by Duff McCutcheon
Is your idea of recordkeeping an empty tissue box overflowing with receipts? Does your routing and mileage involve a dog-eared Rand McNally map book from 1987? Does your preventive maintenance scheduling depend on how dirty your oil looks when you check it?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, it's probably time to consider some kind of trucking software - a computer program to help you get your business, tax, and maintenance house in order. Much of the stuff on the market today is quite a step beyond the old small business accounting packages like QuickBooks.
Today's software offerings range from basic expense tracking to more sophisticated packages that double as business management tools. Other basic packages in the mapping and routing genre can provide truck-specific directions, while the more complex programs can provide fuel tax calculators, profit and loss calculations, and more.
And some packages do it all: mileage and mapping solutions; fuel tax reporting; maintenance scheduling; customer-relationship management tools; and profit estimators - on top of the standard accounts receivables/payables spreadsheets typically available to the small business owner. For all that, you'll pay a little more, and the learning curve might be a bit steeper.
For the novice user, the prospect of using a computer to do all this may be a little daunting, but at the end of the day, you're really doing little more than entering numbers into little boxes and pressing the calculate button. It really couldn't be simpler.
Unfortunately, all of these products are American and don't necessarily come ready out of the box equipped to tackle Canadian taxes like PST and GST. But, they can be customizable for Canadian users, with most offering customizing tools that allow you to add GST/HST and PST columns to the expenses category, for example.
You'll find that most of these packages come in different versions - the more functionality, the higher the price. The more expensive programs are often worth the money because of the added features. Some, like fuel tax optimization packages, can save you a bundle of money by pointing out the best places to buy fuel. They're usually tied into a daily Internet update that links to a national fuel price database.
If you're totally unfamiliar with the products and what they can do for you, many offer downloadable demo versions you can experiment with. You can ask a pal that's using a program, or talk to your bookkeeper/accountant for a bit of advice.
With a decent computer and a good business software package, you can't help but improve your bottom line. After all, you can't manage what you can't see, and these packages lay it all out for you in black and white.
All costs are in U.S. dollars.
Here are a few we found that live up to their billing:
CoPilot Truck Laptop 9 from ALK Technologies
CoPilot Truck combines the truck routing, mileage, and mapping tools of PC*MILER with in-vehicle GPS navigation and route guidance technology of ALK's CoPilot line. Its Dynamic Route Guidance provides spoken, dock-to-dock directions to any U.S. address (with Canadian detail add-on optional) via laptop or Pocket PC. Other features include: two-way voice technology which gives detailed spoken instructions and responds to your voice commands, and automatic route recalculation. If you miss a turn, new directions are given instantly.
Cost: $349: see www.alk.com/store/truck_lpt.asp
Trucker's Helper/Owner-Operator Version from Trucker's Helper LLC
Trip sheet allows you to enter all trip, mileage, and expense information, eliminating individual entries in the accounting and mileage reporting sections. It simplifies tracking income and expense by trip, keeps customer records with space for directions, contact names, etc., and creates fuel reports - tracking gallons purchased and miles run by jurisdiction. Based on the ProMiles Truck Routing system, the optional routing module totally automates your mileage entry and provides IFTA and DOT acceptable routing and mileage records for fuel taxes.
Cost: $179; see www.truckershelper.com
TruckTrax from Providence Technology Group
Developed by a veteran owner-operator, Truck Trax provides the facts regarding your costs and your actual net on a mile/km-driven basis. TruckTrax features profit-loss reports, cost per mile/km, surcharge per mile/km, and more. The software also features a profit estimator tool to help you make better decisions when selecting loads, estimating profit, or performing cost analysis for your business.
Cost: $119.95; see www.trucktrax.biz
Hammerlane from Hammerlane Software Inc.
By putting basic information about your trips into the system, the Hammer engine directs it all to the appropriate systems. Your trip mile calculations go into your pre-trip reports, post trip reports, state mile reports, etc. Your fuel cost and odometer goes into your trip expenses, MPG calculations, and ultimately figure into your daily operating costs. Other features include: customer lists, truck maintenance reminders, LTL trip/pallet tracking, and more.
Cost: $250; see www.hammerlane.com
Truck Miles from ProMiles Software
Truck Miles is a low cost, truck routing, mileage and management package for owner operators, company drivers, and team drivers. Key features include multiple routing methods, expense tracking, and a profit margin estimator. Other features include updated roads and road restrictions, mileage and routing guide, rates by empty or loaded miles, and multiple stop/location entry. Add-on features such as Canadian street level mapping and Canadian postal codes are available.
Cost: $199.95; see www.promiles.com
Easy Trucking Software from Omni Communications Ltd.
Easy Trucking Software provides the information on income total, expenses total, net profit, revenue per mile, loaded miles, empty miles, total miles and percent of deadhead are broken down by month, quarter and year. Plus, you can keep track of all of your expenses for each load by category, allowing you to go back and see what you spent on previous loads. For IFTA reporting, the software tracks all miles traveled in each state and the gallons purchased.
Cost: $147.95: see www.2omni.com
Gauges 2007 from The Rutherford Group
This complete record keeping system can keep you organized, and help make sure you pay the least amount of income tax possible. It's organized in a manner that when you open a report page to enter data, the information recorded flows to other parts of the program, creating a complete picture of the financial status of the business. Cleverly, every time you open the program, an image like a set of gauges on a truck dashboard opens, showing information current to the last time you made an entry. It displays items such as year-to-date profit and loss, miles per month, fuel mileage, profit per mile and more. The package was created by Kevin Rutherford of the Alliance for Independent trucking Professionals.
Cost $199.00; see www.masterthejourney.com
Confuser indeed. If you don't already own a computer, a refurbished laptop might be a less painful way to get your feet wet. A decent used laptop can be had for about 400 bucks - $300 for the bare minimum, up to $700 for one that's close to contemporary standards.
If it gets banged around in the truck and wrecked, you're only out $400 instead of $1200, lessening your loss considerably.
What You'll Need
To run any of the software listed in this story - particularly the high-end mileage and routing programs - you'll need something in the mid-range of the used market. For example: an IBM Think Pad with an Intel Pentium III processor, a 20 gigabyte hard drive, 128 megabytes of memory, a DVD or CD player, and a Local Area Connection (LAN) for Internet can be had for $400.
Where to look for used computers