Should you do a non-CDL hotshot in 2022?

Jason and Pierre started a non-CDL hotshot trucking company in October 2020. They have over a year now of active authority. They started as investors, not as drivers. So they hired a driver but later realized it wasn’t that profitable for them as investors. So they started leasing people on. After trying to figure out what worked best for them, they realized that CDL hotshot or medium-duty hauling — a truck that can haul at least 20,000 pounds — is the way to go. They think it’s great to get into the niche market, taking step deck loads that weigh 17,000-19,000 pounds, and yet still have access to all the hotshot loads as well. Here are their three best tips:

1. Get IFTA and IRP (Apportioned Plates)

According to Jason, there is money to be made in non-CDL hotshot if you do it right. He thinks it’s still going to grow and be a thing going into 2022. But he’s seen a lot of people getting flak for being non-CDL. The Department of Transportation has many different rules and regulations depending on what state you’re in. You can go through a state thinking you’re perfectly fine — that is, you have all the paperwork you need, and you’ve done all you need to comply with the DOT — but then, all of a sudden, you go through a weigh station, and they pull you in. They tell you you’re missing this or that paper, and they put you out of service for something stupid.

Carlos, for example, got a lot of flak when he was going through North Carolina. They didn’t put him out of service, but they gave him an overweight ticket. And he only weighed about 21,000 pounds. The reason for that was because they had a law with the registration that needed it to be at 26,000 pounds. His wasn’t at 26,000 because the state he was in would not allow him to put it at 26,000. So he got an overweight ticket even though he wasn’t over 26,000 pounds. So he ended up getting Apportioned Plates at 26,000. And he does currently have IFTA.

Here’s how Jason explained it: “If you’re apportioned at 26,000 pounds and you have IFTA stickers, and you roll through a DOT scale in the state of Oklahoma, or wherever, they’re going to check your paperwork. But they’re going to know that you’re apportioned at 26,000 pounds. They’re going to know that you’re paying IFTA. They’re going to see all these things. And they’re going to treat you a lot better than somebody who does not have those things.”

“I think some DOT officers don’t understand the non-CDL hotshot game yet. So when they see somebody come in who’s hauling commercial freight but doesn’t have IFTA and IRP, they’re like, what’s going on? So they start checking all the different paperwork, looking at every little thing. And they usually catch people up with something small. Because every state is different.”

Here’s Jason’s advice: “If you’re going to do non-CDL hotshot, I would definitely go with IRP and IFTA. You don’t have to have it, but I would do it just because. So get IFTA and IRP whatever state you live in. It makes your life easier, especially when you want to go with a bigger setup. You already have all that set up. Or if you want to lease people onto your company, you already have all that stuff set up, so you can lease them on even easier.”

2. Get a 40-Foot Trailer

“Freight wise, non-CDL is definitely harder to dispatch. I’ll tell you that straight up. But if you’re going to go non-CDL, you need to have the ability to haul as much freight as possible. Weight-wise, you’re probably going to be around 10,000-11,000 pounds. I’ve seen people with the ability to haul 12,000 pounds, but that’s going to be about where you max out. I would get a 40-foot hotshot. If that puts you over 65 feet, I would make your truck into a tractor, and I would register the tractor because you must have a 40-foot deck. I’ll tell you that all day.”

“When I’m dispatching loads, a lot of brokers will just put 40 feet on the load. Even if it’s only 30-35 feet, they’ll put 40 feet. And so, if I don’t have a 40 foot — let’s say I only have a 32-foot, 34-foot, or a 36-foot — I’m still going to call and say, “Hey, does the 32-foot work?” And they’re like, “No.” Maybe it might work but they don’t know. So they just say, “No. We had to put 40-foot; that’s what the customer told us.” It might be a 20-foot piece of equipment and the customer just wants a 40-footer, or they just want a truck that they know can haul it no matter what.”

“So I would get a 40-foot trailer. Again, if that puts you over 65 feet, do a bed delete on your truck. Put the hotshot bed on it for $4,000 or whatever. And register it as a tractor. You can do that as a non-CDL. And then that gets you away from having the overlength limit. So if you roll through a DOT scale and you’re registered as a tractor, you have apportioned plates at 26,000, and you have IFTA, you’re going to get treated a lot better than some of these guys that don’t have any of that. I just know that from experience.”

3. Have Complete Equipment

“Have tarps — 8-foot drop tarps, chains, binders, straps, moving blankets, everything. You want to be able to haul any load that pays well popping up on the load board. You don’t want to be like, “Oh, I can’t haul this load because I don’t have tarps. Or “I can’t haul this load because I only have a 30-foot trailer.”

Flatbed trucking is just one piece of the pie. When you go into hotshot, it’s an even smaller one. And if you go into non-CDL hotshot, it’s an even smaller piece. So if you don’t have tarps or your trailer is not long enough, you’re getting less and less of the loads. You don’t want that. You want to have the ability to book all the loads you can. That’s something you need to think about if you’re going to do a non-CDL hotshot in 2022.

The Bottom Line

When you’re just starting out as a non-CDL, get IFTA, get IRP. Have a 40-foot deck. Have straps, tarps, chains, binders, etc. And get mega ramps too.

Non-CDL hotshot is still going to be a thing in 2022. But if you’re going to do it, use it to grow into the company. Use it to make money to get your CDL, DOT, and MC numbers, or create a fleet. That should be your mindset. It shouldn’t just be a quick cash grab because it’s not. Use it as a stepping stone to bigger, better setups that can haul more weight.