CDL Blog Part 1: Why We're Getting a Commercial Driver's License


The constant rivalry and one-upmanship among heavy-duty truck manufacturers isn’t just forcing Ford, GM and Chrysler to raise their games to stay competitive. It’s also forcing us to improve our driving skills and credentials to keep up with the capabilities of the latest trucks. To do that, we’re studying hard to obtain our commercial driver’s license.

We’ve just enrolled in a two-week class with our friends from Diesel Power Magazine, who will be partnering with us again next month for our latest heavy-duty truck comparison.

We’ll be testing one-ton dual-rear-wheel trucks from Ford, GMC and Ram, including the 2011 Ram 3500 with the new high-output Cummins I-6 diesel engine. Each of those trucks has a gross combined weight rating over 26,000 pounds, which is the threshold many states require a driver to have a CDL if you're towing that much.

A truck’s GCWR is the maximum allowable weight a pickup pulling a trailer, including cargo and passengers, can handle without risking damage. A truck’s gross combined weight (measured by driving a loaded truck and trailer onto a scale) must never exceed the GCWR.

During our , when we tested one-ton trucks, we didn’t consider the need for a CDL because none of the trucks exceeded the 26,000-pound GCWR. The 2007 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 3500 HD pickups were rated at 23,500 pounds; the 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 was rated at 24,000 pounds; and the 2008 Ford F-350 was rated a hair under the CDL limit, at 26,000 pounds. The only HD pickup that exceeded the limit was the Ford F-450, in a class by itself with a 33,000-pound rating.

The latest HD trucks have stronger engines and higher GCWs to match. The 2011 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 3500 are rated at 29,200 pounds, and the 2011 Ford F-350 and 2011 Ram 3500 are tied at 30,000 pounds maximum GCW.

Our plan for our latest HD comparison currently calls for towing three massive tandem-axle 24+6 flatbed trailers from Titan. The gooseneck sleds will be ballasted to approximately 18,000 pounds GVW and will put each of the trucks over 26,000 pounds – similar to the setup we used for the Rumble in the Rockies last year.

Translation: It’s CDL time. Specifically, we’re getting a Class A CDL, which covers any combination of vehicles with a GCW of 26,001 pounds or more, providing the gross vehicle weight rating of the vehicle (or trailer) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.

What do we risk if we’re caught towing more than 26,000 pounds GCW without a CDL? We could be hit with expensive fines and may need to find someone with a CDL to continue towing the trailer.

We’ve signed up for a CDL class at Universal Truck Driving School in Los Angeles. We thought we’d share our experience with you over the coming weeks, if you’re considering getting yours.

In the next few days, we’re busy filling out California’s commercial driver’s license application and getting a CDL learner's permit, getting a medical exam and taking a federal drug test. We’re also hitting the books, cracking open California’s CDL handbook to study up for the written exam.

Come Monday next week, we’ll be in the driver’s seat of a seven-speed Class 7 rig to start our hands-on training. Stay tuned for updates.


Latest expert reviews