What is Hot Shot Trucking?

Hot shot trucking just sounds like fun doesn’t it? Like a freshly fueled rocket ship ready to blast into orbit or that little red bicycle you had as a kid. . . oh, nostalgia.

Yeah, hot shot trucking sounds like a good time and, to the right shipper, it can be. 

You’ve heard about hot shot trucking in the past and the convenience it can provide for small capacity shipments with tight delivery windows. And so, you’re here looking for a bit more information on what is quickly becoming another staple offering of the trucking industry. 

Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we’ve seen hot shot trucking evolve immensely over the years and are ready to offer some expertise on this mode of freight transport. 

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 the process of 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 that would alternatively send their freight via less-than-truckload (LTL) or partial-truckload (PTL) services.

Since its inception in the Texas oilfields of the 1970s, hot shot trucking has pushed its way onto the forefront of the trucking world. Today, hot shot services have a neatly crafted and well-deserved place among transportation service offerings for smaller shipments.

What Are The Types of Hot Shot Trailers?

Hot shot trailers come in varying sizes. Most hot shot trailers on the market today range between 30 and 40 feet in length and rest between 3 feet, 4 inches and 3 feet, 6 inches above the ground. 

In most instances, hot shot trailers boast a maximum height capacity for freight that ranges between 9 feet, 6 inches and 10 feet tall — depending on the profile of their tires. 

As such, these trailers can move a lot of the same freight as the standard flatbed trailer (maximum height capacity of 8 feet, 6 inches) and the 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. 

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. 

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In the interest of widening their service offering, hot shot trailers come in several iterations each with its own set of uses.

Let’s talk about the most popular three kinds of hot shot trailers: 

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

1. Gooseneck Hot Shot Trailers

Gooseneck hot shots — which most commonly measure 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.  

2. Dovetail Hot Shot Trailers

The dovetail hot shot trailer is exactly as it sounds: A class of hot shot trailers specifically designed to house bunches of white doves until that long-awaited “just-married” send-off moment arrives. . . just kidding!

In reality, a dovetail trailer earns its name from its rear ramp that, upon deployment, makes these trailers look like the literal tail of a dove. 

Dovetail trailers are an incredibly useful tool 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 less experienced drivers, that don't necessarily possess a CDL, 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 Trucks Are Used For Hot Shot Trucking?

Class 4 pickup truck with hot shot trailer

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. 

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.

What Are The Advantages of Hot Shot Trucking?

There are plenty of reasons to utilize hot shot trucking capacities where they fit your supply chain. The cost savings it offers, the visibility it provides and its ability to help you 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 freight rates 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. 

1. Increasing Your Pool of Trucking Solutions

Often, hot shot trailers are just as capable of transporting your freight as a standard flatbed trailer or step-deck trailer would be. As such, opening your freight up to the possibility of hot shot transportation increases the supply of trucking solutions for you to select from. 

And, in an industry that has a pricing structure where the ratio of available trucks to the demand for their services is centerstage, more options are best. Being flexible with the equipment type you allow will give you greater bargaining power and, in turn, decrease your price. 

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. 

That said, there are five additional drivers licensed to pull hot shots near your location and 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. 

2. 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 shoulder 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. 

2. 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 utilizing hot shot trucking. Those that do it best may become an integral part of your supply chain. 

40 foot hot shot trailer

3. 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 for. 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.

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 Disadvantages of Hot Shot Trucking?

Hot Shot Truck and trailer fully loaded

Where it fits, hot shot trucking can be an excellent option for shippers that 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. Freight capacity restrictions
  2. The limited supply of hot shot truckers
  3. Hot shot trailers often lack air-ride suspension

1. Freight Capacity Restrictions 

Hot shot trailers can only legally haul 16,500 pounds of freight on their deck and measure 40 feet at their lengthiest. As a result, for shippers needing more capacity than these thresholds allow, hot shot trailers simply won’t be a capable option for their freight. 

This issue is compounded further when you consider the fact 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 therefore 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 the infrastructure of an entire fleet of trucks, trailers and drivers behind them. 

For shippers, this means that finding a hot shot truck 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 the time comes to move their freight, 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 conglomeration 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 frieght 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.

Your Next Step Toward a Healthy Supply Chain

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. 

Nobody ever said that routing freight was easy. You got into this business expecting a challenge and, boy oh boy, did you get one. Here at ATS, we understand the plight of this nation’s shippers who simply want a dependable partnership and fair pricing. 

If you would like to know more about how ATS can help you move your next load by using the best trailer for your needs, reach out. Our assistance is yours, no matter what your freight needs are. 

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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