8 Steps to Start a Hot Shot Trucking Business in 2023

Thang Truong
Thang Truong
Updated on:

Starting a hot shot trucking business can be a lucrative opportunity for those interested in the trucking industry. Unlike traditional trucking businesses that rely on large trucks and trailers, hot shot trucking involves smaller vehicles and lighter loads. This makes the business model more flexible and cost-effective, offering a unique advantage for new entrants into the industry. However, starting a hot shot trucking business isn’t a walk in the park. It involves numerous steps, from obtaining necessary licenses to acquiring the right insurance. This article provides a comprehensive guide to starting a hot shot trucking business.

Getting started

Before jumping in, it’s essential to evaluate if hot shot trucking aligns with your personal goals, interests, and lifestyle. You need to understand the responsibilities involved, the nature of the job, and the level of commitment it requires. It’s also essential to analyze your local market and industry trends to understand demand, competition, and growth opportunities. This preliminary assessment is crucial to avoid misguided decisions and unnecessary risks.

1. Develop a business plan

A robust business plan is vital to the success of any business, and hot shot trucking is no exception. Your business plan should outline your mission statement, business goals, marketing strategies, startup costs, expected revenue, and other financial projections. This plan acts as your roadmap, guiding your decisions and helping you stay on track towards your business objectives.

2. Obtain necessary credentials and licenses: driver license or CDL and medical card 

As a hot shot trucker, you need a valid driver’s license. Depending on the weight of your vehicle and the goods you’ll be transporting, you may need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Is CDL required to start a hot shot trucking business? 

Whether you need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) for your hot shot trucking business depends on the weight of the truck and the cargo you will be hauling. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific regulations that determine this:

CDL is required: 

If the combined weight of your truck and trailer exceeds 26,000 pounds and the weight of the trailer itself is over 10,000 pounds, you need a Class A CDL.

CDL is not required: 

If the combined Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is under 26,000 pounds, you typically don’t need a CDL for your hot shot trucking business. For hot shot trucking, this usually involves using a pickup truck and a smaller trailer.

In addition to the weight of the vehicle, there are other circumstances where a CDL would be required. For instance, if the vehicle is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or if the vehicle is used to transport hazardous materials that require the vehicle to be placarded, a CDL is required.

Remember, these are federal regulations. Individual states may have their own regulations that exceed these, so it’s essential to check the specific regulations in your state.

It’s also worth noting that even if a CDL isn’t legally required for the weight of the vehicle you’ll be operating, some hot shot trucking contracts may require drivers to have one. The CDL can provide additional training and certification that some shippers and freight brokers value.

Is a medical card required to start a hot shot trucking business? 

To operate commercial vehicles, you’ll also need a medical card, which shows that you’re physically fit to be on the road. The process of obtaining this card involves passing a medical exam by a certified medical examiner.

3. Acquiring hot shot trucking insurance

Hot shot trucking insurance is mandatory and essential to the success of the business. It protects you from financial loss in case of accidents, property damage, and other liabilities. When shopping for insurance, compare quotes from different providers and ensure you understand what each policy covers.

Hot shot trucking insurance requirements vary based on the size of your truck, the nature of your operation, the types of goods you transport, and federal and state regulations. However, there are several types of insurance coverage that are common to hot shot trucking:

Primary liability insurance: 

Primary trucking liability insurance is the most basic form of commercial trucking insurance – and it’s required by law. This insurance provides coverage for injuries or damage to other people or property if you’re at fault in an accident. The FMCSA requires a minimum of $750,000 in liability coverage, but $1,000,000 is generally recommended in the trucking industry.

Cargo insurance: 

Truck cargo insurance covers the cargo you are transporting in case of damage or theft. This coverage is typically required by the shippers or brokers you work with.

Trucking physical damage insurance: 

Trucking physical damage insurance is not required by law, but it might be required if you lease your equipment or vehicle. This covers the repair or replacement of your truck and trailer if it’s damaged in an accident, whether you’re at fault or not.

Non-trucking liability insurance: 

Non-trucking liability insurance is also known as bobtail insurance, this type of insurance provides coverage when you’re not under dispatch. This might be required by your motor carrier if you lease your truck to them.

General liability insurance: 

While not always required, trucking general liability insurance provides coverage for other risks related to your business operations, such as accidents at your place of business, advertising injuries, or damage to rented premises.

It’s important to discuss your specific needs with an insurance agent who understands the hot shot trucking industry to ensure you have the right coverage. Your agent can also help you understand how much insurance you need and what deductibles and limits are appropriate for your business.

4. Get your MC number or operating authority

The Motor Carrier (MC) number or operating authority is a requirement from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for businesses involved in interstate commerce. This number identifies you as a registered carrier. The process involves filing an application with the FMCSA and paying the associated fees.

5. Registering your business

You need to register your business with the state where you plan to operate. The process varies by state and may involve filing specific paperwork, paying registration fees, and meeting other state-specific requirements.

