I've gotten a few PM's asking how its possible I'm averaging over 5500 miles/week and since my co-driver took us off the boards tonight to watch some all-star game, here's a quick guide on how to do more than just survive @ Covenant...
But first, a new CDL-grad reality check: If you do like I did, you'll be working over 80 hours a week and "stopping by" home 1-2 days a month -- all for around $950-$1100/week (student 2 vs solo-capable). If you want/need to be home more often, I suspect you'll be happier staying home & working two jobs for minimum-ish wage... This is not a job for everyone -- in fact it is a job for only a small fraction of the population. If you don't love it, don't do it...
And always remember above all else:
Protect yourself, your license, & your CSA score
because no one else is going to.
Part 1: Orientation
Orientation for me was in Pomona. There were about 20 of us (I guess Chattanooga has much, much bigger classes) and the entire thing seemed like a farce to me at the time. Of the 20 that started, I think 8 finished -- mostly due to people not bringing things they were supposed to or outright lying about their past. Everything you need to know/bring can be found here: www.welcome2covenant.com
The name "orientation" is misleading, the entire purpose of this 3-4 day program is to get as many people's paperwork approved and activated. You will mostly sit bored and wait your turn to have someone go over your paperwork packet -- interrupted only by a drug test, physical agility test, & a "can you fog this mirror?" type driving test (literally 4 turns around a block).
You will be overwhelmed with paperwork, most of it claiming that you have been informed about Covenant's policies relating to things they have not covered ("that's what the training period is for" is their reply). They will also try to push a whole host of "benefits" and deductions on you, all with the same line: "its only $2 a week" and "its only $7 a week." Don't sign up automatically, read everything over at night and do the math to see what works for you. I honestly feel most of those programs are a scam anyway, and then you wind up with a lot of people complaining about small checks despite grossing a decent amount (losing $400/week in deductions & taxes).
What to take away from orientation:
1) The glossy "2006" covenant company policy handbook (read this cover to cover!!!).
2) Decent free food (continental breakfast @ motel, sandwiches/mexican for lunch, pizza for dinner)
3) $100 (I think I was paid $450 by accident?)
Honestly I was annoyed at how worthless orientation was. In hindsight, I now know that in 90 days 93% of the drivers will have turned over (& covenant's doesn't seem to care much -- their goal is to get that to 80%), so from a business standpoint it doesn't make fiscal sense to invest much money in training future ex-employees. Unfortunately that means you, as a competent cdl-holder, have to hit the ground running & learn as you go...
Part 2: Student 1 / Training
Ostensibly training is supposed to teach you everything you need to know about company policies and driving OTR. Unfortunately, Covenant's trainers are not financially motivated to do anything other than run you as a team for 35+ days & get you to successfully back into a simulated dock. A good number of trainers actually do try to teach you everything else (mine included), but I hear most do not. Some even encourage their students to do drive illegal (then say "oh sorry man, that's on you" when the student gets the ticket). Work with your trainer, but protect yourself!
Your training period is a minimum of 35 days. In that time, you will need to complete 30 4-hour driving segments, and 5 5-hour segments combining driving & on-duty. Driving 11 hours straight is just 1 segment, so if you have time to spare, try to break up those long shifts into 2 segments (a new segment begins after 10-hours off duty/sleeper). This is because there will be days when you sit without a load or shutdown, and having your training extended to 40 or 45 days at $450/week costs you money.
Pro-tip: If you are having a slow month and short on segments, remember to always log in conservative accordance with § 395.2 (specifically "all time spent at the driving controls of a CMV in operation" should be logged as "driving." "In opperation" may be subject to interpretation, but I had no issues sitting behind the wheel shutdown at a WY truckstop and logging a 4-hour driving segment).
What to take away from training:
Everything! You'll probably be overwhelmed at first, but as you become accustomed to your new duties start asking about the things your trainer just does without talking about. Offer to take on more responsibilities... By the end of the month, you need to know how to go at it alone (your first team partner will likely know less than you) so make sure you are familiar with the qualcomm & what macros to send when & how to transflo -- all in addition to knowing regular driving things like trip planning, sliding tandems, 5th wheel, pre/post tripping, etc. Whenever you are laid over at a terminal (particularly Hutchins or Pomona), practice backing in the barrel course. In my training, I logged at least 20 hours in hutchins backing from various approaches. Take advantage of those opportunities because you will eventually be sent to places not designed for a 53' trailer and expected to get it in...
Part 3: Student 2 & beyond
After you upgrade out of training you become a student 2. Most people head home for "a week" to catch up with family, but few return in 7 days because it is 10x more difficult to find a team partner when you're at home vs at a terminal... So I strongly suggest getting a team partner & truck right away and running for 1 week before requesting your hometime.
