Getting your commercial driver's license (CDL) is the starting point for a successful truck driving career. There's a high demand for CDL drivers, and employers actively seek them out. However, you need to earn specific endorsements and remove restrictions to progress in your career. Whether you have a Class A, Class B, or Class C CDL, it's essential to understand the different endorsements and restrictions that may apply to you.

What are the Different Types of CDL Classes?

To earn endorsements, you must obtain the appropriate CDL that allows you to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). The type of CMV you intend to operate will determine the CDL class you need. There are three main classes of CDL that dictate the type and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the CMV you're legally allowed to drive.

The three primary CDL classes are as follows:

  1. Class A CDL: This authorizes you to drive a vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, including a towed vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,000 pounds. Vehicles allowed under Class A include tractor-trailers, flatbeds, livestock carriers, tank vehicles, and truck and trailer combinations, among others.

  2. Class B CDL: After obtaining a Class B CDL, you can operate a vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, and if towing, the GVWR of the towed vehicle should not exceed 10,000 pounds. Examples of vehicles under Class B are straight trucks, city and tourist buses, school buses, and box trucks designed for delivery services.

  3. Class C CDL: A Class C CDL is required to drive a single vehicle with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds or a vehicle towing another with a GVWR not exceeding 10,000 pounds. It is also necessary to operate a passenger vehicle carrying 16 or more people (including the driver) and trucks hauling hazardous materials (HAZMAT) as per federal guidelines. With the appropriate endorsements, Class C CDL holders can operate small trucks equipped to transport HAZMAT and passenger vans, among others.

What is a CDL Endorsements?

CDL endorsements are like special certifications added to your license that show you have the necessary skills and legal permission to drive specific types of commercial vehicles, such as school buses. You'll need to pass a knowledge test and/or a driving test specific to that endorsement to earn an endorsement. Each endorsement has its own set of requirements. And here's the cool thing: endorsements are not just for regular CDLs! If you have a commercial learner's permit (CLP), you can also add endorsements to it. For example, if you want to be a tanker driver, you can get the N endorsement on your CLP. This allows you to practice driving an empty tanker truck under the supervision of a fully licensed commercial driver. The same applies to the S and P endorsements on a CLP, which let you drive empty school buses or passenger vehicles. It's a way to gain experience and build your skills before you have the full CDL.

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How Many CDL Endorsements Are There?

When you get your CDL, you must also apply for the specific endorsement you want. After deciding upon your desired endorsements, you'll be given the relevant CDL endorsement test, which you can take at a nearby designated testing center. Remember that each state may have different endorsement requirements; you can find this information online. Some endorsements you can pursue are:

  1. T endorsement

Get the T endorsement, also known as doubles and triples, if you want to tow two or three trailers together. This endorsement is useful for long-distance cargo transport, towing, or construction jobs. Remember that some states, like Michigan, don't permit triple-trailer setups. The endorsement will only allow you to pull a double-trailer in such cases. You'll need to pass a knowledge test to obtain the T endorsement. However, it's only available for those with a CDL; federal law prohibits it for CLPs (Commercial Learner's Permits).

  1. P endorsement

If you want to drive a big commercial vehicle carrying 16 or more people, including the truck driver, you'll need the P commercial license endorsement. This endorsement is important for jobs like commercial bus driving, shuttle driving, and school bus driving. To get the P endorsement, you'll usually need to take knowledge and skills tests as part of the application process.

  1. N endorsement

The N endorsement lets a driver transport a tank full of liquid or gas. These jobs often pay well and are usually local or regional, giving you more time at home than other jobs. To get this endorsement, you need to pass an extra written test. Tanker truck drivers must be able to handle the cargo moving inside the tank if it's not full. Dealing with this movement, known as the "surge," while driving requires practice and skill development.

  1. H endorsement

An H or HAZMAT endorsement allows you to transport hazardous materials on the road. These jobs usually pay well and offer many opportunities. After getting your CDL A, you can get the HAZMAT endorsement by passing TSA background checks, a written test, and a medical exam with a DOT doctor. In many cases, a HAZMAT license is necessary to get the X endorsement, which we'll discuss below.

  1. X endorsement

The X endorsement is a mix of the N and H endorsements. It allows you to transport hazardous liquids or gases in a tanker truck. You can also use the X endorsement in many states to carry nonhazardous materials in a tank. You'll need to pass a knowledge test to get the X endorsement.

  1. S endorsement

This endorsement is for school bus drivers. You need it to drive any commercial vehicle that carries students between home and school. It also applies if you transport students to school-sponsored events like field trips, band competitions, or sports events. The students can be in preschool, primary, or secondary school. To get this endorsement, you'll typically need to pass a skill and knowledge test, and most states also require a good driving record and a background check.

  1. State specific CDL endorsements

Every state can make its special endorsements aside from the ones mentioned earlier. Some states use this opportunity, while others don't. Here are some examples of additional endorsements:

  • Some states have specific CDL endorsements for farm vehicles. For example, in New York, you can add F and G endorsements to Class A and Class B CDLs, while in Michigan, you can get a farm endorsement for Class B or Class C CDLs, and the requirement is waived if you have a Class A license.

  • Depending on your location, you might need a special endorsement for your recreational vehicle (RV). Class C CDL holders in California need a fifth-wheel recreational trailer endorsement for RVs between 10,000 and 15,000 pounds.

  • Another endorsement is for air brakes designed for commercial vehicles with air brakes. This is covered under restrictions in many states, but some states, like New Hampshire, have specific endorsements for it.

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How to get CDL endorsements?

CDLs and CDL endorsements are managed by each state. You need to get a CDL in the state where you live. Once you have your CDL, you can take the skills and knowledge tests for specific endorsements. It's best to apply for both your CDL and endorsements together if you're getting a new CDL, as it's more efficient and convenient for business licensing and insurance tasks.

If you already have a CDL, the process for earning endorsements is straightforward:

  1. Make a testing appointment with your local Department of Motor Vehicles or Secretary of State office

  2. Pay the fee for the endorsement

  3. Take the knowledge test on the office computers

  4. If necessary, schedule and pass a road skills test

  5. Wait for your new CDL to arrive in the mail; it will be printed with your new endorsement

Some endorsements have a longer timeline. The H endorsement is a prime example. Since it enables you to transport dangerous substances, you’ll need to jump through a few extra hoops. Before you’re allowed to apply and test, you must pass the Hazardous Materials Endorsement Threat Assessment Program. During your appointment, officials will take your fingerprints and ask for documentation proving you’re an American citizen or a lawful permanent resident. The background check process takes an average of 30 days.

Which CDL Endorsement Will You Get?

Obtaining the right CDL endorsements can significantly enhance your career opportunities and earning potential as a truck driver. Each endorsement opens doors to new and specialized roles within the transportation industry, allowing you to take on diverse challenges and responsibilities. As you venture into the world of CDL endorsements, consider your personal interests, career goals, and job market demands. Are you drawn to the adventure of hauling hazardous materials? Or do you prefer the steady rhythm of transporting passengers? Perhaps farm vehicles pique your interest, or you are eager to tackle the complexities of air brake-equipped commercial vehicles. Whichever path you choose, remember that investing in the right CDL endorsements will be an investment in your future as a skilled and sought-after professional in the trucking industry

 So, which CDL endorsement will you get? The choice is yours to make, and it's bound to shape an exciting and rewarding journey ahead on the open road.

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