CDL Licenses: An informational guide to commercial driving classifications

In order to drive a commercial rated vehicle you are required by law to have a commercial drivers license. Depending on the vehicle you drive or want to drive will determine the classification or class of CDL you are required to have. CDL classes include: CDL Class A, CDL Class B, and CDL Class C.

All of these classifications have a different purpose and restrictions for the operator. This guide outlines the different types of commercial driving classes in detail so that you can determine the right license for you. If you are looking to start a new career as a truck driver we recommend that you read the article CDL Jobs: Are Truck Driving Jobs Right for You?

Keep in mind as you read this list that endorsements are also part of the process of obtaining your CDL license. The endorsements on your CDL generally require an additional knowledge exam and sometimes require a specialized skills test. You can read more about endorsements in our CDL Endorsements Guide:

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Both CDL classes and CDL endorsements can play a big role on the type of job you are qualified for and the amount of money you will make. Lets dive into the classes.

Class A CDL

The Class A CDL is the most popular form of commercial driving license because it has the most flexibility. You are required to have a Class A CDL to operate vehicles that have a gross weight combination (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, provided that towed vehicle is heavier than 10,000 pounds.

ProTip: Did you know that a trailer is considered a vehicle? Yup, they are unpowered vehicles. The truck is a powered vehicle. A truck pulling a trailer is an example of a powered vehicle pulling an unpowered vehicle.

You can drive the following vehicles with a Class A CDL:

  • Tractor Trailers
  • Tank vehicles
  • Flatbeds
  • Livestock Trucks
Yellow Freightliner with Flatbed Trailer
Yellow Freightliner with Flatbed Trailer

You will need to have the proper endorsements for some of the vehicles and cargo. As an example you would need a Class A CDL with the endorsement of (T) to be able to drive a tank vehicle with liquid cargo.

ProTip: Whether you are just beginning or have been a professional truck driver for years, you can use license classes and endorsements to customize your career. Make the most of your job by driving equipment and hauling cargo you are passionate about.

Author Resource: Some of my favorite employers that offer Class A CDL positions are: Koch Trucking, John Christner Trucking, and USA Truck.
I like these companies because of their aggressive rate per mile pay, employee benefits, and transition assistance programs.

Class B CDL

A Class B CDL would be the next most popular form of commercial driving license. Class B CDL allows you to operate a vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, but you cannot tow a vehicle heavier than 10,000 pounds.

The biggest difference between a Class A CDL and Class B CDL is the tow weight you can work with. This is made clear in the list of vehicles you can operate.

You can drive the following vehicles with a Class B CDL:

  • Large passenger buses
  • Dump trucks with small (less than 10,000 pounds) trailers
  • Box Trucks
  • Straight Trucks
  • Segmented buses
  • Tractor-trailers
Large passenger bus driving through the mountains
Large passenger bus driving through the mountains
ProTip: Think driving a passenger bus is boring? Think again. Passenger buses travel to some of the greatest locations the United States has to offer. As the driver of the bus you are responsible for the safety of everyone riding and operate as the commander of a large advanced commercial vehicle. This career path can be a great way to see the country and have more home time.

Explore CDL Class B Jobs

All Driver - Cdl (B) Jobs
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Class C CDL

The Class C CDL license is much less popular of a commercial drivers license. That said it can come with very competitive pay and offer more home time for the driver depending on your vehicle and cargo. Usually these routes are shorter and closer to your home base.

With the Class C CDL you can operate a vehicle with 16 or more passengers. You can also transport hazardous materials (HazMat). HazMat means that the materials or cargo is classified as hazardous under federal law.

You can drive the following vehicles with a Class C CDL:

  • Small HazMat vehicles
  • Passenger vans
  • Combination vehicles not covered by Class A CDL or Class B CDL
Road signs are important for all drivers not just truck drivers
Road sign that reads "slowly please"

ProTip: Hazardous material transport is something to take very seriously. Everyone on the road relies on professional drivers to be safe while transporting these critical and dangerous materials. Some of the most skilled professional drivers in the world transport hazardous materials.

Check out these Class C CDL jobs

All Class C Driver Jobs
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Deciding which CDL Class is right for you

Now that you have an understanding of CDL classifications and what they allow you to do you have the power to make an important decision. You can now decide which CDL Class is right for you. There are factors you should keep in mind.

First, remember that you can have multiple classes. While we do not recommend that you go out and grab all your class certifications at once it can be great for your career to have multiple classes earned. It will allow you to choose from more jobs, require a higher salary, and generally be more desirable to the hiring organization.

Second, recognize that CDL classes allow you to change the focus of your career while staying within the trucking industry. If you have been in trucking and are looking for a change of pace ; obtaining a new class on your CDL is a great way to learn new skills and change your day to day work. In order to advance your career in any industry you should constantly be learning. Trucking and professional driving is no different.