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Pros and cons of becoming a cargo van owner operator

The life of a cargo van owner operator can be both rewarding and demanding, offering a blend of financial freedom and challenging responsibilities. In this article, we’ll delve into the various pros and cons of becoming a cargo van owner operator to help you decide whether this career is right for you.

And when you’re finished reading, check out the other articles in our ‘Cargo van owner operator’ series:

What is a cargo van owner operator?

Cargo van owner operator truckers own and operate their own cargo vans for transporting goods. They are self-employed or contracted by freight companies. Unlike company drivers, they handle business tasks like invoicing and maintenance. They have more control over routes, schedules, and the type of cargo they carry. They also bear the costs and responsibilities for their vehicle’s upkeep and compliance with regulations. In return, they generally earn more than salaried drivers.

Career paths in cargo van owner operator trucking

Starting as a company driver is common. This offers experience and insights into the logistics industry. Some then save money to buy their own cargo van. With a van, they become new owner operators, either independently or under a freight company. They start by taking local or regional van owner jobs to build reputation and client base.

Specializing in niche cargo van load jobs, like high-value or temperature-sensitive items, can be lucrative. Some owner drivers expand their business by hiring drivers or adding more vans. Others may transition into bigger rigs like box trucks or semi-trucks for larger owner operator loads.

Types of owner operator cargo van loads

Cargo van owner operators carry a variety of loads, which are typically on the smaller side due to the van’s limited space. Some drivers specialize in expedited freight for time-sensitive shipments, while others might handle fragile or high-value items requiring special care. Temperature-controlled vans may be required for perishable cargo jobs.

Load types often depend on contracts with shippers or freight brokers. Here are examples of goods that typically comprise the bulk of cargo van work:

  • Parcels: Small packages for courier services
  • E-commerce goods: Products bought online
  • Medical supplies: Pharmaceuticals, lab samples
  • Furniture: Small to medium-sized items
  • Electronics: TVs, computers, appliances
  • Auto parts: Engines, tires, accessories
  • Office supplies: Paper, ink, stationery
  • Food and beverages: Non-perishable or perishable items in temperature-controlled vans
  • Construction materials: Tools, small machinery, fasteners
  • Textiles: Clothing, linens, fabric rolls
  • Pet supplies: Food, toys, cages
  • Art and antiques: High-value, fragile items
  • Floral shipments: Plants, flowers in climate-controlled settings
  • Expedited freight: Time-sensitive shipments, often long-distance
  • Musical instruments: Guitars, drums, sound equipment
  • Legal documents: Contracts, notarized papers
  • Promotional materials: Banners, merchandise for events
  • Hazardous materials: Chemicals, batteries, with proper certification
  • Industrial equipment: Small parts, specialized machinery

Each type requires specific handling and may have different regulatory considerations.

How to become a cargo van owner operator

To begin accepting owner operator cargo van jobs, you’ll generally need the following:

  1. A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL): Not always required for cargo vans, but beneficial for credibility and potential job options.
  2. Vehicle: Look for a reliable cargo van that meets industry and regulatory standards.
  3. Insurance: Commercial auto and cargo insurance is necessary to cover potential damages or loss.
  4. Operating authority: Depending on jurisdiction, you may need federal or state permits to operate commercially.
  5. Legal business entity: You must establish a legal business entity, like an LLC, to handle finances and liabilities.
  6. Tax ID: The IRS requires an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes.
  7. Accounting system: Accurate records of income, expenses, and mileage are also needed for tax purposes.
  8. Equipment: Procure equipment like straps, blankets, and dollies for safe cargo handling.
  9. Regulatory knowledge: You must meet all relevant Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association requirements. 
  10. Health certification: Some companies require a medical certificate confirming you’re fit to drive.
  11. Background check: You’ll need a clean driving record, and sometimes a criminal background check.
  12. Navigation skills: Knowing how to use GPS and read maps is necessary for efficient routing.
  13. Reliable communication: At the very least, you’ll need a mobile phone.
  14. Time management and customer service skills: Your success depends on your ability to schedule and meet deadlines reliably, interact with clients, and handle paperwork.

Each company or contract may have its own additional job requirements. Always read over the listings for van owner operator jobs for more specific prerequisites.

Pros and cons of owner operator jobs for cargo vans

So, is being an owner operator worth it? Jobs for cargo van owner operators offer a mix of benefits and challenges. While the role provides greater earnings potential and flexibility, it also comes with financial risks and responsibilities. If you decide to kick start your driver career with a cargo van, make sure you carefully review the requirements outlined above. The financial rewards and independence of self-employment may be well within your reach!


  • Higher earnings: Potentially earn more than company drivers since you negotiate your rates.
  • Flexibility: Choose your routes, schedules, and types of loads for better work-life balance.
  • Independence: You’re your own boss as a business owner operator, making key decisions without answering to higher-ups.
  • Niche opportunities: Specialize in specific types of cargo like high-value items or medical supplies for premium rates.
  • Skill growth: Gain valuable business skills in areas like negotiation, accounting, and logistics management.
  • Asset ownership: Your van can appreciate in value, and you can use it for other purposes.
  • Networking: Build relationships directly with clients or brokers, which can lead to more and better opportunities.


  • High overheads: You’re responsible for all expenses, including van maintenance, insurance, and fuel.
  • Variable income: Earnings can be unpredictable, depending on market conditions and availability of loads.
  • Regulatory compliance: You must keep up with permits, licenses, and safety regulations, which can be complex.
  • Job security: No benefits like health insurance, life insurance, retirement plans, or paid leave, unless you provide them yourself.
  • Wear and tear: More frequent use of your vehicle can accelerate its depreciation and require more upkeep.
  • Business risks: You bear the financial risks in case of accidents, cargo damage, or other liabilities.
  • Long hours: The job can be time-consuming, affecting work-life balance, especially if handling long-distance or time-sensitive cargo.
  • Isolation: Working alone most of the time can be lonely and may impact mental health.

Are cargo van operator jobs right for you?

For those considering this career path, it’s crucial to weigh the potential for higher earnings and greater autonomy against the backdrop of risk and ongoing expenses. If you decide to kick start your driver career with a cargo van, make sure you carefully review the requirements outlined above. The financial rewards and independence of self-employment may be well within your reach!


What is owner operator trucking?

Owner operator trucking involves owning and operating your own truck to transport goods. You’re self-employed, giving you control over routes, schedules, and rates.

How much does a cargo van owner operator make?

A cargo van owner operator’s earnings can vary widely, ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 a year. Factors like niche specialization, location, and business expenses impact the final take-home pay.

How do you make a living with a cargo van?

Making a living with a cargo van involves transporting goods for various clients. You can work independently or contract with a freight company, and your income will depend on the number and type of loads you take.

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