Running hot shots is one of the easier ways to start your own trucking company. A lot of owner-operators get into the business this way because of the lower cost of equipment. Instead of investing in a big rig, hot shot truckers use sprinter vans, straight trucks, 4x4 pickups with goosenecks, and other smaller vehicles to haul smaller loads.

Seeking out small-truck loads or LTL (less than truckload) loads has a lot of pros and cons, but one of the most confusing things about the business is figuring out what rate you should charge. Long story short: It varies a lot.

LTL Loads vs. Hot Shot Loads
Sometimes people use terms like LTL loads, hot shot, and partial loads to mean the same thing, which adds to the confusion. The traditional way of handling LTL freight is to combine multiple LTL loads until a full-sized trailer is filled with a full truckload. Traditional LTL carriers usually price each individual LTL load based on its freight class and how much trailer space is required.

There are 18 classes of freight, based on density, handling, liability and stow-ability. Class 50 freight moves at the lowest rates, because the freight is dense, easy to handle, and difficult to damage. The highest rates go to Class 500 freight, which is lighter but takes up a lot of space.
In the past, hot shot loads meant freight that needed to be delivered quickly and could fit on a removable gooseneck or in a box truck. A lot of hot shot loads come from industries like construction and oil fields, where equipment needs to be moved quickly so it can be used at a different site. 

Nowadays, terms like "LTL" and "hot shot" might be used to describe the same load. You can use the freight class as a starting point to figure out how to price that load, but there's more that goes into the rate. What lane are you running, and how easy is it to find trucks on that lane? How fast does the customer need the load delivered? How hard will it be for you to find a load for the return trip? 
Hot shot rates typically include fuel costs, so you'll need to have a good idea of what your costs per mile are, that way you know how much you'll need to charge to make a profit. 

Where to Find Hot Shot and LTL Loads
You can use a load board like DAT TruckersEdge to find small-truck loads. When searching for loads, you can choose to search for "Full" or "Partial" loads. You can find hot shot and LTL loads by choosing “Partial.” You can also use the load board to find regular customers. If you see that a company posts a lot of partial loads on a lane that you run, you can start building a relationship with them. 
TruckersEdge also shows the average spot market rate that truckers have been paid on each lane. Those rates are for full truckloads, and shippers and brokers with hot shot or LTL loads will mostly expect to pay less than that. You can still use the rates shown in the load board as a guide to know which lanes pay more than others. 
Generally speaking, LTL shipments of 1,000 lbs pay 8-15% of the full truckload rate. Hot shot loads that are short haul or expedited might pay nearly as much as the full truckload rate. On a longer haul, if someone 500 miles away needs two pallets delivered by the next morning, they might be willing to pay $3/mile or more.

Bottom line: Circumstances and geographies vary, which leads to a much wider range of prices out there. Rates for hot shots and LTL loads can be anywhere from $0.80 to more than $4.00/mile, depending on length of haul and other factors. 

Do You Need an MC Number for Hot Shots?
If you're going to cross state lines, yes, you have get your own operating authority before you can legally haul hot shot and LTL loads. So, while the cost of equipment is lower for hot shot carriers, other startup expenses like getting your motor carrier authority will be the same. You'll also have to make sure you have the proper insurance coverage. If you're hauling across state lines, you'll need to file IFTA fuel taxes.
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Comments (2)

Matt Sullivan

Matt Sullivan is the editor of DAT Carrier News. He has more than 10 years of journalism experience.

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Great information Matt! Thanks so much for putting together.

October 01, 2016 7:03:24 AM

Nice article Matt. Thank you.

September 29, 2016 8:47:10 AM