How to Get a CDL License

Did you know there are approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S.?

Operating a heavy, oversized commercial truck while navigating highways, poor weather, and heavy traffic is serious business.

To operate a commercial motor vehicle legally, most drivers must obtain a Commerical Driver’s License (CDL).

There are many benefits to holding a CDL, including better pay, employee perks, and more career opportunities.

If you’re looking to obtain a CDL license, read this comprehensive guide to learn everything you need to know.

What Is a CDL License?

A CDL license is a driver’s license required by law to operate commercial motor vehicles that are large, heavy, or carry hazardous material within the U.S.

Several different commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) will require you to have a valid CDL license. CMVs include:

  • Tractor-trailers
  • Semi-trucks
  • Dump trucks
  • Passenger buses

Trucks are classed based on the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This determines whether they are light-duty, medium-duty, or heavy-duty vehicles. For example, a class 7 truck has 26,001 to 33,001 pounds GVWR.

There are three CDL licenses: Class A, B, and C. The type of CDL you obtain will determine the vehicles you are permitted to drive. For example, to drive class 7 or 8 heavy-duty commercial vehicles, you must hold a valid Class A or B CDL.

Earning your CDL license will help you develop your truck driving skills and comes with a range of job benefits.

Reasons Why You Should Get Your CDL

Trucking is a dangerous and in-demand career with high earning potential and plenty of travel opportunities. Here are just a few reasons you should attend a CDL license school and earn your license.

Better Pay and Employee Benefits

Holding a CDL is a good start to make a higher wage as a truck driver. For one, truckers with CDLs are in high demand. Companies are eager to employ professional truckers and willing to offer sizeable sign-on bonuses.

According to Indeed, a truck driver’s average yearly base salary is $72,000. However, your salary will depend on several factors, including location, job type, and experience. For example, a driver with more than ten years of experience may receive over $87,000 per year.

Many entry-level truck drivers receive employee benefits, another major reason people choose this occupation. For example, you may get coverage for:

  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Life insurance
  • Paid vacations
  • Training
  • Retirement planning

You may also get fuel bonuses, layover pay, and wait time pay, depending on the company.

Room for Career Growth

Many professions can have you stuck in the same position for years without promotion or pay rise. Trucking is different. The more hours you spend on the road, the more your paycheck grows.

The same goes for training. The more endorsements you add to your CDL license, the more opportunities you have for different career paths. For example, the Hazmat (H) endorsement will allow you to transport liquids and potentially earn up to $1,000 per week.

Get all the CDL endorsements and get any trucking job you want.

Flexibility

One of the major benefits of obtaining your CDL driver’s license is that truck drivers have flexibility. As e-commerce continues to grow, there are endless opportunities for CDL drivers.

The following industries use commercial trucks regularly:

  • Motion picture and video
  • Motor vehicle manufacturing
  • Utilities
  • Scientific research and development
  • Aerospace *. Appliance delivery
  • Storage services and furniture movers
  • Laundry transport

Depending on your interests, you can spend weeks on the road traveling from one end of the country to the other hauling commercial goods. Or, you can stay in your home town and drive the local school bus.

The choice is yours.

Job Security

Many people gravitate towards trucking because of the job security the industry offers. Job security is the assurance that you can keep your job without the risk of becoming unemployed. It leads to increased confidence, improved efficiency and keeps you and your family financially stable.

If job security is one of your top concerns, a career in trucking is a great choice. The demand for qualified and experienced truckers is high. According to the American Trucking Associations, the United States needs more than 80,000 truck drivers.

If you do well at your job, you can expect to stay in your career for a very long time.

Travel Opportunities

A career in truck driving has a benefit that some only dream of. While you may spend the majority of the time sitting down, you get paid to travel and see the country.

There aren’t many careers that offer as many perks and as much freedom as a career in commercial truck driving does.

If you’re looking for a career that requires minimal educational requirements, pays well, and has growth potential, truck driving might be the ideal job for you.

What You Need to Know About the CDL Test

You can’t legally drive a heavy-duty commercial vehicle without a CDL; it’s as simple as that. The CDL test is your opportunity to showcase your skills and knowledge to prove that you can drive a commercial vehicle.

The CDL test contains both a written knowledge and skills test. The written test covers seven knowledge tests, including one in General Knowledge, five in specific endorsements, and an Air Brakes test.

The sections of the complete test include the following:

  • General Knowledge
  • Air Brakes Test
  • Hazardous Materials Endorsement
  • Tanker Endorsement
  • Passenger Endorsement
  • Double and Triple Trailer Endorsement
  • School Bus Endorsement

Truck drivers who wish to operate certain commercial vehicles must pass specific tests to obtain endorsements for their CDL. The more endorsements you have, the more job opportunities you have.

