The Complete Guide To Pulling A Chemical Tanker

by Brett Aquila

Hauling a chemical tanker is dangerous, as you would expect, but it also has quite a few other challenges that you may not expect. There are some frequently asked questions regarding working with chemical tankers that we're going to answer here, including:

  • Does chemical tanker pay more than other types of trucking?
  • How dangerous is it pulling a hazmat tanker?
  • What is the difference between hauling chemical tankers and food grade tankers?
  • Is there a lot of manual labor involved with hauling hazardous materials?
  • What is the lifestyle like for a chemical tanker driver?
  • Which CDL endorsements apply to hauling a chemical tanker?

We've had a lot of interesting conversations in our trucker's forum about pulling tankers and hauling hazardous materials over the years so I brought a bunch of it together for this article.

Does It Pay More To Haul Chemicals?

Hauling chemical tankers may pay a little bit more per mile than most other types of freight, but you may find that you don't get quite as many miles as you can in other types of freight. In the end, pulling a Hazmat tanker really isn't going to pay more than most other types of freight.

See also:

With regard to pay, I don't think you're going to do as well driving tankers. While they offer higher cpm's, you're just not going to turn the miles that you would driving a reefer , dry van , or flatbed. I think that's the biggest misperception in our business. I've done pretty well for myself, but I wouldn't expect anyone to work the way I do; I haven't asked for a day off since I started running solo in June, consistently get to the shipper or consignee 12 to 24 hours early, I am often offloaded and gone by the time my official appointment time rolls around, and for this am rewarded with a constant flow of nice assignments.

- Pete from Chemical Tanker Lifestyle Vs Reefer Lifestyle

Tanker drivers get paid per mile just like other drivers, and generally more than dry van/reefer. The reason is because there is some physical labor involved and some added danger of driving a tanker...

- ThinksTooMuch from What Is It Like Pulling Chemical Tankers?

It's a funny thing how people seem to think if they are hauling something dangerous they will be making more money. It is not necessarily true. You can make some good money hauling a food grade tanker. Hazmat is not all it is thought to be when it comes to earnings.

Look, the real secrets to making good money at this career are not in what is behind you in the trailer. The folks who make good money out here are the ones who understand how to play the game. Knowing all the little idiosyncrasies of how to get more done is where the bigger money starts to come into play.

- Old School from Food Grade Or Chemical Tanker

From what I have seen at my company, they only pay maybe an extra 5 cents/mile when you haul hazmat.

- ChrisEMT from Food Grade Or Chemical Tanker

Tanker drivers get paid per mile just like other drivers, generally more than dry van/reefer. But we also get paid for loading and unloading the product. The general rate is $25-$35 for a load and same for an unload. So for example, I get to a shipper with an empty tanker and I get my hoses, connect them, and take 2 hours to load 6,000 gallons of product into my tanker. I get paid $25 for those 2 hours of work. BUT if I get there and the shipper's staff do the loading... I STILL get paid $25 even though I sat in my truck for 2 hours and watched a movie. Same goes for unloading, I get paid if I unload or if the customer does it. Most companies pay that unload/load pay if the load/unload takes 2 hours or less. If it takes more than 2 hours you get the load/unload pay AND detention pay which is hourly $10,15,20/hour whatever it is for your specific company.

- ThinksTooMuch from What Is It Like Pulling Chemical Tankers?

How Dangerous Is Pulling A Chemical Tanker

You're going to be spending a lot of time in chemical plants, and sometimes a video is the best way to communicate the hazards:

Insane Chemical Plant Explosion

At one time chemical tankers commonly had baffles in them to help reduce the surge of liquids inside the tank, but that doesn't really seem to be the case anymore. Obviously you're dealing with dangerous chemicals and the chemical plants themselves can be quite dangerous.

Actually, most chemical tankers are smooth bore (no baffles) as are food grade. It's the fuel haulers that typically have baffled tanks. None of our chemical tanks ( which is primarily what we haul) have baffles. I'm sure there are some out there though. Other chem tanker drivers I talk with say the same, mostly no baffles. We have some fuel trailers that are one compartment with baffles and some multi-compartmented trailers as you mentioned.

- Chief from What Is It Like Pulling Chemical Tankers?

In order to protect yourself from hazards, many chemical plants will require the driver to wear personal protective equipment whenever they're outside of the truck:

Wearing hazmat PPE (personal protective equipment) and sweating in places I didn't know I could sweat in making you prone to dehydration and heat exhaustion. It feels like you're wearing an extra 20 lbs and it didn't fit right in certain places even with a bigger size suit.

I realized that there were certain elements of the job that I would never like, such as wearing that ill fitting dehydrating hazmat personal protective equipment.

- Bubbarolls from My Short Lived Experience With Hazmat Tanker

What is the difference between hauling chemical tankers and food grade tankers?

