Short for a commercial driver’s license, a CDL allows you to drive heavy equipment and operate heavy machinery, ranging from long-haul trucks to semis and everything in between. CDL training can feel easy to some people, especially those who are used to operating farm equipment or other heavy pieces of machinery.
For others, adjusting the art of driving a semi-trailer or other large equipment can be very overwhelming. No matter where you stand, we’ve compiled all of the answers to the most important questions people have when thinking about starting CDL training!
How Does a CDL Work?
There are three types of CDLs available: class A, class B, or class C. A class A CDL certification is required before you can become a professional truck driver.
Generally speaking, a class A CDL is the most expensive and time-consuming CDL to obtain, whereas classes B and C are progressively easier. Let’s take a closer look at the three different CDL classifications and the opportunities that coincide with each one:
- Class A: This is required for professional truck drivers. It is also required for anyone who wants to drive a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GCWR) of more than 26,000 pounds and a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds. These specifications mainly refer to semi trucks intended for long-haul transportation. Class A is considered the universal type of CDL as it allows people to operate all types of trucks and trailers.
- Class B: The vehicles that generally fall into this category include public buses, school buses, tow trucks, delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and dump trucks. A class B CDL is required for any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GCWR) of more than 26,000 pounds and a towing capacity of no more than 10,000 pounds. The difference between class A and class B CDLs is that the vehicles covered by a class B CDL do not usually have trailers attached to them.
- Class C: This certification is intend for use by any vehicle that does not meet class A or B certifications. Class C CDLs cover vehicles that are used to either transport 16 or more people or transport hazardous materials.
How Long Does It Take to Get a CDL?
The time it takes to earn a CDL will depend on your past experience and how much time you are willing to dedicate to the course. On average, most people complete the course within seven weeks but this requires full-time coursework. Even so, some programs can be completed in as little as three weeks, while others take significantly longer to finish.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a CDL?
The costs associated with obtaining a CDL vary greatly. It all depends on your state’s regulations as well as the type of program you enroll in for your CDL courses. The class type of the CDL that you’re looking to obtain will impact the total cost as well.
On average, obtaining a CDL, in general, can cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000. The median cost to obtain a CDL is $3,700. However, there are some truck companies that pay for CDL courses for their truckers, which is great because it minimizes the costs that come from your own pocket.
How Long is School for CDL?
Truck driver school can be completed in as little as three weeks. The average time to obtain a CDL is anywhere between three and seven weeks. However, like many other details surrounding the CDL completion process, truck driver school requirements will vary by state and depend on the type of school you attend.
What Are The Three Types of CDL?
The three types of CDL are classes A, B, and C. The main difference between the three certification types comes down to the gross weights of the vehicles they cover.
- Class A allows you to drive a semi truck or vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds and a trailer that weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
- Class B allows you to drive a semi truck or vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds and a trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds.
- Class C allows you to drive vehicles that do not fall into the other two categories, as well as vehicles that are intended to carry at least 16 passengers or hazardous materials.
What Are CDL Jobs?
Jobs that you can get with a CDL include:
- Long-haul truck driver
- Local or state-wide truck driver
- Driver of oversized loads
- Ice road truck driver
- Heavy equipment driver
- Bus driver
- Dump truck driver
- Specialty car hauler
- Driving school instructor
Is Getting a CDL Worth It?
Yes! Getting a CDL is a quick way to start making a steady income with a flexible schedule. Average full-time salaries for commercial truck drivers start at $70,000. Many companies will also train you or pay for your training altogether, meaning you won’t spend a dime.
You could also become an owner-operator to increase your income potential and gradually build your own fleet of drivers. Getting a CDL gives you the flexibility to choose your gigs, especially at a time like this where long-haul truck drivers are in high demand.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Class A CDL?
You can obtain a Class A CDL in as little as three weeks, but the average time to get a class A CDL is seven weeks.
Things to Consider Before You Get Your CDL
If you think betting on a CDL can open new opportunities for you, you’re right. But driving a 36,000+ pound truck is a significant responsibility.
Without a strong history of responsibility, free from DUIs or other drugs, alcohol, or criminal records, it is difficult if not impossible to become a long-haul truck driver. Here is what you need to know!
Meet Specific Requirements
To get a CDL and get hired, you will need to meet specific requirements that demonstrate sound judgment. This includes:
- A clean driving record. However, it doesn’t have to be spotless. A parking ticket or a minor speeding infraction is not enough to block opportunities.
- A clean criminal record. Again, minor offenses may be excusable.
- A clean drug and alcohol history.
- A medical record demonstrating good health.
- Strong employment history and recommendations.
You will also need to pass the CDL exam. While the exact content of the exam will vary from one state to the next, every CDL exam includes both a written or knowledge section as well as a road test.
As such, the road test contains three parts. The first part of the exam is a pre-inspection test. This is followed by a backing test and a road skills test.
The areas of knowledge covered in the written portion of the test include general knowledge, combination vehicles, and air brakes.
To prepare for the CDL, you will first need to get a CDL permit in order to practice driving with someone who already holds a CDL.
Your CDL Becomes Your Personal License
When you pass the CDL, you will trade in your regular Class D driver’s license for the CDL. That means that tickets or violations in your personal vehicle will be reflected on your CDL record.
Advantages of a CDL
The advantages of the CDL include both flexibility and job security. You can choose your hours and routes on a per-job basis or select from regular routes. There is high demand for commercial truck drivers, making it a career that provides a high level of job security.
In addition, for full-time employment, the average starting pay is over $70,000 which is joined by full benefits. It is a career that requires very little training, comes with a low cost of entry, and provides significant room for growth.
Disadvantages of a CDL
The cons of a CDL are all related to the reality of being a long-haul commercial truck driver. It can be a high-stress job due to the long hours and the significant amount of time spent away from home. It can also get lonely driving on solo trips.
The lack of food options or outside activities while driving can also be a major deterrent for some people, which is understandable. But in addition to all of these disadvantages, you should also expect to practice a lot of patience while driving for a living.
After you complete training and receive your CDL, there are additional endorsements that can be obtained for a class A CDL. Here are the six texts you must take and pass in order to earn these endorsements:
- H: Hazardous Materials—Additional knowledge test.
- N: Tank Vehicles—Additional knowledge test.
- P: Passenger vehicles—Additional knowledge test and skills test.
- S: School Bus—Additional knowledge test and skills test.
- T: Double or Triple Trailers—Additional knowledge test.
- X: Combination Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials—Additional knowledge test.
Chauffeur License vs CDL
A chauffeur license allows professional drivers to operate ordinary personal vehicles as long as the vehicle has a gross weight below 26,000 pounds. On the other hand, a CDL is a license that permits drivers to operate large equipment or trucks weighing greater than 26,000 pounds.
The chauffeur license only requires you to pass a written exam without completing any additional training. However, the average salary for a chauffeur is $16.67 per hour, while CDL licenses allow drivers to make much more than that.
Getting a CDL is a Gateway to Freedom
If you have a clean driving record, you can work towards obtaining a CDL as a way of pursuing a career as a commercial truck driver. You can do this all in as little as three weeks, too! Trucking companies pay generous base salaries with benefits, offer good job security, and promote a lifestyle of flexibility.
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