«  View All Posts

How Do I Choose Good Loads in Trucking? [3 Questions to Consider]

March 17th, 2023

Logan Looman

Logan Looman

Logan joined the ATS team in 2016. As a driver manager in the specialized flatbed division, he plays an important role in helping drivers achieve success and create happiness in their careers. He relishes in helping to plan a driver’s week and watching it turn into a nice paycheck to take home.

What would you say if I asked you to tell me about your dream load offer? 

There’s a good chance most drivers would tell me about a lightweight load that has a high-paying rate, doesn’t require tarping and goes to an area they like to drive through. That all sounds great if a load like that is available, but most of the time the “perfect load” that hits all our checkboxes isn’t there.

The perfect load isn’t always the load that pays the highest per-mile rate and is the lightest. Sure, you need to make sure the load pays you enough to make a profit, but look at loads a little deeper. Rather than focusing on what you prefer to haul, focus more on what will actually end up making you more money. 

The name of the game for most drivers is money, as many drivers wouldn’t be working away from home if it wasn’t for the money. Choosing freight can feel like a game sometimes, but I’m a bit of a gamemaster here at ATS. As a driver manager, I help drivers like you carefully choose between load offers to find the ones that’ll make them the most successful. 

And honestly, sometimes it comes down to choosing between the lesser of two evils when no great load offers are available. (Unfortunately, in a down market, it happens.)

In this article, I’ll run through questions you should ask yourself before you accept a load offer. These questions will help you choose load offers that put you in a successful position. You’ll be left with helpful tools to add to your freight-selection toolbox. 

Three question marks written in chalk.

3 Questions to Ask When Considering a Load Offer

When considering load offers, focus more on details such as when the load delivers and if it works with your schedule.

Consider all of these questions first before accepting a load offer.

1. How Much Does it Pay? 

I know I told you it’s not all about pay, and it isn’t, but pay is naturally still the first thing drivers tend to look at when they get a load offer. First off, how much is the load paying out? Is it giving you a good per-mile rate? 

For the sake of this article, I define “good” as a rate that’ll cover the cost-per-mile (CPM) you need to cover your expenses and earn a profit. 

If you don’t know this number, learn how to calculate your CPM here. You should know how much money you need to earn so you can quickly determine if the load offer you’re considering will make you money.

Most drivers would like to avoid tarping and multiple drop deliveries if possible, but also remember that you may get paid for this extra work. For instance, ATS pays 100 percent of tarp pay and stop pay, which helps you make more on the load. Yes, this requires extra work, but it can earn you extra money on your paycheck. 

If you aren’t sure, check if your company offers tarp pay, stop pay and detention pay. If so, find out how much they pay out.

Again, don’t just jump on a load offer because the rate looks good, but also don’t throw a load offer away because it isn’t paying out what you want it to. Making a small profit on a load is better than making nothing because you’re waiting for a golden opportunity. The more miles you run in this down market, the better off you’ll be. 

Related: 7 Ways You Can Get Paid as a Driver

2. How Does the Load Work Into My Schedule? 

You need to strategically plan your loads. One of the ways you can do this is by considering what your week — or your next few weeks — looks like and how this load offer fits into the bigger picture. 

Will this one load tie you up for the entire week because you’ll have to wait days to pick it up or you’ll have to wait to deliver it? Or, does it allow you to pick up and deliver more loads for the rest of the week? 

I’ve had several drivers come to me with this issue. They only looked at how much the load was paying and didn’t realize they’d be sitting and waiting to pick it up. And we all know sitting around doesn’t pay anything (unless the customer is paying layover pay, in which case the load might be worth it for you). In a down market, sitting around waiting for a load is an especially bad idea. 

It’s important to consider pickup and delivery times. Do they match your schedule? If a load leaves you empty on a weekend with nothing else to haul or you have to wait days before you can be offloaded, you might want to pass on that load offer. If you can find a load with same-day pickup or expedited delivery, that can be a great opportunity. 

It’s a good idea to keep moving so you can haul a few loads per week and boost your income — especially when rates are lower industry-wide. This requires strategic thinking. 

