Four Challenges Fleet Managers Are Facing During the ‘Trucking Recession’

Last Modified : Jan 16, 2024

Fact-checked by: Bruce Sayer

Fleet managers are caught between a rock and a hard spot during difficult market conditions affecting the freight market in 2023.

The cost of loans, equipment, and facility financing has skyrocketed due to interest rate hikes, while expenses related to fuel, tires, and other over-the-road necessities continue to rise. At the same time, increased wages, insurance costs, and supply chain disruptions further compound the difficulties. During this battle to haul profitably, fleet managers are still expected to keep trucks on the road – and maintain regulatory compliance.

Maintaining smooth operations might feel like an impossible balancing act, but if you prioritize your challenges strategically, you can take another step forward on the road to success in a tough market. Gauging whether other fleets have similar problems can be a useful way to put your present concerns in perspective and help you prioritize your actions.

Backed by industry data, here are four of the top challenges fleet managers are tackling during the current downswing in the freight market, what some call a “trucking recession,” along with strategies being used to tackle these concerns.

1. Tackling fuel costs

A global survey of fleet managers conducted in 2023 by Teletrac Navman, a telematics company, found that rising fuel costs is the most common top concern among fleet managers.

The price of diesel rose 55% in 2022 alone, causing a profitability crunch as profit margins on each load shrunk. Data shows fleets are taking action to combat these rising costs — 24% of fleets polled plan to introduce driver programs intended to lower fuel usage this year.

These driver retraining programs typically include easy-to-overlook details that can make a big difference to mileage. For example, U.S. Department of Energy data suggests drivers can improve mileage by 0.6% up to 3% by properly inflating tires. Underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by around 0.2% for every 1 PSI drop.

2. Keeping up with regulations

Experienced fleet managers know that no matter the state of trucking, keeping up to date and compliant with the ever-changing world of trucking laws and regulations.

One of the toughest parts of the job. A study from J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights showed that 42% of fleet managers believe “staying up-to-date on changes in regulations” was the most important aspect of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and DOT compliance. Luckily technology is keeping up with the pace of those changes. TMS systems are now enhancing fleet managers’ ability to stay compliant, by enabling them to streamline processes and improve visibility into operations. A host of other new web services are helping fleet managers track nearly every aspect of their fleet to avoid driver and company fines, plus ensure that the fleet can pass the DOT audit.

Keeping up with regulations affects not only managers, but fleet operators as well. According to a ”What Drivers Want” survey published by the Commercial Carrier Journal, besides pay, dealing with regulations was the biggest headache of the job. So if you can simplify dealing with regulations, you’ll not only make your own life easier, you’ll be making your drivers happier as well!

3. Retaining drivers

A recent survey of nearly 12,000 drivers found that one in three drivers are currently looking for a truck driving job. At the same time, nearly 45% of truck drivers said they weren’t confident their carrier could provide sufficient miles for them to earn the pay they need. That means 1/3 drivers on your team could be considering switching to another company.
This suggests that, as the industry rebalances, fleets with multiple drivers must invest in driver retention strategies to keep loyal drivers on their teams. Data shows the top reason drivers seek different work is pay: it could be time to add performance incentives or re-assess your business’s pay model if driver attrition is high.

Here’s one more insight that could keep your crew happy: 62% of drivers said a special seat that improves comfort for long hours of driving was the top equipment feature a truck could have to improve their experience.

4. Maintaining driver training

Improving drivers’ knowledge and skills remains a top priority for fleet managers. That’s according to J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights’ most recent driver retention survey.  While tackling financial challenges can eat up mental brainpower and company resources, it appears that adequate training for drivers can help protect your company from liability and keep drivers on the road. Key areas of priority included:

  • 62% of respondents considered safe driving as the highest priority; a 39% increase compared to the previous year’s study.
  • Other important driver knowledge and skills identified by fleet managers include preventing injuries while working and driving (28%), knowing appropriate actions to take in the event of an accident (27%), and avoiding distracted driving (26%).


It’s a tough time in trucking. Keeping trucks on the road, costs down, and drivers happy during economic uncertainty requires planning and sure-footed management.

The good news? You’re not alone if you’re struggling to manage your fleet during trucking’s downswing. Fleets of all sizes find ever-changing regulations, a shrinking driver pool, rising fuel costs and more to be huge threats to profitable operations.

It’s important to identify and proactively tackle challenges that may be impacting your fleet now or further down the road. That’s a surefire way to best position your fleet to weather the storm.

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