Experienced truckers know that there are many things in the trucking industry that are out of your control. If you’re a newbie who has not figured this out yet, you soon will. But this does not mean that everything is completely out of your control either. Here are some ways you can become a more efficient trucker.
Efficient trucker tip #1: Always ask about early delivery or a drop
This is a big mistake I see too many truckers making. Drivers often assume that just because their company is “forced dispatch” that they have to take whatever load is given to them. This is simply wrong. Forced dispatch only means that you have to take the load if you can’t supply a good reason not to. So if you want to become a more efficient trucker, you need to start thinking differently.
Never accept the status quo.
Every time I get a new dispatch, the first thing I do is look to see when the load picks up and delivers. Ideally, you’ve got just enough time to drive the empty miles to pick up the load and get it to its delivery on time, but not arrive there too early. Great. Accept the load, drive safe, and stay out of my way! 🙂 (That’s my tagline at the end of each podcast.)
But all too often when they’re asking you to drive 50 miles to pick up a load, it doesn’t pick up for five hours; meaning you are going to get there about four hours early! And then when you look at the delivery time, you figure you’re going to be there a whopping 10 hours earlier than your appointment time! What now? If you’ve got the customer’s phone number, use it. But as you well know, many of us company drivers don’t have access to it. If that’s the case, contact your dispatcher.
Sure, you could use the extra time on these loads to stop in some quaint town along the way and go sightseeing. Or you could use the time to polish your chrome or head into the casino for some blackjack. But this article is about being a more efficient trucker. None of these things are efficient. In fact, they’re all going to cost you time and money!
Call your dispatcher
I don’t keep stats on this sort of thing, but if I had to guess I would say I am calling or messaging my dispatcher on about half my loads; possibly more. Whichever wait time (pick up or delivery) is the longest is what I ask about first.
“Hey Gina, I can be at the shipper at 1:00 PM, but the load doesn’t show to pick up until 5:00 PM. Will they load me early?”
Sometimes it’s a set appointment and there’s nothing you can do about it. Other times they will have notes about the customer saying that you can pick up anytime and that the time listed is just a “suggested” appointment time. Honestly, that doesn’t seem very efficient to me, but unfortunately I can’t change their company polices.
Other times I’ll notice the pick up time is something crazy like 24 hours away, even though I’m only 80 miles out. Again I’m immediately asking dispatch what the deal is. Maybe freight is just slow in the area so your options are limited. But it’s also a possibility that somebody in the office screwed up and thought you didn’t have driving hours available or they just looked at the shipping date wrong! You might be surprised how often this happens.
If you’re going to arrive at your delivery extra-early, ask if they will accept the load early
This happened to me again just the other day. The load delivered at 9:00 PM, but I could get there about 9:00 AM. The comments section for this load specifically said, “Do not attempt to deliver earlier than appointment time.” Now usually when the load comments are that specific, I know they are set in stone. Therefore I was resigned to it. But I still put on my efficient trucker hat to figure out how to make the best use of my time.
I was low on hours that day anyway, so my plan was to come off a 10-hour break and drive the remaining three hours to get as close to the delivery location as I could. I’d then take yet another 10-hour break and then deliver the load 9:00 PM. My thought was that by the time I was unloaded, I would be getting hours back at midnight and be ready to roll again. Of course, this sucks for your sleep because I had just come off a 10-hour break. How I’m expecting myself to sleep again that soon is a different issue that we don’t have time to go into.
Obviously, I didn’t really want to do this, so I thought to myself “What can it hurt to ask about an early delivery?” So I did (see screenshot). You can see the happy result. As I always tell my dispatcher, “He who does not ask, does not receive.” You might remember that the next time you’re in a similar situation.
One thing I forgot to mention was that due to my low hours, I only had 2.5 hours left to drive that day after my delivery. I’m sure many drivers would’ve just accepted this fact and stuck with the original plan. Not this super-efficient trucker!
