Last Updated on August 8, 2023
Working as a truck driver can be a liberating experience. But just like any other job, one of the biggest questions to consider is: how are truck drivers paid? As it turns out, there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits all answer to the question of how do truck drivers get paid.
In this article, we’ll break down pay options for truckers so that you can understand what these different payment options mean for your finances.
13 Ways Truck Drivers Get Paid
Yes, there really are this many ways qualified truck drivers can get paid. One thing to be aware of is that many trucking companies offer what is known as component pay. What is component pay? It’s a payment system that compensates drivers using several of the payment methods listed below, including mileage, stops, individual pieces on the truck, and so on.
Pay Per Mile
Pay per mile is perhaps the most well-known and straightforward method of payment for truck drivers. Rates are usually listed as CPM (or cents per mile). The truck’s odometer is read at the start and end of the trip, and the driver is paid based on the total mileage. In 2020, truck drivers earned an average of 57 cents per mile.
Pay per mile is especially common for long-haul truckers. The one drawback of pay per mile is that anytime you aren’t driving (such as if you’re stuck in traffic or unloading goods at a stop), you won’t earn anything — unless your company offers component pay.
Hourly pay is usually offered by employers with short, in-state driving needs. This could include grocery chains, freight delivery services, and retailers that need goods transported from a warehouse for local delivery. The average CDL truck driver pay per hour in the United States is $34.77 (as of June 2023), though this can vary quite a bit based on your geographic area and employer. Overtime hours can also increase your total salary.
Truck drivers on hourly pay usually do more than drive. They may also interact with customers during deliveries and be responsible for helping load and unload their vehicles. They usually have several stops in a single daily run.
Though less common, some trucking companies pay their drivers on salary. This means that you’ll have consistent, predictable pay, even if your total hours and mileage vary from week to week.
While consistent pay can make it easier to budget and manage personal finances, a salaried position could limit your earning potential in comparison to other payment options.
Load sharing is a system in which truck drivers get paid by the load. Pay per load trucking is often used in industries such as agriculture or oil, where drivers are paid a flat rate for each load delivery. The more loads they deliver, the more they get paid.
Truck driver pay per load is also used by some owner-operators when hauling valuable goods shorter distances. Negotiating the rate based on a percentage of the value or revenue of the cargo can help increase their profitability. Company driver percentage pay for load sharing is less common.
Related: Truck Industry Statistics
Team Driver Pay
Team driver pay is offered when a truck utilizes two drivers who switch off during the haul. Unsurprisingly, this is more common with long-haul trips, as it allows the drivers to cover more miles at a faster rate.
Many companies offer higher pay rates than they would to a solo driver to incentivize the faster delivery timeline; however, the higher rate would be split between the two drivers. That being said, the faster completion of work can make this a profitable setup for drivers who enjoy working in teams.
Sliding Scale Pay
Sliding scale pay is designed to incentivize short-haul trips for truck drivers. Essentially, companies that offer sliding scale pay will pay drivers at a higher rate for short trips than for long trips.
For example, a company that typically pays 60 cents per mile for long-haul trips might pay 80 cents per mile for trips that are shorter than 500 miles.
To attract drivers, some trucking companies offer guaranteed weekly pay. This is a guaranteed amount of pay that you’ll get each week, regardless of how many hours or miles you drive. However, this is typically lower than a true salary because drivers can earn more than this depending on their mileage or hours in a particular week. Guaranteed pay offers some consistency and peace of mind that you’ll always at least get some money, even during slow periods.
Per Diem Pay
Per diem pay for truck drivers is offered to cover incidental expenses that are incurred on long-haul trips, such as meals or overnight stays while on the road. Per diem pay for truck drivers is usually offered as a flat rate or in a similar form of compensation to their base pay. For example, if you are typically paid per mile, the per diem may also be offered at a per mile rate.
Notably, per diem wages are considered a reimbursement for work expenses. As a result, they are not taxable income for company drivers.
