Opinion On Driving A Fuel Tanker Truck Right Out Of Cdl School?

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James O.'s Comment
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Note From TruckingTruth: Old School, one of our moderators, wrote an article about this topic called Prudence Seems To Be Lacking In Some Rookie Truck Drivers. You should definitely check it out.

I read Brett Aquila's article on tankers and flatbed and he's saying driving a tanker or flatbed isn't a good idea for your rookie year.

I was hoping to get other people's opinion here.

I just got my class A cdl with the tanker endorsement and hazmat endorsement. I'm giving myself about 1 month to figure out which company I want to work for.

I feel like hauling dry van , I'll just be another truck driver out of the many. But if I can find a company that'll take a rookie fresh out of school, maybe that's a better route to go. I'm not scared of hard work, I'm not stupid, and I feel like I would enjoy the extra challenge.

Another thing that is keeping me from applying to the big companies (Werner, Schneider, Knight) is that most seem to have automatic only for otr , or they can't guarantee I'll be driving a manual. Which, being a new trucker, is what I want to gain experience in.

Thanks in advance for any input.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Deke's Comment
member avatar

The general consensus that I have seen here is that you are best off going dry van as a rookie driver. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Everything I have heard or read on this and other sites basically says that your first year can and most likey will be extremely difficult. So the thinking is why make it even harder by choosing flatbed or tanker.

With flatbed you have the added work and worry of securement. I think the tanker issue is probably more about lack of driving experience than anything else. From what I understand, tankers can bite the unprepared and the last thing you want to do is have a mishap that ends your career before you ever get started.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Susan D. 's Comment
member avatar

I drive a dry van , but I will say this. My other half started out as a flatbed driver with McElroy many years ago. He loved it and was extremely proud of his tarping and securement as are the best flatbedders. McElroy trained him. He later moved to Florida where he trained new flatbed drivers for Averitt when they created their flatbed division. He stopped flatbedding when his knees and back started telling him "no" and went to dry van when he came to West Side 4 years ago.

My dad who drove for 44 years started out hauling mobile homes in the late 50's -early 60's and then drove a fuel tanker for Exxon, retired from them, became an O/O, and in his later years went company dry van and retired at 77.

I can see Brett's point about the steep learning curve for flatbed or tankers, however, for someone who can appreciate that extremely steep learning curve and go face to face with the challenges of a rookie year combined with the challenges of learning safe securement or handling of liquid tankers from the get go, I admire your ambition.

Old School started out in flatbedding and continues to enjoy it still. Experienced flatbedders say it helps to be more than a little crazy to want to be out there tarping and strapping I weather ranging from extreme winter, pouring rain, and brutally hot summers.

Experienced tanker yankers have their shifting perfectly timed to minimize surge and are very skilled drivers. Tanker drivers really need well honed driving skills.

I'd say if you want to try either, right out of the gate, choose a company that offers and will train you for both, as well as offering dry vans or reefers just in case you suddenly discover that flatbed or tanker isn't your cup of tea, so you can try it all without having to change companies.

Seek out advice from Old School and Daniel B. too.

I wish you the best and be sure to keep us posted on what freight and company you choose.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Pete B.'s Comment
member avatar

Hi James, I drive tankers for Schneider, started with them fresh out of CDL school; I may be of some help. I'll start with the easy ones first; w/Schneider there's a better chance you'll get put in a manual. The newbie drivers typically get the older trucks, of which the majority are manuals. However your second truck will likely be an automatic. I'm still in my first truck, it's a 10-speed, and if/when she gets retired and they pull me out, it'll be kicking & screaming.

