CDL Class A vs. Class B: What's the Difference?

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Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) are very different in their use cases. Class A CDL and Class B CDL are some of the most common types of licenses that determine the kinds of vehicles you are permitted to drive in any given state.

These different classifications are based on the knowledge and skills you are required to obtain to operate any various types of vehicles, such as trucks, a trailer, or a semi-trailer with two or more axels. Before commencing your CDL training, you must first choose which kind of Commercial Driver’s License works for you.

In this post, we will discuss the distinctions between the two kinds of licenses, as well as a third, less popular option: a CDL Class C license. We will briefly discuss the many sorts of cars that fall within each license’s jurisdiction and the reasons why you may wish to explore each one.

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A Brief Overview

To put it simply, you require a Commercial Valid Driver’s License, or CDL, to be able to operate a commercial vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds (not including trailers). Driving a large vehicle takes more skill, knowledge, and expertise than just driving a car.

You will need a CDL A if you are trying to pull a commercial wagon that weighs more than 10,000 pounds. The majority of commercial vans fall in this category. Combo vehicles, like tractor-trailers and half-trailers, are always able to meet the criteria for a CDL A License. Most of the time, you can only drive a straight lorry or bus with a CDL B.

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What is a CDL Class A?

A Class A CDL is needed to operate a combination vehicle (such as a tractor and trailer) with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more and a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds. This is the more complete CDL requirement, allowing for the operation of heavy trucks or 18-wheelers. A Class A CDL with proper endorsements should permit the driving of the vast majority of commercial motor vehicles, including those of classes B and C.

List of vehicles that require a CDL-A license:

  • Flatbeds
  • Tanker vehicles
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Livestock carriers
  • Tractor-trailer buses
  • Double and triple trailers
  • Truck and trailer combinations

Source: DOT

What Training is Required for Class A CDL?

Depending on the curriculum pursued, Class A CDL training may involve hands-on and behind-the-wheel instruction, car maintenance, state and federal government rules certification, and other sections that educate students on how to operate a Class A vehicle safely. Class A CDLs are available to drivers interested in operating a variety of commercial motorized vehicles.

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What is a CDL Class B?

Class B CDLs are needed to operate a single car with a gross tonnage of 26,001 pounds or over and a maximum cargo capacity of 10,000 pounds. Normally, Class B vehicles do not tow a trailer. A Class B CDL, with the appropriate permits, authorizes the driver to operate vehicles such as conventional trucks, buses, trash wagons, excavators, delivery vehicles, and concrete mixers.

Class B CDL holders with the proper endorsements may also operate Class C vehicles. Class C CDLs may be used to operate small vehicles carrying hazardous materials, 16-passenger vans, and non-class A or B combination vehicles, such as a small truck towing a trailer.

List of vehicles that require a CDL-B:

  • Straight trucks
  • Box trucks (like delivery trucks)
  • Dump trucks with small trailers
  • Large passenger buses (school, city, tourist)

Source: DOT

What Training is Required for a Class B CDL?

Obtaining a Class B CDL certification normally includes both classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. Based on the program, courses may involve basic information, mandatory training, vehicle maneuverability, drafting trip reports, standardized testing, range, and on-road driving experience. Additional study and training may include vehicle inspections, railroad crossings, freight transit, and basic CDL and vehicle expertise.

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What are Additional CDL Qualifications?

There are endorsements accessible for each kind of CDL certification, and drivers are needed to get them in order to operate particular vehicles or carry specific categories of goods.

To operate the following kinds of commercial vehicles, operators must pass endorsement exams: twin or tripled heavy trucks, city buses, passenger cars carrying 16 or more passengers, hazardous materials, and tankers. Endorsements may provide CDL drivers with additional options to transport a wider range of products in various kinds of vehicles.

Chart Summary of Class A vs. Class B CDL

Class A CDL Class B CDL
For drivers towing trailers with more than 10,000 pounds of GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating)
For drivers towing trailers with less than 10,000 pounds of GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating)
Allows the license holder to operate Class B and C vehicles
The license holder can operate Class C vehicles but not Class A vehicles
Common careers for license holders include heavy truck drivers, dispatchers, local drivers, couriers, and bus drivers
Common careers for license holders include interstate and intrastate tractor-trailer drivers

Source: TheyDiffer

Choosing Between the Two

There are certain benefits to obtaining either a Class A or a Class B CDL.

Perks of choosing Class A CDL:

  • You can opt for a longer-term and a more rewarding career as a driver
  • You get more work opportunities (more than Class B license holders)
  • You can travel across the country, including interstate trips
  • Greater average starting salary package and earning potential over the long term
  • You can handle a vast range of commercial vehicles

Perks of choosing a Class B CDL:

  • Ideal for those who view driving as a temporary profession rather than a long-term venture
  • Ideal for those seeking opportunities in delivery, bus driving, or local trucking
  • Extremely competitive market space since many careers require specifically a Class B license
  • Mostly, you only operate within one or limited geographical region, such as a single metropolitan area or state

Should You Consider a Class C CDL?

Class C CDLs are required for any automobiles not included in the Class A or B CDLs. It is required to operate cars with 16 or more people, including the operator, as well as some smaller cars transporting hazardous items.

This license permits the holder to ride any vehicle with a passenger capacity of 16 or more. It also includes vehicles used to carry hazardous materials as defined by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. With the right endorsement, this license allows the bearer to operate commuter vans, compact HAZMAT trucks, and non-Class A or Class B combination vehicles.

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The Bottom Line

Depending on your specific circumstances and needs, both CDL Class A and Class B licenses have their unique uses. Now that you can ascertain the differences between them and know exactly what they require, it’s now time to begin your driving journey.

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