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Independent Contractor

4 Pros and Cons of Leasing a Semi-Truck

January 17th, 2024

Brent Schaffler

Brent Schaffler

Brent received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. Cloud State University. He spent nine years in the retail industry before joining the ATS Team in 2012. Brent worked in the driver recruiting department for 2.5 years before transitioning to the Competitive Equipment Sales (CES) Team. He manages the leases of independent contractors from ATS and its affiliates.

Have you ever leased a semi-truck before?

If you’ve only been a company driver but you’re curious about switching things up and having more independence as a lease driver, you’ve come to the right place.

Every day, we work with drivers like you who are carving out their career paths. We help them understand the pros and cons of each position so they can make an informed decision. 

No one wants to end up on a career path they hate, especially if that means you've entered a lease agreement you can't easily get out of. Leasing can be a rewarding career, but it's also tough. If you're not prepared for it or don't know what to expect, you may struggle to adapt and find success. 

In this article, we'll help you understand the pros and cons of leasing so you can decide if it's the right move for you. You'll gain a greater understanding of what it takes to be a lease driver and how you can find success. 

Types of Lease Drivers

Before we get into the meat of the article, you should know you can go about leasing in a few different ways: 

  •  Lease from a trucking carrier and gain access to their freight 
  •  Lease from a commercial equipment financing company and broker freight or partner with a trucking company

While the choice is ultimately yours, drivers typically find it easier to lease with an actual trucking company when they’re new to leasing.

4 Pros of Leasing a Semi-Truck

When you’re a driver who only knows what it’s like to be a company driver, there’s an analogy we like to use.

Being a company truck driver is like being a customer service representative. Think about being a lease operator as you would think about being a salesperson. 

Let’s say a customer service representative makes $15 per hour, whereas a salesperson is fully commissioned. The salesperson could make much more money than the customer service rep, but they could also make nothing. Their income isn’t stable, but they have the opportunity to make a lot of money if they plan well and work hard. 

On the other side of the coin, the customer service rep will only make $15 per hour, but they'll receive a consistent, steady paycheck as long as they clock in every day.

One of the top benefits of leasing a semi-truck is the potential for big money. But this money doesn't come without some risk. 


Leasing Pro #1: You Can Make More Money

Many truck drivers make the switch to a lease program for the opportunity to make more money than they would make as a company driver. 

As a company driver, most expenses like truck payments, fuel and maintenance are covered; they don't take as much of a financial risk as lease drivers do. They also receive company-sponsored benefits. As a result, they don’t usually make as much money as lease drivers and owner-operators. 

Lease drivers have the opportunity to make more money on each load because they don’t have a carrier covering truck payments, insurance and maintenance costs like the carrier would for a company driver. 

Lease drivers can typically earn bonus pay for lease completion as well. 

Leasing Pro #2: You Have More Flexibility

If you want more freight options, being a lease driver may be the right choice for you. Company drivers often have to follow forced dispatch, but lease drivers do not. 

You’ll be able to choose your freight and make your schedule Lease drivers have more of an opportunity to weigh their options based on mileage, type of freight and delivery location. 

Related: Check out these tips for load selection

Leasing Pro #3: You Pay Minimal Upfront Costs

Depending on the company you’re leasing with, it’s usually fairly easy to enter into a lease agreement. There are usually minimal, if any, upfront costs to get you up and running. 

Because you don’t own the truck, you don’t need great credit to lease. When you lease a truck, you don't take on as much financial risk as you would if you were financing the truck. This makes leasing an easier pathway to getting into a truck (rather than buying). 

Leasing Pro #4: You Get to Be Your Own Boss

If you want to be your own boss and own your own business but you aren’t quite ready to outright buy a truck, starting as a lease operator is a great option. You decide when you run, where you want to run and how long you want to run. You decide when you go home and you make your financial decisions. 

It’s a lot of responsibility, but many drivers thrive in this environment. Drivers who lease with a trucking carrier also have the support of the carrier, so it’s a great way to learn the ropes of booking your own freight.

4 Cons of Leasing a Semi-Truck

It’s not always sunshine and rainbows when you lease a semi-truck. There are some potential cons to leasing, but with a little advance planning, many of them can be prevented. 

Leasing Con #1: You Have to Make Weekly Truck Payments

Leasing can be expensive. Weekly truck and insurance payments add up. Before you can take home a payment for the week, you have to cover your truck expenses first. 

Your weekly lease payment is dependent on how new your truck is and the condition of the equipment you're leasing. This may also determine if you have a down payment when you take out the lease.

Related: Should you lease a newer or older truck?

Every lease program is a little different and has different terms for drivers to follow.

For instance, one company may require you to make a down payment and you’ll receive newer equipment, but another company could make you pay nothing upfront and you’ll receive older equipment. 

One company may offer you a larger percentage on each load, but you could also have to rent additional equipment, pay for special permits and pay a heavy highway use tax. You could even be liable to pay escort vehicles out-of-pocket. If you lease with an independent company, they may have strict standards and put trackers in their vehicles or enforce mileage limits. 

Read the fine print closely. If you don’t understand what you’re signing, have someone who does translate the agreement for you.

Leasing Con #2: You Have to Pay for Fuel, Maintenance Costs and More

You may make more as a lease driver, but you can’t forget about the extra money you’ll be spending. If you’re used to receiving company-sponsored benefits as a company driver, it may come as a shock to you to be without these as a lease driver. Expenses add up quickly.

You won't have the offer of health insurance or retirement accounts and you won’t receive paid time off. If you want to take a vacation, you’ll have to plan for it and save money ahead of time to cover your truck payment(s). 

