The Right Strategy For Earning More Miles And Better Pay

by Brett Aquila

Getting paid by the mile was always one of my favorite aspects of trucking. I'm highly ambitious. I know I'm going to outwork most people. I would prefer to get paid by the amount of work I get done, not by the amount of time I put in. That way I know I'm going to make what I deserve to make and I'm going to be able to separate myself from the pack.

Trucking companies are looking for people who can get a lot of work done safely and reliably. That sums it up right there. Work hard, be safe, and be reliable. But there's actually a little more to it than that.

Let's dive into this a bit more and talk about some specific ideas for getting more miles.

Safety First In Trucking

I don't even need to talk much about this. It's obvious. Trucking requires an incredibly high level of diligence when it comes to safety. Some of the most important safety factors include:

  • Do a thorough pre-trip inspection
  • Keep plenty of following distance in front of you
  • Manage your time well so you're well rested when it's time to roll
  • Keep your emotions on an even keel. Don't let frustrations or stress cloud your awareness of the moment.
  • Plan your routes thoroughly ahead of time so there are few surprises, no low bridges, and no missed turns.
  • Get out and look often when backing. Don't be lazy, be diligent.

The bottom line is don't put any scratches on that truck. Period. If you're not safe, you won't be around long.

Make Every Single Appointment On Time

You absolutely must be on time to your appointments. All of them. Even a 95% on time delivery record is poor. You're going to be sitting around at truck stops doing nothing if you can't make all of your appointments on time. Obviously if there's a serious snowstorm or the truck breaks down that might be outside of your control. Then again, it might not.

If you stay as far ahead of schedule as possible, pay attention to the weather, be creative with your strategies for getting repairs done, and make sure you keep that truck in the best shape possible it's going to prevent you from being late due to breakdowns or bad weather most of the time. Do not think of a snowstorm or breakdown as a "free pass" when it comes to on-time delivery. Plan ahead and be a creative problem solver and you'll almost always overcome even these obstacles to arrive on time.

Push Your Appointment Times Forward

It takes a little experience and some experimenting to get the feel for this, but you can often times get loaded or unloaded ahead of schedule. Here are some tips:

  • You can call ahead to customers to see if they'll take you early. Most of the time they won't guarantee anything but show up early anyways.
  • Be super friendly with the dock personnel. Have a couple of jokes in your back pocket, ask them about their day to show you care about them as people and that you're not just all about you.
  • Make up a story. I always had a story about having to get to the next appointment by a certain time or I'd lose an important load and make a whole lot less money that week. Sometimes it was true, sometimes not, but in the end it was going to be true. If I sit around waiting for things to happen I'm losing money. Simple as that. So if you have to make up a story, make up a story. Whatever it takes to keep those wheels turning and stay ahead of schedule.

If you wait for the appointment times you're going to lose out on a lot of opportunities to get more miles. Stay ahead of schedule and push those appointment times forward. You'll get a lot more miles that way.

Do The Dirty Work

All trucking companies have all kinds of freight to move every day. Some of the loads are long, easy runs to faraway places. Others are short junky loads to lousy places. But the bottom line is that you're part of a team that has to move it all, not just the good ones.

Do the dirty work without complaining. When it's time to take a 300 mile run to the Northeast or a three stop run to Chicago, get the job done without complaining. Then, after doing the dirty work you can expect to be rewarded for doing your share. It's not always going to be an immediate reward, but if you develop a reputation as being a driver who gets the job done every time without complaining you'll stand above the crowd and your dispatcher will be far more willing to do favors for you. They'd rather take care of the people they like than give good freight to people who are hard to deal with.

Be Friendly With Dispatch

Truckers have no authority. They also do not have any rights or guarantees when it comes to getting good miles. You earn good miles with great performance first, but it also makes a difference if you're a decent human being. Dispatchers really have to go out of their way to make sure their best drivers keep getting the best miles. They'll lobby for you. They'll watch you more closely. They'll stop what they're doing to deal with you immediately when necessary.

If you want to be a priority for your dispatcher , put in a top performance but also be the type of person they enjoy putting in the effort for. If you're a jerk it's going to affect how they feel about doing favors for you, and that's going to hurt your bottom line.

Stop in and say hi when you're at the offices. Speak professionally. Ask your dispatcher what you can do to improve your job performance. All of this will matter a lot in the end.

Lobby For More Miles

No matter how great you are as a driver, you're going to get lost in the shuffle a little bit once in a while. Dispatchers and load planners are swamped with work. You might get a few short runs in a row or your mileage might be coming up short for a week or two.

Give your dispatcher a shout to bring some attention to your situation. Don't get angry about it, don't be offended. Just let them know that you're slipping through the cracks and you desperately need more miles. If you sit back without saying a word they're probably going to assume you're fine and they'll focus their attention elsewhere.

Be professional and kind, but don't be afraid to speak up when your miles are falling short of expectations. If you're a great driver they'll make sure you're taken care of.

Communicate Well With Dispatch

It's incredibly important that you keep dispatch informed at all times of your situation. If there are any changes to your schedule, if you're ahead or behind schedule, if you have upcoming maintence that's due, or anything is going on that might affect your schedule you have to keep them in the loop.

Dispatchers can assign freight ahead of time to drivers if they're comfortable doing so. It's called pre-planning loads. You have to be super reliable when it comes to making your appointments and you have to communicate everything that's going on all the time so they're comfortable making pre-plans for you. If dispatch can pre-plan at least some of your loads you're going to get better miles and better quality runs. The idea is that they'll be able to grab better quality freight before anyone else can grab it.

So stay in close communication with dispatch. No surprises. Don't make them ask you what's going on, don't force them to guess when you'll be ready for your next run or if you're going to be late. The more predictable and reliable you are the more comfortable they'll be pre-planning your runs and the more money you're going to make.

The Bottom Line

The safest, most reliable, and hardest working drivers get the most miles. Simple as that. This is not an industry that treats everyone equally. Some drivers get a ton of miles all the time, most are somewhere in the middle, and a few just get the leftover scraps.

To be at the top of the earnings list you want to gain every advantage you can in the eyes of dispatch. You want to:

  • Be on time for every appointment
  • Be safe
  • Communicate your situation well
  • Lobby for more miles all the time
  • Do the dirty work without complaining
  • Be friendly and professional at all times

Trucking is competitive. You're not going to be handed top miles, you're going to be competing for them with your fellow drivers. Make sure you're one of the top performers consistently and act like a professional if you want to earn your spot at the top.

Pre-trip Inspection:

A pre-trip inspection is a thorough inspection of the truck completed before driving for the first time each day.

Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles. Federal and state inspectors also may inspect your vehicles. If they judge a vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is repaired.

Dispatcher:

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.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

EPU:

Electric Auxiliary Power Units

Electric APUs have started gaining acceptance. These electric APUs use battery packs instead of the diesel engine on traditional APUs as a source of power. The APU's battery pack is charged when the truck is in motion. When the truck is idle, the stored energy in the battery pack is then used to power an air conditioner, heater, and other devices

by Brett Aquila

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