The winter slow season is the leanest time of year for the trucking industry. High paying loads are...
Understanding Trucking Seasons: What To Expect
Trucking is a seasonal business—plan accordingly. However, the weather isn't the only thing to keep track of when planning your next move, freight seasonality is also important. Understanding carrier and shipper's markets can help prepare you for what is next. There are four primary trucking seasons to keep in mind. Truck drivers can make better scheduling and budgeting decisions when they understand what each season may have in store for them. It is not just the holidays which affect how much freight is shipped out each year. There are environmental and economic factors affecting the trucking industry. The shipping industry relies on social and economic developments, including tax rates, for output numbers. In certain periods, we may see a greater volume of freight, requiring more trucks. Unforeseen events, such as the pandemic, reflect just how volatile and uncertain the market can be.
However, in the trucking industry, the way to prepare is by looking into how freight moves by season, in order to maximize the profit each year. By looking at the trends of each season, drivers can budget and adjust their schedules in the most efficient way possible, in an otherwise unstable industry.
Standard Working Season: (April – July)
Spring time is usually when truck drivers can anticipate a gradual increase in load volume. As we start to ease into produce shipping season, we are seeing more availability of loads, and a more regular schedule for drivers. This is also the season in which more companies are looking for carriers, allowing for more load options. Keep in mind as we start getting near produce season, there will be a lot of focus on finding trucks and contracting with trucking companies, which is why drivers looking for consistent or profitable work can get a head start during this period.
How To Prepare:
In order to make the most of a regular season, it is important to figure out the freight you want to transport, and the areas which will provide the best paying loads. There is more choice in freight, so drivers can be more selective. You can anticipate that Florida, Southern California and Southern parts of Texas are going to start harvesting produce, which will need to be moved in the coming months. These loads are going to be higher paying once produce season begins, so this would be a good time to plan the routes, if this is the type of work you want. It is also a good time to focus on a work-life balance routine, so that you do not end up burnt out in peak season.Produce and Prep Season: (July – September)
Since produce season is in full swing, truck drivers will be busier, but still not quite hitting peak season yet. As we inch close to peak season, there is going to be a greater sense of urgency on the part of shippers, to cover loads and schedule shipments. Sales will begin increasing in the coming months, so shippers and companies will increase demand for drivers, giving drivers more freight choices. Shipping volumes are increasing at this time, while carriers are still getting set to start their busiest time. This is a time to once again start getting used to a faster pace and higher work volume.
How To Prepare:
While there is demand for drivers, there is also limited trailer capacity, so owner-operators may benefit from setting their schedule and finishing up any necessary admin work. Admin work such as managing your budget, scheduling vehicle maintenance, planning your routes and gathering any necessary documents, especially for owner-operators, is important. Getting organized ahead of time is key in preventing any issues, empty space or scheduling conflicts. If truck drivers want to make extra money, this would be one period in which drivers can pick up a few extra loads. This is also a good time to start saving money for the slower season, while adjusting to a more demanding schedule.
Peak Season: (September – December)
Peak season is the busiest and most chaotic season for truck drivers, retailers, shippers, and pretty much anyone working in e-commerce. Holidays are approaching, increasing the demand for products and thus increasing shipping demands. Carriers at this time have the option of seeking out higher paying loads, which will allow them to financially get through the slower seasons coming up. It is the most effective period to maximize profit, because load options increase since there are more good to be moved (usually on a tight schedule). In peak season, there is usually going to be greater demand and less drivers, increasing prices for trucks. Peak season means drivers can earn more, but they may also end up working more during these periods, given the higher than usual demand.
How To Prepare:
During peak season, truck drivers can expect to sacrifice home time, sleep and put a lot of wear and tear on their vehicle. To handle this period, make sure you are conducting regular maintenance and pacing yourself. Miles driven can increase by about 20% more than the average during this period. This is also the time to look for higher paying loads whenever possible. It is a good to have your target-per-mile rate figured out in order to maximize profit. To calculate your target rate: add up your total trucking expenses, and divide them by the total miles driven per month - to find your breakeven rate. Then add your desired income to this number, and divide that by number of miles you can potentially drive that month to get your target per mile rate.
Keep in mind that weather conditions may become more hazardous during these months, so account for extra time for each load, and make sure your budget and schedule support it.
Quiet Season: (January – March)
From January until March, there is going to be a bit of a calmer period, where the usual routine can continue without much disruption or pressure for delivery deadlines or shipping chaos. Drivers will be earning less during this period, which is why maximizing profit during the other trucking seasons is important. The year begins at a time when the trucking industry can anticipate a bit of a lull or slower momentum. Since we are coming off holiday season, which has been busy, commerce tends to slow down as customers and consumers are focusing on their budgets and tax season.
How To Prepare:
Quiet season is a good period to catch up on rest, time with family and any repairs or maintenance work you need to do on your vehicle. Many truck drivers should get a head start on their taxes, especially owner-operators. Financially this period may not be the most profitable, but since we are coming right out of peak season it should be manageable. If you work for a company or fleet owner, then you may find that they are rotating the drivers more often to give everyone an even distance to cover. Remember, things are always close to picking up, so make the most of the downtime, prioritize health and get ready for another year of trucking adventures.
The trucking industry is always changing. We know that every season has its challenges, but we also know that with a little preparation you’ll be ready for anything. Knowing the ins and outs of your specific trucking market will allow you to make the most out of your schedule. Don't be afraid to adjust or make changes, based on your financial needs and capacity. Understanding how to handle each season can keep you trucking strong even through the slower months.