I pulled a food grade tanker at one time and I loved it. I was hauling things like honey, cream from dairies, and orange juice. The biggest difference between hauling hazardous chemicals and food grade tankers are:

  • You have to deal with dangerous chemicals instead of harmless foods
  • You're going to get more scrutiny from the DOT because of the Hazardous chemicals you're hauling
  • You have to be more careful about your routing choices when hauling Hazmat. You'll often have to route yourself around major cities and avoid many tunnels.
  • You'll have to be very careful about where and when you drop your trailer
  • You have to have a Hazmat endorsement to haul chemicals
  • You'll often have to get your tanker washed out at a tank wash after unloading

See also: Choosing A Truck Driving Job Part VII: Tankers and Flatbeds

Getting the tank washed out at a tank washing facility is one of the factors that may increase your job duties and eat up some of your logbook hours. Sitting around at a tank wash can be tedious, but some of them are pretty decent:

The tank washes also offer one more option where you can shut down for the night, and take a shower if necessary. Several of the nicer tank washes even provide towels for the shower. There's two that I know of that will even feed you.

- Pete from Chemical Tanker Lifestyle Vs Reefer Lifestyle

If you happen to drive for one of the major carriers, like Schneider National, you might be lucky enough to do a drop and hook at the tank washes:

With Schneider at least, there is no wait when dropping your dirty trailer off at a tank wash. You'll drop your dirty tanker off at the tank wash, and then move on to your next assignment. I have, once or twice, gone to pick up a clean trailer, which the tank wash personnel just hadn't cleaned yet, but in those cases I contacted the good folks at Schneider, and got a new trailer assigned. The tank washes also offer one more option where you can shut down for the night, and take a shower if necessary. Several of the nicer tank washes even provide towels for the shower. There's two that I know of that will even feed you. They don't know it yet, but I'm buying them pizzas for Christmas.

- Pete from Chemical Tanker Lifestyle Vs Reefer Lifestyle

Is there a lot of manual labor involved with hauling hazardous materials?

There is going to be some manual labor involved when pulling any type of tanker. You're often going to have to use hoses to unload the product from the tank, and sometimes that will involve operating the pump which is attached to the back of your trailer.

You will also have to climb up onto the tank in order to open the hatch for loading the tank. You will also be opening the hatch to vent the tank, which is to allow air to enter as the product is leaving so that the tank doesn't get crushed like a tin can.

Tanker Imploding From A Closed Vent

The amount of physical labor may not be quite on par with that of flatbed, but it isn't negligible either:

There is a fair amount of physical labor involved; if you're not keen on tarping, you might not be keen on offloading chemicals. The hoses are not light, and you will be climbing up and down the ladder to the top of your tanker several times. In the summertime, you'll find yourself dripping with perspiration, and you won't be even halfway done yet. There are times when the customer will unload your trailer, but there are also times when you're doing the unload yourself. I never know until I get there how it's going to go. But if you're 60 and not in great shape, maybe you should rethink this.

- Pete from Chemical Tanker Lifestyle Vs Reefer Lifestyle

What is the lifestyle like for a chemical tanker driver?

There's a lot more stress when you're hauling dangerous chemicals, but the stress is doubled by the fact that you're hauling liquids in a tanker. They each have their own set of serious challanges, so putting them together means you have one of the most stressful jobs in all of trucking.

You're also spending a lot of time in chemical plants which can be very dingy, dirty places:

Chemical plants - "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore"... some were clean, but many were dirty, dusty, and a maze to get through with very tight turns. you will get dirty.

Bubbarolls from My Short Lived Experience With Hazmat Tanker

Which CDL endorsements apply to hauling a chemical tanker?

In order to pull a chemical tanker you're going to need the tanker endorsement and the Hazmat endorsement. You can study for these here on TruckingTruth using the following CDL Training Materials:

In Conclusion

As you can see, pulling a chemical tanker is a very complex and stressful job. You're under a lot of scrutiny, you have a lot of rules and regulations to follow, and you always have plenty of stress to deal with when it comes to hauling chemicals and pulling a tanker.

I would never recommend this type of job to a rookie driver even if it was offered. I think it's entirely too stressful and dangerous for someone without much in the way of driving experience.

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.

Consignee:

The customer the freight is being delivered to. Also referred to as "the receiver". The shipper is the customer that is shipping the goods, the consignee is the customer receiving the goods.

Logbook:

A written or electronic record of a driver's duty status which must be maintained at all times. The driver records the amount of time spent driving, on-duty not driving, in the sleeper berth, or off duty. The enforcement of the Hours Of Service Rules (HOS) are based upon the entries put in a driver's logbook.

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

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.

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.

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

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.

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

TWIC:

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

Truck drivers who regularly pick up from or deliver to the shipping ports will often be required to carry a TWIC card.

Your TWIC is a tamper-resistant biometric card which acts as both your identification in secure areas, as well as an indicator of you having passed the necessary security clearance. TWIC cards are valid for five years. The issuance of TWIC cards is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

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.

by Brett Aquila

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