Private Carriers and Commercial Carriers

With nearly 25 years in the transportation industry it always amazes me how many transportation professionals don’t understand the differences between private carriers and commercial carriers.

For a driver seeking a driving job this distinction is especially important. It could mean the difference between selecting a job that supports your lifestyle and one that totally opposes all of things that are important to you.

The difference

While there are obviously a lot of similarities between the two, there are also some important differences. That is not to say that one is better or worse than the other. It is simply a matter of understanding the operational characteristics of each and selecting the one that best fits your lifestyle.

The primary distinction between private carriers and commercial carriers, also known as “For-Hire” carriers, is this. Commercial carriers make their money by moving freight for other companies. As the name states, they are “for-hire”. On the other hand private carriers typically only have trucks for the sake of moving their own goods to their various distribution points or directly to their customer’s locations. They don’t normally make money for hauling those goods the way that commercial carriers do.

A familiar example of a private carrier is Wal-Mart. While Wal-Mart operates one of the largest private fleets in the US they typically only carry their own products. If it weren’t for their need to get their products from their distributions centers to their store they most certainly would not choose to operate a fleet of trucks or employ thousands of CDL drivers. Wal-Mart makes money by selling goods in their stores, not by moving freight. JB Hunt, Schneider and Swift, on the other hand, are examples of commercial carriers who are generally for-hire. They don’t make or sell any product, but rather they make money by moving freight for others.

What this means to you as a truck driver seeking a driving job

When seeking a driver job it is important to clearly understand whether your preference is to be in a driving role that involves other significant duties, or whether you prefer a job that simply involves driving. While there are some private carrier driving jobs are exclusively driving, the vast majority involve other non-driving responsibilities such as sales, customer service, assembly or installation. For example, a driver at a grocery distributor spends a major portion of their day stacking shelves and taking new orders. Drivers who enter the driving profession because they enjoy actually being behind the wheel will want to avoid driving jobs where the driving is limited.

It is also important to understand how private and commercial carriers get the loads that you will be hauling. Because commercial carriers get paid by the mile to move freight they typically avoid having the truck rolling without a paying load, also know as “dead-heading.” Some carriers have more difficulty keeping the truck loaded at all times than other carriers do. That means that the driver can sometimes sit for hours, usually unpaid, while waiting for the next paying load. Because private carriers do not rely on paying loads, they are not usually as concerned about dead-head miles and the driver rarely sits waiting for a load.

There is certainly a lot more to understand about the differences between private and commercial carriers. For more information please continue to follow our blog. And if you are a driver considering a new driving job, be sure to find out which category the carrier operates in before accepting a driving job. Knowing this will help you to understand how the carrier operates and how it will impact your job on a daily basis.

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