Trucking Owner-Operators: All the Expenses and How to Budget

by | Dec 13, 2023

Owning a trucking business can be a lucrative venture, but you need to fully understand the expenses to be able to properly create a budget for your trucking operations. As a trucking owner-operator, you are responsible for not only the cost of the vehicle but also fuel, maintenance, and staff. Properly managing expenses is crucial to ensure that your business is successful in the long run. It’s important to identify what you’ll be spending your money on, the surprising costs that may arise, and how to budget for them. 


What is a Trucking Owner-Operator? 

Before we dive into expenses that trucking owner-operators should expect, let’s define what a trucking owner operator is. Simply put, a trucking owner operator is a self-employed truck driver who owns a truck and hauls freight for customers, they generally transport goods across the country or within a specific region. You are an entrepreneur, and a business owner. Ultimately, you are responsible for all aspects of your business — especially while starting up, this includes acquiring customers, planning a trucking budget, and maintaining your truck(s). While there are many pros of being an entrepreneur: flexibility in setting your own schedule, and not having a boss, it also requires large responsibilities like having to manage the financial responsibilities of maintaining a trucking business. Which is the topic of this article: 


The expenses of running a trucking business 

The types of costs for trucking owner-operators can vary depending on the type of transport business you run. But here are some of the common expenses to expect and how to budget for them: 

Fuel costs 

Fuel is the trucking industry’s lifeblood, and it’s also one of the most essential expenses for owners. They must pay for their own fuel costs, and the prices can fluctuate widely and rapidly depending on the market, the type of fleet you own, and where you typically operate. To minimize the cost, it is recommended to plan precise routes to maximize efficiency and utilize fuel cards that offer discounts and rewards. Not to mention, it’s essential to always research the cheapest fuel stations along your route. 

Truck Payment 

The first and foremost expense for a trucking owner-operator is purchasing a truck. The trucking industry is vast, and you can choose to buy a new or used truck. A new truck can cost between $150,000 and $220,000, and a used one can cost between $15,000 and $187,000. You can also opt to lease a semi-truck, which can be cheaper upfront, but with the payments required, it may be more expensive in the long run. Remember that this expense is never a one-time payment, even if you pay for a new truck up front. You will need to maintain the truck, pay for licensing, insurance, and taxes, which we’ll expand on in later paragraphs.  


Liability and physical damage insurance are critical expenses that trucking owner operators must budget for. It is essential to protect their business, their assets, and themselves. Insurance includes primary liability insurance, physical damage insurance, cargo insurance, and trailer interchange insurance. Insurance rates vary greatly depending on the type of cargo transported, the location, and driving records (another reason why driving safely is incredibly important). It is recommended to work with an insurance broker to find comprehensive coverage at a reasonable price. 

Truck maintenance and repair 

As an owner-operator, you must understand that your truck is your primary investment. Maintenance and repairs are necessary to keep your truck in good condition to avoid breakdowns and safety hazards. Not only that, but preventative maintenance such as checking tire pressures, oil changes, and overall servicing will stop larger issues from occurring and costing you more in the long run. These should be routinely scheduled but they can never be completely planned for (we’ll talk more about unexpected costs later). 

Ensure you purchase a reliable and suitable truck that can haul the required weight and withstand long hours of delivery. A general rule of thumb is that they should have one cent per mile of revenue set aside for truck maintenance. 


The necessary evil for all entrepreneurs and business owners. Trucking owner operators are responsible for paying their taxes, including income and self-employment taxes. These can cause significant expenses if not adequately planned. Do some research and thoroughly learn these requirements to avoid hefty fees and fines. Moreover, taxes can vary significantly, and it’s crucial to have good bookkeeping and to work with a qualified accountant to ensure taxes are filed correctly and everything dollar is accounted for. 

Permits and licenses 

Depending on your location and the type of freight you haul, you may need to obtain permits and licenses, which come with fees. Every province and country has its own regulations and permits, you may need certain permits to cross province lines. These licenses are essential because they ensure that you are operating within the legal boundaries of the industry. They serve as proof that you meet the necessary regulations and standards set by authorities. Obtaining these permits and licenses comes with associated fees. They are an essential investment to your operations run legally and efficiently, and without them you can’t have a trucking business!  

Food, lodging, and on the road expenses 

While on the road, you should expect to incur various expenses, such as lodging, food, and other necessities such as clothes, gadgets, entertainment, and comfort. To manage these expenses, categorize the types of costs you accumulate while driving. Ensure you have a budget for each category and most importantly, adhere to that budget!

