CDL Blog Part 3: Passed the Tests!

CDL Blog Part 3: Passed the Tests!

If you purchased a 2011 one-ton dually pickup truck from GM, Ford or Ram to tow heavy equipment, you might be driving that rig illegally if the gross combined weight rating of the truck and trailer exceeds 26,000 pounds. But not us. We just received our California Class A commercial driver’s license.

In the past two years, all three heavy-duty truck manufacturers have increased the power and capabilities of their one-ton dual-rear-wheel pickups to levels so high that they now require a CDL to tap the full potential of these trucks.

A CDL is required for a combination vehicle (truck and trailer) with a GCWR of 26,001 or more pounds or if the trailer (or trailers) has a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds, according to California state law, which is similar to other driving laws across the country.

The law doesn’t apply to drivers who tow a fifth-wheel travel trailer over 15,000 pounds GVWR or a trailer coach over 10,000 pounds GVWR, when the towing is not for compensation. But even at these weights, California drivers must have a noncommercial Class A license that requires passing special tests. Otherwise, you risk getting a big ticket if you’re caught violating those thresholds.

Think about that for a moment.

Besides a motorcycle, what other conventional vehicle for sale at the local car dealer requires you to acquire a special license and pass special tests to fully use it? Nothing else. Not even when you buy a high-performance sports car, like a Nissan GT-R that can do zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and tops out at almost 200 mph.


A few weeks back we wrote about signing up for a CDL driving school and talked about the training we received. On Thursday, we passed all our tests at the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Thursday’s tests included an air brake inspection, pre-trip inspection, skills test and on-road test.

Air brakes use compressed air instead of the conventional hydraulic and electric brakes you’ll find on HD pickup trucks and the trailers they pull. Because we trained on Freightliner FL70 Class 6 trucks with air brakes, we took advantage of the opportunity to receive an air brake endorsement. This means we can drive most over-the-road trucks that use air brakes.

In some ways, the air brake inspection was the hardest exam because it requires memorizing and applying five different tests to make sure the brake system is working properly. The tests included knowing when the air compressor should turn off (120 to 130 pounds per square inch) and on (90 to 100 psi, no less than 85 psi); how to check for leaks in the air brake system; making sure the low air pressure warning alarm is operating properly; and testing the truck’s and trailer’s parking brakes and truck service brake (foot pedal) using a so-called “tug test.” Miss any of these steps, and you fail the test.

The pre-trip test was a comprehensive visual inspection of almost every major hardware component on the truck and trailer. We checked the interior (doors, seat belt, lights, etc.), engine compartment (alternator, pumps, steering, etc.), suspension, brakes, wheels, fifth-wheel and trailer to make sure there were no cracked or broken parts and nothing was loose or leaking. In all, the checklist covered more than 80 different items.


The skills tests rated our performance for three different parking exercises: parallel parking, alley dock and straight back. Parallel parking sounds like it would be the most difficult test, but once we learned where to properly line up the rear passenger-side trailer wheel with a cone marking the corner of the parking box, the rest was easy. The trailer went into the space the same way each time. The alley dock was a reverse J-turn that required backing the truck 90 degrees into a coned-off box. Backing up slowly was key, along with making very small left and right movements with the steering wheel to control the trailer’s alignment with the cones. Once the trailer was parallel and positioned between the cones, the rest was easy. Straight-back parking required keeping the truck straight while backing up 100 feet.

The final test was the on-road test. With an instructor in the passenger seat, we crisscrossed East Los Angeles’ industrial areas, neighborhoods and freeways. When you’re driving an over-the-road truck, it takes your full attention to constantly scan ahead and behind you to stay safe in traffic while trying to anticipate future events, such as stoplight changes and squirrely cars. The DMV agent quizzed us on laws and best practices while driving while providing instant feedback when we made a mistake. We were also asked the exact height of an overpass after we’d driven under it – luckily we’d paid attention to that, thanks to listening to earlier reader comments.

When we finally pulled back into the DMV parking lot at the end of the road test, the sense of accomplishment was awesome. Compared to a standard Class C license to drive a car, a Class A license was like going for an MBA after getting a GED. Perhaps our greatest lesson is that we gained more respect than ever for the hard-working commercial truck drivers that cross our country every day.

