It All Adds Up: The Operational Costs of Moving Freight

06/22/2018 — Jerry Spelic

 It All Adds Up The Operational Costs of Moving Freight

Moving freight is getting more difficult, and therefore, more expensive. If you’ve ever had “sticker shock” from a freight quote, you’re not alone. There are a lot of cost factors that go into the price you pay to move freight, so we want to explain them so you can be an informed shipper and ship smarter.

Every LTL or truckload freight shipment has fixed and variable costs that are calculated into the rate you pay to ship your freight. Let’s start by looking at the fixed costs.

Fixed Costs:

  • Truck Payment. Owned or leased, drivers and operators have the expense of their equipment (trucks and trailers) to consider when quoting your freight. New trucks can be leased for $1,600 to $2,500 per month and used trucks can be leased for $800 -- $1,600 per month; a new truck can be purchased for $2,250 a month (purchase price of $125,000 with 5-year financing). On average, truck payments are 16% of the cost of moving freight.
  • Insurance. The FMCSA requires individual owner-operators to carry a minimum of $750,000 to $5 million in liability coverage. On average, liability and damage insurance can cost between $6,000 – $8,000 per year, with newly-granted authorities typically paying between $10,000 and $16,000 their first year. Truck insurance accounts for 5% of the cost of freight shipping.
  • Driver Salary. This is the largest operating cost of moving freight. Commercial truck driver salaries are based on the distance driven, and although drivers spend a lot of time in traffic, at the dock being loaded or unloaded, etc., their operating costs are only derived from miles traveled. With an average salary of $78,200, driver pay and benefits accounts for 43% of operational costs.
  • Office and Overhead. This fixed cost includes a building lease or mortgage, and includes electric, phones, internet, computers, and office support. These costs can vary widely.
  • Permits and Licenses. Permits and license plate costs account for $2,300 annually, or 1% of operational costs.

Variable Costs:

  • Fuel. The second largest operating cost of moving freight is diesel fuel. A commercial truck can easily consume 20,000 gallons ($64,000) of diesel fuel per year, accounting for 21% of operational costs.
  • Tires. Retreaded truck tires are less expensive than new tires and cost on average $250. Annual tire expense accounts for $3,600, which is roughly 2% of operational costs.
  • Maintenance and Repairs. Trucks need constant maintenance and do occasionally break down. Issues with air lines and hoses, alternators, wiring, and brakes are all common in commercial trucks, and can cost $17,500 annually or 10% of operational costs.
  • Meals. The truck isn’t the only part of LTL and truckload freight shipping that needs fuel! 10 meals a week at $12 each equals a meals expense of $6,500 a year.
  • Tolls. With nearly 5,000 miles of toll roads in the US, chances are good that your freight will be traversing at least one of them, and this will be factored in your cost. For example, a load moving from Chicago to Baltimore will encounter toll roads in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, costing $225.75.  Sometimes a carrier can avoid toll roads, but this will frequently increase the number of miles driven, which also increases your cost. On average, tolls add $2,500 a year, 2% of the total cost of freight shipping.
  • Coffee.  Did you know that truck stops sell more coffee than convenience stores? The average commercial truck driver spends more than $600 a year on coffee. Its effect on cost is negligible but we thought it was interesting!
  • Profit. Remember, freight carriers are in business to make a profit. Owners, operators and drivers are funding their kids’ education or dance lessons, paying their mortgages, and buying food and necessities, so please don’t expect them to move your freight for free.

There are also many miscellaneous items that can factor into overall freight costs:

  • Electronic Logging Devices (ELD), which have decreased driver productivity approximately 15%. When drivers spend less time driving, transit times increase and drivers move fewer loads, which pushes costs up.
  • Telematics services, such as vehicle and trailer GPS tracking.
  • Driver turnover; not just the cost of recruiting and training, but also the opportunity cost of empty trucks not hauling freight because they have no drivers.
  • Finding loads to move can take up a sizable chunk of every day. Every hour spent not driving loaded miles is an hour a driver isn’t making money.

The bottom line is that a lot of factors go into the cost you pay for LTL or truckload freight shipping. The costs listed here are conservative and are probably on the low end, so your costs may be higher.

The struggle is real: moving freight is getting more difficult and more expensive. By shedding light on the costs that go into each and every LTL or truckload freight move, we hope that you’re better informed so you don’t experience “sticker shock” next time you get a freight quote. If you find yourself battling rising freight costs and need some help, contact the freight shipping experts at PartnerShip. We have significant experience in both the LTL and full truckload markets and can help you ship smarter so you can stay competitive.

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