Are owner-operators coming back in range?

Lucas Deal

April 9, 2018

A strong freight economy and, finally, a crest in maintenance costs, has created a favorable purchasing environment for owner-operator customers, Overdrive magazine reported last week in a new feature on customer buying habits.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend jumping over to the Overdrive website and checking it out. It’s linked above.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the piece is how owner-operators are viewing emission maintenance costs. Though they’ll never love the additional expenses that come from EPA compliance (and who can blame them), owner-operators aren’t totally terrified anymore. With dealers and fleets continuing to claim emission costs have dropped a monthly and yearly basis, many owner-operators are acknowledging that it may be time for them to drop their grudge and consider buying a new or nearly new truck.

And on that topic, Overdrive says newer might be better. Model year 2014 and later vehicles in particular are proving to be “lower cost than their 2007-13 emissions-spec counterparts.”


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If you’re thinking, “Yeah, I knew that last part,” I get it. That fact isn’t news to you.

But the fact does appear to be news to the owner-operator market, and that is a big deal.

These are customers who have aggressively avoided 2007 or later vehicles because they were fearful of the maintenance required to keep those trucks on the road. These customers helped spur the glider kit market and have been instrumental in pushing the national vehicle population average age north — I saw a stat last week that pegged the average commercial truck at 13 years old.

These are not vehicle buyers who, on the whole, were keenly interested in the new or used trucks you’ve been selling.

Overdrive says that’s no longer the case. According to a February 2018 reader poll, more than a quarter (26 percent) of owner-operators say their most recent truck purchase was a brand new tractor. Another seven percent bought a truck that was less than three years old, and 16 percent purchased a truck between three and five years of age.

That’s almost half the market. Overdrive says the new truck total is 13 percent higher (from 23 to 26 percent) than the same poll in 2015. Another huge boost in the market is in glider kits, which garnered 3 percent of responses in 2015 but boomed to 12 percent overall in 2018. I’ll admit that second point doesn’t entirely jive with the first one, but I think it does show vehicle owners are hungry to take advantage of some of the aerodynamic advantages available with new model tractors.

If you can sell that with the lower cost per mile data — owner-operator business services firm ATBS says Post-2014 units are about 10 cents per mile; 2006 engines were 12 cents — and today’s favorable lending climate, there’s reason to believe a section of the market you’ve struggled to reach is finally coming into range.

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