Tanker Truck Driver Jobs
Whether you’re looking to start your career in trucking or have been driving for some time and want to upskill and earn more money, becoming a tanker truck driver can give you the challenge and pay you’re looking for. Find out more about tanker truck driver jobs, including pros and cons, license requirements, typical salaries, and more.
What Does a Tanker Truck Driver Do?
In general, tanker truck drivers are responsible for transporting bulk items, liquids, and gases. A tanker driver may transport the following loads:
- Liquid sugar/molasses
- Sulfuric acid
- Carbon dioxide
While tanker truck drivers sometimes transport dry goods (like grain) or food-grade items, in many cases, they carry hazardous materials, or hazmat. This makes tanker truck driving a potentially dangerous job and one that comes with high responsibility.
The daily job duties of a tanker driver can be different from other types of truck driving jobs. You must have a strong understanding of government restrictions and regulations on the transportation of hazardous materials, if the loads you are driving are hazmat. Other essential tanker truck driver responsibilities include turning safely, managing liquid surges, correctly filling and emptying tanks, and checking for leaks.
Is Driving a Tanker Truck Dangerous?
Driving a tanker truck can be dangerous. Along with the inherent risks of driving a heavy vehicle, tanker truck drivers are often transporting hazmat. Some of the dangers of driving tanker trucks with hazardous material loads include:
- Flammable materials
- Increased risk of fire exposure or gas inhalation in an accident
Surging liquids is another significant challenge tanker truck drivers must deal with when hauling any liquid loads (hazmat or food-grade). Imagine being in a bathtub: If you rock your body back and forth, the water will gather momentum and might slosh out and over the edge of the tub. Driving with a liquid load can be a bit like that. As you come to a stop, the liquid’s momentum inside the tank can push the truck forward. This can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared, but trained tanker drivers know how to accommodate the shift.
Some trucks are equipped with baffled tanks, with holes in the bulkheads that allow liquid to flow through to help control the forward and backward surges. However, side-to-side liquid surges can still occur with baffled tanks, which can cause rollovers. Food-grade loads usually require unbaffled tanks, so drivers must be extra cautious about surges with these types of tankers.
These increased risks tend to make tanker driving jobs, particularly those requiring hazmat transportation, better paid than other truck driving positions.
What to Expect as a Tanker Truck Driver
As a tanker truck driver, you may typically start your day by visiting well sites. You or your client will fix a large hose with a vacuum feature onto the side of the well, which pumps the load into your truck. This loading is usually quite fast, but you might need to make several stops to fill your tank, such as when driving a milk tanker.
Tanker trucks are very large, but how much you carry depends on what type of load you’re transporting. Tanker truck drivers must have the appropriate endorsement for both different loads or different load thresholds, no matter what size or type of tanker truck you’re driving.
Recordkeeping and the precise reading of gauges are also important aspects of tanker truck driver jobs. When loading, unloading, and transporting hazmat or even other tanker material, it’s crucial to record accurate measurements. You’ll also need to avoid leaks and keep your equipment well-maintained. Breaching hazmat transportation laws in particular can be very costly for your company, so you’ll be expected to know and comply with up-to-date regulations.
Local or regional drivers may make several stops in a day but be home at night. Over the road (OTR) drivers might be gone for longer periods—perhaps even several weeks—as they cover longer distances. OTR tanker drivers generally spend nights in their sleeping cabs.
Pros and Cons of Being a Tanker Truck Driver
Like every job, being a tanker truck driver comes with pros and cons. How significant you find these will depend on your preferences, lifestyles, and career goals.
- Good pay: For the industry, tanker truck driving jobs pay quite well.
- Benefits: Along with the opportunity to earn more money by driving hazmat, tanker truck drivers tend to receive good health insurance, life insurance, and vacation days.
- More time at home: Unlike some truck driving jobs, tanker truck drivers tend to drive shorter (regional or local) hauls, meaning fewer nights spent away from home.
- Ease of loading/unloading: Loading and unloading trucks can take a long time and be physically demanding, but this is less so with tanker trucks. Most loading and unloading are done with a large hose, making it a relatively fast task. Plus, clients often take care of this step.
- Driving is more challenging: You can feel the movement of liquids in your tanker, especially when it’s not filled to the top, and this can affect how you drive—particularly when stopping. This just takes practice, and it’s a skill that can be learned.
- It can be dangerous: If you’re transporting hazmat, there’s an increased health risk, and you’ll likely need to wear safety gear. However, rules and regulations are designed to keep you and the public safe and manage these dangers.
Is Tanker Truck Driving Right for Me?
Tanker truck driving could be the job for you if you enjoy driving large loads and you’re a careful and safe driver. It’s also a good truck driving job if you don’t want to spend weeks on the road on long-haul jobs.
Here’s what a couple of tanker truck drivers had to say on Reddit about their jobs:
“I haul food-grade tankers. Mostly milk. It’s regional since the tank has to be cleaned, filled and emptied within 72 or 96 hours depending on [the] plant. I don’t load them myself, just deliver. Loaded there, empty on the way back. Out every other night at most. There is some surge to get used to, food grade has no baffles, but doesn’t explode. Pays pretty well, work is consistent.” – Milk tanker driver
“I’m home every night, deliver mostly gas products with a little bit of diesel and the occasional ethanol load. Typical gas load is 8,500 gallons, sometimes a little more. I grossed $62k last year, but $55k is a little bit more typical. Usually working 12-ish hours a day, 5 days a week. I do make a little more than average for my area since I work nights and drive every weekend.” – Hazmat tanker driver
How Do You Become a Tanker Driver?
The first step to becoming a tanker driver is finding a trucking school and completing your CDL training. Once you earn your CDL and the CDL endorsements required to drive a tanker truck, you can search for tanker truck driver jobs. The more experience you have with heavy vehicles, the better prepared you’ll be to become a tanker truck driver.
What License Do I Need for Tanker Truck Driver Jobs?
In some states, you can start tanker truck driving with a Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL). However, many states require a Class A CDL, and you need a hazardous materials endorsement to become a tanker driver. There are two main types of endorsements you’ll need, both of which require you to pass an exam:
- N endorsement: Also called a tanker endorsement, you’ll need this to transport liquid loads of over 1,000 gallons. This endorsement allows you to transport liquids but not hazmat, so it’s most appropriate for food-grade tanker driving.
- X endorsement: This endorsement combines the N (or tanker) endorsement with a Hazmat endorsement (that drivers of other types of trucks might also need). The X endorsement allows you to transport hazardous materials and is required for loads of 119 gallons or more.
You’ll also need to pass a background check before you can receive the X endorsement. Some serious felonies will prevent you from being allowed to drive hazmat tankers. The length and format of the exams for these endorsements vary by state. You can typically take these at your local DMV.
Tanker Truck Driver Salary
Tanker truck drivers report earning more than many other types of truck drivers, as the job requires more highly skilled professionals. Hazmat driving typically pays more due to the increased risks and additional skills needed.
How Much Do CDL Tanker Drivers Make?
Although pay varies based on job and vehicle types, level of experience, industry, and location, some companies pay quite well, with tanker truck drivers readily earning $0.57 per mile or more and up to $82,000 per year with accessorial pay—plus a $10,000+ sign-on bonus.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2020, the median annual salary for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $47,130 per year. The top 10% of earners made $69,480 or more, while the bottom 10% made $30,660 or less. Tanker truck drivers anecdotally report better-than-average earnings, so you can generally expect to make in the upper ranges if you driver tanker trucks.