Getting Set Up is the EASY Part!By MrBoyd • Jul 4th, 2009 • Category: Blog, Do you want to get into the Pilot Car Business, Featured
So!! You’ve decided to become an oversize load escort. You’ve gone out and bought all sorts of lights and flags and signs and all the other stuff you need to escort. I’ve got news for you! Believe it or not, just getting your escort vehicle set up and your equipment set up is the easy part.
Actually, if you’ve already done all that, you are putting the cart before the horse! I mean to say that there are other things you need to consider before all the expense of equipping your vehicle. After you read this, you may not want to get into this business.
This is NOT an easy life! First of all, if you are the homebody type, you really need to think seriously about the pilot car industry. There are some people who can stay at home and take short day runs or maybe one or two day runs, and make a decent living. In my experience, those folks are in the minority. On the other hand, if you like to travel, this might just be your special place. Just don’t get the idea that this is a way to pay for a vacation. If you want to earn a living, you must stay busy-always lining up a follow on load and then rushing to get there in time for the load to move.
If you want to make a good living, you’re gonna have to live like a truck driver-only without the sleeper. Do the math: let’s assume that your rate is $1.50 per mile. Your actual out of pocket expenses (not counting vehicle payment, insurance, payment to yourself, etc.) is going to be about 40% of what you get paid. In round numbers, that leaves you about $0.90/per mile in gross profit (that’s what you have left BEFORE you start paying your other expenses. You’re gonna have to pay all those hidden expenses out of what is left. That figure varies by person, based upon their credit rating, where they live, and lots of other variables. You can figure that your cost per mile, counting all related expenses, to be in the range of $0.80-$0.90 per mile, leaving you with about $0.60 per mile as net profit. So, you’ve got to decide how much net profit you want to make over a one year period. If you want to earn $60,000 in net profit, then you are going to have to drive about 100 thousand miles a year. That’s about what long haul truck drivers put in each year. The point is that if you have a family at home that needs you nearby, this is not the business for you.
If you are the kind of person who needs 8 hours of sleep, this is not the business for you. Here’s why: In most states, oversize loads can move from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. In the summertime, that means the load can be moving for 15 hours per day. If you have breakfast before the load and dinner afterwards, you only have about 7 hours of the day left and you haven’t even gotten to your motel room. What happens if you travel all day and then get to an area where you have to move at night…the SAME night? The winter hours are shorter, of course.
If you need to go “potty” every hour, or stop to get a fresh drink and a snack every couple of hours, this isn’t the life for you. It is not uncommon for the load to stop only for refueling during the day. Many drivers will consider your needs, but you cannot plan on it. What’s more, if the load has to stop often, you will get a bad reputation and no one will want to hire you to escort their loads. Most drivers are like us, they make their money by putting on the miles. Every time that load has to stop, it is the equivalent of cutting about 45 minutes out of the day (about 45 miles), according to some truck drivers.
If you are a timid or courteous driver, or sensitive to other four wheel drivers cursing you or flashing one fingered signals at you, you should reconsider getting into this business. That was the hardest thing for me to change about myself. When I got started in this business, when my driver said he needed the left lane, I would wait until there was a gap in traffic. Sometimes the driver couldn’t wait for that, so I had to learn to be an assertive driver and claim that left lane almost immediately. If the load needs to weave through railroad crossarms, or traffic signals, sometimes the escort must put themselves into the oncoming traffic to provide a safe avenue for the load. It is a frightening and dangerous experience and very stressful. So, you need to consider all of these things before you choose to enter this career field.
Now, let’s talk about training. I know some people who just flagged up and went forth and escorted and did a fine job. They have been successful in this business for years. Those people are the exception, not the rule. I’ve never asked them, but I would venture to say that they would not advise doing what they did. Your best bet is to find someone near you who already has been in this business several years and is willing to let you ride with them. I have trained a couple of people, and I required them to travel about 1000 PAID miles with me. For the first several hundred miles, they sat in the right seat and observed and listened. When I felt they had the general concepts in mind, I put them in the driver’s seat and I observed and made recommendations and suggestions. All of this training only qualified them to lead or chase a “normal” oversized load. It did not qualify them to operate with a high pole, perform route surveys, or escort “superloads”. Those things require many many more miles before I would recommend a new person take on one of those loads. Just how long varies from person to person. There are some people who never will qualify for anything more than lead/chase for the smaller oversize loads. I know others who have been capable of running high pole, superloads, and route surveys after only about three months on the road. Even truck drivers who want to get into this business need to have at least SOME training. They do have the advantage of having that “road sense” that is so important in this business, but it is an entirely different thing to “intimidate” other four wheelers with a big truck or another four wheeler with lights and flags. When I trained other people, we shared motel rooms and they paid for their own meals. It varies from person to person, but I don’t personally know of anyone who has paid a trainee during this time.
If you plan to take long haul oversize loads, you will need to get some certifications. There is a growing trend among the states to require “best practices guidelines” certification training. Generally, that entails taking an 8 hour classroom course. This is not something you can do online. You actually must physically go to the classes. Currently the states that require that certification are Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Florida, and Washington. At present, only one state-Utah-has traveling classes. You can check uspilotcar.com to see where they will be and when. Costs of these classes vary.
Other states require certifications in their states. For example, New York state has a certification that is good ONLY in that state and they will not accept other state’s certifications. In that case, you must go to the state of New York physically to take the test. The only other state that does that is Virginia. They do accept out of state certifications, but if you live in Virginia, you will need to take their test in person. A couple of years ago, the VA certification was the “standard” and you could have a local official (teacher, librarian, police chief) administer their test, but it’s not that way anymore. Kansas requires superload certification. If you have a CDL it is no problem. Even if you don’t have a CDL, it is simple to do. All you have to do is take the Defensive Driving Course from the National Safety Council and send them proof. You can take the course online and then fax your certificate to Kansas DOT. Generally they will fax your superload certification back to you within hours.
New Mexico and Louisiana have so-called certification programs, but they really are vehicle inspection programs. Nevada and Georgia require amber light permits before you can legally operate amber lights, strobes, light bars and etc. in those states. They are inexpensive-maybe $5.00 each. Nevada just recently has begun allowing you to get your permits online. As far as I know, you still have to use snail mail for Georgia.
In summary, the REALLY hard part is deciding if you can live up to the lifestyle that this career requires, and then you need to get some training! Certifications also are an important component of your preparations for this business.