Hot shot trucking can be a lucrative business for new drivers getting their feet wet and experienced ones looking for fewer costs and fewer headaches.
This guide will explain everything you need to know: what is a hot shot in trucking, how to start a hotshot operation of your own, and some useful tips to shorten your learning curve. You'll also learn the importance of having a quality freight management system and access to multiple load boards to optimize your hours and make more on each mile.
What Is Hot Shot Trucking?
Hot shots are heavy-duty pickup trucks that pull various trailers to deliver time-sensitive, usually small loads.
What is a hot shot driver?
A hot shot driver owns his own truck or leases with a larger company to load and deliver things like machinery, equipment, agricultural products, or anything that can safely load on the trailer. In hotshot trucking, the driver typically has a role in loading and securing the freight with straps, tarps, or chains.
What is a hot shot truck?
These trucks can haul 20 and 40 ft trailers with loads up to 20,000 lbs. Popular models include Dodge, Ram, Ford, and Chevrolet - any of the most powerful pickup trucks.
How to Become a Hotshot Driver
For starters, you'll need access to a heavy-duty or medium-duty pickup truck. Many drivers work as a hot shot to help pay off their trucks and make the most of their vehicles. Also required is a basic Class D driver's license to pull trailers that weigh up to 10,000 lbs. Lastly, access to a freight management system like the Cota Systems® Mobile App is essential.
How to Start a Hot Shot Business
Let's look at all the steps, paperwork, and legal requirements to start hotshot trucking.
You can register your LLC or business entity through your state's official website. There are usually minor fees associated with this in the ballpark of $100-$200, but it's necessary to get an EIN and file taxes accordingly. They'll ask for your business name, address, and purpose. This is one of the easier hot shot trucking requirements and should only take a few days to get back.
Obtain a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)
Getting a CDL takes between one and six months, depending on the type of CDL (A, B, or C), endorsements, and whether you attend a full-time or part-time school. Hot shot drivers can get away with the CDL-B if a max weight of 10,000 lbs works for you. The CDL B also permits you to drive large buses, box trucks, and dump drunks.
Hotshot trucking is a good starter role; many new drivers with fresh CDLs gain miles and experience this way before moving on to the semis.
Get a Department of Transportation (DOT) Medical Card
Every driver with an active CDL needs a physical examination by an FMCSA-approved medical examiner to ensure that you can safely operate a commercial vehicle.
If your health checks out, you'll get a DOT medical card that must be renewed bi-annually. If not, the medical examiner will work with you to get your health where it needs to be. Failing the exam will put your hotshotting business on hold, so consider your heart health, sobriety, and whether you have any sleeping disorders before getting started.
Secure Commercial Insurance Coverage
Most customers mandate $1 million liability and $100,000 cargo insurance for a company to touch their freight. If you plan on hotshot car hauling, a bigger policy is probably necessary.
You'll receive quotes from insurance companies based on your driving history; depending on the premiums, you might decide to work as a contractor under someone else's MC and hold off on your hotshot business, until your experience earns you lower premiums. Paying $1,000 - $3,000 per month thins profits quickly.
Motor Carrier (MC) Number
Intrastate driving requires a DOT number, but interstate driving requires an MC number, which you can apply for using the FMCSA's registration system. They'll ask for filing fees and proof of insurance connected to your VIN.
MC numbers are carrier identification numbers used to track carrier qualifications, legitimacy, and trustworthiness. Every hotshot business is required to have an MC number.
Employer Identification Number (EIN)
An EIN number from the IRS allows you to open business bank accounts and keep business expenses separate from personal ones. Other types of business owners use their SSN numbers instead of an EIN, but in trucking, there are too many variables and risk factors involved to ever do that. As a hotshot driver for another company, you won't have to worry about this step (unless you're a contractor).
The Equipment Needed for Hot Shot Trucking
Equipment to get started is straightforward, but make sure to check state requirements to ensure you're following all rules and regulations. This part of learning how to start hot shot trucking is cost-heavy.
Truck and Flatbed
Medium to super-duty pickup trucks cost anywhere from $45,000 - $100,000. The best truck for hot shot trucking is the Ram 3500, but there are a ton of comparable options. A regular 20-foot flatbed trailer costs around $5,000 used. You could also weigh your options of investing in a step deck, gooseneck, or dovetail trailer rather than a hot shot flatbed.
