With over 7 years of experience in the transportation industry, John is a leading driver consultant on the ATS team. His focus is to find high-quality, professional, safe drivers – whether they are independent contractors or company drivers employed with ATS.
So you’re ready to start looking at new trucking companies and make a switch, but you don’t know what makes a good company and what doesn't. You don’t want to end up at a trucking company that’ll leave you unhappy and without your needs met.
When you know how to spot the red flags at carriers before you get there, you’ll learn how to avoid bad companies altogether. You’ll save yourself a lot of hardship.
We’ve been doing this driver recruiting thing for a few years here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS has been in business since 1955), so we know all about good and bad trucking companies. All day, we listen to drivers talk about how previous trucking companies scorned them and how they’re looking for a trucking home.
We’ve gathered all their comments and created one article so you can easily learn more about the signs of a bad trucking company (and therefore avoid those companies).
When you’re finished reading, you’ll not only know what to avoid, but you’ll have a good idea of what to look for in a carrier when you make your next move.
Red Flag #1: They Can’t Explicitly Say What the Pay Is
It’s a bad sign if you’re talking to a recruiter and they can’t explicitly state what you’ll be making. Recruiters should be able to clearly articulate how much you’ll be paid and when. If they can’t, the company may not have a stable customer base.
The company may also not be paying very well.
Red Flag #2: They’re Unclear About Running Areas
If a recruiter isn’t certain about their running areas, you should be concerned — especially if they say they’re a regional carrier. An over-the-road (OTR) carrier might be able to say they run the entire lower 48 and it’s the truth. But if they can’t define where they run and they’re offering you a regional position, take pause.
If they can’t tell you where their customer base is and where their freight lanes are, again, they might not have a stable customer base. They could primarily be running off spot market freight, which isn’t always stable. The freight may not be consistent, nor will it always provide a consistent rate.
This could be a sign that the carrier doesn’t know where the freight is coming from day to day and you may be deadheading a lot.
To be clear, most companies should be able to explicitly state how much you’ll make and where their running areas are. It’s typically smaller companies with only a couple of trucks on their fleet that might not have concrete answers about pay and running areas.
Red Flag #3: The Equipment is Old and Not Maintained
If all of the carrier’s equipment is older than five years, there are some additional questions you should ask — especially if you’re only interested in a newer truck and you’re concerned about maintenance costs.
If they only have older equipment on their fleet, it brings into question how well the fleet is maintained. The older the trucks are, the more likely they are to have issues. You may face a lot of maintenance issues down the road.
Be sure you ask questions about maintenance on the truck and inspect the truck before you get into it. An older truck might not be a problem for you — in fact, some drivers prefer it — but if you notice shoddy repairs or multiple paint colors on the door, run.
Red Flag #4: The Dispatcher Isn’t Located In the U. S.
We’re hearing this more and more from drivers: “My dispatcher wasn’t even located in the U.S. They couldn’t give me the help I needed.”
Lately, we’re seeing that dispatchers might be located out of the country. They’re working in a different time zone, so all they can really do is send you load offers. They can’t support you throughout the day and help you problem solve. They often don’t know Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations and how Hours of Service (HOS) work.
Similarly, if the company you’re applying with has a reputation for bad dispatchers, that’s a red flag.
You want to work with a dispatcher that’s available to you during regular business hours and can give you the support you need with any problem you encounter on the road. You want to work with well-trained dispatchers that understand the problems you’re encountering on the road.
Red Flag #5: They Have Predatory Leases
If you plan to lease with a trucking company, you need to watch out for predatory leases. Predatory leases can set drivers up for failure. The contract may say “rental” instead of offering a buyout at the end of the lease term; in that case, it’s not a true lease. You must have the option to purchase.
Some leases may also require you to pay extra money if you run over a certain number of miles in a set time period. You may also have to do maintenance when the company requires it, instead of when you can make a shop appointment work into your schedule.
Every trucking company is going to have bad reviews, but if the company has only bad reviews, watch out.
Look for patterns; if there’s a pattern of bad reviews, that’s probably an issue at that company. For instance, if eight out of 10 reviews complain about the lease program being terrible, it probably is.
Red Flag #7: Corporate Headquarters is Closed Off to Drivers
Company headquarters can say a lot about a trucking company. If the offices are totally closed off to drivers and drivers can’t at the very least schedule an appointment to talk to the safety team or the accounting department, that’s a problem. Drivers should be able to talk about their concerns with the proper departments.
If drivers are instead escorted throughout the building like they’re being watched or they walk into the office and have to stand behind bars, the company may have something to hide (or, at the very least, they might not respect their drivers very much).
Keep in mind: There’s a difference between a company that won’t let its drivers come into the building at all and a company that requires drivers to set up appointments in keeping with COVID procedures and/or employee schedules.
Red Flag #8: Company Drivers Don’t Get Benefits
Company drivers are considered employees of the company, so they should have access to the same set of benefits that in-office employees receive.
If there are no benefits for company drivers, that’s a big red flag. If they try to get you to pay for your own fuel (or other expenses like maintenance) as a company driver, that’s another red flag.
Red Flag #9: They Try to Pay You With the Wrong Form
Sometimes companies will try to pay you incorrectly to get tax benefits.
For instance, if a trucking company tries to pay their company drivers with a 1099 instead of a W2, that’s a red flag. They may do that so they don’t have to pay taxes on your pay and they can fudge their numbers.
On the other hand, if you’re an independent contractor and they try to pay you with a W2 instead of a 1099, push back. They might be doing that so they can run you more like an employee and have more control over you.
How to Avoid the Worst Trucking Companies
If you want to avoid the nine red flags listed above, it primarily comes down to digging into each company you’re considering. That means you need to check out reviews on the trucking company and the leasing company on social media sites and job sites.
Speak to other drivers about the companies you’re looking at. If their current drivers are all saying that they can’t wait to quit, it’s not a very good sign.
Additionally, you might want to compile a list of your needs and wants out of a company. You might have your own red flags based on your needs and wants that aren’t included on this list.
Don’t Make These Mistakes When Switching Trucking Companies
Have you ever encountered any of these red flags? Be sure you come up with a list of your own red flags based on your needs and wants out of a carrier.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to fall prey to scams or make the same mistakes over and over in trucking. Some of those mistakes, like job-hopping, can prevent you from getting your ideal job in the trucking industry.