We’ll be putting our new CDL to use on Monday, when we start the toughest heavy-duty truck test we’ve ever done. We’ll be comparing GMC, Ford and Ram one-ton duallys towing 18,000 pounds from Colorado to Arizona. The trucks will tackle temperatures over 100 degrees F and grades as steep as 7 percent. It’s the Heavy-Duty Hurt Locker.

Got questions about how we did our CDL? Ask away below.


Can you provide any information about the insurance required as a professional driver?

@Ryan: We haven't made any changes to our current policy and we won't be towing for commercial gain. Only to make sure we're following the law for our high-end editorial tests.

Congrats Mike & Crew!

" might be driving that rig illegally if the gross combined weight of the truck and trailer exceeds 26,000 pounds."

I was under the impression it was based on the GCWR, not GCW.


"The Federal standard requires States to issue a CDL to drivers according to the following license classifications:

Class A -- Any combination of vehicles with a GCWR of 26,001 or more pounds provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds."

@Alex: Thanks. Fixed that in the first paragraph. The specific rule is cited just below that.

Congratulations Mike! Looked like a ton of work!


Now go out and get a REAL job...just kidding.

Keep up the good work. Can not wait for the Heavy-Duty Hurt Locker.

why pay $1200 to get it. You could have got a dually and a gooseneck and taught yourself. Then used that truck and combination for the actual test v.s. that wore our truck that they made you learn on.

@ Mike - congratulations.

You also don't need a CDL, in most states, if you are operating your vehicle within 150 miles of your farm. I've seen some farmers moving some incredibly heavy loads with a standard drivers license.

Congratulations Mike
just be a safe driver when you haul those big load you are now in a totally different category

@Frank: If I had the space for a dually and gooseneck trailer, I would have done exactly that. Unfortunately my real estate holdings are a bit small. :-)

@ Frank - that would only give him a heavy towing endorsement - not a Class A CDL or air brake endorsements.
That would be fine for personal use, but towing a heavy load for a magazine test would count as "professional" or paid use.
that would require a Class A.

congrats, I saw you post this up yesterday on Facebook. Can't wait for the heavy duty throw down.

PS you could always continue driving up from Colorado to Idaho where I live. We have great mountain roads to test the power going up grades (while hairpin turning mind you) and the brakes. Heck you should come up in the winter to do some cold testing in temps around -20's or 30's

this road is less than an hour away from Boise and just look at the switchbacks

Congrats! Mike

Cant wait to see the results of the HD's!

Congrats Mike L. you did that the right way, if you had tried to do that with a 5th wheel trailer and an automatic trans truck there would be other retrictions on your lisence. When you took that class you also saved yoourself on insurance too. I have had my class A for yikes 36 yrs. when I took the test, the state cop asked me I I had any problems, and did I drive the truck there with my sponsor, I said yes to all and the rest is history. You realy have to respect the long haul drivers out there, they move the country

You should have taken your test in class A CDL in Oregon its cake , I did not have to do any straight line backing , parallel parking or the alley dock to get mine , maybe the lady was having a good day and decided to give me break , needles to say I do all that stuff with a 48' trailer and its second nature now , and whats even better is the company paid for all my fees .

I remember getting my air brake ticket years ago and had no clue how potentially dangerous a spring brake could be. Always seen them but never had a clue they could destory a cinderblock wall lol

I haven't driven in 10 years and outside of travel trailers and cargo haulers not sure how I'd do with a rig now. Might have to ask Mike for some road time and instruction lol

That is a lot of weight for a hydraulic/electric brake system.

Congratulations Mike and Crew. You brought back memories of my CDL training stint at the SWIFT driving school in Arizona, in residence. More than anything else, the in-residence CDL training made me a better OTR driver in any kind of vehicle, and it made me even more cautious than the State training requirement to receive my Motorcycle Endorsement in my home state. I wish every one getting any kind of drivers license would be required to attend mandatory courses before they are given a drivers license. I think it would make our roads a lot safer. It sure makes you more aware of your surroundings and all the nutcases sharing the road with you.

Congrats Mike and crew. Looks like all the advice paid off.

