CDL License Cost: Is It Worth It?

A commercial driver’s license, or a CDL, is a professional driver’s license commonly used and required to operate larger, heavy-duty vehicles such as those used to carry construction materials.

Careers in the trucking industry will require different types of licenses, and it is important to know which one you may need to apply for and how much they will cost, depending on specific purposes. 

Obtaining a commercial driver’s license opens a door for you into a world that plays a huge deal in the United States’ economy. While trucks make a common appearance in our daily commute, they move a great deal of freight (about 70%, in fact).

With the recent COVID-19 shaking the world, such industries are to thank for being able to transport most of our needs, we have them to thank for still making the world go round, literally!

The reason behind having different types of commercial driver’s licenses depends specifically on the total weight and kinds of vehicles you will want to drive, from trailers to hazmats, to buses.

The costs behind getting your commercial driver’s license will depend mostly on the school you choose and the training you may require. 

Types of Commercial Drivers’ Licenses

CLASS A CDL

This type of commercial driver’s license is mandatory to operate heavy duty and/or combination vehicles with a gross combination weight rating, commonly known as GVWR, of more than 26,001 pounds or more.

Provided that the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds. Obtaining a Class A CDL makes you eligible to drive vehicles that include: 

  • Truck and trailer combinations (double and triple trailers, 18-wheelers_
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Tank vehicles
  • Livestock carriers
  • Flatbeds 

This class of license also permits crossing state lines and operating across the interstate. Class A CDLs will allow transporting of most types of freight, except hazmat loads. Holders are allowed to operate both Class B and C vehicles. Common careers you can obtain with this license include truck drivers, dispatchers, local drivers, couriers and bus drivers. This is why this type of license is more expensive.

To secure a Class A CDL, a variation of written tests will be submitted, not limited to:

  • Application fee
  • General knowledge test – These cost around $5 to $20, depending on the school you choose. This includes the Commercial Learners Permit (CLP), but some states may have separate fees.
  • Standard CDL License – Generally, these cost between $75 and $100, varying per state.
  • Air brakes/Road Skills Test – These cost between $30 and $60, varying per state. 
  • Combination Vehicle Operator Module
  • Endorsements – These cost around $180. (estimate)

Other costs may include application fees, drug tests, biometrics and background checks for Hazmat endorsement and re-testing fees. Though these vary per school and state, typically, Class A CDL training usually take up 160 total hours of training. In those 160 hours, classroom instructions, field work, street driving, proficiency and lab training are included. An estimated total of $3000 to $7000 should be expected to obtain a Class A CDL.

CLASS B CDL

Considered the most universal CDL, these commercial driver’s licenses are the second heaviest in the weight class, usually with commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) weighing more than 26,0001 pounds but with trailers not exceeding a GVWR of 10,000 pounds. For those able to obtain a Class B license, they are able to operate Class B and Class C vehicles, but not Class A vehicles. These include: 

  • Straight trucks
  • Box trucks (eg. delivery trucks)
  • Large buses (tour, city and school buses as well as segmented buses)
  • Dump trucks with small trailers attached
  • Mixer trucks
  • Utility trucks
  • Tow trucks

Some trucking jobs associated with this kind of licenses include pick-up and delivery, parcel deliveries, furniture and household deliveries and movers. Class B CDL training usually takes up 80 hours to complete, usually with 40 hours per week (2 weeks), as opposed to the usual 4 weeks to complete for Class A licenses. This means that prices for this training cost a little lower than Class A CDL training. Class B license holders are also only allowed to operate and haul freights within the state where they are licensed.

CLASS C CDL

This commercial driver’s licenses allows drivers to operate vehicles that are typically designed for transporting sixteen or more passengers, including the driver. This is also the license used for transporting students under the legal age of twenty-one (21) years old to and from school, with the proper endorsements. This also includes the transportation of materials that are classified to be hazardous (HazMats) under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. Holders of Class C licenses may drive vehicles such as: 

  • Passenger vans
  • Smaller HAZMAT vehicles
  • Other combination vehicles that were not aforementioned in Class A and Class B ruling.

Some Class C CDL training can only take up to 20 hours, again varying on the school and requirements. 

What are Endorsements?

Different endorsements are needed, depending on the career path you want to go. Some endorsements cost more than others, ranging from between $10 to $100. Some of common endorsements include: 

(T) DOUBLE/TRIPLES – Required if the vehicle being driven requires a Class A CDL towing more than one trailer.

(N) TANKER – This endorsement allows a driver to operate vehicles that can carry over 1,000 gallons.

(X) TRANSPORTING HAZMAT IN A TANKER – Costing around $14, this test includes a 30-question tanker test and a 20-question HazMat test.

(L) OPERATING COMMERCIAL VEHICLES WITH AIR BRAKES – Costs vary per state.

(H) HAZMAT – This endorsement usually costs around $100, with additional costs for the TSA screening up to $87. Additional costs apply and vary per state, of course. These endorsements are valid up to five years and some companies offer reimbursement. 

(S) SCHOOL BUS 

(V) STUDENT TRANSPORTATION VEHICLE – Required for student transportation, including vehicles transporting special education students. 

(A) ACTIVITY VEHICLE – Required to operate student transportation vehicles for out of school activities, sponsored events and the like. Not to be confused with student transportation to and from school. 

(F) TAXI, SERVICE

Many opportunities are presented to those who attain CDL licenses, it just depends on which one you choose.