Team partners: Covenant has a survey set up on surveymonkey where you answer questions like what your home state will be, how often you want home time, what kind of music you like, your stance on tobacco products, hazmat endorsements, etc. That survey is the entire extent of Covenant's involvement in your teaming. And the survey is horribly flawed... Tobacco use is an absolute deal-breaker for me, but 6 out of the 7 "matches" they sent me were smokers. But they were a higher percentage match because they also like rock music and wanted to run 7000 miles... (The 7th guy turned out to also be a smoker who lied because he signed up for the cheaper non-smoker health insurance rate). And the survey fails to take into account the geographic size differences in states... California is a big effin state. Seattle WA is as close to me as Los Angeles, but I only got results from California (and mostly from the LA area)...
Tips: After getting a set of 7 "matches" fill out the survey again using a different "home" state to see new matches. Try different age ranges & mile ranges too.
Pro-tip: In the survey comments section, stating "I need a team partner who speaks English" will get you a call from Chattanooga & a verbal reprimand. Asking for a team partner who meets the third requirement of FMCSR part 391 is allowed.
Do not settle on the things that are important to you. If you have hazmat, taking on a non-hazmat driver will cost you something like $0.03/mile (roughly a 20% reduction in pay when starting out). If you are repulsed by chewing tobacco, don't try to put up with it -- the space is just too small and its already easy enough for conflicts to sprout.
Do be upfront & honest with your partner, even if broaching the subject is uncomfortable. I'd rather deal with temporarily bruised ego/feelings than smell a guy who showers once a week or doesn't use deodorant. Likewise, if they have something irritating them, be willing to accommodate.
Upgrading out of Student 2 requires 90 days on the road (since upgrading from student 1) & a clean CSA. If your CSA score isn't good, you won't be able to upgrade until 6 months.
Tips/Notes for hitting the road without a trainer:
When you receive a new load assignment in the qualcomm:
1) Write down all the information in your notebook so you can refer to the specifics on other qualcomm screens.
2) Verify that you can cover those distances in the time allotted (I use 55mph for most routes, 50 mph for CA, OR, & heavy loads going through mountains)
3) Send "confirm load assignment" macro & fill out a new cover sheet & seal manifest
4) Plot your intended route & fuel stops
5) If driving in winter across country: Request shutdown/weather reports for the 2 most likely routes (macro 39 comment section), check weather reports, verify that you meet the requirements for the states you'll be traveling through (minimum # of chains, tandem settings, etc).
6) Drive to the shipper and send "Arrive stop" macro
7) When leaving the shipper, send "leaving stop" macro. Adjust your ETA/PTA based on the latest info.
8) Recalculate ETA/PTA's at every driver change. If you made really good time, or got held up -- send in a new Macro 5
9) At Receiver send "arrive stop" macro. Send "leaving stop" macro if there are multiple stops on this load, or "cargo delivered empty" macro if you're done.
10) Transflo your paperwork at the next fuel stop (Cover sheet, seal manifest, BOL, Receipts)
* Unless you know your load won't be received before your appointment, run as hard as you're comfortable with. Some loads will be 2 hours early, others 8... The earlier you finish, the sooner you're put back on the board to get a new load. If you are consistent & accurate with your PTA's you may start getting pre-assigned loads too
* Be willing to deviate from the qualcomm routing. Weather, fuel, quick stop at home, etc are some reasons you may want to deviate from the plan. And remember the qualcomm is not 100%
* If you are going to blindly follow the qualcomm (and, like a former co-driver, are too lazy to GOAL), carry a few hundred in cash with you to pay for the rut you just put in that guy's lawn after you finally realize facing a cul-de-sac 2-miles into a residential neighborhood that the qualcomm is wrong. You could of course let the company pay for it, but they'll deduct it from your paycheck each week and you'll loose that $0.01/mile retro-active safety pay every 3 months (in his case that was a $650 bonus he lost in addition to paying outright for the damage)...
Protip: If you are saddled with a driver who does not heed your commands when spotting, DO NOT get out of the truck & spot for him/her. If you are on the ground spotting and the truck causes some damage (against your commands or not), Covenant can & will deduct the damages from both the driver & spotter!
* If there isn't an approved refueling station by the receiver, plan your fuel stops so you finish the load with at least 3/4 tank remaining (this is how much fuel you need to have to be dispatched on a high-security load).
* Know your truck. For example: my Cascadia's fuel gauge is nearly worthless. 3/4 tank on the needle is actually 185/200 gallons. 1/2 tank is 125/200. 1/4 tank is 100/200. When the yellow light comes on (1/8th) I have 75 gallons remaining. When the gauge first hits the peg (below E) I have 50 gallons left... If I refuel at an indicated "1/4" tank, I've only gone 700 miles. If I refuel at an actual 1/4 tank, I've gone 1050 miles. On a 3000 mile trip, that is an extra 2 fill-ups (which at 30min each add an hour to our trip). Minutes make miles!