As you can no doubt already see, I’m very aware of my available hours. But I’m even more anal about this the closer it gets to home time. This instance happened about a week before my scheduled home time.
I’m sure you’ve probably been in this scenario before.
You’re just shy of having enough driving hours to get home without taking another 10-hour break first; or you’re waiting around until midnight to get hours back before you can finish the drive home.
Either that or you turn outlaw and drive the few hours home illegally. You naughty little pet. Good luck with that now that elogs are mandatory. My point is, that 2.5 hours extra that I could utilize today might be the 2.5 hours that I need to get home this coming weekend! This is yet another reason why it’s so important to be as efficient as you can be.
If you can’t deliver early, ask if you can drop the loaded trailer somewhere
If your dispatch says the customer won’t let you deliver early, ask them if there is somewhere along your route that you can drop the load; for instance, if you have a terminal or a drop yard en route. As a driver, you probably know your route better than the dispatcher, so make a suggestion. “Hey; since I can’t deliver this early, can I drop at the Columbus or St. Louis yard? I’m going right past both on the way to delivery.” If they’ve got other freight in the area that needs to move, they’ll usually hook you right up.
Yes, it might suck to turn a 600 mile trip into a puny 350 mile run, but at least you’re not going to be sitting outside a customer for 24 hours waiting to unload. You can use that time to be running a different load to make up those lost miles. Trust me, it usually pays off in the end.
Probably the reason I make the call to dispatch so often is because it works to my advantage most of the time. If I can point out how the load isn’t very efficient, they will often toss it back into the pile of loads and come out with something better. But other times I’m just stuck with the load and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That’s when you reach into your medicine cabinet, pop a chill pill, and accept it as part of trucking. At least you tried to be the most efficient trucker you can be.
Now I can hear some of you thinking, “My dispatcher isn’t going to want to go to all this trouble for me.” Well tough noogies. That’s their job. Besides, dealing with the driver is often the dispatcher’s only job at most of these large carriers. There are usually different groups of people who plan the loads and deal with customer service issues. Not always the case at smaller carriers, but it’s still their job.
In my personal experience, I can tell that my dispatcher does sometimes get annoyed with me questioning these loads so frequently. But that’s usually when she is especially busy trying to get drivers home for the weekend or something is going horribly wrong with another driver on their fleet.
Remember; part of a dispatcher’s performance review is based on how efficient their fleet is. So it actually benefits them if you ask this question and become a more efficient trucker. You just might have to remind them of this fact until they get used to you asking about getting rid of these loads early.
Now let’s say that despite your best effort, you’re still stuck with this load and you’re going to get to your delivery 10 hours before your appointment time. How can you still be an efficient trucker?
Efficient trucker tip #2: Sleep at the customer
One reason I’m glad that I was on the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) bandwagon earlier than most (2010) is because it forced my company to start adding one new bit of information to our load information; whether there is overnight parking at the shipper or receiver. This used to be another phone call or message to dispatch, but now the information is right there in the load comments. Thank God, because this makes me a much more efficient trucker! How so?
Unless I am 100% positive that my load is a drop & hook trailer, I will always try to sleep at the customer overnight if it is allowed. I know this is not a popular choice among truckers, but I’m convinced it makes me a more efficient trucker. Even if it is drop and hook, I will still often sleep there anyway. Why?
It saves my 14 hour clock
I’ve talked to many truckers over the years who simply refuse to sleep at a customer unless it is their only option. The argument is always that they want access to food and bathrooms. Fair enough. But if you want to be the most efficient trucker you can be, you really need to get over this.
Sleeping at the customer honestly wasn’t as necessary back in the days when we had paper logs. We could often fudge the timeline so that we didn’t lose much driving time. But since the inflexible ELDs have been mandatory since December 18, 2017, sleeping at a customer’s facility is really the #1 way I’ve found to maximize my 70-hour workweek.
First off, it’s not hard to work around the bathroom and food issue
If at all possible, you should always find out ahead of time what the bathroom situation is. Some of the customers I visit have 24-hour restrooms for drivers. Sometimes, it might be a porta-potty, but it’s better than nothing.