Loading or unloading your truck at a facility can be quite time-consuming. If you’re paid per mile, this could result in significant losses from time not spent on the road. To balance this, many companies offer detention pay based on the extra time that you have to wait at a facility. This could be paid as either a flat fee or an hourly rate as a part of your total component pay.
Accessorial pay is sometimes offered as part of component pay for truck drivers who are paid per mile. This pay is designed to cover any additional tasks that a truck driver completes besides driving. This could include loading or unloading trailers, making non-dock or after-hours deliveries, or tarping flatbed loads. Accessorial pay usually isn’t offered to drivers with hourly wages.
Stop pay is another common part of component pay for drivers who are paid per mile. Stop pay compensates drivers based on the number of delivery stops made along their route. This helps make up for the fact that you can’t earn per mile pay when you’re stopped at a delivery location. Stop pay is usually offered instead of detention pay when drivers will be making multiple shorter stops, rather than a single lengthy stop at a larger facility.
Many trucking companies offer a variety of bonuses to attract and retain drivers. This could include a sign-on bonus when you join a company, as well as quarterly or annual bonuses based on performance.
Special Incentive Pay
Not all loads are created equal. Special incentive pay provides higher rates or bonus payments for drivers who are transporting difficult or dangerous loads. This could include transporting refrigerated products, hazardous materials, or tarp loads, as well as driving a dangerous route. Part of the reason why these loads have higher rates is because drivers often need special endorsements for these deliveries.
Related: What is a TWIC Card?
When Do Truck Drivers Get Paid?
The exact timing for when truck drivers get paid will vary based on who they are working for or leasing to. That being said, most truck drivers are either paid weekly or every two weeks. Other drivers are paid upon completion of a load delivery. This is something you’ll need to discuss with your potential employer or contract provider.
Owner-Operator vs. Company Driver Pay
How you’re paid can vary significantly depending on whether you are an owner-operator or company driver. Here are a few things to consider when trying to determine which route to take in your trucking career.
Owner-Operator Truck Driver Pay
Working as an owner-operator is similar to running your own trucking company — even if you’d have a “boss” to help you find loads to haul. Conversely, truckers with their own authority are completely independent and are fully responsible for setting their own schedules and reaching out to carriers.
Regardless of the specifics of your operation, you will essentially contract out your services to other companies. You are your own boss, but this means you also need to pay for your own truck, gas, insurance, and other expenses. You don’t get benefits from the companies you contract with. However, owner-operators usually have greater leverage to negotiate how they are paid and get more of the profits from each run.
While this can be very profitable, you need to carefully manage cash flow so that your schedule can cover your expenses and help you turn a profit.
Company Truck Driver Pay
As a company truck driver, you only need to focus on driving the truck provided to you by your employer. Your potential profits may not be as high as they would be as an owner-operator, but you can enjoy consistent work and consistent pay, as well as benefits like health insurance and reimbursements for expenses. Obtaining additional endorsements and certifications can also increase your pay rate with your employer.
Naturally, you’ll still need to manage your own personal budget, but you won’t have to worry about the additional business cash flow and tax complications that come with working as an owner-operator.
What is a sign-on bonus in trucking?
Many company truck drivers are offered sign-on bonuses that are paid out in weekly increments after they join a trucking company. Sign-on bonuses can come out to several thousand dollars on top of your regular pay! These payments are designed to attract drivers to work for a particular company.
Do truckers get paid by the mile?
Most truck drivers are paid per mile. However, component pay systems may also provide some compensation for individual stops, as well as breakdown pay when you aren’t driving. Other companies provide hourly pay.
Do truck drivers get benefits?
Company truck drivers usually qualify for benefits including health insurance, disability, 401(k)s, and more. The exact benefits package will vary from company to company. Owner-operators work as independent contractors, so they don’t get any benefits from the companies they work with.
Jim is the General Manager of altLINE by The Southern Bank. altLINE partners with lenders nationwide to provide invoice factoring and accounts receivable financing to their small and medium-sized business customers. altLINE is a direct bank lender and a division of The Southern Bank Company, a community bank originally founded in 1936.