In trucking, “hotshot” refers to either the truck or the freight — often both.

As the truck, a hotshot is usually a medium-duty midsize Class 3, 4, or 5 truck (three-quarter to one-and-a-half-ton cab-and-chassis rigs or pickups) from one of the big three U.S. auto manufacturers (GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler). The truck will often be outfitted for weight-distributing gooseneck or fifth-wheel-type connections to a variety of trailers to run for-hire freight.

As the freight, a hotshot is usually a time-sensitive load hauled for a single customer and needed in an expedited fashion. An example of this is power company equipment to keep the electrical grid running — it’s needed as soon as possible to avoid a shutdown. The advantage to all hotshot customers is avoiding service downtime while minimizing costs.

Origin of the Word “Hotshot”

The term “hotshot” originated in the Texas oilfields. In the 70s, pickups delivered quickly-needed parts to off-road drilling and pumping operations. The drivers would wait outside oil part manufacturers for a part to be completed. Then they would zoom down the freeway and head for the oil well. Those were great times for truckers because they had loads consistently, and a lot of money exchanged hands at this time.

Why Consider Hot Shot Trucking?

If you truly want to be your own boss, hotshot trucking will give you that freedom. Agencies will work with hotshot loads to boost their revenue and retain their steady client base. As for owner-operators, while hotshot trucking takes a chunk out of the commission, they also supply you with fresh leads you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to handle on your own.

The Pros and Cons of Hot Shot Trucking

Pros:

  • Hot shot trucking is fun. You get to haul loads that others don’t want to haul.
  • Initial startup costs are much lower for a hotshot business.
  • It allows you to have more time at home since loads are often local or regional.
  • It’s generally cheaper and easier to operate a hot shot trucking company. One reason is that you won’t burn through fuel at the same rate that a larger truck will.
  • Licensing is usually easier. You just need a commercial license — not necessarily a CDL, which are for vehicles over 10,000 pounds or even 26,000 pounds.
  • Since many loads are being expedited, waiting is minimized.
  • The pay is just as good if not better than most Class 8 income.
  • You can save money since getting a CDL is expensive and could cost over $5,000. You can bypass a CDL for some carriers who are just starting out.

Cons:

  • Demand is erratic; it can be high one day, and low the next.
  • It’s not as lucrative. Hotshots don’t pay as high as other flatbed or step deck loads might.
  • Starting a hotshot can be confusing. Ask the DoT if you need a CDL A / B license or not.
  • There is pressure to grow a steady client base.
  • You will have to worry about your own maintenance and costs.

Hot Shot Driver Requirements

1. Truck

The truck that you choose is very important. You’ll need to have a one-ton truck or dually. Many drivers opt for a Ford F-450 or F-550 Super Duty. These are affordable yet powerful trucks. Expect to spend $33,000 or more for a new truck. The midsize truck you select must be capable of hauling over 10,000 pounds very easily. So sometimes it’s better to get the larger size truck to avoid any potential issues when hauling loads.

2. Permits and Licenses

The requirements for hotshot drivers are different from Class 8 drivers. You don’t need a CDL (commercial drivers license) if your truckloads are under 10,000 pounds. But all are required to file an MC number and have operating authority granted by the FMCSA.

3. Legal Requirements

You need to understand the local laws to make sure you account for taxes, maintain your vehicles, and obtain the proper insurance. You also need to be registered commercially to remain within federal regulations. This is necessary for those times when the weight of your truck and haul may be more than allowed within state law.

Discuss your business with the Department of Transportation. Be responsible for your own logs and stop at weigh stations. Get all legal issues resolved before you haul any loads. If you go right ahead, you’ll be running the risk of being fined should you not have the proper licenses.

Hot Shot Trucking Operating Costs

Hotshot carriers usually have lower operating costs than Class 8 heavy duty carriers. First, the equipment is cheaper. A new flatbed gooseneck trailer can cost around $5,000, while a new step deck trailer can cost over $45,000. The second reason is fuel economy. The Ford F-250 can do about 15 mpg compared to about 5 mpg for a Class 8 truck. According to the Energy Information Association, the smaller truck can run on gasoline, which is $0.35 cheaper per gallon than diesel.

Since fuel is about a fifth of the total operating cost, the savings per mile can be tremendous for hotshot carriers, thus limiting the need for higher rates, compared to a heavy haul carrier running a step deck trailer.

How Much Do Hot Shot Loads Pay?

Rates vary from one haul to the next and from one driver to the next.

Typically, hotshot loads pay less than usual truckloads. Your operating costs for running hotshot loads are much less than other loads that require another open-deck trailer specialized flatbed.

Set an average rate and work from there. There are rates like $2 per mile, but there aren’t too many jobs at this rate. Many times, hotshot loads will pay less than $1.50 per mile and even less if the freight is considered a partial load. On the other hand, many will try to negotiate for a rate of $1 to $1.25. Therefore, a recommended starting point would be $1.50 a mile. Whether you ultimately agree to accept or not would depend on your situation, including the haul that needs to be hauled.

Find 2-3 good loads, and then loads that will cover deadheads. Talk to clients about their freight and shipping needs. If they need a driver, persuade them to hire you directly. You can make more money by cutting out the middle man. When you set your rates, make sure you account for truck maintenance ($400+ per month) and commercial liability and cargo insurance (around $4,500 annually).

Hot Shot Load Boards

Keep in constant contact with load providers. There are many load boards you can choose from. But check how and when your payment will be provided. Some pay immediately, while for some, it may take anywhere from 30-60 days. Here are some boards you may want to check out:

While there are a lot of load boards out there, you can always choose an alternative — the best fit for what you want to haul and the equipment you already have. Make sure you pick a rate that fits your average cost per mile and will still leave you with some profit at the end.