I don't remember reading where Brett advised against flat bedding as a rookie; in fact, there is one Super Moderator here, Old School, who loves giving out advice to rookies especially, about flat bedding as well as all things trucking. Turtle is another member of this site who also began flat bedding as a rookie, and has done quite well at it. As far as challenging yourself, I think there's more there than with driving tankers. While the chemicals are getting unloaded from my trailer, I'm usually sitting either in my cab or in a break room. As far as the challenge of driving tankers go, I don't really feel comfortable exalting those challenges; they can be scary at times with horrific results if things go badly. Your earning potential with tankers is also going to be less; while the cpm's are higher, you're not going to turn as many miles as you would driving a flatbed, dry van , or reefer.

If you have more questions please don't hesitate to ask, and congrats on getting your CDL!

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

CPM:

Cents Per Mile

Drivers are often paid by the mile and it's given in cents per mile, or cpm.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Pete B.'s Comment
member avatar

*(I know that earning potential really doesn't have anything to do with cpm's, but that seems to be what most new people like to focus on)

CPM:

Cents Per Mile

Drivers are often paid by the mile and it's given in cents per mile, or cpm.

Brett Aquila's Comment
member avatar

I've personally always preferred to see new drivers start out in refrigerated or dry van. If the success rate of new drivers in this industry was 90% then I wouldn't worry so much. The fact is, barely 5% of new drivers make it through their first year of trucking. Trucking is far more difficult than most people anticipate. Not only is the job stressful, risky, and complex but the trucking lifestyle is a radical change from the life you had before. The idea that you want to dive into the most difficult challenges first without getting your feet wet first is ambitious, and I admire that. But I admire prudence even more when someone is new to something that's already risky and complex. It makes me wonder if you're fully understanding the challenges that lie ahead.

I don't mind the idea of people starting out in flatbed, but you do have to realize you'll have a lot more to learn and a lot more hard work ahead of you on top of the piles of information and hard work that lie ahead already. The risk is also certainly greater too. We had a new driver start out in flatbed and he rolled the truck a few months in because the load of lumber shifted. It wasn't because he was a new driver that it happened, though, it was because he was a new flatbedder. He simply didn't anticipate the potential for that type of load to settle the way it did, which meant the lumber was no longer secured tightly and it shifted in a turn. Fortunately he came through it unscathed.

Personally I feel it's borderline criminal that any company would put a rookie in a liquid tanker. I don't mind the idea of a rookie driving a dry bulk tanker, but not a liquid tanker. Pete, I admire the job you've done and I very much appreciate your honesty about the dangers of pulling a tanker:

I don't really feel comfortable exalting those challenges; they can be scary at times with horrific results if things go badly

Very true.

Honestly I'm pretty shocked that Schneider would put a brand new driver in a liquid tanker. I pulled a food grade tanker for a year one time and I loved it. It was a really cool and interesting type of trucking. But no way on Earth does a brand new driver out of school belong behind the wheel of one of those tankers. The surge is so severe that it feels and sounds like a bomb going off if it hits real hard. I've had it knock the hat right off my head and knock everything that was on my shelves or in my bed onto the floor like a hurricane came through. I was holding my breath thinking it was going to rip the 5th wheel right off the truck.

Now food grade tankers don't have baffles but chemical tankers do. That helps quite a bit with the surge, but it doesn't change the fact that you're hauling dangerous chemicals. Knowing how little a rookie driver knows about handling a rig I just can't imagine a brand new driver in a liquid tanker. I can understand a rookie not being aware of the severity of the challenge but I can't believe the safety manager and the insurance agents for a company would ever allow it.

So to sum it up, I always recommend new drivers start out in refrigerated or dry van. I don't mind the idea of new drivers starting out in flatbed but you had better be the type that is super tough, adventurous, and ambitious. Flatbedders are a special breed. You'd better be hardcore.

I'm 100% against the idea of a rookie being in a chemical tanker and I would never recommend that to anyone. It has nothing to do with toughness or ambition. It has everything to do with driving skills, and in my opinion no rookie has the driving skills to handle a liquid tanker from day one. You need time behind the wheel to learn how to operate that vehicle smoothly, especially under braking. You need to learn to gauge the curves in the road ahead of you so you don't get into the curve too fast. You have to learn how to get slowed down to a certain speed by a certain time and do it smoothly with air brakes. Air brakes behave a lot differently than hydraulic brakes, and it's under braking that you're most likely to get yourself in trouble.

