What Is Hot Shot Trucking? Overview, Benefits, Cost, Driver Requirements

Ever been called a hot shot? Outside of the trucking industry, a hot shot is someone who’s flashy, successful or larger than life. 

In the trucking industry, a hot shot is actually smaller than usual. Hot shot trailers are hauled by a commercial pick-up truck, rather than a full-size semi trailer.  

At Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), our goal is to provide customers with the right kind of truck and trailer to meet their needs. Sometimes, that’s a hot shot. As this type of transportation becomes more popular and widespread, it’s important to understand what this type of trucking is and when it is suitable.

In this blog we’ll outline:

You deserve to have all of the information needed to make the correct decision for your freight so let’s talk about all things “hot shot trucking.”

What Is Hot Shot Trucking?

Hot shot trucking is transporting smaller quantities of freight using a flatbed hot shot trailer and a medium-duty pickup truck. 

In many instances, hot shot trucking provides a time- and budget-friendly  solution for shippers who would otherwise send their freight via less-than-truckload (LTL) or partial-truckload (PTL) services.

What Is the Capacity of a Hot Shot Trailer? 

Hot shot trailers come in varying sizes. Most hot shot trailers on the market today are 30 to 40 feet long — shorter than a standard flatbed, which are typically 48 or 53 feet long. 

A hot shot trailer can’t haul freight longer than the length of the trailer. However, the shorter length of a hot shot means they are easier to maneuver, making them an excellent option for densely populated areas or tight turns. 

Typical hotshots are between 3 feet, 4 inches and 3 feet, 6 inches high, with a maximum freight height capacity ranging from 9 feet, 6 inches and 10 feet tall — depending on the profile of the trailer tires. Their height is comparable to a step-deck trailer (maximum height capacity of 10 feet, 6 inches).

Where weight capacity is concerned, a 40-foot hot shot trailer isn’t suited to haul any freight that weighs greater than 16,500 pounds. Many hot shot drivers won’t want to pull a full 16,500 pounds with their truck, so you may not be able to find a hot shot for a heavy load. 

Their versatility coupled with the efficiency they provide their drivers — which often translates into cost savings for the shipper — make hot shot trailers a widely popular option for moving loads that fall within their dimensional confines. 

What Are The Types of Hot Shot Trailers?

There are several types of hot shot trailers, each suited for a specific use. The most popular kinds of hot shot trailers are: 

  1. Gooseneck hot shot trailers
  2. Dovetail hot shot trailers
  3. Bumper pull hot shot trailers

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1. Gooseneck Hot Shot Trailers

Gooseneck hot shots, commonly 40 feet long, are one of the most popular types of hot shot trailers on the roads today. These trailers — known for the rigid stability of their goosenecks — are an excellent solution for shippers who need to transport larger hot shot freight.

Among drivers, the gooseneck trailer is a fan favorite as they provide easier handling through tight turns and steadfast rigidity during long stretches of open-road miles.  

what is hot shot trucking

2. Dovetail Hot Shot Trailers

Dovetail trailers earn their name from a rear ramp that, upon deployment, makes these trailers look like the literal tail of a dove. 

Dovetail trailers are most commonly used for hauling self-propelled equipment such as light tractors and construction machinery. 

If you’re a shipper that needs to move smaller equipment and want to avoid the hassle of booking an FTL flatbed, give dovetail hot shots a try.

3. Bumper Pull Hot Shot Trailers

Because they're typically shorter, easier to employ, and less expensive to purchase, bumper pull trailers are the most common type of hot shot trailer you'll see on the roads.

The fact that these trailers can't haul anything more than 10,000 pounds makes it easier for non-CDL drivers to get into hot shot trucking with a class three pickup truck. 

That said, bumper pull trailers are still plenty capable. And, for companies that need to move smaller amounts of freight, these hot shot trailers provide a competent, cost-effective, solution.  

What Are the Driver Requirements for Hot Shot Trucking?

Hot shot trucking is becoming increasingly popular among owner-operator truck drivers due to one prime factor: you don’t need to own a traditional (class 7-8) semi-tractor. Hot shot truck drivers also do not need a commercial driver’s license (CDL).  