* Protect your 70! For reference, Covenant's minimum required "On Duty" times are as follows:
pre-trip: 10 min
post-trip: 15 min
fuel: 5 min
check-in shipper: 5 min
hook/unhook: 5 min
Do not just leave yourself on duty for 45 minutes while you fuel, park, & then go into the truck stop to use the restroom & get something to eat. Edit out the time you spent doing "off duty" things... Also remember that most "On duty" activities (like dealing with qualcomm, waiting for shipper/receivers, etc) can be logged on line 2 if you are in the sleeper...
* Take 34-hour resets as often as situations allow! I hear guys bragging about averaging 10 hours/day and just rolling along... They're idiots, that's only 70 hours a week! Plus who do you think is going to get the 3000 mile load -- the team with 10 hours each left on their 70, or the team with 30 hours each left on their 70?? It is not hard, whenever you sit overnight at least one of you should reset (example: Driver A was at the helm on duty/driving/off duty for 10 hours before finishing the load. Parked overnight for 12 before getting dispatched to a new load in the morning. Driver A should take at least a 12-hour shift, allowing Driver B to reset his/her 70).
* Take care of your truck & equipment. If you notice something is wrong, fix it yourself if you can or call breakdown and have it fixed. If you notice a trailer at a yard that has an issue, send in a freeform so the company is made aware of it and can have it fixed for the next guy...
* When you're starting out, you'll have no tools and little money, but every gallon of fuel you buy is $0.01 on the pilot card. Rather than buy coffee and food, use this money to accumulate the tools needed on the road. I recommend (in this order):
tire knocker (the $9 one is fine)
gloves (currently free @ TA if you get your PM done this month)
Tire pressure gauge (spring for the longer $19 one)
Tire air supply hose ($30-ish hose that connects to your glad hands and allows you to air up tires using the truck's air)
1 crescent wrench/1 channel lock (I just went to harbor freight <$5)
Spare Glad hand $10 (not the seal, actual glad hand for when someone bashed into a trailer -- I've come across 2 trailers like this now, gotta love training companies)
Basic cheap tool set
...more to come as I think of it, but ultimately just keep your head down and do your work as efficiently as possible. Stay away from truck stops (time-sucking black holes) & disgruntled drivers (over time they'll rub off on you). Stay positive, learn whenever you're given the opportunity, and as you grow help out wherever you can.
DoubleYellow's Covenant Thrival Guide
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You'll need time away from the truck, try to make it interesting. In 4-5 months I've seen the grand canyon, gettysburg, 3 presidential libraries, a handful of local museums, a studio taping of the tonight show, etc. I hear people complaining about never getting to see anything off the interstate- these are usually the people staring at the tv in a terminal waiting to find out who fathered baby moniqwa
its your time, use it how it bests serves you. That won't always be recreation either - it occassionally will involve things like waiting for the window guy to fix a chip in your windshield (take care of the things that can slow you down later)
covenant gripes: aside from the well-documented issues with the "training" program I really dont have many. I've been paid accurately and on time & treated with respect - that's all I really ask for. The trucks are as new as you could possibly hope for, and they're apparently replacing the oldest of their trailers now (2004 is the oldeat reg tag ive seen).
They do tend to shutdown roads a lot - annoying for someone who grew up driving in winter conditions (but understandable when you realize the majority of their workforce comes from southern states). My trainer used to joke that if a knat farted in Wy they shutdown 80... You can become a "discretionary driver" and roll through shutdowns, but only after a (n accident-free) year with covenant.Last edited: Feb 27, 2012
If you are pissed off at Covenant:
Dont take it out on other drivers & support staff! Do you really think Joey Hogan gets a memo informing him of that foul duece you dropped in the Hutchins shower?! All it does it make life miserable for the others in the same boat as you. You want to make a statement? Drop a trailer in front of his driveway or something...
Last edited: Feb 27, 2012
What you wrote about trainers, is very true. My trainer for instance, wasn't a bad trainer but we had to get into arguments constantly because he would not let me drive in the city (to and from customers) and would not let me do much backing... Also, he told me how to do my log (and I, stupidly followed his instructions) but that only gave me 20 log violations during the training period(we were using paper log). Fortunately none of that was caught by DOT but I had to spend hrs at night "fixing" my log (according to log dept. request). I wrote comments about all that on the "Trainer Evaluation" after my training. He wasn't very happy about it but I am not sure what company did about it, if anything. I know he still works there.
About the surveymonkey website they are using now to help drivers match partners, I gave to person in charge a list of very relevant questions to be added to that questionnaire. Will give them some more time and check that website again to see if they had added those.
Did you say you are on your 7th team partner? Hahaha... that sounds VERY familiar to me....
VERY good post double yellow! Going to the black hole today to pick up a spare glad hand! Had to look up "Ostensibly". Always love learning a new word. We were fortunate to get a very good trainer as well, but as we know, there is so much more to learn. Please keep up the posts. Super informative and we appreciate that.
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