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Have you ever seen a custom semi-truck rolling down the highway and wondered: Why does it have so much chrome? The answer may depend on who owns the truck. Owner-operators take pride in their vehicle, it is after all a rolling representation of their business. But fleet owners may have their trucks decked out in chrome and other aftermarket accessories for a very different reason.

What is the role of the owner-operator?

An owner-operator is a semi-truck operator who owns their own truck. They then take on jobs to transport cargo for various businesses. Depending on how much equity they have in their truck, they can make even more money than truck drivers who work for someone else’s trucking business.

A black Peterbilt Semi-truck customized with chrome, parked in front of a black wall.
Custom Peterbilt Semi-Truck | West Coast Customs via YouTube

So why would an owner-operator want to customize their semi-truck? Derrick Rains owns a trucking company and told The Oklahoman that modifying a big rig is just a way to “dress the truck up. He admits, “There are no real benefits…It just looks good.”

Customizing a semi-truck with a special paint job or chrome accessories can cost thousands of dollars. Why would a business owner who also works long hours as a driver bother? One reason might be to broadcast that they can afford expensive modifications: their business is doing well and they are a success. Their truck is, after all, their rolling office. And with their business name painted on the side, it is an important way to advertise their business.

Why do custom semi-trucks have so much chrome?

Every group customizing their vehicles has its own culture with unique traditions. Chrome is one of the most important aspects of most semi-truck customizations and has been for a long time. At this point, chrome is as much a semi-truck tradition as any other modification you see on the road.

A custom Peterbilt semi-truck pulling a trailer down the road, a mountain range visible in the background.
Custom Peterbilt Semi-Truck | West Coast Customs via YouTube

Bryan Martin is the owner of Chrome Shop Mafia, a semi-truck customization business. He compared the tradition of modifying semi-trucks to the traditions of modifying other vehicles. He also argued that it’s not going away: “I look at tricking a truck sort of like hot-rodding cars. That’s been going on for 50 years, and you have the customized motorcycle stuff getting kind of big (too).”

There are certain looks that have been popular for hot rod builders, truck modifiers, and motorcycle enthusiasts–for decades. Think of the 1932 Ford coupe with a later V8, the lifted 4WD truck, or the stretched chopper. The chrome-covered semi-truck ranks alongside these other timeless icons.

Not every semi-truck drive wants as much chrome as possible. Chrome Shop Mafia’s first custom was called the “Outlaw Truck.” The 1999 project was painted with gray primer and even featured bullet holes in the door panels.

Why do businesses modify their semi-trucks?

You might think that business-minded fleet owners wouldn’t waste money on customizing their semi-trucks. But many do. Some claim that their employees respect the vehicle more when they are modified.

The chrome hood decals and hood ornament of on a custom Peterbilt truck.
Custom Peterbilt Semi-Truck | West Coast Customs via YouTube

Chris Beatty owns a semi-truck customization shop called Beatty Bodyworks. Many of his customers are business owners who may pay him $5,000+ per truck to trick out their fleet.

Beatty has a theory on why they do it. He said, “If a guy is riding in a truck he thinks looks good, he’s going to take better care of it…That’s worth the $2,000 you might put into it. You’ll get your money back.”

Next, find out why some semi-truck trailers have a tiny door set into their main door, or see a custom semi-truck for yourself in the video below: