Starting a Truck Driving Career - Company Driver vs Owner Operator

Drivers who are just starting out with their CDL are likely to be faced with the choice of starting out as either a company driver or an owner-operator. There are many similarities between the two types of drivers and some major differences. Most drivers choose to start working for a company to learn more about the trucking industry through hands-on experience before venturing out on their own as an owner-operator.

Company Drivers

A company driver is usually required to haul loads to and from wherever the company's dispatch tells them. Sometimes these truck drivers are paid by the hour, but it is more common for them to be paid by the mile. They have taxes taken out of their checks, but are not responsible for scale tickets, fuel, truck maintenance, lumpers, tolls and other costs. Some companies require drivers to pay for these costs upfront and be reimbursed, while others give their drivers money for expenses each time they leave their company's terminal to start a trip.

A company driver's biggest responsibility is picking up and delivering freight on time with no damage. They are also expected to keep the vehicle they are assigned in good condition, manage the weight distribution of their load to comply with the law, and report any mechanical issues with the equipment as soon as possible. Drivers who have good DAC reports and driving records are more desirable, therefore they command higher pay than those who have had driving issues in the past.

Pros of Being a Company Driver

One of the biggest pros of being a company driver is that they take on less responsibility than owner-operators, which amounts to less stress. Most of the time they are paid well and provided with health insurance and other benefits at a reasonable cost. Another pro of driving for a company is that most companies replace their trucks after a few years, which means the drivers get to operate new equipment without having to worry about making hefty payments each month. Another benefit is employment stability. There will always be loads to haul, so professional drivers with good driving records are always in demand.

Cons of Being a Company Driver

One of the biggest drawbacks of driving for someone else is that company drivers don't usually have the freedom to haul where they want to haul. They may also not be able to get home as often as they would like. Another drawback is that company drivers are not allowed to haul for anyone other than their employer. Company drivers are often paid far less than owner-operators, even if they are hauling the same loads to the same destinations.


An owner-operator is a small business owner. They own the truck that they drive and are required to pay all of the associated fees and expenses. Some companies allow their drivers to become owner-operators by purchasing either the truck they drive or a very similar truck from the company. Owner-operators are paid much more than company drivers, but they also have the bulk of the responsibility. They are required to keep records for their truck, pay taxes and run a business while driving.

Owner-operators do the same job as company drivers do, except that they are also responsible for finding their own loads as well as running the business. Some owner-operators lease their trucks to a company so they don't have to look for loads and negotiate prices on their own. There are pros and cons to becoming an owner-operator.

Pros of Being an Owner-Operator

One of the many reasons that drivers buy their own trucks and become owner-operators is freedom. Many truck drivers get tired of being on the road frequently and having little say over where they are going to next. Owner-operators have the freedom to leave a company that they don't enjoy hauling loads for and keep their truck. They enjoy the intangible feeling of ownership and not having to answer to a boss. Some owner-operators modify their trucks so they are as unique and beautiful as they are useful.

Another benefit of being an owner-operator is a pay increase. Some owner-operators negotiate their own prices directly with shippers, while others are paid according to the rates set by shippers or brokers. Some owner-operators receive more than three times as much pay as company drivers that haul the exact same load. Owner-operators also have the ability to purchase more trucks and expand their company into a larger fleet.

Cons of Being an Owner-Operator

The biggest con of being an owner-operator is the costs that are involved. Owner-operators are responsible for paying fees, tolls, fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, vehicle payments and all other costs associated with doing business. They are also responsible for finding loads, negotiating rates and acting as their own dispatcher.

Another con of being an owner-operator is being responsible for taxes and business paperwork. Many owner-operators hire accountants to help them navigate through the laws and ensure that their business is set up properly. It is essential to keep track of every expense and income for tax purposes as well as recordkeeping purposes. Owner-operators are also responsible for their own health insurance.

Company Driver vs Owner-Operators

Becoming an owner-operator may be out of reach financially for some drivers, while others may simply decide they like working for someone else and don't have the desire to own their own company. Both company drivers and owner-operators are necessary to keep goods moving from the manufacturers to the consumers. Each driver should think about their own personality and goals before deciding to become either an owner-operator or a company driver. Drivers can be successful in either role as long as they drive safely and conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner.