Hotshot Trucking Truths…

There are a few specific characteristics that define hotshot trucking, a very specialized part of the transportation world.  And some companies seen as hotshots simply aren’t.  I’ll do my best to set the record straight.

For those uninitiated in the mysteries of the hotshot, here’s a basic history of hotshot trucking.

Hotshot trucking started in the early days of oil exploration in Texas according to most accounts.  A hotshot was a driver of (usually just a normal) pickup truck who ran to town for parts for the rig and equipment on the drilling site.  The driver was on-call (usually waiting at the site) and simply ran into town and back as fast as they could to fetch whatever it was that the rig crew needed to keep the rig drilling.

These days we are still on-call, but usually at home with our cell phones waiting for the call.  We run bigger trucks, everything from 3/4 ton pickups to semi’s, and we haul everything from one piece that fits on the truck seat beside us up to a full 40′ trailer load weighing thousands of pounds.  Most hotshotting these days is still done in connection to the oil field and supporting industries,  to move rush ordered parts and equipment to drilling sites, or between different manufacturing and finishing sites.

We also run farther than the original hotshots did.  While they may have run to the nearest big town in Texas for parts, we haul on a regular basis to just about anywhere oil or gas is being produced.  A trip from Texas or Oklahoma to Pennsylvania or West Virginia or North Dakota is as common as short runs in localized in areas where the oil/gas industry is booming.

The reason for this is that a lot of the supporting industries for oil and gas exploration are located in Oklahoma and Texas, (and a lot of other places as well) and the parts have to get to the exploration sites that can be, and are, just about everywhere else.

The main feature of  hotshotting is that whatever part or equipment is being moved has to be picked up usually within 1 hour of the call out and delivered within a very tight delivery time window, usually meaning “get it there yesterday.” If it’s a hotshot load, it’s usually an emergency.

Unless there’s something at the delivery site that has to come back for repairs, the hotshot is not going to sit for half a day looking for a return load.  The rate of pay for a hotshot is set to compensate for an empty return so the hotshot will be back and ready to take the next load out without delay.  The pay rate is considerably higher than “normal freight.”

The companies that use hotshots are willing to pay the higher rates based on the fact that it costs thousands of dollars per hour to have a rig sitting idle waiting for a normal delivery, so they pay a premium for “get it there now” delivery to the site in order to keep the rig working.

It’s a win-win situation all the way around.  The oil and gas exploration companies minimize expensive down-time and hotshots make very good money for babysitting the cell phone and being ready to run at the drop of a hat.  As long as the hotshot is always on time and the cargo arrives in perfect condition, everyone is happy.

Most hotshotters either run under their own operating authority or lease to an existing hot shot company.  They have to play by “big truck rules” meaning that hotshots also fork over fees for permits, apportioned plates, commercial insurance, pay IFTA taxes, and run a log book, among other things.

Between the needed equipment and the necessary paperwork, taxes, permits, and fuel, hotshotting can be expensive to get into.  But the payoff is extremely good, even though it’s a hard area of trucking to break in to.  It takes work, persistence, and money to ride out the amount of time it takes to make contacts in the business and to build a good reputation to get to the best paying loads.

While there are still “outlaw” hotshots out there, most of us run things above-board and play by the rules.  We have to if we expect to maintain a good reputation with our customers.  Some outlaws may get away with flaunting the rules for a while, but when they get caught it’s just about the end of the line.

If caught violating the rules, the hotshot can and will be put “out of service” by the DOT, which is just a fancy name for being forced to park their truck and sit in a motel for 10 hours (for log book violations) or until repairs are made (equipment and securement violations.)  There’s nothing that will ruin a hotshotter’s reputation faster than getting put out of service for violations with the customer’s cargo on the truck and missing a delivery time!

There’s also a huge difference in hotshot trucking and the quasi-so-called-hotshot stuff you might see on television.  Hotshotters do not haul livestock, cars, boats, or household goods, and do not get their freight off of auction style freight listing sites.  These are all loads that a hotshotter will avoid like the plague.  The fact is that a person who wants a car, a dog, or a boat moved from point a to point b is not willing or able to pay hotshot rates to make that happen.

That’s not to say a lot of us didn’t use regular freight as a stepping stone, which I certainly did, but thankfully I never had to resort to hauling any of the above, or to taking loads from auction style load boards that didn’t pay the cost of my fuel, let alone a profit.  Many getting started will haul industrial type freight like I did, which can kick-start a brand new business as it means steady (while not spectacular) cash flow that makes it possible to hang in there while building up the hotshot side of the business.