Pete, again I admire that you're out there doing it and by God I certainly wish you the best of luck and safe travels. Take it very, very slow. We're heading into winter. It's dangerous enough trying to negotiate curves and off ramps on dry roads. A snow-covered cloverleaf off ramp with a liquid tanker is one of the ultimate challenges any driver can face.

Baffle:

A partition or separator within a liquid tank, used to inhibit the flow of fluids within the tank. During acceleration, turning, and braking, a large liquid-filled tank may produce unexpected forces on the vehicle due to the inertia of liquids.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Old School's Comment
member avatar
I feel like hauling dry van , I'll just be another truck driver out of the many.

James, I would not take lightly any advice that comes from Brett. I've never even met the man, and only had minimal interaction with him via email, but having been associated with him for years through this forum, I can tell you that everything he does and says is well thought out and done with a passion for mentoring new drivers.

Let me just say that as someone who started my career as a flat-bedder I have seen more than my share of rookie flat-bedders who made some really serious life altering mistakes. We always tell people that there is a steep learning curve to trucking. What most people don't understand is where that learning curve is. It doesn't have anything to do with load securement, or the liquid surge that is involved in driving a tanker.

I get the whole idea of loving to be challenged, I have that same personality, but in trucking there is soooo much that you have yet to experience.

Let's start with your whole idea of wanting to start out with a small company...

Another thing that is keeping me from applying to the big companies (Werner, Schneider, Knight) is that most seem to have automatic only for otr , or they can't guarantee I'll be driving a manual. Which, being a new trucker, is what I want to gain experience in.

Okay, I realize that every newbie reading this next statement is going to think I'm crazy, but here goes... I've never considered shifting gears to be one of the skills to driving a truck. Look, I get the whole thing about how shifting gears, double clutching , and floating those gears smoothly is challenging at first, but it is not necessarily a skill. It is muscle memory at best. This is what I meant earlier when I said...

What most people don't understand is where that learning curve is.

The skills in trucking are in things like: Keeping a safe following distance. Keeping sufficient space in all six of the areas surrounding your truck. Anticipating what the other drivers around you are about to do. Learning to control your emotions. Being on top of your mental game way before you ever hit the road. Knowing what to do or not to do in all manner of weather conditions. Understanding when it is best to sit out and wait, or when it is best to just push through a situation that is facing you. Knowing how to deal with the ever challenging people who you will be dealing with at D.C.'s and other shippers and receivers. Trip planning, and executing that plan, and/or sometimes being flexible enough to be able to go to plan B. Having the mindset, personality, and persuasion skills that enable you to move your appointments forward, and then being able to execute those new appointments just the way you've committed to. Communicating effectively with dispatch. Oh man, I could go on and on with this list, and very few of the things that I would mention have anything to do with actually driving the truck!

You are going to discover that the very finest truck drivers out here are head and shoulders above the crowd, and it is because they have mastered things that most people don't even realize are the skills required to be at the top in this field.

James, our best advice would be for a new rookie driver as yourself to start out at one of the large carriers. Put aside your pre-conceived ideas about what makes for a really good truck driver and realize that these companies have been doing this successfully for years now in one of the most challenging businesses environments there is. They absolutely know what it takes to help a new driver get up to speed during that first year. Look, if you are seriously wanting to drive a tanker, then go with someone like Schneider. Their training is excellent, and they will help you make the adjustments needed to break into the career. Small companies tend to cut people loose over what may seem like the most minor mistakes, and trust me you are going to make a few mistakes here and there. Do you have any idea how hard it is going to be for you to find employment if you scrape a fender at a small company and then they let you go for having a preventable accident? Once they put that on your DAC report and you have basically zero experience established, nobody is going to want to even take a look at you.