Even if they don’t have restrooms available overnight, simply stop at the nearest truck stop before you get there and take your giant trucker dump. Even if you don’t think you need to, you might ought to pull in and try. In the #1 department, even us older guys with smaller bladders can get through the night since the vast majority of truckers have some sort of piss bottle in the truck. Don’t deny it. Even if you don’t, you can always go water some of the local shrubbery. Serves the customer right for not keeping the restroom open for you.
As for access to food, if you’re one of those moneybags who eats in restaurants all the time, you can check into apps like Yelp or Google Maps to see if there’s any little eateries within walking distance. You never know. You might find a gem! Or you can always go the easy route and grab an extra sandwich at the ever-present Subway shoppe. Honestly, all drivers should be keeping a little bit of food on hand anyway. Peanut butter and cans of soup have a seemingly endless shelf life, you know. One of the perks of me being such a cheapskate is that I always have food in my truck, so this is never an issue.
Now when I say “sleeping at a customer,” that’s exactly what I mean. I’m not talking about hanging out there for 24 hours or anything. Although this super-efficient trucker has done exactly that many times if that’s what it takes to squeeze in a 34-hour break.
Even if you’ve only got six hours before you deliver, you should still park onsite if you can. Again we’re trying to save your clock here. I see two major benefits in doing this:
1. You might get into the dock early.
Let’s say you arrive at 2:00 AM and your appointment is not till 10:00 AM. But they open at 7:00 AM. If you don’t mind interrupting your beauty sleep, it never hurts to check in at 7:00 AM to see if they will take you early. You’re probably thinking “Why the heck do I want to get in the dock at 7:00 AM if my 10-hour break isn’t over until noon anyway?” That’s reason number two.
2. Because you never know how long it’s going to take to load or unload.
If I were to take a poll of truckers on the biggest problems in the trucking industry, I’d be willing to bet that one of the top five answers would be shipper/receivers wasting our driving hours. Not a day goes by when you don’t hear some trucker whining about how the shippers/receivers don’t value our time. Well this is one way to mitigate it. If they want to take six hours to get me unloaded, then at least they’re doing it while my ELD shows me Off-Duty or Sleeper Berth. If it only takes two hours, great! Stay up and get started planning your next load. Or you can always try to go back to bed to finish that sweet dream you were having about Farrah Fawcett.
Now let’s look at you drivers who refuse to sleep at a customer overnight
You have a 10:00 AM appointment so you wake up full of piss and vinegar, eager to utilize the 11 hours of driving you have available. You start your pre-trip inspection at 9:00 AM, roll into the customer at 9:30 AM, and bump the dock at 10:00 AM. I love it when a plan comes together! Uh huh. You silly little optimistic trucker.
In reality, six hours later you’re finally ready to roll, but thanks to the cursed 14-hour rule you only have 7 hours left to drive. Who’s to blame; you or the customer? Well both, but you could’ve prevented this if you had slept at the customer overnight. So those 4 hours of driving you lost are ultimately on your head. Remember, we can’t control everything, so we have to control the things we can.
But hey, let’s be realistic. Not every customer takes six hours to unload. Even if it only takes two hours, you’ve left yourself very little extra time to do anything else except for drive like a madman all day. You can kiss that workout and shower goodbye. Yeah, right! Like truckers exercise or bathe.
Now I know this “sleeping at a customer” thing is an unpopular choice that many of you will refuse to budge on
So be it. If you want to continue to be an inefficient trucker, that’s up to you. I would just suggest that you try it for a while and see if you don’t notice that you’re making better use of your hours of service. And that usually transfers to better paychecks.
Oh, and there’s one other benefit from sleeping at customer locations. You have less chance of sleeping with your head right next to someone’s screaming reefer unit. Unless of course you are pulling a reefer, which in that case you’re just screwed.
