Should you become a CDL hotshot? (Or is it better to stick with non-CDL?)

There are some who think this is a good option to consider. In this article, we are going to break down the pros and cons of each option, based on the experience of some hotshot truckers.

The Pros and Cons of Non-CDL Hotshot

The Pros of Non-CDL Hotshot

  1. Cheaper repairs. Because it’s just a pickup truck, you can take it anywhere for repairs. But because there’s more competition, the prices are generally lower.
  2. Cheaper tows. Because it’s just a pickup truck, you could get another pickup truck to pull your trailer out if it’s stuck. (Or have somebody else with a pickup truck pull you out.) 
  3. Better MPG — Depending on how you drive. But for the most part, you get better MPG.
  4. Less regulation in general. No IFTA, no IRP or apportioned plates, no KYU number, etc. All those little but necessary things that make it more of a burden don’t affect you.
  5. Low startup cost. A trailer for $9,000 is more affordable than a $50,000 semi trailer.
  6. No CDL Required. Obviously, you don’t need a CDL — that’s a benefit. That means, if you have a good, clean driving record, you can jump right into non-CDL hotshot.

The Cons of Non-CDL Hotshot

  1. Fewer freight options. And not only are there fewer options, but they’re also cheaper because there’s a lower barrier to entry, creating more competition. 
  2. It’s not very comfortable. This is quite obvious, due to limited space to rest and sleep.

Those are the pros and cons of non-CDL hotshot. Let’s see how it compares with CDL hotshot.

The Pros and Cons of CDL Hotshot

Let’s say you started out non-CDL. You worked hard, you paid it off, you got rid of it, and now you’re like, “Oh, I want to go to CDL hotshot.” Or maybe you’re brand-new, you have a CDL and you’re like, “What should I do — should I go do a CDL hotshot or semi?”

Well, make a decision — either non-CDL hotshot or semi. Here’s why:

In the words of Alex of Tow Piglet:

“CDL hotshot is like this middle zone where you get the bad of both worlds.”

The Cons of CDL Hotshot

  1. Higher startup costs. Maybe not for the truck, but look at CDL trailers. Just a basic, bare-bones trailer costs 12-13 grand, compared to 7-9 grand for a non-CDL trailer. Then, when you start getting all those fancy options, you could be paying as much as 25-30 grand for your CDL hotshot trailer. So in general, it’s more expensive.
  2. Not as good MPG. A non-CDL pickup gets better MPG than a dually hotshot. On a semi, what do you get? Maybe on some of those older trucks, you get 5 — maybe 4. On some of these brand new semi trucks, you can get 7-9 MPG for hauling 80,000 pounds.
  3. You get all the regulation that a semi truck gets. Every single piece of law that applies to the semi now applies to you. Fuel, registration, repairs, and towing — just as expensive. You gotta have call records now, you got to do all this other stuff, you still have nowhere to sleep, and you’re still battling non-CDL hotshots for cheap rates.

The “Pros” of CDL Hotshot

There are literally NO benefits to driving a CDL hotshot — none. Can you think of one?

Is it cheaper to get into CDL hotshot than a semi? That’s debatable. You can get a 3-year-old semi for 50-60 grand. For 50 grand, you could get a semi truck that will outlast any brand-new modern pickup diesel truck. The moment you go from a non-CDL hotshot to a dually truck, all your benefits disappear. So it is more advisable not to go to CDL hotshot.

The choice should be clear. What’s the benefit compared to a semi? Is it a little easier to pass the CDL because you don’t have to do air brakes? Let us know in the comments!

What If You’re Already in CDL Hotshot?

If you’re already in CDL hotshot, we’re not advising you to drop everything and quit. But if you’re just looking to get started — either you’re doing your research right now or you’re trying to find out which path you should take — this advice is for you. And so we recommend that the best strategy for you is to get your CDL with no restrictions and drive non-CDL hotshot.

You take advantage of the benefits that a CDL driver gets but you also don’t have to log, because if you’re a CDL driver, it’s not like you have to pay IFTA if you’re a CDL holder. You pay IFTA on the truck. You pay for IRP on the truck, not on the driver.

So, again, get your CDL with no restrictions. Go study, take a little extra time. Go drive non-CDL hotshot. If you don’t like it, park the truck at home. You now own a pickup truck that you can afford the payments on because you can just go drive a semi. And not to mention the trailer — you could just sell the trailer or haul some of your own stuff just in case.

Perhaps a CDL hotshot can haul more than a non-CDL hotshot. Maybe 5,000 pounds more? So if a non-CDL can haul 10,000, a CDL hotshot can do 15,000 — it’s not that big of a difference. Even if your CDL hotshot can haul 20,000, do you really want to? If you include the weight of the trailer (about 9,000 pounds empty), that’s 29,000 pounds you’re pulling. Your truck weighs about 8,000, so that’s 37,000 pounds. How long do you think your truck is going to last?

Our Recommendation

So if you’re just looking into getting into hotshot, go get your CDL with no restrictions. Then if you want, go try out the lease. Go try out hotshotting. If you like it, good. If you don’t, that’s OK. Aren’t you glad you leased? You can quit when you hit 60,000 miles. Then go drive a big rig.

At least with the semi, you’re never gonna be out of work, right? This is not to say that when you hotshot, you’ll be out of work. But most consumer goods in the United States are still delivered by big trucks. And unless we stop being a consumer country, trucking is here to stay. The same cannot be said about hotshotting.

So the best choice for you is either non-CDL hotshot or go get your CDL and drive a tractor-trailer. Do not get stuck in the “friend zone.” That’s what we’re doing by going to a CDL hotshot. You don’t get any of the benefits but you just get to deal with all the problems.

The Bottom Line

To summarize, when you go into CDL hotshot trucking, you go through all the paperwork, issues, and problems — but you don’t get any other benefits. It’s still good to get your CDL so you could take advantage of some of the insurance benefits and other stuff that’s available. But on the whole, looking at it objectively, CDL hotshotting may not be worth your time and effort.