The endorsement sections will generally involve a written knowledge test, while others will also include a skills test. For the Hazardous Materials endorsement, you will be required to complete a TSA Security Threat Assessment application and submit your fingerprint at an authorized collection site.

What Are the CDL License Requirements?

To get your CDL license, there are specific requirements you must pass. Most states follow the same procedure. However, contact your local DMV for your state’s requirements to avoid confusion.

Generally speaking, there are 14 steps required to get a CDL license. They include:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Submit your state’s CDL application
  • Provide identity and Social Security number verification
  • Provide proof of state and U.S. residency
  • Provide proof of your medical status
  • Pass a vision test
  • Pass a CDL knowledge exam
  • Get a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Schedule your CDL skills test
  • Pass the CDL written test
  • Pass the pre-trip inspection and CDL road test
  • Pay necessary fees
  • Receive your CDL license

While it seems like an overwhelmingly long process, getting your CDL can take just seven weeks from when you pass your CDL permit test.

Keep in mind your commercial driving instructor will let you know when you are ready to take the test. That’s why it’s essential to prepare to spend less time training and more time earning money on the road.

What Is a Class A License?

The Class A license authorizes you to drive any combination of vehicles with a weight of at least 26,001 pounds, provided the towed vehicle is more than 10,001 pounds.

You can legally operate tractor-trailers, truck-trailer combinations, tank vehicles, flatbeds, and livestock carriers with the proper endorsements. Jobs that require a Class A CDL license will get you the highest wages of any type of truck driver.

How to Get a Class A License

To obtain a Class A license, you must:

  • Follow the steps toward getting a CDL
  • Complete driver training
  • Pass the general CDL knowledge exam
  • Pass the CDL road skills test using a Class A vehicle
  • Pass the Class A endorsement exams

You must hold one or more Class A endorsements: Hazardous Materials, Tank Vehicle, Passenger Transport, School Bus/Passenger Transport, Double/Triples or Tanker, and Hazardous Materials.

What Is a Class B License?

The Class B license authorizes you to operate a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or a tow vehicle less than 10,001 pounds.

With the proper endorsements, you can legally operate the following vehicles:

  • Straight trucks
  • Passenger buses
  • Segmented buses
  • Box trucks
  • Dump trucks with small trailers
  • Tractor-trailers

You may work for construction firms, petroleum companies or drive school buses with a Class B license.

How to Get a Class B License

To obtain a Class B license, you must:

  • Follow the steps toward getting a CDL
  • Complete driver training
  • Pass the general CDL knowledge exam
  • Pass the CDL road skills test using a Class B vehicle
  • Pass the Class B endorsement exams

You must hold one or more Class B endorsements: Hazardous Materials, Tank Vehicle, Passenger Transport, School Bus/Passenger Transport, or Tanker and Hazardous Materials.

What Is a Class C License?

A Class C license covers what Class A and B don’t. This is the most common type of license which authorizes you to drive any commercial vehicle with a GVWR of fewer than 26,001 pounds, as long as the towed vehicle is less than 10,001 pounds.

With a Class C license, you can drive school buses and other passenger vans, certain hazmat vehicles, and any combination vehicles that do not fall under Class A or B.

If you’re a farmer, a Class C license will allow you to operate vehicles with a GVWR of fewer than 26,001 pounds when used for farm-related purposes.

How to Get a Class C License

To obtain a Class C license, you must:

  • Follow the steps toward getting a CDL
  • Pass the general CDL knowledge exam
  • Pass the CDL road skills test using a Class C vehicle
  • Pass the Class C endorsement exams

You must hold one or more Class C endorsements: Hazardous Materials, Passenger Transport, or School Bus/Passenger Transport.

How Much Does a CDL License Cost?

The price to obtain your CDL license can vary from state to state. It will also depend on the truck driving school you choose and where you live.

Generally speaking, you might expect to pay between $3,000 and $10,000. This price reflects the type of license (Class A, B, or C), the endorsements you want, and the school you attend.

Contact your local DMV for an exact cost breakdown. Typically, truck driving schools charge between $3,000 to $7,000. The rest of the cost goes towards the medical exam, DMV fees, and testing fees.

CDL written test fees vary from state to state but can cost up to $125. For each endorsement, you can expect to pay between $5 and $10. Given the benefits of having CDL endorsements, consider the costs as an investment in your future.

How Long Does It Take To Get a CDL License?

Unlike many careers, becoming a commercial truck driver does not take four years. When attending a full-time training program, it takes new drivers about seven weeks to finish their CDL.

Although for some, it can take as little as three weeks or as long as six months. The duration for completion depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Classroom time
  • Driving hours
  • Endorsements
  • Full-time vs. part-time
  • Manual vs. automatic truck
  • Military experience
  • Student ability
  • Testing schedule and availability
  • Type of CDL

For example, a Class A CDL program takes longer to complete than a Class B CDL program. That’s because the Class A CDL program focuses on operating multiple vehicles.