Always be thinking about your next load and the load after that. For instance, if you take a load that you can’t deliver until late Friday or has a set delivery appointment for late Friday or early Saturday morning, you may not be able to secure a weekend run to keep you rolling. Depending on what area you get emptied in, it can be hit-or-miss trying to find another load.

Here’s an example. 

Let’s say you get a $2,000 load that can deliver Friday morning and allows you to pick up another $2,000+ load for the weekend. This helps you earn $4,000 by Monday. 

On the other hand, you could take a $3,000 load that delivers on Saturday, but requires you to sit until Monday waiting to reload. That means you can only earn $3,000 by Monday. 

Which load do you think sets you up better for the week? 

Additionally, when you zoom out, you start to think about how much you’ll make on a week-by-week basis or daily basis rather than a per-load basis. Money per day should always outweigh the per-mile rate when determining which load pays more. 

This helps you make a more informed decision when considering load offers. Instead of jumping on a great-paying load that puts you in a bad position for the rest of the week, you’ll choose the load offers that work into your schedule and keep you moving.

Small game pieces connected with lines.

3. Where is the Load Delivering?

Some drivers may only look to see where the load is delivering because they want to avoid running in certain areas. But you need to go a step further. 

One, you box yourself in if you won’t take loads that deliver in certain areas. Two, if you don’t think about where load offers are going, you can end up choosing a load that doesn’t pay enough for the area it goes to. 

The load offer might have a great pay rate, but it could be bringing you into a backhaul market where your rate coming out is going to be much lower. A backhaul market is a market with more inbound than outbound freight — meaning it’ll be easier to find a load going in than coming out. When taking loads into these areas, you need to be prepared for the rates coming out and be willing to haul what is coming out of those areas. 

Drivers that don’t want to accept the going rates out of these areas end up deadheading hundreds — or thousands — of miles to get back to a good freight market. When you do that, you’re losing time and money. 

That load you just deadheaded for because you thought it was so great ends up not being such a great load because it causes you to lose time and money. Because you deadheaded so far, the per-mile rate of the load drops and ends up being comparable or worse than the per-mile rate you wouldn’t accept out of the bad area.

I’ll give you an example. 

It’s Friday, you’re empty in Colorado and you were offered a load for the weekend going to Texas from Pueblo, Colorado. It pays $1,600 for 1,100 miles loaded. I think we can all agree it’s not an ideal rate, but it gets you a load for the weekend and relocates you to a good area for Monday. At the very worst, you paid for your fuel cost of getting to a better area and/or made a little money on the load. 

Instead, let’s decide you don’t want to haul the Pueblo to Texas load because the rate is too low. You decide to deadhead between 500 and 1,000 miles for a Monday load pickup. As a result, you have nothing to deliver on Monday so you start the week off turning in $0 of revenue. 

You also just burned hundreds of dollars worth of fuel. You’ve started your week off in the negative versus taking the Pueblo load and starting your week off ahead. It also means you’re going to make more money on your next load because you’ll already have some expenses covered for the week. 

Being ahead — even by a little bit — is better than being behind.  

The best way to get out of a bad freight area is quickly. Taking a $1.30 per-mile run from Colorado to Texas that’s 1,000 miles is better than taking a $1.40 per-mile run that’s 2,000 miles. Why is this? 

You don’t want to tie yourself up on a weak per-mile rate load for a whole week. Look for quick, short loads that relocate you to a better area. The quicker you get yourself to a better area on a load, the quicker you can get on a better-paying load.    

Red tractor and dry van trailer parked in front of mountains.

Navigating the Market

It shouldn’t take you hours to decide if you’ll accept a load offer. It’s usually a quick decision. When you ask yourself the three questions above, you’ll be able to swiftly decide if you should accept one load over the other. 

Plan ahead. Don’t take a load offer just because it’s paying a lot. Consider when it needs to deliver and what area of the country it’s delivering to. Does it work into your schedule and set you up for a good week? Or do the dollar signs just look good on paper?

Remember, you need to think about how much you’re taking home each week as opposed to how much each load pays out. You can set yourself up for failure if you only consider one load at a time.

If you’re unsure of how the market works, learn more about navigating headhaul and backhaul markets. 

And always, always, always ask your driver manager for advice if you’re struggling. I can promise you they have your best interest in mind.