Whether you’re a seasoned driving veteran or a newly trained rookie, the earning potential for truck drivers is at an all-time high. In fact, average truck driver salaries rose an average of 11% in 2021. But, widespread pay increases aren’t the only ways to make more money as a truck driver.
With more experience, a longer safe driving record, or more specialized skills, many truck drivers can make even more. For example, OTR (also called “over-the-road” or “long-haul”) drivers for companies such as Swift, Knight, and Schneider can earn over $90,000 a year.
One of the benefits of working as a truck driver is the potential to maximize your own earnings. There are plenty of opportunities to boost your take-home earnings, from taking on more miles to adding endorsements to your license, becoming an owner-operator, and more. Here’s how you might super-size your earnings while out on the road.
How Much Money Do Truck Drivers Make?
In 2021, the median heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver salary was $48,310 per year ($23.23 per hour), with the highest-earning 10% of drivers taking home $72,730 or more. The amount a driver can earn depends largely on the company they work for, their experience level, the type of truck they drive, and the number of miles they cover.
Ways to Increase Your Earning Potential as a Truck Driver
Choose a Good Company
Different companies offer different packages, not only in salary but in benefits and perks, too. For example, does the employer you’re looking into offer healthcare? Can you earn regular bonuses?
Doing your research when choosing which company to work for can make a difference if you’re focusing on making more money as a truck driver.
Compare Team and Solo Driving Pay
Though it varies from company to company and how well you drive in a team, generally speaking, team drivers earn more than solo drivers. This is due to the higher number of miles and hours covered and the high-demand nature of the freight team drivers often haul.
Drive as Much as You Can
We aren’t just talking about the number of miles you rack up per job, though that greatly affects your immediate earning potential. Your overall experience as a driver can be one of the single biggest factors to boost your truck driver pay.
So, the more safe miles you have under your belt, the higher the salary you can earn—not just now but in the future.
While all truck drivers need to hold a current CDL, adding special skills via endorsements to your license (such as a HAZMAT endorsement) will let you take on jobs that other drivers can’t. Often, these jobs pay more than standard trucking gigs.
Get a Class A CDL
If you currently have a CDL B or CDL C, another quick way to expand your driving (and earning) potential is to upgrade your current license to a CDL A. The CDL A allows you to drive almost any large commercial vehicle, from tractor-trailers to flatbeds, livestock carriers, tankers, and more, increasing the number of jobs you can pick up.
Staying on top of the latest industry trends and technological advancements means always being ready to take on whatever job. If you’ve spent some time away from driving, take a refresher course to bring you up to speed.
As a driver, you must pass regular health checks to ensure you’re fit enough to stay on the road. However, that isn’t the only reason to keep yourself well—staying healthy is the best way to ensure a long and successful career. You’ll be ready to take on whatever job you’re offered, will build up experience, and won’t be passed over for higher-paying gigs.
Take Less Popular Jobs
There are always jobs that other drivers might be less inclined to take, whether it’s hauling oversize loads, taking difficult routes, or moving certain materials. Companies often offer higher pay to drivers willing to take on unpopular jobs and show they have what it takes to do them. It can be worth jumping on these opportunities when they pop up.
Become an Owner-Operator
Owner-operators own trucks and work for themselves rather than being employed by a specific company. As a result, they can take on higher-paying jobs and earn more money than a typical truck driver. In fact, Payscale.com reports the average owner-operator salary to be over $93,000 after expenses.
Becoming an owner-operator might be for you if you think you have what it takes to own your own business.
Can Choosing an Independent Trucking School Over a Company-Paid School Result in Higher Pay?
Opting for an independent trucking school over a company-sponsored program can lead to higher pay once you start your career. While you do have to pay your tuition upfront, which can feel expensive, you aren’t tied to working with one company and the route they give you once you qualify and gain your CDL. You can apply to multiple companies and see which one offers you the best compensation package.
Moreover, while company-paid program grads are tied to working for a specific company for a certain period to pay off the training costs, an independent trucking school grad can job-hop more easily in search of higher earnings.