When Josh is on the road, he’s always prepped with his toolkit in case he needs to get himself, or a fellow truck driver, out of a jam. The owner-operator is into his third decade of driving and working in the industry, so he knows a thing or two about the problems that can get a truck driver stuck for hours and, worse, stuck with a huge bill. We asked Josh to share his advice and wisdom that have come in handy for fellow truck drivers. Here are nine of his tips, from optimizing trucking maintenance costs to money-saving strategies on the road.
#1: Set your rates higher
According to Josh, it all starts with reducing your trucking operational costs. “Everybody really needs to focus on their cost per mile,” he said. Don’t let the way you set your rates get too far from the reality of your operating costs. Setting rates by the hour is common, but Josh says it’s not just about time. “You got dispatch companies who say ‘we’ll keep you moving, we’ll keep you moving,’ Josh says. “That’s not the key factor to the whole situation. Every mile you move that truck empty or loaded you have to meet that operating cost. So it’s not about ‘keep moving,’ because if you don’t move, you’re not spending money. Sure, bills are still due, stuff like that. But the key factor is your operating cost.”
To set your rates, Josh says, “A good rule of thumb is to start with the national fuel price. At least try to hit that as your target, and then come down. But know your cost per mile.”
#2: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty
Learn to be handy. “I’m from a small town in Tennessee,” Josh said. “Out in rural areas you gotta be able to fix things or Macgyver things together sometimes to get you by.” Being self-sufficient is not just a way of life for Josh. It’s also good business. Being able to troubleshoot can save on trucking expenses.
#3: Learn to change your own tires
One of the most common (and expensive) problems on the road? Tire trouble. “Most people will instantly stop and call roadside service. But it’s $250 minimum to come out, then so much per hour for the service. They might not even be able to fix you.” You could be out hundreds of dollars and still stranded.
But Josh comes prepared for the road. “I blew a steer tire last night,” Josh said. “ I had it changed out in 45 minutes. I didn’t have everything a service truck would’ve had, but I had enough that I could make do with.”
#4: Keep tools & essentials for the road
Josh recommends a few things to keep in your truck at all times for small repairs and tire changes:
Dawn dish detergent
What can you do with Dawn dish detergent? “You can do a lot of stuff. You can find air leaks that you can’t see. Get a plastic water bottle, poke a hole in the top of it, pour some dawn in with your water, make your soap suds. It also does a good job lubricating tires to take on and off the rim. I have two crow bars, that’s how I break the tires off the rim. It’s like having an extra hand.”
#5: Harbor Freight is your best friend
“You can get almost all your tools that you can think of to take care of you. They have inverters, inverter cables, refrigerators, microwaves. Saves a ton of money. If you can meal prep on the weekends, throw it in a fridge or freezer, microwave it. Instead of using containers, use ziploc freezer bags for space.”
#6: Salvage and junkyards are gold mines for tires
“You can go to junkyards and find steer tires. They try to get rid of them because they have to pay to take and haul them off for the landfill. So they’ll sell them to you at a very discounted price. And some of them will be almost practically new. I bought two sets of steer tires from a junkyard, $130 a piece for $800-a-piece tires. Loved it!”
#7: Try Napa & O’Reilly’s for big truck parts
“Look at Napa and O’Reilly’s; they’re coming into the big truck industrial parts. For example, I got my shocks cheaper at Napa than I did at Kenworth.”
#8: Shop around for the best deals & stock up
It pays to shop around. “My filters are cheaper at Kenworth. I buy my oil at Napa.” And because Josh was familiar with prices in the regions he typically drives in, over time he kept a tally of where he would save the most money, and stock up when he could. “I knew oil prices were going up, so I bought more oil than I normally do. When I go through Ohio, I make sure I can swing through Columbus and buy six sets of filters, cuz it’s worth it. Saves me 20 dollars a filter.”
“People coming into the industry really need to think outside the box. Whenever you're the owner-operator, small fleet owner, those breakdowns or roadside assistance come out of your pocket. So you try to minimize that. Who’s to say we don’t go to war with somebody and fuel shoots up to seven dollars a gallon?”
#9: Help each other out
Josh says common sense is in shorter supply these days, and it also takes more effort to keep that feeling of camaraderie in the trucking community. So he keeps an extra 100 feet of air hoses to help with flat tires when he sees someone in need. It feels good to help each other out, but it’s also sensible. “If you do see someone who’s out of air, you can help them enough to pull them out of the way. It helps everyone: the driver so that he doesn’t have to be out $800-$2000 for a tow truck—which I heard someone had to pay the other day—and it helps other drivers so they can continue on their way to clear freight and get home to their families.”
If you’re willing to learn a new skill, Josh recommends looking around on social media and the internet. “YouTube is very, very helpful. Hats off to people who take the time to record their issues. If I explain how to do something to someone and they don’t get it, I can say hey, ‘YouTube this, watch different people do it and maybe they’ll explain it differently than I did, and you’ll learn something and do it in your own way.”
Josh loves to exchange and share tips with fellow truck drivers, especially when it comes to helping truck drivers with their trucking company cost management. Over time, he says, you not only feel more in control of your business, but you end up saving thousands of dollars a year. “Don’t panic. Whenever you’re in a situation, sit back and think about it for a minute. And see what’s the simplicity of it. Try to do as many things as you can yourself. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty to be able to save money.”
Want to connect with other drivers?
Join our weekly call, Fridays at 10AM PT. Sign up here.