Regardless of how long it takes to complete your CDL program, it’s bound to be less time than it takes to get an undergraduate degree.

What Happens if I Fail My CDL Test?

Don’t worry; it isn’t uncommon to fail your CDL test on the first try. Most people feel a lot of pressure before taking the CDL test the first time around.

The good news is you can retake the test after a waiting period of about a few days. If you don’t pass on your second try, the waiting period is a little longer. After three tries, you might have to pay an additional fee to take the test.

To avoid the hassle of retaking the CDL test, here are a few helpful tips to pass on the first try:

  • Review your state requirements
  • Obtain the CDL Manual for your state
  • Memorize and understand the content
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Find study strategies that work for you
  • Be focused and alert during the actual test

If you have your heart set on a career in the commercial trucking business, study early, find what strategies work for you, and work hard. Give yourself the best chance of success.

How to Study for a CDL Driver’s License

Knowing how to get a CDL license is just the first step. Like any test, the CDL written exam requires study and preparation because you will be tested on a wide range of trucking-related information.

It isn’t as easy as memorizing your state’s CDL Manual. Luckily, there are plenty of effective ways to prepare for the exam. Here are seven study tips to help you prepare for and pass your CDL exam.

1. Read the CDL Manual

Each state has a different manual to study to help you prepare for your CDL exam. Read through the manual to get an overview of the information you need to learn. This is an excellent first step in identifying your areas of strength and weakness.

2. Review CDL Study Guides

Union Test Prep’s free CDL study guides summarize the critical information you need to know in each section. That way, you can study the information related to the type of CDL license you want.

Take your time reading through the study guides and highlight any key concepts you need to spend more time on.

3. Take a CDL Practice Test

Union Test Prep’s free CDL practice test will help simulate a testing environment, give you a feel for the material, and address the types of questions you will encounter during the actual exam.

Take the practice test three to five times before the actual CDL exam. This will give you plenty of time to review your knowledge and address areas of concern.

4. Use CDL Flashcards

When you’re short on time or looking for alternative study strategies, flashcards are the answer. Union Test Prep’s free CDL flashcards will help you learn and revise details in a repetitive format. Repetition helps you figure out what information you can remember and what areas need more work.

5. Take Breaks Often

It’s easy to burn yourself out while studying. Taking breaks allows your brain to refresh and keeps you focused. Go for a short walk, play fetch with your dog, or take a quick nap.

6. Eat a Nutritious Breakfast

If you love eating breakfast, this should be easy. A healthy, balanced breakfast fuels your body, balances your blood sugar levels and helps your brain to function. On the day of your exam, eat foods like oatmeal, eggs, fresh fruits, vegetables, or yogurt.

7. Arrive Early

Arriving early allows you to check into your exam and take a minute to relax. Exams can be stressful, but giving yourself a few extra minutes to take a deep breath and get into the exam zone will do wonders.

What to Expect on Exam Day

On the day of your exam, it’s common to feel anxious or nervous. Avoid cramming for your CDL exam a few days beforehand. This will make the experience more stressful than it already is.

Completing the CDL exam will take you several hours, so ensure you are well-rested and have eaten a nutritious breakfast. Arrive with enough time to calm your nerves and adjust your mindset to exam conditions.

The exam process itself will vary depending on your state. But generally speaking, you will check into your local DMV early. First, you will complete the written exam, followed by the skills test in front of an examiner.

No matter which license you are attempting to obtain, you will have to take the General Knowledge section and the Air Brakes Test. The remaining endorsements will depend on the license type, but all classes of CDL licenses must take at least one endorsement section.

For example, Class A may be required to complete the Hazardous Materials Test if you aim to drive a vehicle that hauls gases, solids, explosives, or other hazardous materials.

After the written exam, you will need to take the skills test, which is divided into three parts:

  • Vehicle inspection
  • Basic control skills test
  • Road test

During your skills test, the examiner will note how comfortable you are driving a commercial vehicle and how knowledgeable you are about the equipment.

You are expected to complete all three sections in one session. You can pass both the written and skills test on the first try with enough preparation.

Intimidating? Yes.

Impossible? No.

Ready to Get Your CDL License?

Driving a commercial motor vehicle is a big responsibility. It requires a set of unique skills and knowledge to ensure the safety of the vehicle, yourself, and other vehicles on the road.

Even if you don’t have to drive a commercial vehicle often, holding a valid CDL license can give you plenty of benefits, including an advantage in the workplace.

The time you spend preparing and completing your CDL license training proves you are committed to improving your skills and expanding your career options. It pays to be prepared to give yourself the best chance of passing your CDL exam on the first try.

Union Test Prep’s free CDL practice test can provide you with an overview of the test material and the types of questions you will encounter during the actual exam.

Don’t delay your career in commercial truck driving—prep for the CDL exam with Union Test Prep.

Get started with our free CDL test prep today.

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