There are also many ways to cut costs in this area: for instance, you can carry home-cooked meals as opposed to buying restaurant foods that are often overpriced. You can also opt to buy groceries and cook your meals, provided you have a truck that allows you to do so, this not only helps save money but also ensures healthier eating options. By being mindful of your spending and making smart choices, you can effectively manage your money on the road. 


Enhancing your trucking business with the right technology can have a significant impact on its efficiency and profitability. By investing in tools like sensors, GPS, and Transportation Management System (TMS) software, such as NutechTMS, you can streamline your operations, optimize routes, effectively manage dispatch, and simplify administrative tasks. These technological solutions not only save time but also result in cost reductions and improved overall productivity. With features designed specifically for the trucking industry, TMS software can revolutionize the way you run your business, providing a competitive edge in the market.  


Expect the unexpected 

Unexpected expenses are a reality for any business, including trucking. These expenses can significantly impact your trucking budget. This include sudden repairs, unexpected tolls, or legal fees if you encounter any issues. As the owner-operator, you’re responsible for this, which is why it’s important to always have a plan in place to handle them. But, even with budgeting and careful planning, they can still potentially harm your business. Here are a few examples: 

Accidents and weather-related incidents 

Accidents can be lessened through proper training, well-maintained trucks, truck technology, and more. But still, they can always happen. Bad weather can also lead to accidents or cause delays, which can increase expenses. Weather conditions like heavy rain, snowstorms, or hurricanes can lead to unsafe driving conditions. These incidents can result in additional expenses such as repair costs, medical bills, or even legal fees if litigation is involved. 


Another potential expense that can catch owner operators off guard is truck breakdowns. While regular maintenance and servicing can reduce your chances, breakdowns can still occur, leaving you with a vehicle that needs immediate repair. Not only can these repairs be time-consuming, possibly halting your whole operation, but they can also be financially burdensome. Costs associated with towing, mechanic services, and replacement parts can quickly add up, impacting your bottom line. 

Fines and citations 

As we touched on earlier, non-compliance with regulations or traffic violations can result in fines and citations, these can be extremely expensive. As a trucking owner operator, it’s crucial to stay up to date with the latest regulations and ensure that your operations comply with all legal requirements. Failure to do so can result in hefty fines imposed by regulatory authorities and can significantly affect your overall finances.

Traffic violations, such as speeding tickets or parking fines, accumulate over time if you let it, but luckily this is one of the most avoidable expenses and can be circumvented simply with responsible driving practices. 



Tips on getting started with your trucking budget

As an owner-operator, it’s important to have a solid budget for your expenses. Managing your expenses will help control costs, and keep more money in your pocket. Here are some tips to help you budget properly: 

Keeping track and bookkeeping 

Tracking your expenses allows you to identify areas where you can cut costs, make spending adjustments, and plan for future expenses. This is essential for all businesses big and small. By being diligent and recording every expense, you gain a clear understanding of where your money is going. Having a comprehensive record ensures that you have accurate data to analyze and evaluate. This can be done through hiring a bookkeeper, or investing in technology like a TMS with integrated accounting. 

Set aside an emergency fund 

Owner-operators should absolutely not overlook forming an emergency fund. Keeping savings is hard! But having a contingency plan can help you in case of various unexpected situations and ease financial strain. Like we mentioned previously: such as truck breakdowns and illnesses. Ensure you budget for at least three-months of living expenses to account for any unforeseen circumstances. 

Implement cost-cutting measures  

After analyzing your bookkeeping records, consider ways to reduce your expenses.
Many fuel providers offer loyalty programs or partnerships that provide discounts. By taking advantage of these programs, you can reduce one of the most significant expenses in the trucking industry.

Avoid unnecessary expenses, this means being mindful of your own spending and questioning whether certain expenses are truly essential for your business. For example, opting for more economical lodging options. Small adjustments like these can add up over time and contribute to significant savings.

Shop for the best maintenance prices. Don’t settle for the first quote you receive. Instead, reach out to multiple service providers and compare estimates. Look for reputable shops that offer competitive rates without compromising quality. Taking the time to research can help you find the most cost-effective option for your truck maintenance needs. 


In conclusion, to be successful as a trucking owner operator, it’s essential to stay aware of the expenses that come with this business. And with proper planning, you can tackle any unexpected costs that may arise. While it can seem daunting, a solid budget and utilizing the right tools can help you stay ahead and above. Owning a trucking business can be extremely rewarding and an excellent opportunity for financial growth with the right mindset and preparation.  


Need help? Contact us about integrating technology to your fleet and putting your trucking business on top.