You see, hot shot trailers — and whatever they’re carrying (up to 16,500 pounds) — can be pulled using a class 3, class 4 or class 5 pickup truck.

Although in the eyes of the law (the Federal Highway Administration) medium-duty pickup trucks are considered non-commercial vehicles, hot shot trucking is an exception to this rule. 

Drivers of class 3-5 pickups are legally allowed to pull hot shot loads as long as they do the following things: 

  1. Hold and maintain the proper liability insurance and operational authority.
  2. Have a functioning DOT identification number.
  3. Submit the proper paperwork to signify their ownership of a business.
  4. Abide by all federally mandated hours of service (HOS) regulations.
  5. Possess a CDL when moving a pickup and loaded trailer with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 26,000 pounds.

For instance, as long as an individual driving a Ford F-450 maintains all of the necessary documents, certifications and abides by all regulations, they’re legally able to haul the full capacity of their chosen hot shot trailer and make money doing so.

How Does Hot Shot Trucking Benefit Shippers? 

There are plenty of reasons to use hot shot trucking. Cost savings, increased visibility and the ability to meet tight delivery schedules all make hot shot trucking a competent solution for many shippers. 

Let’s talk about each of these advantages. 

1. Added Cost Savings

Incorporating hot shot trucking into your supply chain has the potential to reduce your flatbed shipping costs by doing a couple of things:

  1. Increasing the number of trucking solutions you have to choose from. 
  2. Supplying the capacity you need without having to book a full semi-trailer. 

2. Increasing Your Pool of Trucking Solutions

Often, hot shots are just as capable of transporting your freight as a standard flatbed or step-deck. Opening your freight up to the possibility of hot shot transportation increases the supply of vehicles for you to choose from. 

For instance: let’s say you need to transport a 10,000-pound skid steer from Kent, Ohio, to a customer in Cincinnati — a destination that’s ripe with outbound capacity. 

While sourcing for a solution you discover that there are only three flatbed drivers and two step-deck drivers — both of which can transport your skid steer — in your area. 

All of these drivers are looking for freight into Cincinnati — where they know they’ll get their next load — but since they are only five to choose from, the bargaining power is in their hands. 

Now picture five additional drivers licensed to pull hot shots near your location. Adding these drivers to your pool of options will double your original supply. 

In a flurry of excellence, you decide to consider a hot shot as well. 

Now that you have 10 capable solutions, the price of getting your freight to Cincinnati dwindles significantly as truckers recognize their competition and price their services accordingly. 

3. Supplying The Capacity Needed Without Paying FTL Prices

Full-length (48-53 foot) flatbed and step-deck trailers can be pricey, especially if you need to book the entirety of a trailer but don’t have the supply of goods to fill it. 

As such, using the capacity of a hot shot trailer where applicable will save you the cost of paying for an entire truck, tractor and semi-truck driver. 

Since hot shot drivers don’t have the cost of owning and maintaining a tractor — and the poor fuel efficiency that comes with driving a class-8 semi and pulling a 53-foot trailer — they’re able to offer their services at more cost-effective rates. 

4. Greater Visibility

Sometimes, when sharing the trailer space of a larger trailer, shippers aren’t able to adequately track their freight’s transit progress and touchpoints. This can lead to costly delays when receivers aren’t prepared for a shipment’s arrival or are left in the lurch when shipments show up late. 

Visibility is an important cog in the creation of a smooth supply chain, and sharing trailer space with other shippers can often hinder load-tracking capabilities. 

Hot shot trucking removes these barriers as each shipment has a dedicated truck, trailer and driver motivated to provide their service at the highest level to a single shipper. 

If your next freight shipment falls below 10 feet tall and weighs less than 16,500 pounds, consider hot shot trucking. Making this an integral part of your supply chain can save you the time and hassle of booking frequent LTL or PTL loads. 

5. Ability to Meet Tight Timeframes

When the deadline for delivery is quickly approaching and the freight your customer is waiting for needs transportation, look no further than hot shot trucking. 

Because of the size and versatility of these trailers, prolonged loading — which typically impedes a truck’s ability to maintain timelines — and slow transit times aren’t an issue hot shot trucking solutions run into. 

Compared to PTL and LTL services, the transit timing of 14,000 pounds of freight on a hot shot is far easier to predict and plan.