Straps, Chains, and Tarps
Hotshot drivers secure freight with chains, straps, binders, tarps, coil racks, bungee straps, and more. A hot shot trucking starter kit ranges from $1,000 - $3,000, depending on how much you want to start with.
For the safety of you and other drivers, you'll need cones, reflective clothing, safety signs, steel-toed boots, and often a hard hat. This isn't always required, and customers should tell you if they want specific equipment.
GPS and Communication Devices
Equip your hot shot truck with navigation systems and route planning tools to avoid traffic and inaccessible roads. You'll also want a headset, two-way radio, and wireless communication.
Truck Tools and Accessories
Last but not least, prepare yourself with the tools to make minor repairs and maintenance. Things like wrench kits, spare tires, pressure gauges, and portable air pumps can prevent and solve accidents and engine troubles inevitable in hotshot trucking.
Organize and Optimize Your Operation
Being as efficient as possible will help your hotshot trucking business last. Tools like ours allow drivers to work smarter, not harder.
Our Loadboard and TMS system is designed specifically for hotshots and LTL carriers to maximize every mile.
Easy load pickups: With the click of a button, drivers can easily find loads in their area, planning out days and weeks in a way that maximizes profit. Dispatch is seamless, confusion-free, and handled from one app. We aim to make driving a hot shot easy, matching carriers with customers who need specialized service.
Effortless earnings & document management: Our system simplifies the process of sharing documents. Simply scan and upload POs and BOLs to the portal when you receive them. It's hassle-free and transparent, limiting the time you spend waiting for approval to head out. From the same system, hotshot drivers can track payments and earnings, saving precious time that could be spent on the road.
Seamless dispatch integration:CarrierPro lets dispatchers sync all their favorite load boards into one place, including our exclusive board for free. Leave messy Excel sheets in the past and use a top-tier dispatching system with the same capabilities that mega carriers have access to. Hot shot trucking can be just as streamlined and efficient as the rest.
Real-time load notifications: Stay up to date with live notifications to avoid any wasted time while the clock is ticking. Hot shot drivers can optimize their routes using real-time updates, eliminating unnecessary delays and setbacks. Dispatchers can see a driver's status and send him to the next pickup with zero lag.
Maximizes profitability: Created with the goal of optimizing trip profitability, this solution empowers ambitious truck drivers to increase their earnings and encounter fewer obstacles during their journeys. Avoid long deadheads at all costs and make every minute of your hotshot transportation service profitable."
Maintain connectivity: Technical difficulties are the cause of too many delays, miscommunications, and frustrating moments. Our system works on Android and Apple devices so drivers can stay connected with customers, dispatchers, and their networks from anywhere. Like all modes, being communicative while hotshot driving can save countless headaches.
Tips for Success in Hotshot Trucking
We've gathered a list of pro tips for newcomers learning how to start a hot shot business and keep it running smoothly.
Specialize in a Niche
Specializing in a handful of freight types allows you to provide a higher level of service and efficiency. You can also save money on equipment by investing in the tools you know you need to haul certain freight.
By mastering one area, you can build relationships and charge higher rates, not to mention getting referrals in the process. Areas of hot shot freight expertise include oversized loads, heavy haul, vehicles, farming equipment, and event setup materials.
Utilize Load Optimization Software
The smartest way to streamline operations is with specialized software designed to make your life easier. You'll need ways to manage hours, billing, paperwork, and performance history without bogging down your operations.
Cota Systems® software was designed for LTL and hotshot hauling specifically, so you don't have to sift through OTR data to find what you need.
Maximize Driving Time
The more loaded miles you acquire, the more money and experience you rack up. Familiarize yourself with planning work weeks and home time using load boards for box trucks and hot shots, maximizing each working hour with a full trailer. As you gain experience, you'll get more comfortable with following the hours of service rules and regulations.
Detention and layovers happen, and you want to get paid for as many of them as possible. The Cota Systems® platform tracks detention time, so you can show shippers proof when requesting compensation.
