How much do owner-operators make?

Being an owner-operator can be a great but unpredictable and high-risk career in trucking. Many owner-operators work as independent contractors, operating under their own authority and running their own trucking business.

While the average owner-operator’s salary looks better than a company driver, you have to consider all the expenses that come with being an owner-operator. That can eat into your take-home pay big time. And owner-operators have inconsistent loads and the headaches of running their own business.

After expenses, the average salary is $40,000 to $60,000 per year but that can vary depending on the number of loads you secure and the pay per load. For an experienced and successful company driver that would be a pay cut.

What’s included in owner-operator pay?

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As an owner-operator, your pay will be different than a company driver. While you may have the opportunity to earn more gross income you have to consider all the expenses when calculating your total compensation.

These expenses can include fuel, insurance, truck maintenance, and other business expenses. These can eat into your average pay big time so you have to consider the financial realities of being an owner-operator. And the amount you can earn can be impacted by many factors like the availability of loads and demand for goods in your area.

Below we will go into what’s included in owner-operator pay. Keep in mind percentage and mileage pay is how an owner-operator is paid when they contract with another trucking company. If they are running their own operation they will get all the money from the load.

Percentage of Load Pay

Percentage of load pay is a common way to pay owner-operators. In this arrangement the owner-operator truck driver takes a percentage of the load pay for themselves and the rest goes to the carrier or trucking company. The percentage of load pay an owner-operator gets can vary by company and business arrangement.

The amount an owner-operator gets paid for a load can vary greatly, some jobs pay a lot more than others. So a high-paying load can be a lot of money for an owner-operator and a low-paying load may not even cover all their expenses and could be a loss for their operation.

It may seem like you should only take high-paying loads as an owner-operator but that’s not always an option. Availability of jobs, your experience in the industry, and demand for goods in your area can impact the loads that are available to you. Fuel costs and other expenses have to be considered when deciding if a load will be profitable for your operation.

Mileage Pay

Mileage pay is another way to pay owner-operators. Under this arrangement, the owner-operator is paid a certain amount of money per mile regardless of the value of the load they are hauling. This type of pay is used by carriers or trucking companies to pay their drivers for their services.

While mileage pay can be more consistent than the percentage of load pay as it’s not dependent on the value of the load, it may not always be more money for the owner-operator. This is because the mileage pay an owner-operator gets is often based on industry standards and doesn’t take into account the specific characteristics of the load or the location of the load.

What’s Not Included in Owner Operator Pay

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As an owner-operator, you don’t get the same benefits as company drivers. This is because you pay yourself and take care of your own needs instead of being an employee of a trucking company. So many things are not included in an owner-operator’s pay that are included in a company driver’s pay.

One of the first steps to becoming an owner-operator is to lease a truck which can be a big expense. In addition to the cost of the truck, owner-operators also have to pay for their insurance, truck maintenance, and other business expenses.

These costs can significantly impact the profitability of their operation and may lower the average owner-operator salary compared to that of a company driver like ShipEX drivers.

Company drivers also get many perks that are not included in an owner-operator’s pay. These can be bonuses, home time, benefits and stop pay which can add up to a much lower pay for an owner-operator. Some owner-operators may be able to negotiate these perks with their carrier or trucking company but they are not always available and may not be included in many owner operator’s pay.

To determine the profitability of their operation and what they can expect to get paid as an owner-operator aspiring owner-operators need to carefully estimate their expenses and face the reality of running their own business.


Extra payments are given to company drivers for meeting performance goals or completing a certain number of miles. At ShipEX, our drivers have the opportunity to earn compliance and performance bonuses every month. They are not typically included in the pay of owner-operators.

Home Time

Company drivers get paid time off or additional pay for being away from home for extended periods. Not included in owner-operator pay. Owner-operators are responsible for managing their schedule and time off. Most owner-operator drivers can’t afford home time as they are paid by the mile.


Company drivers get a range of benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacation time. Without a company to back the expenses of a trucking business the owner-operator pay doesn’t usually include these benefits. These have to be paid out of pocket which lowers the average owner-operator salary.

Stop Pay

Some company drivers get additional pay for making multiple stops or deliveries on a single trip. This helps the drivers earn the money they would have made running miles during that time. For owner-operators, they have to eat that cost as they are paying themselves.

Base Pay

Company drivers may get base pay in addition to their other pay and benefits but this is not included in owner-operator pay. Owner-operators are usually paid on the loads they haul or miles they drive.

Owner Operator Expenses

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While the base salary for an owner-operator may look higher than a company driver the expenses have to be factored in when determining an owner-operator’s profit. These expenses can eat into an owner-operator’s take-home pay and may not allow them to make a living in the trucking industry.

Below we will list some of the expenses you should be aware of if you are considering a career as an owner-operator truck driver.

Truck Payments

If you are leasing or financing your truck you will have to make regular payments on it. These can be very expensive depending on the truck you are driving. You have to include this in your plan.

Truck Maintenance

You are responsible for maintaining your truck and keeping it in good working order. This can include regular servicing, repairs, and other maintenance costs. These costs can be brutal to salaries as you won’t have a company to cover the cost and you won’t be making money while you are under maintenance.

Fuel and Tolls

You will have to pay for the fuel and toll to move the freight and complete the delivery. Depending on the location you are driving these can be cheap or very expensive. You have to be aware of this cost and decide if the freight is worth hauling after expenses.

Licensing, Permits, and Applications

You will have to pay for any licenses, permits, and applications required to operate your trucking business. Depending on your tax bracket this can be over 30% of your net income.


You will have to pay for insurance to cover your truck and your business. This can include liability insurance, cargo insurance, and other types of coverage. On top of that, any insurance for yourself will come out of your salary as you won’t have a company paying that for you.

There may be other expenses owner-operators face as well depending on their situation and the type of freight they haul. To determine the profitability of their operation and if they are being paid fairly owner-operators need to factor in all of these expenses and consult with their carrier or trucking company to figure out what to do.


Many different factors influence how much an owner-operator truck driver can earn, and these are influenced even more by the types of jobs they take. Understanding what type of trucking job is best for you is essential. Our resources on local trucking jobs, long haul trucking jobs, and owner-operator trucking jobs can help you make the best choice for you.