My First Article – Same Advice Then & Now

Hello All,

The article below is a repeat of the first article that I wrote for Pete and the good folks at Over the Road some twelve and a half years ago (2005) and from what I can see, it still has some teeth. Congrats on the 25th anniversary folks. I hope there are many more to come.

It is my intent over the next number of issues to speak to some of the common-sense trucking facts that I have learned over the years. I hope that I can offer a new paradigm for you to consider as you go down the road. Hopefully, there is some value in this for you and if so, I would appreciate your feedback.

As a young Owner Operator, what I wished for was a shiny truck that didn’t break down and some extra cash when I got some downtime. I accomplished what I wanted, but it was more out of good luck than having planned for success. I got lucky, but you don’t need to depend on luck. You can put a solid business plan in place very quickly; a plan that will tell you if you are a good fit for the company you currently are at and if not, you will have a business model that will help you find the right company for your next move. It will also tell you your likelihood of being profitable or frustrated.

I am going to discuss the old mantra of fail to plan or plan to fail. It is not difficult; in fact, it is quite straightforward. I have a simple cash flow exercise for you to do that shouldn’t take long to fill in – if you would like a copy please email the folks at Over the Road at and they will be happy to send you a copy. The key to it is being factual when doing the exercise. I can’t stress this enough. You must know exactly what your monthly needs are both personally and as a small business if you are going to be successful. When I was in management at MacKinnon Transport, I could tell the type of Owner Operator I was dealing with by asking one quick question: “What is your fuel cost per mile?” Quite often I would get a blank stare and then a guess. Well, I’ve been at this for a while and there is little future in BS’ing an old BS’er.

What was interesting was talking to Owner Operators who knew precisely what their MPG was going west and south and then short haul. But I would suggest that they were measuring only half of what they should be looking at. MPG is good for talking to your service provider or the engine manufacturer to ensure you are getting what you’re supposed to from your iron. But the correct business answer is a cost per mile, not MPG. You can have the most fuel-efficient vehicle made and buy your fuel all wrong and still have a higher than average fuel cost. MPG is a measure of equipment efficiency; cost per mile is a measure of a business expense for an Owner Operator. Know your cost!

The cash flow document that Over the Road can email to you was designed with Owner Operators in mind but can easily be used for Company Drivers also. The thought behind it is to determine precisely how many miles it takes for an Owner Operator to break even.

The simple equation is: what is your monthly cash requirement including truck payments, maintenance, mortgage payments, car payments etc. You simply total all these and divide them by the net revenue per mile that you are being paid by your carrier, or the income you receive after any standard deductions that the carrier may make for plates, insurance etc. and net of your fuel cost. Now divide the net revenue per mile by your cash required and you now know how many miles per month you need to drive to break even.

This is your benchmark number. This little bit of information will tell the whole story for you. If this number is around 8-9,000 miles and you’re driving for a long-haul carrier who is offering up to 12,000 miles per month, and you want to run those types of miles, you’re probably in pretty good shape. On the other hand, if you need 11,000 to break even and your carrier is offering only 10,000, guess what? You are slowly sinking. You will need to do one of two things. Either you take a hard look at what you can do without to lower your cash requirement, or you try and find a carrier who is paying more and offering the miles you need to succeed.

Before you jump ship from the carrier you are with now, I urge you to do this exercise. It’s a good reality check. If in fact, you are your own problem because your expenses are too top heavy, you can go to as many carriers as there are out there and you will never be successful. Know the facts of your business before you leave and share them with your carrier. If they are reasonable business people, they will appreciate knowing where you stand and what your numbers are. If they are not interested, then they probably are not the right fit for you anyway.

This exercise is good for many applications, not just seeing if you’re at the right carrier. Thinking of buying a new truck, house or pickup? Plug your new payment numbers in and see what it does to the number of miles you need. If you are cruising at a higher than posted speed, try slowing down a little and then look what it does for your fuel cost and see how it affects your miles required. Before you commit to a new carrier, plug their net number into your cash flow. Is it any different than what you have now? Making educated business decisions based on the facts will have you win over good luck 99.9% of the time.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to work my entire adult life in this industry, whether behind the wheel or behind a desk. The diversity of the people, the places to see and the excitement of it all has fueled my enthusiasm decade after decade. Over the Road Magazine has offered me this platform to share some of my thoughts and experiences and I thank them for that. My only concern is that in this space I am taking up the time of you the reader. So please let me know what your thoughts are and until next month, take good care.

Safe Trucking!

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.