Invest in Technology
You're only as good as the tools at your disposal. Use technology that will simplify your repetitive processes, like quality TMS, ELDs, load tracking, and trucking GPS. Invest in a website that displays your services and specialties so future clients can find, contact, and recommend your hotshot driving offerings.
Establish Connections with Local Businesses
Network with local businesses who might need your services like manufacturers, construction companies, farms, nurseries, car dealerships, and small-scale warehouses. You'd be surprised how many operations coordinators need equipment but don't have contacts.
The faster you can build a list of steady customers and lead sources, the faster you can scale and upgrade your hot shot trucking business plan.
Join trucker chats and online communities to stay informed on current market events, rate fluctuations, and changing sentiments. Sources like Cota Systems®'s free weekly report and DAT's Rateview Analytics.
This will help you with pricing and negotiation; even as you get more experienced, seasonal rate changes will affect what you charge when you drive hot shots.
Benefits of Running a Hot Shot Trucking Business
Flexible schedule: Unlike large carriers, hotshot drivers can choose their own work schedules and off days.
Lower Start-up Costs: Buying a semi-truck and becoming an owner-operator is a huge investment. Hot shot haulers have lower start-up costs, especially if they already own the truck.
Faster Turnaround: Because hot shot freight requires driver unload, there's more control over how quickly you free up your trailer. This means less downtime and wasted hours.
Versatility: Everyone needs hot shots, from homeowners to business owners. Choose from a variety of commodities and make connections in any industry.
Less Equipment: Smaller commodities require less equipment - for the most part. Once you buy the general straps and tarps, you can pretty much use them forever.
Hot Shot Trucking Challenges
While learning how to start hotshot trucking, you'll come across several challenges and roadblocks. Here are some real-world solutions:
With entrepreneurship on the rise, the amount of people asking what is hotshot trucking with the hopes of starting their own operation is high.
This market doesn't come without competition, and you will have to compete with local companies seeking the same freight as you. At first, it will be tough to beat out the established carriers who can offer cheap rates.
To combat this, your hot shot trucking company can offer specialized, quality, personable service to ensure repeat customers. Shippers will always pay a bit more to know their product is safe and cared for.
Finding Profitable Loads
As gas prices and the cost of doing businesses rise, it gets harder to find loads that pay enough to make a decent margin. Living in a rural area means you're working with agricultural commodities, and winter seasons sometimes mean a huge downtick in available loads. Keep this in mind when learning how to get into hot shot trucking.
Work hard to network at every opportunity and let people know about your services. Don't be afraid to branch out into industries you wouldn't have considered, but know there's freight available.
The best way to explore loads is by calling into comprehensive load boards like Cota Systems®'s and negotiating rates. Sometimes it takes 10-30 calls to find the right load, but that customer could turn into a long-lasting business relationship with your hot shotting company.
Navigating state and federal regulations is a huge learning curve. Between frequent inspections, licensing fees, and hours of service rules, new drivers to hot shot trucking can feel stuck under miles of paperwork.
Know that you aren't alone with this issue - there's an endless community of drivers who can help you understand the bureaucratic parts of the job.
On top of joining the community, it helps to stay up-to-date with law and regulation changes. Keep meticulous records of your certifications and use technology to avoid missing deadlines and lapsing policies.
If paperwork is too much of a turnoff, there are ways to start a non-CDL hot shot business and avoid some of the hassles, though your load options will be limited.
Looking to Start Hotshot Trucking Today?
Whether you're a new driver, looking to dive into this lucrative business or an experienced professional seeking reduced costs and smoother operations, this guide should help you navigate the waters.
The Cota Systems® app helps drivers like you earn more money for every mile driven. Designed specifically for hotshot trucking and LTL carriers, our app provides guidance, load board access, dispatch management, and streamlined document sharing. Stay connected, informed, and efficient with our user-friendly platform and detailed blog with pro tips and resources like the Best Trucking Companies According to Truckers.
Best of luck on the road to taking your hot shotting company to new heights!
I joined Cota Systems to help U.S. truckers grow their businesses. I proudly served in the U.S. Navy, managed some of the largest brands on earth, and I'm excited to share what I've learned with you. Truckers are the backbone of our great nation and when you and your family are thriving, so is America! 🇺🇸