CDL Classifications

To drive certain types of commercial motor vehicles in the United States, the federal government requires drivers to possess a commercial driver's license (CDL). These licenses, however, are not all created equal.

The type of vehicle you intend to operate dictates your CDL classification, and vice versa. Classes for commercial driver licenses are:

  • Class A.
  • Class B.
  • Class C.

Each CDL classification is distinguished by the vehicle's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) among other items. Keep in mind that the CDL classification you apply for will determine not only the type of vehicle you are allowed to drive, but also which endorsements you may be required to obtain.

Here is a breakdown for each CDL classification and the examples of vehicles you may be allowed.

What is a Class A CDL?

A Class A commercial driver's license is required to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 lbs. or more, to include a towed vehicle that is HEAVIER than 10,000 lbs.

While your towing allowances will depend on which endorsements you obtain, a few of the vehicles you MAY be able to drive with a Class A CDL (with proper endorsements) include:

  • Tractor-trailers.
  • Truck and trailer combinations.
    • Double and triple trailers.
  • Tractor-trailer buses.
  • Tanker vehicles.
  • Livestock carriers.
  • Flatbeds.

In addition, a Class A license may allow you to drive some Class B and Class C vehicles as long as you possess the correct endorsements.

What is a Class B CDL?

A Class B commercial driver license is required to operate:

  • A single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or heavier.
  • Any vehicle as described above that is towing another vehicle weighing UP TO 10,000 lbs.

As with Class A licenses, you may be required to possess specific endorsements to operate some vehicles with a Class B license. Some of the vehicles you may be allowed to operate (with the right endorsement) include:

  • Straight trucks.
  • Large buses, including:
    • City buses.
    • Tourist buses.
    • School buses.
  • Segmented buses.
  • Box trucks, such as:
    • Delivery drivers.
    • Couriers.
    • Furniture delivery.
  • Dump trucks with small trailers.

In addition, a Class B license may allow you to operate some Class C vehicles if you possess the correct endorsements. For more information, visit our guide to CDL endorsements.

What is a Class C License?

A Class C commercial driver's license may be required if:

  • The vehicle you intend to drive does not meet the criteria described for either a Class A or Class B license.
  • Is meant to transport EITHER:
    • At least 16 passengers (to include you, the driver).
    • Hazardous material (HAZMAT) as laid out by federal guidelines.

Examples of vehicles you might be able to operate with a Class C CDL (with proper endorsement) include:

  • Small HAZMAT vehicles.
  • Passenger vans.
  • Combination vehicles not described in class A or B.
    • EXAMPLE: A small truck towing a trailer.
DMV.ORG BBB Business Review