Do you know if you need a CDL to drive a pickup and a trailer? this is one of the questions our readers ask a lot. Well, we´ve got you covered.
The problem when answering this question is that while CDL requirements and set conditions under which you must have it are set in stone, not all pickups nor trailers are made equal.
Sometimes, the combination of a pickup and a trailer does exceed the limits of your regular class D driver’s license.
So, do you need a CDL to drive a pickup and trailer? In the simplest terms, you need a CDL to drive a pickup and trailer if the GVWR or GCWR of your vehicles is 26,001 pounds or more, or your trailer has a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more.
What these terms actually mean, and what kind of limits they put on your ability to drive a pickup and a trailer, find out by reading the rest of this post.
Table of Contents
What is a CDL?
Simply put, a CDL or Commercial Driver’s License is something that allows you to drive vehicles or combinations of vehicles intended for transporting heavy loads, a large number of people, or hazardous materials.
A combination of vehicles is just a fancy way to say “when you are towing a trailer(s)”, and yes, there can be more than one, and you have certainly seen 18-wheelers pulling two trailers, or maybe even three.
While there are three classes of CDLs, the exact distinction between them is not important for the question at hand, or whether you need it for pulling a trailer with a pickup truck.
What is important are the general conditions when you may need it.
And anyway, you will not be transporting what is by federal law considered a hazardous material, nor will you drive a vehicle with 16 or more seats, so such information is not relevant to you.
Federal law mandates that if you are towing a trailer with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more, or drive a truck with GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or drive a combination of truck and trailer whose GCWR is 26,001 pounds or more; you must have a CDL.
As long as your combination of truck and trailer does not exceed any of these limits you do not need a CDL.
Let’s cover these two terms, GVWR and GCWR, to help you understand when you do or don’t need a CDL.
What are GVWR and GCWR?
GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is a characteristic of all vehicles, it is the maximum weight it can have by design.
It includes everything, fuel capacity, oils, coolants, passengers, and any load capacity, which in the case of towing also includes the hitch weight rating.
In simple terms, GVWR is the maximum weight your vehicle can have when loaded, it is the design limit of any vehicle, and you will often find it stamped on the sticker inside the driver’s door.
Besides powered vehicles, GVWR is something the trailers have too, and it includes all of the above components, except the hitch weight rating, unless the trailer is intended for towing another one behind it.
GCWR or Gross Combination Weight Rating is in essence the same, but for two or more connected vehicles.
When it comes to CDL requirements, this is a number you would need to calculate by yourself.
All you have to do is sum up the GVWR of both your truck and trailer and subtract from that the hitch weight rating of your truck.
Many pickup truck makers state for their models something they call simply GCWR, but this is a bit misleading number.
The fact is that this is the maximum allowed GCWR for the vehicle in question, based on the maximum towing capacity, and as such it makes no impact on CDL requirements.
CDL requirements always apply to a trailer you are pulling, not which you would be able to.
But there is another term that can help you quickly establish that you do not need a CDL, towing capacity of your truck.
Towing Capacity of a Pickup Truck
As I’ve said above, a trailer with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more does require a CDL.
But does it really matter if your truck has a towing capacity of less than 10,000?
It actually does matter in the sense that the towing capacity of your truck can be a quick and dirty guide for making sure that you do not need a CDL.
In case that the towing capacity is under this limit, you can be almost 100% certain that you do not need a CDL, as long as you do not hitch a trailer that exceeds the towing capacity of your pickup truck.
Furthermore, to make things absolutely certain when guessing, if neither the GVWR of your truck exceeds 16,000 pounds, you can be certain that you do not need a CDL.
A combination of the truck’s GVWR of less than 16,000 pounds and a towing capacity of less than 10,000 pounds mathematically can’t produce GCWR of more than 26,000 pounds.
When Do You Need a CDL To Drive a Pickup and Trailer?
Let’s sum it all up.
The CDL is a type of driver’s license you need to drive vehicles that transport heavy loads.
Theoretically, some combinations of pickup trucks and trailers could exceed the limit to which you do not need it.
The limits that matter, in this case, are 10,001 pounds GVWR for the trailer and GCWR of 26,001 pounds for the combination of trailer and pickup truck.
You can quickly guestimate that it is impossible for you to exceed this limit by checking the towing capacity of your truck and its GVWR.
If they are 10,000 and 16,000, respectively, or less you certainly do not need a CDL.
If the towing capacity of your pickup truck is above 10,001 lbs or GVWR is above 16,001 pounds or both; you need to calculate the GCWR of your combination.
Two things you should have in mind, that the GVWR of the trailer doesn’t exceed 10,000 pounds, and that the GCWR doesn’t exceed 26,000 pounds.
When it comes to RV trailers, such behemoths of 10,000 pounds GVWR are exceptionally rare, so there is another quick way to guess that you most likely will not need a CDL.
Pickup trucks very rarely have GVWR above 16,000 pounds, models like Ford F-550, Dodge Ram 5500, Chevrolet Silverado 5500 are more common in the chassis cab than in a pickup configuration.
So, for as long as you can comfortably call your vehicle a pickup truck, it is very unlikely that you would need a CDL, but to make certain you can always calculate the GCWR of your setup.
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