Hot shot trucking is a type of shipping that involves hauling small loads that are less than a truckload, sometimes called LTL, within a specific timeframe.
Unlike most LTL carriers that wait to fill trailers with multiple loads, hot shot loads are only for a single customer or location. Hot shot loads are also usually delivered using medium-duty trucks that pull flatbed trailers.
The term "hot shot" is derived from the idea of urgency or haste associated with this shipping method. As the name suggests, hot shots are designed to be fast and efficient, making them a popular choice for shippers who need their items delivered quickly.
This phrase can also refer to the small, time-sensitive loads that have restrictive deadlines. Outside of the trucking industry, "hot shots" refers to someone who is highly successful and aggressive, much like this trucking strategy.
Hot shot trucking and expedited trucking are both types of shipping that involve hauling time-sensitive loads. However, there are some key differences between the two.
Expedited trucking is a type of shipping that is designed for larger loads that need to be delivered quickly. As such, expedited trucking usually relies on semi-trucks to transport goods. In contrast, hot shot trucking uses box trucks or pickups with trailers to haul smaller loads. This makes hot shot trucking a better choice for shipments that don't require a lot of space or that need to be delivered quickly.
Another difference between hot shot trucking and expedited trucking is the time it takes to transport the goods. Hot shot shipping is typically faster than expedited shipping.
Hot shot loads need to be delivered promptly and usually can't be combined with other loads because the time frame is too tight.
This means that hot shot loads are usually small enough to fit in a box truck or trailer hauled by a pickup truck. Semi-trucks are not used for hot shot loads.
This type of small cargo load is a good opportunity for beginners in the trucking industry because they don't need to invest in a big rig. The smaller cargo load requirements allow for a lower cost of equipment and investment.
Hot shot truckers have a few different options for finding loads. While direct relationships with shippers are usually the most lucrative, most companies stay busy with other methods. Options include:
The trucks used for hot shot trucking are typically medium-duty trucks that pull flatbed trailers, though straight trucks are also occasionally used. These trucks are designed to be fast and efficient, making them a popular choice for shippers who need their items delivered quickly. These vehicles are typically class 3, class 4, or class 5 trucks as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Defined as vehicles weighing 10,001 to 14,000lbs, common examples include the GMC Sierra 3500, Ram 3500, and Ford F-350.
Defined as vehicles weighing 14,001 to 16,000lbs, common examples include the Ram 4500, the Chevy Silverado 4500HD, and the Ford F-450.
Defined as vehicles weighing 16,001 to 19,500lbs, common examples include the Ram 5500, the Ford F-550, the Chevy Silverado 5500HD, and the Peterbilt 325.
There are many different types of trailers that can be used for hot shot trucking. While trailers can be open or enclosed, some common style configurations are listed below.
As of August 2022, hot shot loads were paying around $2 to $2.50 per mile.
While hot shot trucking usually has a lower rate-per-mile than a semi-truck, the expenses are also much less, which can result in higher take home pay.
Some in the industry advise that truckers can assume hot shot rates to be approximately 70-80% of the national flatbed rates.
While some will find hot shot trucking to be very lucrative, others will struggle to cover their expenses. Most drivers operate as owner operators or drive under their own authority, which means they are running their own business and will be responsible for fuel, truck maintenance, and other expenses. Owner operators will save on insurance compared to driving under their own authority but they also pay a percentage of the load to the carrier.
To start a hot shot trucking business, potential owners should budget $15,000 to $30,000. The exact figure can vary widely depending on the equipment purchased and whether it is financed or not. The next biggest expenses will be insurance and fuel.
According to Zip Recruiter, the national average for a salaried driver is around $60k. California, New York, and Idaho are among the top paying states while Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina are among the lowest.
For drivers that can afford their own equipment and are willing to take on more responsibility, owner operators leased onto a carrier can make much more than a company driver. Because of this, most hot shot drivers are owner operators.
Unlike driving a semi-truck, not all hot shot trucks will require a commercial driver's license (CDL). However, non-CDL hot shot drivers will be limited to driving vehicles that have a gross combined weight rating of less than 26,001 pounds and will not be able to haul a trailer that has a gross vehicle weight rating above 10,000 pounds.
It is generally recommended that drivers get their CDL so they can earn more money by driving larger vehicles that can haul heavier loads.
Hot shot trucking requirements will vary depending on whether they operate under their own authority or lease onto a motor carrier. Some common requirements include:
Hot shot trucking companies will need a variety of different insurance coverage options. Most commercial truck insurance policies will include:
Other business insurance policies hot shot trucking companies may need to include:
Hot shot trucking can be worth it for drivers that can find a steady stream of jobs and are willing to take on the responsibility of being their own boss. However, like most occupations and businesses, there is no definitive answer as it depends on the individual’s goals and preferences. That said, there are clear pros and cons to hot shot trucking.
Hot shot drivers can sleep in their trucks but they must record their time as “off duty” and not “sleeper berth” time in their ELD. According to DOT regulations, the unmodified cab of a light or medium duty truck, up to class 6, generally does not meet the requirements of a sleeper berth because they must be at least 75 inches in length if the vehicle is manufactured after September 30, 1975.
While hot shot drivers can technically team drive, since most pickup trucks do not have a sleeper berth as defined by the DOT, both drivers will need to take the same 10-hour off-duty break every 24-hour period. This largely defeats the purpose of team driving but it is still technically legal.
According to the FMCSA, hot shot drivers may use their trucks for personal use, even if the commercial motor vehicle is laden since they are not driving the vehicle for commercial purposes. For examples and further clarification, drivers should reference the FMCSA website.