CDL License Types and Classes
Driving a florist’s delivery van within city limits is a much different endeavor than driving an 18-wheel semi-truck across the country. As such, there are different CDL licenses types that allow you to operate particular categories of vehicles and carry specific kinds of cargo or passengers.
So which CDL should you apply for? Let’s dive into the types of commercial licenses you’ll earn throughout the CDL process, as well as which CDL class is the right one for you.
Types of Commercial Licenses
There are two types of commercial driver credentials, both of which you’ll obtain at different points in your training and application process:
- The commercial learner’s permit (CLP) is the CDL equivalent of the driver’s permit you earned as a teen before getting your full-fledged license. The CLP allows you to practice driving a commercial vehicle under the direct supervision of another commercial driver who holds a CDL of the same class (more on this below) that you’re applying for. To earn your CLP, you’ll need to take the appropriate written knowledge test(s) for your license class and any endorsements, and provide the right medical information for the type of driving you plan to do.
- The commercial driver’s license (CDL) is the full credential you’ll earn once you practice with your CLP and pass the on-road driving test. It’s required to drive any vehicle for the purpose of your employment, whether you’re carrying cargo or passengers, provided that the vehicle you’re driving meets the qualifications outlined below. Your commercial driver’s license is broken down into different classifications based on the type of vehicle you’re operating and what you’ll be transporting with that vehicle.
When you apply for your commercial learner permit, you’ll also need to specify a license class. There are three CDL classifications—Class A, B, and C commercial licenses—that each requires specific skills and knowledge to earn. As such, your CDL class will determine which knowledge tests you’ll take to earn your CLP, as well as which skills tests you’ll perform once you’re ready to apply for your full commercial driver’s license.
Class A Commercial License
You’ll earn a Class A CDL if you’ll be operating any combination of vehicles—both the driven vehicle and any towed vehicles or trailers—with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001pounds or heavier, provided that the towed vehicle has a GVWR of over 10,000 pounds.
The Class A CDL lets you drive the heaviest types of combination commercial vehicles, including:
- Flatbed trucks
- Ranker trucks
- Livestock trucks
Class B Commercial License
You’ll need a Class B CDL if you plan to drive any single vehicle (rather than a combination of vehicles) that has a GVWR 26,001pounds or heavier. You can also be towing another vehicle, provided that it is no heavier than 10,000 pounds. (Once your towed vehicle exceeds 10,000 pounds, you’ll need to upgrade to a Class A CDL.)
The Class B CDL requires the majority of the driven weight to be in the front with the driven vehicle, rather than any towed vehicle. This includes:
- Box trucks
- Dump trucks
- Large passenger buses, such as city or tourist buses
Class C Commercial License
If the vehicle you plan to drive doesn’t fall within either the Class A or B CDL criteria, you’ll apply for a Class C license. The Class C is designed for any vehicle (or combination thereof) that is either meant to transport at least 16 passengers (including yourself as the driver) or transport federally designated hazardous materials (HAZMAT), but doesn’t meet the definition of either a Class A or Class B vehicle.
Vehicles that would fall under a Class C CDL include:
- School buses
- Passenger vans
- Small HAZMAT trucks
- Any combination of vehicle/trailer that doesn’t meet Class A or B weight thresholds
In addition to deciding which CDL license class you need, there are also endorsements you might need depending on what cargo you’re carrying or vehicle you’re driving. For example, school bus drivers need a school bus (“S”) endorsement, while those driving tanker trucks need a tank vehicle (“N”) endorsement. Hop over to our guide on all CDL endorsements to learn more about which ones you might need and how to apply for them.
Earning Your Commercial License
Once you’ve determined which CDL license type you’ll need, it’s time to get serious about applying for your commercial driver's license. We’ve got a full breakdown of the CDL application and testing process to help walk you through what to expect, including training and eligibility requirements, medical certification standards, and more.
Your state’s CDL manual has all of the info you need to successfully pass your CDL tests and start a career as a commercial driver. (Don’t forget to take a practice test or two to make sure you ace your written exam on the first try!)