Since a driver and trailer are dedicated to each shipment — and therefore don’t have to pick/drop other shipper’s loads — hot shot freight is far more effective with time-sensitive shipments than a PTL or LTL service.

Beyond this, hot shot trailers are easier to maneuver through town, fuel-efficient on the highway and quicker to load/unload at each end than a 48 or 53-foot semi-trailer. In many instances, their smaller size also means they can travel faster than a larger truck, especially on highways. 

As such, hot shot trucking — where applicable — can be a highly convenient solution for shippers on a tight schedule as they provide a solution that can quickly and efficiently get freight moving. 

What Are the Downsides of Hot Shot Trucking?

Hot shot trucking can be an excellent option for shippers who need an expeditious and relatively cost-effective transportation solution. That said, there are three main disadvantages of hot shot trucking that you should be aware of:

  1. Limited capacity
  2. Limited supply of hot shot truckers
  3. Most hot shot trailers lack air-ride suspension

1. Limited Capacity

Hot shot trailers can only legally haul 16,500 pounds of freight and measure up to 40 feet long. Hot shots simply aren’t an option for larger loads.  

This issue is compounded further when you consider that drivers of these trailers — and many others — don’t like to put unnecessary stress on their equipment by maxing out their capacities. 

For this reason, finding a hot shot driver willing to haul a fully loaded 16,500 pounds of freight can often prove difficult. 

2. Limited Supply of Hot Shot Truckers

Although hot shot trucking has certainly become more popular — and more readily available — in recent years, it’s still a relatively niche service offering.

For the most part, hot shot capacities are offered by one-man owner-operators without a fleet of trucks, trailers and drivers behind them. 

For shippers, this means that finding a hot shot when and where they need it may be more difficult to find than a 53-foot flatbed or step-deck trailer. 

This isn’t to say that shippers won’t be able to find a quick hot shot solution when needed, just that a limited supply makes finding one more difficult. 

3. Most Hot Shot Trailers Lack Air-Ride Suspension 

Most traditionally sized trailers — those pulled by class 7 and 8 semi-tractors and measuring 48 to 53 feet in length — come with air-ride suspension systems. 

Air-ride suspension, which is powered by a system of valves, bags and compression, serves to keep freight safe from damage caused by jostling, bumping and shifting during transport. 

Air-ride suspension has become a staple piece of most trailer types  — especially those manufactured more recently. As such, many shippers prefer the convenience and peace of mind that sending freight on trailers with air-ride suspension gives them. 

That said, most hot shot trailers aren't manufactured with air-ride suspension systems. Instead, the vast majority of trailers used for hot shot trucking boast leaf-spring suspension, which doesn't give freight the same protection. 

Although leaf-spring apparatuses absorb a good portion of over-the-road bumping, they can often be less effective than air-ride systems — which require electric power to operate. 

As a result, hot-shotting freight comes with an added risk of cargo damage that you should be aware of.

How Does Hot Shot Trucking Impact Your Shipping Cost? 

Now that you know exactly what hot shot trucking is and how it can, where applicable, get your freight moving at a reasonable price, you’re ready to take the next step toward supply chain mastery: understanding your freight rates.

The more information you have about how your freight shipping prices are calculated, the better prepared you’ll be to make great decisions for your freight. 

In the video below, we explain how the price you’re paying for your freight is actually calculated and what you can do to maximize your budget. 

How to Add Hot Shot Trucks to Your Supply Chain

Understanding hot shot trucking is one step in adding these versatile vehicles to your supply chain. The next step is to actually specify a load of hot shot freight. 

Download the Find a Truck Faster Guide to learn more about freight shipping options and which vehicle could be best for your needs. If you’re ready to specify a load, reach out.

Tags: Flatbed Shipping, Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Shipping, Terminology, Shipping Services

Mike Rudnick

Written by Mike Rudnick

As a National Sales Representative with ATS Logistics, Mike uses his passion for understanding the transportation world to help customers meet their deadlines and maximize their supply chains. Today, more than a year and a half into his tenure with ATS Logistics, Mike works to expand his knowledge of transportation best practices and assist the shippers he works with at the highest possible level.

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