6. Purchasing trucks and equipment 

Starting a hot shot trucking business requires a reliable and sturdy truck that can handle heavy loads. The truck you choose ultimately depends on the specific needs of your business, your budget, and whether or not you have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Here are five excellent choices for each category:

The best trucks for hot shot trucking drivers without a CDL

These trucks are chosen due to their towing capacity being able to fall under the 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) limit.

  1. Ford F-250 Super Duty: This truck offers impressive power and payload capacity, making it an excellent choice for hot shot trucking without a CDL.
  2. Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD: The Silverado 2500HD is highly praised for its towing capacity and reliability.
  3. Ram 2500: The Ram 2500 offers a perfect balance between comfort and functionality, with its high-torque diesel engine and spacious cab.
  4. GMC Sierra 2500HD: This truck has robust towing and payload capacities and comes with many standard features.
  5. Toyota Tundra: Known for its reliability and durability, the Tundra also has impressive towing capacity.

The best trucks for hot shot trucking drivers with a CDL

For those with a CDL, here are some trucks that offer greater towing capacity.

  1. Ford F-450 Super Duty: The F-450 is designed for heavy-duty work and has a towing capacity that far surpasses the smaller F-250.
  2. Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD: Like the 2500HD, but with even more power and towing capacity.
  3. Ram 3500: With its superior towing capacity and comfortable cab, the Ram 3500 is an excellent choice for hot shot truckers with a CDL.
  4. GMC Sierra 3500HD: Similar to the Sierra 2500HD but designed for even more heavy-duty work.
  5. Freightliner M2 106: If you’re looking to step into a medium-duty truck with a CDL, the Freightliner M2 106 offers immense hauling power and the option for a high-roof sleeper cab.

These are just general recommendations. It’s crucial to consider your specific needs and budget before purchasing a truck for your hot shot trucking business. Always make sure to check the truck’s towing capacity and that it’s appropriate for the loads you plan to haul.

Other equipment essential for starting a hot shot trucking business 

Besides a reliable truck, there are several other items and equipment that you will need to operate a hot shot trucking business effectively. These items in a hot shot trucking starter kit contribute to the safety, efficiency, and professionalism of your operation.

  1. Trailer: Depending on the type of loads you plan to haul, you may need different types of trailers such as a flatbed, lowboy, or gooseneck. The gooseneck trailer is popular in hot shot trucking due to its high weight capacity and stability.
  2. Straps and Chains: Secure your loads properly with high-quality straps and chains. These are crucial for safety during transport.
  3. Tarps: Tarps are used to protect loads from weather and road debris. You’ll need different sizes to cover various types of cargo.
  4. Winch: This tool is particularly useful if you’re hauling vehicles or other heavy items that need to be pulled onto the trailer.
  5. Gloves and Safety Equipment: Protect yourself with heavy-duty gloves, a hard hat, and safety shoes. High-visibility vests and safety glasses can also be beneficial.
  6. Tool Box: Keep a well-stocked toolbox for on-the-road repairs and maintenance. This should include wrenches, pliers, a tire pressure gauge, screwdrivers, and other essential tools.
  7. Dolly: If you’re delivering smaller loads, a hand truck or dolly can make moving items easier and more efficient.
  8. GPS Navigation System: A reliable GPS is essential for planning routes, avoiding traffic, and ensuring timely deliveries.

Remember, the specific equipment you’ll need can vary based on the nature of your hot shot trucking business. Always make sure you have the necessary equipment to handle your specific load types and meet all safety regulations.

7. Find loads and start driving

After setting up your business, the next step is to find loads and start driving. Numerous online platforms connect shippers with carriers, making it easier to find potential loads. As you start, be prepared for challenges and be proactive in addressing them to keep your business running smoothly.

Here are the top 5 load boards that can be particularly beneficial for someone starting a hot shot trucking business:

  1. DAT Load Board: Known as one of the biggest load boards in the industry, DAT provides a vast number of loads to choose from. The wide reach of DAT also allows you to find loads no matter where you are in the country.
  2. Truckstop.com: Another popular load board in the industry, Truckstop.com provides not only a variety of loads but also additional tools and services that can help you run your business, such as a fuel desk and freight rates.
  3. 123Loadboard: This load board provides many helpful features such as credit data, customizable alerts, and a mobile app that makes finding loads easier when you’re on the go.
  4. uShip: This is a unique online platform where shippers post their loads, and truckers can bid on them. This could be an excellent option for hot shot truckers just starting and trying to find their first loads.
  5. Direct Freight: Direct Freight offers both a web-based and mobile load board platform with plenty of features such as full credit reports, weather conditions, truck routing, and many more.

Remember, when selecting a load board, make sure to consider the monthly subscription costs and how well it fits your business needs. You may want to start with one board and as your business grows, expand to multiple boards.

8. Maintaining your hot shot trucking business

Long-term success in hot shot trucking requires ongoing effort. This involves maintaining excellent customer relations, regularly checking and servicing your equipment, and keeping up-to-date with your licenses and certifications.

Are hot shot trucks subject to DOT regulations?

Yes, hot shot trucks are subject to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, particularly if they cross state lines. This is because hot shot trucking often falls into the category of commercial trucking.