Efficient trucker tip #3: Keep your ETA/PTA updated
But first, you need to make sure you know what the terms ETA and PTA means to your company. At most of the carriers I’ve worked for, ETA means Estimated Time of Arrival and PTA stands for Projected Time of Availability. But I have also worked for a couple of companies who used ETA as Estimated Time of Availability instead of PTA. Yes, it was just as confusing then as it is now. These two versions of ETA (or ETA and PTA) are vastly different things. Let me explain.
My Estimated Time of Arrival might be 9:00 AM, but if I know the customer usually takes two hours to unload, that would make my Estimated Time of Availability at 11:00 AM. This could be even worse. Take for example our earlier scenario where my Estimated Time of Arrival was 2:00 AM because I was going to get there early, but my appointment was not until 10:00 AM. So figure 1 hour to unload and my Estimated Time of Availability is actually 11:00 AM. That’s nine hours difference between an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and an ETA (Estimated Time of Availability)!
Keep your dispatcher as up-to-date as possible about your available working hours
While it’s true that most modern dispatching software will keep track of that, I’ve never had a dispatcher who didn’t appreciate not having to look it up. As an added bonus, I believe that staying on top of your available working hours makes you look a bit more professional than your fellow drivers.
My last suggestion to be the most efficient trucker you can be is…
Efficient trucker tip #4: Don’t keep a steady schedule
I fully accept that with the way your particular circadian rhythms work, some of you simply cannot physically do what I’m about to ask, but if you can, or even if you think you can, you should try it for a while.
We all know those drivers who get up at 7:00 AM and drive their 11 hours. Worst case scenario the 14 hour clock is up at 9:00 PM. They’re back up and rolling at 7:00 AM. They do this every day. Obviously, the start time can vary. I suppose there is nothing wrong with this if you know exactly what your freight is every day and you have complete control over it. More power to you if that’s your situation. If that is the case, I have to admit that I kind of hate your guts.
But for the vast majority of over-the-road drivers, we have no idea when or even if we are going to get a load to run on any given day. So by not keeping a steady schedule, you’re working as hard and as fast as you can when you have freight so that when those inevitable down times come along, they don’t hurt nearly as much.
Let’s do a little math. To keep things simple, let’s assume two things that aren’t exactly true unless you’ve entered the land of fairy dust and unicorn farts. First, that it’s possible to run 11 hours straight, take a 10-hour break, and then run your 11 hours again for multiple days in a row. And secondly, let’s assume that we have competing truckers; one loosey-goosey driver who likes to run hard and one steady schedule driver who likes to start his day at midnight. Probably not very realistic, but for the sake of easy math, you’ll see what I mean.
The case for not driving a steady schedule
In this magical world where everything always runs smoothly, let’s say both drivers start their day at midnight and are done driving by 11:00 AM. They both take a mandatory 10-hour break. When the break is over, the loosey-goosey driver starts running again at 9:00 PM, while the steady schedule guy is waiting around for midnight to start his day like he does every day.
You can see that the loosey-goosey driver has 14 hours of driving already finished in that first 24 hours (11 on the first driving shift + 3 on the second), while the steady schedule driver only has 11 hours under his belt.
Come midnight, the steady schedule guy runs another 11 hours for 22 hours total driving over the two days. But loosey-goosy driver drove from 9:00 PM the night before to 8:00 AM the next morning, took another 10 hour break, and started driving again at 6:00 PM, meaning he now has 28 hours of driving in the same time frame. That’s six more hours over two days!
I will spare you the math, but at the end of three days, the loosey-goosey driver has driven nine more hours than the steady driver!
Now I can hear some of you saying, “Yeah, but that ain’t the way trucking works in the real world!” You’re correct. There will be days when you don’t get a full 11 hours of running. There might even be days that you don’t get to run at all. And that’s my point.
Run it when you got it
Here’s my philosophy. When you have freight, run it as hard and as fast as you legally can, utilizing all three previous tips to make the use best use of your hours. That way when you do have the inevitable downtime, then at least you have been as efficient as you can possibly be up until that point where things are out now out of your control.