There are good solid reasons why you want to start at a large carrier, and there are good solid reasons why you may want to start as a dry van driver. Don't get carried away with wanting to be something other than just "another truck driver out of the many." I started as a flat-bed driver, Pete B. started as a tanker yanker, but I'll tell you this much... Pete and I are just another driver whenever we pull into one of our customer's locations. There is nothing about what freight we haul that separates us from any other driver out here, we're all just drivers. The things that separate us from the other drivers is how we think and approach our jobs. The way you handle yourself out here and the way you get more done than your competitors (other drivers) is what makes you different, or separates you into a different category of driver.

Please, take the time to go through our Truck Driver's Career Guide, I think you will benefit greatly from all the stellar information and advice found in there.

Shipper:

The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Double Clutch:

To engage and then disengage the clutch twice for every gear change.

When double clutching you will push in the clutch, take the gearshift out of gear, release the clutch, press the clutch in again, shift the gearshift into the next gear, then release the clutch.

This is done on standard transmissions which do not have synchronizers in them, like those found in almost all Class A trucks.

Double Clutching:

To engage and then disengage the clutch twice for every gear change.

When double clutching you will push in the clutch, take the gearshift out of gear, release the clutch, press the clutch in again, shift the gearshift into the next gear, then release the clutch.

This is done on standard transmissions which do not have synchronizers in them, like those found in almost all Class A trucks.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

DAC:

Drive-A-Check Report

A truck drivers DAC report will contain detailed information about their job history of the last 10 years as a CDL driver (as required by the DOT).

It may also contain your criminal history, drug test results, DOT infractions and accident history. The program is strictly voluntary from a company standpoint, but most of the medium-to-large carriers will participate.

Most trucking companies use DAC reports as part of their hiring and background check process. It is extremely important that drivers verify that the information contained in it is correct, and have it fixed if it's not.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Big Scott's Comment
member avatar

As far as transmissions go many companies are switching to manual. They have gotten much better and are cheaper in the long run. The newer manual transmissions of today are not able to handle the abuse of new drivers like they used to, so they wear out sooner. Also, very few new drivers have ever driven a stick shift car. I love my manual transmission. It's one less thing to worry about when driving. It's still not like a car. It's a manual transmission that is shifted by computer. It has a manual mode if you feel you need it. I haven't. I have been through mountains including the Rockies, with no problems. Everyone else gave you great advise. Good luck.

Brett Aquila's Comment
member avatar
The newer manual transmissions of today are not able to handle the abuse of new drivers like they used to

Where did you hear that from? It might be correct, I don't know. But I'd like to know where you heard this. I can't imagine they're all of a sudden making fragile transmissions. They've always been almost bulletproof.

As far as transmissions go many companies are switching to manual. I love my manual transmission. It's one less thing to worry about when driving. It's still not like a car. It's a manual transmission that is shifted by computer.

Ok, that's going to confuse the heck out of everyone.

What Big Scott is saying is that he has what is referred to as an auto-shift transmission which is different than a true automatic. An auto-shift transmission is a manual transmission that has a computer shifting mechanism added to it. Sometimes these transmissions will even have a clutch. They can go down the road and shift themselves like an automatic, but you can also put it into "manual mode" and control the gears manually with push buttons.

Everyone refers to auto-shift transmissions as automatics. So when you hear people say that the big companies are switching to automatics, they're referring to both auto-shift and true automatic transmissions.

Susan D. 's Comment
member avatar

Exactly, Brett. All West Side "automatics" are actually computer assisted auto-shifts and can be manually shifted as well. They certainly don't handle like a true automatic. None of our auto-shifts have a clutch, but at other companies they might. They'll roll backwards on a hill just like a typical manual. Each brand has slightly different control systems so there's a bit of a learning curve to each brand we have (Volvo, Prostars, and Freighliners).

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