Driving a tractor trailer for a living is tough at times. It the best way to get paid well while traveling the USA.
You must adapt to a nomad lifestyle. If you are good at being on your own and don’t have family ties it’s much easier.
I have a family at home and we must adapt to not physically seeing each other. Thanks to technology we are able to video chat every day. It was much tougher before the internet and smart phones.
What about the driving part? That’s easy you can learn to operate a tractor trailer in a few weeks over the road with a good trainer.
Yes I said driving a big truck is easy. You just have to learn all the rules and safe driving techniques. It’s no different than when you first learned how to drive a car or learning to ride a bicycle.
Once you learn everything and gain confidence the operation of the equipment becomes habit, part of you muscle memory. Driving safely takes consistent focus and awareness of road conditions and vehicles around you at all times.
The real challenge is dealing with the mental part of being alone and away from home for 2 to 4 weeks at a time.
If you are not a good loner you could become a team truck driver. It’s easier to get a team driving position because companies profit more from teams. They can also place an inexperienced driver as a 2nd seat with a more experienced driver with much less training.
What do I need to get started as a CDL driver?
A clean record, CDL, and 2 years experience will get you pretty much any job anywhere in the USA. This is where you want to strive to be as a new CDL grad.
Some companies do not hire job hoppers so choose your first CDL job carefully and do your best to stick with the same company for the first two years of your new truck driving career.
A clean record, and a driving school graduation certificate with a brand new CDL will get you a job with any DOT certified training company that accepts recent CDL grads.
This is the typical path and time line taken when someone wants to become a truck driver.
Research how to get a CDL
Find a company that will pre-hire based on your graduation from an accredited CDL school
Go to a 3 week school to get CDL
Hire on with a training carrier
Get assigned an over the road trainer and go out on his truck for 2 to 12 weeks.
There are other ways to get your CDL
A few companies will hire you based on your background and put you through their in-house CDL training program.
This is a start to finish way to get your CDL permit, license and road training all in one shot from one place. You will then be committed to drive for that carrier for one year after you complete your training.
This is how I was trained. The company CDL school was at an old airport near Brooksville Florida. The school part was pretty good.
The over the road training was a mess though. This is where the company I went with cheaped out and put two students with a trainer. The trainer sat and watched as the two trainees drove the truck as a team.
Then I was shuffled around to three different trucks as a 2nd seat team truck driver. Only after proving my self as a 2nd seat driver was I able to be assigned a solo truck.
If I had it to do all over again this is what I would have done.
I would have researched many different companies and their training programs. Then I would make a short list of ones that fit my needs.
The next step is where my advice differs from what companies or CDL school recruiters will tell you. It will also require you to apply yourself and make some trucker friends before you get your CDL.
The reason you must do this before you even get a license is because your graduation certificate starts to expire with most carriers 30 days after you graduate from CDL school.
Let me repeat that, your license and school certification is worthless in a very short period of time from when it is issued. If you don’t start a job right after school you may be required to take Refresher CDL course.
Or worse go through and pay for school all over again even though you already have your CDL but no work-driving experience.
How much does CDL training cost?
At the 3 week get your CDL fast schools it costs about $6500 to $12,000. Most carriers will reimburse some or all of your tuition at the rate of about $50 to $100 a week.
They do it this way to keep you locked in as a driver for 2-3 years. It does not work though most new drivers jump ship as soon as possible thinking the grass will be greener at a new carrier.
OK. Let’s backup a minute and talk about my unique situation and what I did to overcome it. I had 3 years driving experience but had not driven for over 15 years.
Having no recent experience was like having the plague to most major carriers. There are a few that offer in-house refresher training. Most of them did not hire from my home area. It took me a whole month to find one that would take me.
I held their pre-hire in my back pocket and took another three months of vigorous research and applying at over 20 jobs before I found the one that worked for me.
I did not mind being re-trained by an experienced driver trainer. My issue was the low pay and knowing I would be locked in for at least a year with this low-paying company.
After all most of us decide to become a truck driver to make a better life for ourselves and our families, right?
So what did I end up doing?
I found an owner operator who was advertising on craigslist.org I was upfront about why no other company would hire me due to lack of recent truck driving experience.
I had to repeat this process about 10 times before I found one that would take me. They ended up giving me the keys to their truck with no re-training at all after just a couple of phone calls and some paperwork done over email.
So what do I recommend for you. It’s pretty simple actually. Research a list of 20 companies talk to their recruiters and more importantly find some of their currently employed drivers to get the real inside scoop on what the company is like.
Once you have your list narrowed down to three carriers you would be happy to work with for at least two years. Find a driver trainer on a web forum or at a local truck stop. Get to know this driver trainer and see if he will train you after you get your CDL.
Why should you find a driver trainer before getting hired? If you do this you will eliminate the toughest part of this whole process. Don’t believe me about this, read the countless horror stories about bad over the road truck driver trainers on any popular trucking forum.
You will be doing both yourself and your trainer a huge favor by making friends first before being forced to live together in a very small space for several weeks. Think about it do you want to be stuck with a smelly lunatic for several weeks. How are you going to learn how to drive well and do the job from someone you can’t stand to be around.
Once you cut through all of the trucker BS you’ll be so far ahead of all the other new drivers this way. Your success rate will climb from the low to high range by choosing yourself a mentor who can be you road trainer at a good company.
Other pages to research Team truck driving with your spouse or partner Or Getting a CDL job with no recent experience