A side benefit is doing a 34-hour break
Often times, these steady drivers don’t even run a full 11 hours. Their idea is that if they work 8.75 hours maximum per day (both Driving and On-Duty time combined) for 8 days (70 hours in 8 days rule), that they will never run out of their 70 working hours. Okay. Good theory. That means you will get a maximum of 70 working hours under perfect conditions.
Now let’s look at loosey-goosey driver who hammers down. Again, I won’t bore you with the math, but if this driver runs as soon as possible after each 10-hour break, they can easily hit their 70 hours maximum in 5 days. If they then take a 34-hour break to restart their 70-hours, they can now expand their available working hours to over 80 hours in the same amount of time that the steady driver has only worked 70 hours. That could add up to about 10% more money!
Be a more efficient trucker
To sum up, my belief is that to be the most efficient trucker you can be, you need to work as hard as you can while you have loads to run so you can maximize your potential.
Every hour of your available 70 counts in trucking, so be conscience of every one of them. If a customer will take a load as soon as you can get it there, don’t screw around. Deliver it ASAP!
You could have mechanical problems that cause delays.You could be delayed by a lazy loader. You could hit a patch of bad weather. If you’ve dilly-dallied when you could’ve been running hard, you may even find yourself delivering late if something unexpected happens.
I always run as hard as I can to get where I’m going, even if I can’t deliver early. I can’t count how many times I’ve been able to rescue a load from a driver who’s low on hours while he sits under my load to get those hours back. That’s a win-win-win situation. The company is getting their rescued load delivered on time. The other driver is in no rush now so he’s getting back the hours he needs while he’s sitting under may old load. And best of all, I’m making more miles!
So my advice is to step out of your comfort zone and try some of these tips
Don’t automatically accept loads that don’t make good use of your time. Argue your point with a cool head. If nothing can be done about the delivery time, ask if you can drop the load someplace to keep moving.
Try sleeping at the customer to maximize your driving hours. You’ll be surprised how less-stressed you’ll be when that slow forklift dude isn’t eating into your driving hours.
Get off your steady schedule and run hard when you have freight. Save your loafing time for those times when you’re stuck without a load. And if you can do a 70-hour reset, do it.
And lastly, keep your ETA/PTA updated so your dispatcher can find your next good load that maximizes your earning potential. And if that load sucks, get on the phone and start the process all over again. Ain’t truckin’ fun?
Podcast show notes:
In today’s podcast, I present four ideas that could help you become a more efficient trucker. I also cover a crapload of news stories, ranging from new ways to tackle truck parking, new proposed hours-of-service legislation, Electronic Logging Devices (ELD), a lost trucker, some surprises about driver pay, and possibly one of the most insane verdicts I’ve ever heard. I also tell you how social media can help you in a way that you might not have thought of before.
In the Feedback section, we hear from from Goat Bob, Driver Dave, DriverChrisMc, and Dan on subjects such as trucking podcasts, to axle weights, to cancer, to beef liver, and finally being pissed off at truckers.
View the article and show notes on AboutTruckDriving.com.
Check out new Trucker Dump merchandise at TeePublic.com, including tee shirts, hoodies, mugs, stickers, tote bags, and even kid’s clothes!
This episode of Trucker Dump is sponsored by:
- Citadel Fleet Safety– Call 800-269-5905 or click the link for a special discount for Trucker Dump listeners. Click on [Customer Login] in the upper-right corner, click on the Trucker Dump logo, and use password: truckerdump.
- Classic Truck Insurance– Call 888-498-0255 for your free quote today.
Links mentioned in the podcast:
“Top 3 Trucker Podcasts” from Hot Shot Warriors
My guest spot on the Systematic Podcast with Brett Terpstra
Maximum Commercial Trailer Length – State By State from Verduyn Tarps
Trucker Grub features Ted’s Montana Grill in Northwest Indianapolis.
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