How do you get your cdl?

There's a couple ways to go about it, and there are three different classes of CDL - which one you want depends on what you're going to be driving.

  • Class A: Combination vehicles with a Gross Combination Weight Rating in excess of 26,000 lbs, in which the vehicle in tow is rated in excess of 10,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This would be what you'd get for tractor-trailers, but also for any commercial use vehicle fitting that description (e.g., an F650 - rated at 26,000 lbs. GVWR and not requiring a CDL by itself - towing a 16,000 lb. rated equipment trailer).
  • Class B: Single vehicles in excess of 26,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or combinations in excess of 26,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, provided the vehicle in tow does not exceed 10,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.
  • Class C: Vehicles or combinations under 26,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or Gross Combination Weight Rating which require a CDL because they are a: passenger vehicles designed to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) or b: hauling quantities of hazardous materials requiring the display of hazmat placards under CFR49.

Once you've determined this, the next step is to go to your DMV office and obtain a copy of the CDL handbook. Study the sections pertaining to you. When you're ready, you take your written test. Upon completion of the test, you will have a CDL learner's permit.

The sections you will need to study are:

  • General Knowledge (all CDL classes)
  • Air Brakes (if applicable to the vehicle you'll be operating)
  • Combination Vehicles (Class A)

Additionally, you can test for endorsements, if you so wish, such as:

  • Double/triple trailers (Class A only... it's basically the Combination Vehicles test rehashed)
  • Tankers/Tank Vehicles (can go on all CDL classes)
  • Hazardous materials (can go on all CDL classes... after completion of the written test, fingerprinting and a TSA background check must be conducted)
  • Passenger vehicles (after the written test, this requires a road test in a vehicle appropriate to the class of license and passenger endorsement being sought)

So now you have a permit. The next step is where to go in order to be able to pass the required tests to get an actual CDL. You have a few options here.

  • If you have your own vehicle to use, and a supervising driver who can oversee your training, you can go that route. This is extremely rare.
  • Truck driving schools. They tend to run between $3000 - $5000. If you go to school on your own, you'll have more options where to work. Some companies offer an in-house school with the offer of waiving the tuition if you complete a certain amount of time driving for them. The downside of this.. you're tethered to a company, and most companies offering such programs are utter crap.
  • In-house training. If you can get employed by someone who'll give you OJT to get a CDL. For a Class B or CDL, this is fairly easy. Class A... is a different matter. You can get a Class A CDL with a pintle-mounted trailer, but you'll be prohibited from operating a Class A combination with a fifth wheel (the "no tractor-trailers" restriction). Finding a company that will train you in-house to get a CDL for the purpose of driving tractor-trailers... it's rare, but not unheard of.