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In order to determine if you need a CDL license, you need, you need to understand how the Gross Vehichle Weight Rating (GVWR) is determined. First, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) for each vehicle is established by the truck and trailer manufacturers for their equipment. For licensing purposes, your combined GVWR is determined by adding the Manufacturer's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of your Truck plus the Manufacturer's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of your trailer.

When do I need a CDL?
  1. A Class A CDL License is required when the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Ratings (GCVWR) of the truck and trailer totals 26,001 or more provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  2. A Class B CDL License is required for any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.
  3. A Class C CDL License is required for any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is placarded for hazardous materials.
One of the most misunderstood parts of the above requirements has to do with trailers with a GVWR in excess of 10,000 pounds when the combined GVWR does not exceed 26,000 pounds. In this case a CDL is NOT required provided you are not placarded for hazardous materials. However individual states may impose a requirement that drivers in their states must have a CDL in this situation so you need to check the requirements in your state. It is also important to note that individual state CDL licensing requirements CAN NOT be applied to drivers from other states.

Click Here for excellent examples of various combinations for the state of Wisconsin which are very clearly presented and pretty standard for all states.

Important Information!!

It is extremely important to be aware that the combined GVWR of your truck and trailer determines the proper licensing. It is not what you happen to weigh when you are stopped at scale and it is not what your registered weight is. You risk being subjected to heavy fines if, in fact, the manufacturers combined GVWR for your equipment is over 26,000 pounds and you are not licensed properly. On the other hand, many drivers whose combined GVWR is over 26,000 pounds register for only 26,000 pounds and do not get a CDL license and generally they do not have a problem. But, you are putting yourself at risk and you may find out the hard way that you need a CDL when it is too late. Its much better to just get the Class A license and then not have to worry. It really is not that difficult to do and you will better off with it. You can still register for 26000 pounds to eliminate the fuel tax problem but be sure to always stay under this weight so that doesn't jump up and bit you.

Endorsements and Restrictions

Drivers who operate special types of CMVs also need to pass additional tests to obtain any of the following endorsements on their CDL:

T - Double/Triple Trailers (Knowledge test only)
P - Passenger (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
N - Tank Vehicle (Knowledge Test only)
H - Hazardous Materials (Knowledge Test only)
X - Combination of Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials

If a driver either fails the air brake component of the general knowledge test or performs the skills test in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes, the driver is issued an air brake restriction, restricting the driver from operating a CMV equipped with air brakes.


The Federal penalty to a driver who violates the CDL requirements is a civil penalty of up to $2,500 or, in aggravated cases, criminal penalties of up to $5,000 in fines and/or up to 90 days in prison. An employer is also subject to a penalty of up to $10,000, if he or she knowingly uses a driver to operate a CMV without a valid CDL.

More information from the FMCSA website.

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