One of the things about hotshot trucking that can be a blessing/curse depending on how you look at it is the down time.  We get busy in spurts.  Then sit a lot waiting for the next call.  I’m learning to roll with it and enjoy my down time by getting things done around the hacienda that I let slide when I’m out running, but still have to remind myself that sitting still is not necessarily a bad thing.  I’m not out there spending money hauling cheaper freight, and when I do roll it’s well worth my time and effort.

On the flip side, when it’s busy, it’s really busy and there’s no time for keeping up with chores at home or relaxation with family.  It’s impossible to know if appointments (docs, dentists, etc.) can be kept, and it’s hard to take off and go fishing unless you know you have cell service and your truck is nearby.  Hotshotting is not conducive to plan-making as those calls can come in at any given moment.  Being flexible is a necessity in keeping your sanity in this business.

I’m sure there are points I missed and I’ll probably hear about it, but this is a pretty accurate picture of what hotshot trucking actually is, and is not.

Two very different hotshot loads…


8 thoughts on “Hotshot Trucking Truths…

  1. Hi Sue, Lynda (D&L Shipping) here…yes it certainly a different life, isn’t it? Being back in Texas, it’s hard trying to find brokers to talk to, and companies all tell you they go through brokers, so it gets to be a “catch 22”. Hauling under 26,000k you don’t need the CDL, but you do have to follow DOT and MC regulations, which are an adventure in itself. We have checked on this through a permit service and DOT in many states (including Texas) and were told “no CDL under 26K but you follow everything else”. Happy hauling…if you get too many brokers calling, keep us in mind 8>)

    • Ha, I wish I had too many brokers calling me! If I did, I sure would share! Yep, this is a crazy business and I think you have to be about half a bubble off to get into it, and maybe another quarter of a bubble to stay in it. Hope you’re getting settled in down there in that nice usually balmy spot, I was through there this morning and was amazed to actually see frost on the grass!

  2. Im 27, I have my CDL, and am currently a Driller in North Dakota. Most of my family is from South Texas, although Im from California….A bit confusing I know.. Anywho, Im trying to get into the Hot Shotting Business. Would it be a better Idea to get a one ton truck and go door to door to companies to get loads and maybe lease their trailers? Or should I get the truck and trailer and try to get work directly with the big leases (Oxy, Chevron)? I have been in the drilling business over 5 years and know a few Consultants for some of these companies. Any help would be Greatly Aprreciated…


  3. Well it depends on whether or not you want to run under your own authority and insurance. If so, then yes, go door to door and find good customers. To get to the big leases, you may have to lease out your rig to one of the bigger hotshot companies (big oil companies normally broker out their loads and write one check for all of their deliveries instead of dealing with a lot of little companies).
    Either way, before you get equipment, talk to your potential customers or the company you decide to lease to, they’ll tell you what they need. I would never lease someone else’s trailer (as in renting it) as you’ll spend enough in a short time to just buy your own outright. Hope this helps!

  4. Hello SMBurns,

    I am researching a Hot Shot company that provides the pickup truck + 30′ trailer + fuel card and compensates the driver @ 20% of the contract price. Is 20% good, bad or average?

    Driver’s are out M – F and any food or hotel is the driver’s expense.

    Thanks much!


    • 20% is not bad but not great either. The maximum I personally saw was 25%, but that 5% makes a world of difference. The real question is 20% of what though, if the contract price is less than $2.50 per mile it would be hard to make a decent living at 20%.

      • SMBurns,

        Thanks for the insight……I will find out what their minimum contract mileage rate is.

        Another company that is seeking owner-operators of either mini vans, large SUV’s or small cargo vans like the Ford Transit Connect, Ram ProMaster or MB Sprinter is offering 85 to 90 cents / loaded mile @ 1,700 – 2,000 miles weekly. Is that a fair rate?

        Thanks Again,


  5. Patrick,

    To decide that you need to know what the operating costs would be for those vehicles. Do those fall under the trucking laws, requiring operating authority? If so, that’s a cost, the commercial insurance is a cost, of course fuel, tires, oil changes and all other maintenance is a cost, and the price of the vehicle is also a cost. Then you have taxes, fees and licenses, pay to the driver, and other running expenses to consider. And one expense people may not think about is vehicle replacement… If you don’t add in enough per mile to help you replace that vehicle in three to five years time you’re just spinning your wheels. That needs to be a part of the equation.

    At .85 per mile, 2000 miles would bring you $1700, so you need to deduct whatever expenses you would have and see if what’s left over would be sufficient income. I’m also guessing you would be paying your own income taxes under that arrangement so don’t forget to set back enough every week to cover that expense too when it comes due in April…

    Once you figure your operating costs, you can decide if there’s a profit margin there that you can live with.

    Hope this helps!

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