CDL versus non-CDL. What’s better for you?

What’s the right way to go? How do you get into the industry in either one?

Craig with Shipley Transport runs a non-CDL hotshot. Everything he does is 26,000 pounds or less when he goes across the scale to include his truck weight, trailer weight, and the commodity.

Everything going across the scale is 26,000 pounds or less. For him on a profit margin that allows him to run on a pretty consistent average between $2 to $2.25 per mile on a regular basis, he chose to go non-CDL for three reasons:

  1. It’s a good way to learn the industry.
  2. It’s where he’s most comfortable with his equipment.
  3. It’s the most cost-effective way to get into the industry.

When he says cost-effectiveness, his truck is a 2013 LML Duramax. It’s rated to tow a little over 22,000 pounds. With him being a non-CDL hotshot, he loads up his truck and trailer with it all maxed out with the weight of the truck. He’s usually towing at most 17-17.5. He’s never fully maxing out his truck. And to him that is a good way to ensure longevity in a vehicle.

His trailers — non-CDL trailers with 8,000-pound axles — are a little bit more cost-effective than CDL trailers at a full 40 feet with 10,000-pound, 12,000-pound, or 16,000-pound axles.

Here’s what he has to say about some of the pros for CDL: “You do make a better rate-per-mile on a regular basis or on a better average. You’re able to find freight a lot easier. I set my deadhead miles if I’m on a load board to up to 200 miles out.”

“I was sitting in a truckstop a couple weeks ago next to a CDL guy. We were just kind of comparing notes. He runs for $2.50 to $2.75, maybe $3.00-mile average. Whereas I’m more into the $2 to $2.25 per mile average. He usually tries to keep his deadhead miles to less than 100 miles. I would love to say that I do, but I don’t always keep it less than 100 miles. I put my deadhead radius out to 200 miles. On the contrary, the pickup truck and trailer that I’m driving, even once I fully upgrade the truck exactly how I want it, I’m going to have less than $50,000 invested in it. His trailer alone was a little over $25,000. His truck was a little over $50,000 after he threw it in his auxiliary tank and did a couple different upgrades; he’s closer to $75,000 into it. So there are pros and cons to both.”

“One of the biggest misconceptions of non-CDL hotshot is you don’t have to run the scales. You do. You have to go through the scales if you’re running DOT and MC numbers. Another thing I see all the time on Facebook is you don’t have to run logs. If you’re in a year 2000 or newer you have to run electronic logs. If you’re in a 99 or older, you still have to run paper logs. Either way, you still need your med card and your DOT physical. You’re still going to have to have all of the different safety equipment in your vehicle, whether it be the fire extinguisher, the roadside triangles, the spare fuses, all that fun stuff. CDL vs non-CDL — you’re still gonna have to have all that stuff.”

“The other thing I would like to address is a lot of the people I see online that get into non-CDL hotshot do it because they got a truck and the trailer. They want to make money. While I understand the mindset of it, educate yourselves. Even if you don’t have a CDL, go through the proper channels to receive training on how to haul this commodity, how to strap it down, how to handle the different weather conditions, and how to handle that much weight going down the road.”

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to tell you CDL is better or non-CDL is better. What you need to do is listen to everything I said and think about what works best for your situation. But the one thing I will tell you is always, always, always do it the right way. If you’ve got a company that’s telling you, ‘Oh, we can get away with paper logs, etc…’ trying to skimp on legalities, screw that. I want to see every single person that is interested in what we are talking about get into hotshot, educate themselves, get the training, and do it the right way.”

“So that’s pretty much my two cents on CDL versus non-CDL. Non-CDL you don’t have to pay into IFTA, you don’t have to pay into apportioned plates, so you get a little bit of a financial break there. Typically speaking, you’re able to save money on the equipment costs because you don’t need a truck that can tow 40,000 pounds. You’re not gonna need a trailer with the higher axle rates and stuff like that so the trailers are typically a little bit cheaper. And from a financial standpoint, it’s a little bit easier to get in. But please, please, please again do not think of it as, ‘Hey, it’s an easy way to get into the industry. I don’t want to go through all these training classes. That’s BS. I don’t want to have to deal with this.’ You still have to deal with DOT, you still have to deal with an e-law, you still have to deal with getting the proper medical certifications.”

“Your truck and trailers still have to be DOT-inspected. You still have 95 percent of the exact same stuff to follow. And you still need to make sure you are getting the education and getting the training so that you’re not out there 1) causing my insurance rates to go up because we’re in the same industry 2) you’re not putting lives at risk and 3) you’re not giving hotshotters a bad name. There’s a lot of brokers that refuse to work with hotshotters, some of which because it requires dock height or it requires air ride that not everybody has. OK, I get that. But there are a lot of other brokers that refuse to work with me and other good reputable companies because another hotshot company out there screwed them over. They didn’t have the right training, they lost the load, they did this, they did that, they came up with excuses. They didn’t maintain their machinery properly. And they broke down too many times and the load was delayed. Whatever the case may be. Again screw that. Educate yourselves. Make sure you’re doing it the right way. CDL or non-CDL — I don’t care. Get the proper training and go about it the right way.”

“So again, that’s my two cents. Not trying to offend anybody. Not trying to tell anybody that they’re doing it the right way or the wrong way. I don’t care how anybody else runs their business. This is what I would like to see with our industry moving forward.”