Three Things to Know Before Getting Your CDL

CDL school

If you want to become a truck driver, your first hurdle is getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL). You’ll need one to get commercial truck insurance and to get a job. Before you take the skills test, which includes the pre-trip inspection test, you must pass a basic knowledge test (multiple choice questions you’ll answer on a computer).

The basic requirements for CDL holders are set by the federal government but the license is issued by the state government where the applicant lives, and each state has its own additional requirements. There are three types of CDL licenses: A, B and C. They’re classified primarily by weight and you can see the breakdown here.

Those are the preliminary basics but there are other things you should know about the process of getting your CDL. You’re laying a foundation for what could be a long and productive career. These tips will help you get off on the good foot.

1. Don’t try to do it alone.

It’s been tried – an aspiring driver who’s good at studying on his own and has a friend with his CDL passes the exam, only to find out that companies won’t consider hiring him since his training wasn’t with an accredited school. It may be tempting to save the time and money and do a program of self-study to pass the CDL, but it’s not going to get you the job.

2. A private CDL school is usually a better deal for the driver than company school.

If you hire on as a newbie with a company, before you have your CDL, they’ll teach you what you need to know to pass the exam, but you’ll be in hock to them for that training. They’ll deduct it from your paycheck soon as you have some income. And even though they’ll most likely employ you (unless you really mess up), the rate they’ll pay is usually lower than what you’d get driving for a company that didn’t train you.

Also, as part of your employment agreement, you’ll have to commit to stay with the company for one or two years. If the job isn’t your cup of tea, for whatever the reason, you’re legally bound to pay the balance of what you owe.

A plus of training with your employer is they will usually put you up for the three to four weeks you’re learning. The minus is you’ll be sharing a motel room with a roommate or two who might not share your sleep or study habits.

A private CDL school course will set you back between $3,000 and $5,000, but in the long run, you’re going to have more employment options. And most companies will take inexperienced drivers with CDL training. They’ll set you up with orientation and a trainer. You might even get the money you shell out for CDL school since some companies offer tuition reimbursement as a perk. Make sure you find out what you have to do to qualify.

Plus private schools teach you on a manual shift truck – which a company may not always do. If you train on an automatic transmission and ever want to work with a truck that’s manual, it’s going to be a much tougher adjustment.
One caution though about private CDL schools: Don’t just shop on price. There are schools offering “deals” on getting your CDL, but they may not be state-accredited. They may also offer what they call “free” training, but you’re going to be on the hook for paying them back once you get a job. It’s also a good idea to find out the pass rate of any school you’re considering.

3. Finishing CDL school gets you only part way down the road.

After you finish CDL training, you’ll still need to prepare for the exam. One of the best ways to do this is by taking practice tests, preferably ones that were written relatively recently. Since rules and laws are always changing, practicing with an old test means you’re studying outdated info. Try to find a source that’s compiled from actual CDL test questions and ask when they were most recently updated.

Check your state’s DMV website for a free sample test and here are some other sources:
Crist CDL Training Center
Truckers Report CDL Practice Tests

Also, study the information booklet your testing center provides. It’s a great way to review. And download and read your state’s CDL manual here.

And remember CDL school will only teach you minimum required for passing your CDL exam. But you want to do more than just pass the exam and get your first job. You want to make a decent living – not just drive a truck. With the turnover rate for first year drivers around 200% (according to Overdrive magazine) it’s going to take more preparation and education than you’ll get attending CDL school. Improve your odds of succeeding by preparing yourself not just to drive but to be a successful business person.

Find more info about the skills you need to succeed as a driver by also reading these articles on LTL.com:

Are You Cut Out to Be an Owner-Operator?

You Just Inherited a Truck. Sell it or Hire a Driver?

Driving Skills for a Smaller Fuel Bill