@Shawn: Definitely. Thanks much for all the advice from everyone! It was a huge help.

congrats Mike! Looking forward to this years shootout!

Congrats and a big breaker, breaker 1-9, keep the shiney side up and stay in those California right lanes. :)

@Mike congratulations on passing the CDL requirements. I thought the US was more laisse faire as far as other licenses for heavier vehicles went (impression you get reading RV forums) obviously not so in many States of the US.

Mike L. we are still waiting on the Raptor test!

Well if PUTC ever goes under at least you now have something you can fall back on... Always a need for drivers lol.

I just wanted to remind you Ford and Dodge fans that the shootout is today and GM is going to be victorious.

Now the only question will be which truck will finish second?

Ford or Dodge?

funny lookin Raptor!

Congrats and now when you get a speeding ticket you can't go to traffic school! Just one of the perks of having a CDL

I was wondering about in the state of Colorado the person getting a CDL of any type needs to be tested on the type of vechicle that will be used. So I hope you did not get a Colorado state CDL. Unless your one ton trucks are equiped with air brakes, also the trailers need to be. In colorado there are two types of class "A" CDL's. One is for air brakes and the other is for non air brakes. So in Colorado the types of CDL classes is A; A; B; C; P (buses). I might of missed one. Anything under 26,000 pounds but is used commerically is in the "CML" class if the trailer is under 10K.
CML means commercial motor lic.
Colorado likes to tax for everything. So if your a real estate agent in Colorado. You need a "CML". If your a pizza delivery driver you need a "CML" in Colorado to be legal.

Off topic a little. The horsepower and torque of any diesel pickup made since 1997 can tow an 18,000 pound trailer at 90 mph and 80 mph up grade. The newest diesel one ton pickups can easily tow 40,000 pounds at 80 mph highway speeds. Go up 7% grade at 68 mph towing 40K. With a 9,000 pound truck (2-wd) that eguals 49,000 pounds GVW.

A very informative article. I totally agree with every statement that you have made in the post and I really appreciate your effort in gathering up the information.

The illustration is nice and well presented. I think it should be driven by a professional driver. High mechanical intelligence is needed by this.

Hi my wife and I want to buy a duly heavy duty truck to haul for are selves but we want to find out the laws and the does and dont of the business. I have been driving over the road for 20 plus years. I akso want to know what type of inaurance would we need to purchase. and does the california law the same as the mid west and so we have to do log books when driving a dully and hauling a trl. also were in the state of florida can i adapt a fith wheel on the duly..

nice work man you have made good post thanks for posting it i like it so much thanks for it... i hope this truck system will spread all,over the world this is s good system i like it so much...

Perfect ideas for your story and great food for thought.

I like ANMJ on FB & just subscribed to the email feed! :)

Excellent site, keep up the good work my colleagues would love this..

Great post. This will be useful for me. Thanks for sharing this. I will revisit this site soon.
Vinny's Towing

This is one of the most incredible blogs Ive read in a very long time. The amount of information in here is stunning, like you practically wrote the book on the subject.
Vinny's Towing

Interesting. I thought anyone could drive this type of truck as long as you have a drivers licence.

I think you should have been appeared in the test of this CDL.That is a better approach.

That's interesting. I actually never knew that's how trailer trucks had to parallel park. I used to think they parallel parked like everyone else. I can see the point of parking that way though.

I never knew parking a truck was that complicated. Then again, I suppose the size of the vehicle really does pretty much determine more than just how much load and gas it can carry.

In most states you don't need a CDL if you are operating your vehicle within 150 miles of your farm. I've seen some farmers moving some incredibly heavy loads with a standard drivers license.

nice work man you have made good post thanks for posting it i like it so much thanks for it... i hope this truck system will spread all,over the world this is s good system i like it so much.

California has a lot of regulation with this kind of stuff. Apparently I need to get that license as well. I've been driving all summer with maybe around that weight you mentioned so this winter I will get on to it. Thanks.

some interesting info regarding trucking and licensing and its amazing how many people think driving a truck is just simple driving. Its not as most truck drivers need to be mechanically minded.

i see this side car photos very nice this side car .i love car it is my life .

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