Owner-operator startup checklist

Starting your journey as an owner-operator in the trucking world is a big step. Whether you’re new to trucking or switching from being a company driver, a well-organized startup checklist is your key to a smooth beginning. The following are the owner-operator startup checklist you’ll need to start your trucking journey.

Owner-operator startup checklist

1. Obtain Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is a license that allows individuals to operate commercial vehicles and these vehicles include large trucks, buses, and other types of vehicles. CDLs are divided into different classes, each representing the type and size of the vehicle that the driver is allowed to operate. The following are the vehicles you can operate under each type.

CDL classDescription
Class A CDLAny combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, providing the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
Class B CDLA single vehicle with a gross combined weight rating of 26,001 pounds or greater, or tow a vehicle weighing no more than 10,000 pounds.
Class C CDLA single vehicle with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds, or a vehicle pulling another vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds, or transporting 16 or more passengers, including the driver. 


In addition to the basic CDL, drivers can obtain endorsements that authorize them to operate specific types of vehicles or transport certain types of cargo. The different endorsements types are:

HHazardous material
NTank vehicles
SSchool buses
TDouble/Triple trailers
XCombination of N and H

How to obtain CDL?

To obtain a CDL, individuals typically need to pass written knowledge tests and practical skills tests. These tests cover general knowledge, vehicle operation, and specific endorsements if applicable. The minimum age to apply for a CDL is usually 18 for intrastate (within the state) operations and 21 for interstate (across state lines) operations. You can apply for a CDL at a DMV office near you. 

2. Register your business

You must register your company with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the state. This involves adhering to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) safety regulations and performing a biannual update. If you do not fulfill these processes before accepting clients, you will be fined.

3. Obtain MC number

To legally operate as an owner operator across states you must obtain a MC number. Before getting an MC (Motor Carrier) number, first, confirm if you need one. The MC number is solely for interstate activities. You do not need one if you are operating business in your state only. 

MC number requirements

Interstate carrier

  • USDOT and MC number
  • BOC- 3
  • Insurance
  • UCR
  • IRP plates
  • 2290 (If GVW is 55,000 pounds or more)
  • IFTA
  • Any other state permits

Intrastate carrier

  • USDOT (Optional)
  • 2290 (If GVW is 55,000 pounds or more)
  • Any other state permits

Owner-Operator Compliance Checklist

It’s a good idea to stay up to date on Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations in order to stay compliant and safe on the road. Just like the owner-operator startup checklist, following are the owner operator compliance checklist to help you with your business. 

1. Hours of service

The Department of Transportation (DOT) sets limits on how long drivers can drive without a break, and these limits may vary depending on the situation. It’s important to ensure that you are following the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations and taking breaks regularly. 

For every 24-hour of your on duty, you should have documentation, such as bills of lading, itineraries, and trip logs, and receipts for any costs incurred during non-driving hours. Hold onto these documents, called Records of Duty Status (RODS), for at least six months.

To make things easier, electronic logging devices (ELDs) are now a must in many trucks. For owner-operators running on their own authority, it’s important to find out if the ELD (Electronic Logging Device) rule applies to you. Some exceptions include:

  • Drivers who use paper logs for short-hauls, limited to eight days in any 30-day period.
  • Driveaway-towaway drivers.
  • Drivers operating trucks manufactured before the model year 2000.

If you are not qualified for these exemptions, you should probably obtain an ELD from a provider licensed and registered with the FMCSA.

2. Driver vehicle inspections

In order to comply with FMCSA regulations, owner-operators must do pre-trip and post-trip vehicle inspections on their trucks. 

Pre-trip inspection:

FMCSA mandates truck inspection to ensure the driver’s safety. Owner operators need to make sure that the truck is safe to drive before hitting the road. To do so, inspect the following components:

  • Service and parking brakes
  • Steering system
  • Lights and reflectors
  • Wheels and rims
  • Horn
  • Tires
  • Wipers on the windshield
  • Rear-view mirrors
  • Emergency tools

Post-trip inspection:

After every trip is completed, carefully examine your truck again. Any problem you discover must be recorded and reported. Make sure the problem is fixed before your next trip.

3. Driver Qualification File (DQF)

According to the FMCSA, all trucking companies must maintain a Driver Qualification File individually for every driver. If you are an owner operator 

 The few documents DQF should contain are:

  • Employee application as per the federal requirements.
  • Motor Vehicle Record for previous three years
  • Copy of your CDL
  • Pre-employment drug testing documents.
  • Copy of DOT physical report
  • Past 3 years safety performance records of the drivers

These documents must be kept for at least 3 years but some documents like MVR must be kept for 5 years.

4. Register at a drug and alcohol consortium

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration standards, owner-operators are required to participate in a DOT Drug & Alcohol Testing Program.

Owner-operators who are operating under their own license need to sign up with a consortium in order to be added to a randomized testing pool. An organization that oversees all or a portion of an employer’s DOT drug and alcohol testing program is known as a Consortium/Third-Party Administrator (C/TPA).

How to take part in a DOT Drug and Alcohol Program and locate a consortium:

  • Search Consortium DOT Drug & Alcohol Testing owner-operator or
  • Consult local trucking-related or motor carrier associations for advice or
  • Look through the yellow pages.

5. Prepare yourself for DOT audits

There are four types of DOT audits conducted to verify commercial vehicle operators are in compliance with FMCSA standards. 

New Entrant Audits:

New motor carriers will undergo a DOT safety audit during the first 18 months of operation. These inspections are frequently referred to as “New Entrant Safety Audits.” They ensure that you follow all safety rules as you begin your business. This applies to your business if you run on your own authority. The information contained in your driver qualification files will assist you in preparing for a DOT audit.

Hazardous materials audits:

The DOT analyzes hazardous material labeling, training, and shipping documents during a hazardous materials audit.

Security audits:

It looks into your company’s driver training, security measures, and safety plan.

Compliance review:

It is also known as a targeted DOT audit, conducted when a bad performance indication is observed. A high crash rate, citizen complaint, or low SMS score could all be indicators. But the FMCSA also has the authority to perform random compliance audits without cause.


This owner-operator startup checklist is like a roadmap to help you start and run your trucking business smoothly. Remember, every little thing you do now adds up to your success later on. Keep learning, follow the rules, and face challenges with confidence. As you check off each thing on your owner-operator startup checklist, you’re not just starting a business; you’re building a career on the road.

Yoga Laxmi
Social Media Marketer at OpenFR8 | More posts

I am copyright writer with OpenFR8. I take a little bit of time to complete my blogs because I undergo research and analysis of each and every article to gather accurate information. For me, writing is not just a job; it feeds my creativity and desire to share insightful information with readers. As a writer, I like to present content that is valuable and easily understood by every individual. I believe in the power of words, and if they are used in a good manner, they can create many positive changes around us.

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