More from: flatbed trailer

Treating Trucking Supplies as Capital Investments

Owner-operators and independent contractors driving leased equipment are considered under federal law to be self-employed business owners. As such, they are required to keep track of all of their business-related expenses for the purposes of filing accurate reports and tax filings according to federal and state schedules. Unfortunately, some independent truck drivers do not treat what they do as a business. This is a mistake. We can illustrate just why this is by talking about the supplies needed to be a trucker. Those supplies should be treated as capital investments.



Capital investments, sometimes known as capital expenditures, are defined in the business world as investments in equipment or supplies critical to maintaining or improving the useful life of existing assets. In terms of a flatbed trucker who owns his/her own trailer, the trailer itself would be an existing asset. Installing new tires on that trailer in order to improve its performance and comply with the law would be considered a capital investment.

As our illustration demonstrates, capital investments are almost always made in relation to equipment or supplies. The trucker’s tarps, straps, winches, ratchets, cargo control and so on are all supplies necessary to improve the performance of the flatbed trailer. They are also supplies that are required to do the job of a flatbed trucker. Therefore, they are assets that are obtained through the process of capital investment.

Why Make the Distinction?

Making money in any business requires some degree of discipline to control both income and expenditures. This is why successful companies work with annual budgets prepared by looking at history and future expectations. The company without a budget, regardless of its size and scope, is one at a high risk of failure. This is the whole point of treating your purchase of trucking supplies as capital investments.

When you think of buying supplies as a capital investment, you can start looking at future expenditures in relation to your overall budget. Let’s say your gross income – before taxes and business expenses – is $120,000 annually. Some of that will eventually become the net income you put in your bank account as an ’employee’ of your company. The rest of it will be spent on things such as fuel, truck maintenance, and trucking supplies.

The idea is to work with a budget that projects how much you will spend in the coming year based on historical performance and your expectations of the kind of work you will be taking in the next 12 months. Treating your purchase of trucking supplies as capital investments allows you to plug a number into that budget. Let us use truck tarps as an example.

Let’s assume you replace your flatbed truck tarps every 18 months on average. Most of your tarps are already a year old, so you know they will be replaced sometime during the current budget year. Take the average price you pay for each tarp, multiply it by the number of tarps to be replaced, and enter that number into your budget. That number becomes a capital investment that is essential to keeping your business going.

You might be wondering how all of this helps with the business of running a truck as an owner-operator. Simply put, it forces you to acknowledge at least an estimate of how much will be spent on trucking supplies. This is motivation to set that money aside so that you have it when the time comes. Also it keeps you on the path of owning and operating a successful business that wouldn’t get into cash flow problems. As you estimate your income versus your expenses, it gives you a realistic picture of your business’ short and long term requirements.

Things to Consider When Using Flatbed Truck Tarps

Tarping a load is usually a necessity for flatbed trailers. Heavy-duty flatbed truck tarps are used to protect the cargo and keep it a bit more secure, providing maximum protection and safety from the start of a trip to its conclusion. Would it surprise you to know that effectively using heavy-duty tarps is more complicated than simply applying the fabric across the load and securing it with a few bungee cords?

Using tarps effectively, efficiently and cost-effectively is a matter of understanding the dynamics between tarps and the loads they cover. Experienced flatbed haulers know how to tarp loads correctly; inexperienced truckers have to learn through practical experience.

Here is a short list of things a driver must consider when tarping:

1. Load Profile

How a load sits on a flatbed trailer really determines how the tarp is applied. There are times when a driver has no say in how a trailer is loaded; he or she must apply and secure their tarps the best they can. However, when drivers can give their input on trailer loading it is beneficial to have cargo loaded in such a way as to maximize tarp capabilities. The idea is to get the most protection with the least amount of tarping possible.

Flatbed Truck Tarps

2. Tarps Securing

Tarps are secured to flatbed trailers using bungee cords, straps, ropes, and chains. Bungee cords are the easiest and fastest to use, but these are not always the wisest choice. Drivers must always consider the size and weight of the load, potential weather conditions, and the strength of any tie down option. It is not true that any means of tying down a tarp is acceptable.