In the United States, commercial vehicles that operate interstate (cross state lines) and have a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating (which includes both the truck and the trailer) of 10,001 pounds or more are subject to DOT regulations.

These regulations include maintaining a DOT number, which is used for tracking and investigations of a company’s safety performance, including audits, reviews, and crash investigations. The DOT also requires specific documentation, such as a record of duty status (RODS), vehicle inspection reports, and maintenance and repair records.

However, there are exceptions. For example, hot shot trucks that operate only intrastate (within a single state) may not be subject to federal DOT regulations but instead must follow the state’s regulations, which can vary.

Also, regardless of whether a hot shot truck crosses state lines, if the truck and its cargo combined exceed 26,000 pounds, or the truck is used to transport hazardous materials, the driver is required to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which also comes with additional DOT regulations.

Thus, hot shot trucking operators should familiarize themselves with both federal and state DOT regulations to ensure compliance and maintain safety.

How much does it cost to start a hot shot trucking business? 

Starting a hot shot trucking business can be a considerable investment, but the exact cost can vary widely depending on a variety of factors. Here’s a rough breakdown of the average costs involved and the factors affecting them:

  1. Acquiring a Truck and Trailer: The type and size of the truck and trailer you choose will significantly affect your initial costs. For a new hotshot-specific truck, you might spend between $40,000 and $80,000, while used trucks could be between $15,000 and $40,000. A new trailer can cost between $7,000 and $20,000, while a used one might range from $2,000 to $10,000.
  2. Insurance: Hot shot trucking insurance costs can vary widely depending on the coverage limits, your driving history, the cargo you’re carrying, and more. On average, you might expect to pay between $7,000 and $12,000 per year.
  3. Business Registration and Licensing: These costs can also vary. Registering a business might cost a few hundred dollars, while obtaining a USDOT number is free but getting an MC number costs around $300. Various state licenses can also add to the costs.
  4. Operating Expenses: These include fuel, maintenance, repairs, tolls, and more. The cost of fuel, in particular, can vary widely depending on current prices and the fuel efficiency of your truck. Maintenance and repairs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per year.
  5. Load Board Subscription: Most load boards charge a monthly fee, ranging from around $20 to $150 or more, depending on the features and benefits they offer.

Given these factors, the total startup cost for a hot shot trucking business might range from $30,000 to $80,000 or more. Remember, these are just averages and actual costs can be lower or higher depending on your specific situation. It’s essential to do your research, understand your business plan, and consider all potential costs to ensure a successful startup.


1. Do I need a CDL for hot shot trucking?

It depends on the gross vehicle weight rating of your truck and trailer combined. If it’s over a certain limit (usually 26,001 lbs), you’ll need a CDL.

2. How much can I earn from hot shot trucking?

Earnings vary widely in hot shot trucking based on factors like the number of loads, distance, location, and the type of goods transported. However, hot shot truckers can make a decent income, with many earning between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.

3. What type of vehicle do I need for hot shot trucking?

Typically, a 3/4 ton or 1-ton pickup truck is used for hot shot trucking. It’s paired with a gooseneck type trailer to transport loads.

4. What kind of insurance do I need for hot shot trucking?

You’ll need commercial auto liability insurance at the minimum. Other insurance types that might be beneficial include cargo insurance, physical damage insurance, and non-trucking liability insurance.

5. Is hot shot trucking profitable?

Yes, hot shot trucking can be profitable due to lower startup costs and operational flexibility. However, profitability largely depends on effective management, finding regular loads, and controlling expenses.

6. How can I find loads for hot shot trucking?

There are several online load boards where shippers post their loads. You can register on these platforms to find and bid on potential loads. Building relationships with local businesses can also lead to regular work.

This comprehensive guide provides a good starting point for anyone considering venturing into hot shot trucking. Remember, like any other business, it requires hard work, patience, and a commitment to delivering quality services. With the right approach and mindset, you can build a successful hot shot trucking business.

Thang Truong

Thang Truong covers small business insurance and small business success at BravoPolicy. He is a licensed P&C insurance agent. Previously, he held product leadership positions at realtor.com, Capital One, NerdWallet, and Mulberry Technology. He holds a MBA degree from UC Berkeley - Haas School of Business.

More Stories

Non-CDL Hot Shot Trucking Requirements in 2023: Everything You Need To Know 

Hot shot trucking, an exciting sector of the freight industry, involves transporting time-sensitive loads across vast distances, often to meet critical deadlines. Unlike traditional trucking, hot shot trucking typically uses smaller, more agile vehicles, making it a unique niche. In this context, “non-CDL” refers to the fact that the truck’s weight does not necessitate a […]

DOT Regulations for Hot Shot Trucks in 2023: Everything You Need to Know 

Hot shot trucking is a segment of the transport industry that focuses on time-sensitive freight. Generally, hot shot loads are expedited in nature, and the trucks used for these loads are smaller and faster. In the United States, hot shot trucking is subject to regulations from the Department of Transportation (DOT), and understanding these regulations […]