Fuel for Thought


By Greg Huggins
Posted Jul 24th 2023 6:24AM

If you have signed a lease with a carrier, your ICOA (Independent Contractor Operating Agreement) spells out everything. Sure, there will be a lot of legal terms and phrases that you may not fully understand, but you can find their meanings online or by speaking with others in the industry. The rest that will be in fairly plain language, you should have read until you understand it, before you sign on the dotted lines.
All that is required to enter the trucking industry is a CDL or CDLP. Once you have enough time and/or miles under your belt, company drivers will have their mind set to become owner operators. It seems that more of these drivers are ill prepared to become business owners than before. Many seem to buy or lease-purchase their first truck without changing their mindset from company driver to business owner.
It also seems that those of us who read our ICOA are in the minority. How can you be surprised by carrier fees months or years after you signed on? One thing I know for sure, I will not sign a contract without reading it, especially one that will partner my business with another. It would seem that many of the former company drivers turned owner operators see their ICOA as a job application rather than a contract by which their business will operate. They do seem to read at least 3 lines of the contract - pay percentage, fuel surcharge percentage and which day of the week their payday will be. Then they just get surprised by fees on their settlements when they arise. They have no idea of what the fees are or how much they will be prior to being charged for them (hint: if you read your ICOA it will be spelled out there). Now they ask the question - what is this charge?
There are also the ones who always think their carrier is stealing from them, again, you agreed to these terms in your contract. I have never signed an ICOA that did not plainly state that as an independent contractor I have the right to view all the customer billing documents for the loads I hauled. As a business owner partnered to a carrier, we each have a contractual right to know what our customer is billed to ensure transparency with regard to revenue disbursement.
When signing a lease contract with a carrier, you are still running your business, make sure to understand what you are signing. If you cannot, please save yourself some grief, and get some help to explain it to you. You might find that you do not agree to the terms and need to look elsewhere for lease opportunities.
Most ICOAs are not that long, some items listed will be optional, or have options for you to choose from, and what you select will also affect your settlement deductions. You can certainly minimize your settlement deductions by handling some of the line items on your own, while other line items will be carrier specific fees you need to know about before signing.
Obviously, no one can know everything and anyone can miss an item in a contract, but you will have a copy of your ICOA to read and reread as many times as needed for you to understand it. As with any contractual agreement, addendums can be issued at any time, When these are presented to you, again, read it as many times as needed to fully understand what is changing from your original ICOA. If you do not agree with the new terms, perhaps it is time to part ways with your current carrier and explore other options.
No one forces you to sign a lease with a carrier and, unfortunately, no one forces many of you to read and understand it before signing it.

If you don't drive your business, you will be driven out of business.
- B. C. Forbes

See you down the road,