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Big Truck A Newbie Doing Their Homework...


New Recruit
Hi all, and thanks in advance for any help/answers you can give...

I got my Class A CDL in 2013, and while it's been an interesting ride (oh, BOY, do I have some stories to tell), I think more and more lately of going expedited with a straight truck or cargo van, for a number of reasons. I had driven non-CDL box trucks up to twenty-six feet before getting my CDL, so it was more or less learning to maneuver and back the trailer and learning in the ins and outs of air brakes.

I am interested in being an owner-operator. I have found a few interesting deals online, but startup and operating capital are not quite in a realistic range yet. That being said, my main questions at this point are:

Cargo van or straight truck? And if straight truck is really the way to go, buy or build? Can having an older truck hurt you when it comes to getting loads? And speaking of getting loads, is it possible to get your own loads with expedited/LTL type vehicles, or are you pretty much boxed in to leasing on to a carrier? When leased on to a carrier, how are your settlement payments structured? What's involved with getting a motor carrier authority for this type of work? I have gotten intrastate authority for taxicab before, but I'm sure interstate authority for commercial freight is a completely different ball of wax.

I am considering building my own rig if having an older, homebuilt truck will not affect my ability to get loads. These options are on my mind...

I have a 28-foot RV, ruined by a leaking roof, on a low-mileage 1982 GM P20 chassis (approximately 38,000 actual miles). Non-EGR 6.2L V-8 diesel with what I believe is a TH475 trans and a dual-wheel Rockwell rear with either 5.29 or 4.33 gears, 16-inch wheels. I know the mere mention of a 6.2 diesel strikes fear in the hearts of most owner-ops, however, research indicates that the 1982 is a high-nickel content block and the strongest of them, and being a non-EGR, should be slightly more powerful. I'm thinking if I go this route, I may want to upgrade to a late-model injection pump and a 4L85E 4-speed auto.

It wouldn't take a whole lot to demolish and remove the RV body from the chassis. I have heard of a company that takes such chassis and running gear and makes miniature semi lookalikes (aptly named Mini Kenny and Mini Pete). The longer chassis would allow for a more real-world sleeper to be fitted to the frame, maybe even a sleeper from a real Peterbilt or KW.

I am not sure of the towing/payload capacity of such a rig, but I would hope for 15,000 lbs with a spring upgrade. The mini-semi conversion would cost around $20k, I believe, so not sure this option is really viable, but I already have the chassis and running gear... Maybe just slap a late-model pickup/cutaway cab and van box on it as a starter truck until I can afford bigger and better? It also has been sitting for several years, which may or may not have an effect (I'm told diesels are more resilient than gassers).

Next up... I have found a 1990 road tractor for sale. Engine/trans unknown as of yet, but presumably a Detroit 60, a common offering of the era. Other options for the model include a Cummins N14 and a Cat 3406. Pics are not great, but the the truck appears to be in good shape from the photos. Inoperative fifth-wheel with approximately 200k. I won't mention the price, but let's just say I could possibly buy this truck, fix the fifth-wheel and run it as-is for under $10,000, though I would have to stretch the frame for more than about a 10-foot box. If nothing else, it could be a great deal on a donor package for a glider, which I've also considered.

I have also thought about buying a retired U-Haul/Penske/Budget rental truck and putting it to work as-is. But before I start making any moves... I had also thought about just getting a standard 3/4 - 1-ton cargo van. Would that be worth it?
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Veteran Expediter
Retired Expediter
You need to read more here than you have.

Keep your class A. When you can pay cash for a nice van, with a few grand in reserve, check to see how vans are doing.
If you try it, you can always go back to big trucks and have a nice paid off van at home.

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Veteran Expediter
Right now van market is over saturated. More vans than freight. It may take awhile (maybe a year or so) for the glut of vans to subside.
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Active Expediter
Save up for a decent tractor and lease onto a trucking company as a power unit. Find a company that accepts older trucks.
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New Recruit
Unfortunately, I likely will not be able to attend... It seems I may have a clock on generating start-up capital...