If you decide not to run for two weeks, you still need to make a truck payment. The weekly truck payment will either be pulled out as a direct settlement deduction if you leased from your trucking carrier or you’ll need to pay the company you leased from separately.

But if you’re not running for two weeks, there's no check to pull money from, so your next checks may need to cover back payments. 

You'll take care of all your maintenance and fuel costs, too. It’s important that you set up a maintenance account and funnel money into it from every check. If you lease from a carrier, most will require you to set up a maintenance reserve account. Because you’re leasing their vehicle, they want to make sure you have the funds to fix the truck. 

Related: Budgeting for Home Time

Leasing Con #3: Taxes Are Tricky

When you begin your lease driver career, chances are your eyes will get big when you see that first paycheck.

As an independent contractor, you won't have tax money removed from your checks. Those big checks you’re receiving aren’t necessarily all yours. 

It is on you to either prepay your taxes quarterly throughout the year or set money aside from each check so that you can pay in come tax time. Failing to do so can result in massive tax liability — especially if you fail to pay in several years in a row. 

Keep in mind that a lot of expenses are tax-deductible, including your truck payments, fuel, maintenance costs and insurance premiums.

It is highly recommended that you work with an accountant on your taxes. They’ll help you determine how you can prepay, how much you need to pay in and what is and isn’t tax-deductible.

Related: How to File Taxes as a Truck Driver


Leasing Con #4: Success Requires Extensive Planning and Dedication

As a company driver, the company takes care of you in a lot of ways. If you’re broken down, they’ll pay you while you’re down and they’ll help you get into another truck while you wait for yours to be fixed.

Maintenance and fuel costs are covered, too. 

You may be taking home more money overall, but as a lease driver, you also need to plan and budget extensively. You’re running your own business. You have to choose your loads carefully to succeed and make a profit.

Not only will you need to set up the insurance required to run and keep up on payments, but you’ll also need to set aside money to cover expenses in case you break down or you want to take a vacation. That requires mindfulness and planning on your part ahead of time. You can’t go back and save money once you’re slammed with a $4,000 repair. 

4 Tips for Leasing Success 

Now that you understand the pros and cons of leasing, let’s learn a little bit more about how you can succeed as a lease driver.

Tip #1: Do Your Research

Before you enter into a lease agreement, we urge you to do your research and find a company that meets your expectations. Look at their home time policies, their freight market and their expected pay.

When you lease from a carrier, you get the backing of that company. They’ll have the tools to support you and you’ll get access to their freight options. Their program will be tailored to what kind of freight the carrier hauls, so you can get a good feel for pay, too.

Leasing independently from a commercial equipment financing company and choosing to haul freight for whoever can be difficult — especially if you don’t have experience leasing. You have the potential to make five times more than if you worked with a carrier, but you could also make five times less.

Find out what kind of trucks you can choose from, too. They may only have three options and if you want a different make or model, you’ll need to go elsewhere.

Here are some tips to help you choose a lease program.

Tip #2: Read the Fine Print 

We cannot stress enough the importance of reading the contract before you sign it. 

You should understand every line of the contract and ask questions if you don’t. You’ll need to know about modifications, warranties and the terms of the agreement.

What can and can’t you modify on the truck? Because you don’t own the truck, you’re typically not able to do any mechanical or electrical modifications. Cosmetic modifications are frowned upon, but if they can be removed without damage your lease company may be lenient.

What condition should the truck be in when you turn it in and where do you need to turn it in? You may have deductions taken from your paychecks or your maintenance reserve account to clean the truck and complete maintenance that needs to be addressed. Keep your truck clean and be sure you’ve completed all the necessary repairs on it before you turn it in to a location authorized by the lease company.

Ask about the truck’s warranty. Is there still a manufacturer’s warranty on the vehicle or does the company provide a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty? Can additional warranties by the manufacturer be purchased?

What happens if you need to end the lease early, whether it’s because you want to leave the company or you have a medical or family emergency? Make sure you’re very clear on what will happen if you break the lease and how you may be penalized.

Go through the contract line by line. 

Related: What trucking companies don't tell you about lease agreements

Tip #3: Save Your Money

As a lease driver, you need to be very good at saving your money. Not only will you be in charge of a truck payment, but you’ll need to cover fuel, insurance and maintenance costs.

A lot of trucking companies that lease trucks require drivers to take out a maintenance account. It works differently with every carrier, but a certain amount of money is funneled into a reserve account from every check. You should also be setting aside money regularly. 

You might make more money as a lease driver, but there are a lot of unexpected circumstances that can come up.

Tip #4: Talk to Your Dispatcher About Freight Options

If you’re new to choosing your freight, ask for guidance from your dispatcher. You’ll have to consider pay, fuel expenses, location and more. 

They can help you make the best decision about freight that not only makes you money but gets you home regularly. 


Lease with a Top Company

Leasing gives you a lot of freedom, but it also comes with great responsibility. It might feel great to choose your own freight, but you can get into a bad situation if you don't choose wisely. You have to make decisions that will make your business excel — even if that means staying on the road longer than you'd like.

Before you decide to get into a lease, be sure you both carefully review the company you're leasing with and ask to see a dummy lease. The last thing you want is to be hit with unexpected terms or expenses. Make sure you feel comfortable working with that company and hauling their freight.

Sold on the idea of leasing? If you’re ready to take charge and be your own boss, leasing might be the best option for you. Check out the best companies to lease with this year. Leasing is also a great gateway to becoming an owner-operator if that’s one of your eventual career goals.

At ATS, we have lease options that'll put you in a truck with no money down and no credit check — including the industry-exclusive one-year lease program. Here's what you can expect from the ATS lease program.

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