A second thing to consider when securing tarps is having loose fabric that can flap in the wind. This is never a good scenario. Loose fabric can damage cargo through repeated friction or abrasion. Loose fabric can also create air pockets, resulting in the wind slowly, but gradually, getting under a tarp and compromising its position. A compromised tarp no longer protects the cargo underneath from the elements.

3. Protection Flaps

D-ring protection flaps are an important part of flatbed trailer tarps. These protection flaps provide a heavy-duty fabric shield between the D-ring and the surface beneath it. The flap prevents damage to cargo in some cases; in other cases, it prevents the webbing holding the D-ring in place from being exposed to sharp edges. Any new flatbed tarp you purchase should have protection flaps at all D-ring positions.

4. Tarp Application

Applying flatbed tarps is one of the most dangerous jobs in the trucking industry. Tarps can become caught in the wind, whipping around and causing injury. In addition, straps and bungee cords can break or a driver could easily slip and fall while moving around on top of the load.

Before beginning the tarping process, it pays to step back and take just a few minutes to assess the situation. By all means, ask others to help if they are available. Moreover, if you can avoid climbing on top of the load, do so.

Tarping a load is a complex process if you are doing it right. Learning how to tarp properly is a skill that requires a combination of knowledge, time, and experience.

Surprise: Truck Tarps and Bears Don’t Get Along

Truck tarps are good for many different things beyond protecting cargo on a flatbed trailer, but apparently catching black bears falling out of trees is not one of them. The Panama City, Florida fire department recently found that out, as did one particularly unlucky bear.

A plethora of news reports say that residents of a local neighborhood spotted a 350-pound black bear up in a neighborhood tree. They called local officials who, in turn, contacted the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and asked them to send an officer to tranquilize and move the bear. It is pretty standard procedure in Southwest Florida.

At some point in the rather exciting proceedings, someone from the local fire department decided to rig a safety system for the bear that included a couple of truck tarps. They devised the system in hopes that it would catch the bear as it fell from the tree, dazed by the tranquilizer dart that would eventually be coming to greet him. What happened next needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The fire department was right in guessing the bear would fall. They were wrong in expecting the truck tarps to provide a suitable safety net. Instead of catching the tranquilized bear, the huge animal crashed through the tarps as though they were nothing more than tissue paper. It turns out that 350 pounds of bear falling 30 feet through the air is no match for your run-of-the-mill tarps.

Just for the record, the Panama City bear was fine. He was relocated to a local forest without incident.

Choose the Right Tarp for the Job

In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that the Panama City fire department appeared to use something other than a heavy-duty truck tarp you’d find on the back of a flatbed trailer. The news reports showed a tarp that looks more like something you would find at your local camping store, a poly tarp and not a Vinyl one. Hopefully they have learned an important lesson about choosing the right tarp for the job.


That’s not to say a heavy-duty truck tarp would have withstood the weight of the falling bear. It is hard to say without actually testing it, and who wants to do that? In either case, the point of choosing the right tarp is still valid. Not choosing the right tarp could turn a seemingly easy project into a nightmare.

When truckers choose tarps for their loads, they take into consideration many different factors. They have to consider the cargo being covered, the length of the trip, the weather they expect to encounter, and anything that could damage their loads along the way. This includes everything from flying debris to animals.

Low-riding loads might be covered with a heavy-duty steel tarp secured by bungee cords or winch straps. A larger, bulkier load might have to be covered with a lumber tarps or still larger Machine Tarps secured with a combination of ropes, bungee cords, and bindings. It really just depends on what the particular need is at the time. It is up to truck drivers to figure out what those needs are and choose a tarp accordingly.

You may not be a professional trucker trying to secure fragile cargo for a 500-mile journey. However, if you are planning to use a tarp for any purpose, make sure you know what it is you are using. Ask questions if you have to – before you buy. Moreover, if you were part of the Panama City fire department, the local bear community would probably appreciate it if you invested in some heavy-duty truck tarps that would support their weight.