What is Hot Shot Trucking? Everything you need to know

Published 8/26/2022

What is hot shot trucking?

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.

Why is it called hot shot trucking?

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 vs Expedited Trucking

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.

About the author
Scott Elgin has been in the trucking business since 1982, acting as both a motor carrier and a freight agent at Elgin Trucking Co. During this time, he has overseen thousands of units servicing the entire continental United States.

Hot Shot Loads

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.

Common Hot Shot Cargo

  • Agriculture equipment
  • Auto parts
  • Construction equipment or materials
  • Electrical components
  • Machinery
  • Medical supplies

How do hot shot truckers get loads?

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:

  • Direct Relationships with Shippers – While direct relationships can be hard for newcomers to the industry, carriers can develop relationships with shippers as they find work on load boards. Another option is to network and cold call local shippers to ask about their needs and try to sell them services.
  • Freight Brokers – Freight brokers are middlemen that connect shippers to truckers. They make money by paying truckers less than the shippers pay them. There are over 200,000 licensed freight brokers in North America.
  • Dispatch Services – Hiring a dispatcher can help with some of the time-consuming tasks for a trucking business, allowing drivers to focus on driving. Dispatchers can work on a contract basis with motor carriers or directly in-house. Dispatchers working on a contract basis will usually have their own industry connections that can help keep rates competitive. In-house dispatchers can also help with other administrative work, like bookkeeping.
  • Load Boards – Also known as freight boards, these are online marketplaces where shippers, freight brokers, and truckers can post and search for loads. Load boards are searchable, and users can search by load matching, FMCSA verification, or credit information. Some load boards are subscription-based and some are free. Load boards will typically have lower profit margins because there can be high competition from drivers, which drives down rates.
  • Government Contracts – Trucking companies can also register as a government contractor. The government outsources its transportation needs and government agencies are located in every city and state. To work for the government, trucking companies have to register and usually go through additional training.
A black pickup truck hauling a trailer
A pickup truck hauling a trailer

Equipment Needed for Hot Shot Trucking

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.

Class 3 Trucks

Defined as vehicles weighing 10,001 to 14,000lbs, common examples include the GMC Sierra 3500, Ram 3500, and Ford F-350.

Class 4 Trucks

Defined as vehicles weighing 14,001 to 16,000lbs, common examples include the Ram 4500, the Chevy Silverado 4500HD, and the Ford F-450.

Class 5 Trucks

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.

Hot Shot Trailer Configurations

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.

Hitch Styles

  • Gooseneck – Gooseneck trailers are a type of trailer that has a bend in the neck and are popular because they are stable and have a tight turning radius. On average, they are 40 feet long but come in longer varieties when they need to haul more cargo or expand beyond hot shotting. Most gooseneck trailers are considered commercial trailers because they exceed 10,000 pounds and require a set-up with a GCWR above 26,000 pounds. These trailers are not compatible with standard pickup truck beds as they will need a specialized mount.
  • Bumper Pull – A bumper pull trailer is the familiar hitch setup that is commonly used on personal trailers. Unlike a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer, bumper pull trailers don't require a modified pickup truck bed to hitch to the vehicle. They are usually the cheapest option and can be towed with a lighter vehicle. The downside to bumper pull trailers is that they will have a lower towing capacity.
  • Fifth Wheel –Similar to gooseneck trailers, fifth-wheel trailers also attach to the bed of the pickup truck. Fifth wheel trailer hitches are bulkier than goosenecks and can have a lower towing capacity but they are typically smoother and more stable. Compared to a bumper pull trailer, fifth wheels will have a higher towing capacity. 

Deck Styles

  • Flat Deck – Flat deck trailers have the deck between the trailer wheels and is the most popular type of trailer. The trailer is not high above the ground which gives it a low center of gravity and makes it easy for you to load and unload.
  • Deckover – Deckover trailers are a type of trailer that is used for hauling heavy loads. They have a deck that extends over the wheels of the trailer, which allows for easy loading and unloading. Deckover trailers are a popular choice for hauling large items, such as construction equipment or automobiles.

Loading Options

  • Dovetail – Earning their name for their v-shaped, dovetail rear ramp, dovetail trailers are best used when your cargo is self-propelled like cars, tractors, or small-box freight. The graduated loading ramp makes it easy to load low-riding and longer vehicles but is less adaptable to other larger freight.
  • Tilt Deck – Tilt deck trailers are a type of trailer that allows the user to load and unload cargo by tilting the deck of the trailer. This type of trailer is often used for hauling heavy equipment or machinery. 

  • Lowboy – Lowboy trailers are typically used when hauling heavy or oversized loads. They have a low center of gravity, which makes them ideal for transporting large objects. These trailers are typically used in the construction and engineering industries.

How does hot shot trucking pay?

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.

Can you make money hot shot trucking?

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.

Hot Shot Startup Costs

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.

  • $5k down payment on a truck
  • $10-15k for a trailer
  • $3k insurance down payment
  • $1k LLC investment
  • Other various legal fees, registration fees, licensing fees, drug testing, etc

Hot Shot Trucking Salary

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.

Hot Shot Requirements

CDL vs Non-CDL

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.

Government Registrations

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:

Insurance Coverage

Hot shot trucking companies will need a variety of different insurance coverage options. Most commercial truck insurance policies will include:

  • Primary Liability – All motor carriers are required by law to carry this insurance for all vehicles driving under their authority. Owner operators leased onto a motor carrier will not need to provide this coverage themselves.
  • Motor Truck Cargo Insurance – While not required by law for most motor carriers, freight brokers and shippers will contractually require cargo insurance. Like primary liability insurance, owner operators will have this insurance provided to them by their motor carrier.
  • Bobtail Liability or Non-trucking Liability Motor carriers will require owner operators driving under their authority to carry either bobtail liability insurance or non-trucking liability insurance to reduce claims on their primary liability insurance policy.
  • Physical Damage – While not required by law, vehicle owners will want physical damage coverage that protects their vehicle and trailer.
  • Medical – Covers medical expenses for the driver and any passengers in their vehicle.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Driver – If another driver involved in an accident does not have enough insurance to cover the cost of the accident, this insurance will cover the cost of the accident.

Other business insurance policies hot shot trucking companies may need to include:

  • General Liability
  • Occupational Accident Insurance
  • Workers Compensation Insurance
  • Umbrella or Excess Liability Insurance
  • Trucking Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Equipment & Services

Other products and services that hot shot drivers will need include ELDs, GPS navigation systems, fuel cards, cargo straps, tarps, chains, and safety equipment. 

On the business side, many companies will require trucking software, freight factoring, and accounting services.

Pros & Cons of Hot Shot Trucking – Is being a hot shot driver worth it?

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.


Pros
  • Initial start-up costs are much lower than other types of trucking
  • Most hot shot drivers are their own boss, managing their own time with higher earning potential
  • Loads are often local or regional, leaving more time at home
  • Hauling time-sensitive loads often means waiting less time loading & unloading
Cons
  • Managing a business comes with more responsibility, stress, and no guaranteed income
  • Local, state, and federal regulations and taxes to manage
  • Demand will vary from day to day, especially when starting up
  • Must nurture client base
  • Upfront and continuous expenses on fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc

Hot Shot FAQs

Can hot shot drivers sleep in their trucks?

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.


Can hot shot drivers team drive?

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.

Can you use your hot shot truck for personal use?

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.

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