late; either you did the job right, or you failed; trucking tends to be a rather black-or-white career. One thing about a good driver is that whatever he does, he does right. And Landstar doesn’t lease to just anyone; they’re after the best (yeah, right, we all hear that), but if that isn’t the truth, why is it? If you can qualify for Landstar, you can get on with anyone?

I am dead serious here! Ask anyone you know, either with Landstar or who used to be with Landstar. If you’re good enough for Landstar, everyone else wants you. Why? Safety! Reliability! Stability! Doing the job right every time! If you can’t walk the walk, you’ll be down the road shortly! But, if you can, then you’ve found your home.

And just like moving into a new home, it can be a bit different at first. Like trying to find a light switch in the dark in a new home. Getting used to the sounds of a new truck or sleeping on a new bunk mattress.

On the road, you’ll hear a phrase like this: “Landstar is a great place to be once you learn the system!”. The point is, learning who has what freight in what parts of the country, why call an Agency in Ohio when you’re looking for a load in SO-CA? Drivers are creatures of habit. And it takes time to make Landstar a new habit. But IMHO, Landstar is a great habit to have.

Written by Peter Crockett, 17 years with Landstar.