CDL: A License to Tow

Pushing the edge of your new heavy-duty pickup’s towing capacity?

Then you may have to go back to school to get a different driver’s license

Most contractors are towing equipment trailers of one sort or another and they do so without giving a second thought about their driver’s license. That could be a costly mistake for those who are pushing the limits of their new heavy-duty pickup’s towing capacity.

Ford, GM and Ram all offer duallies with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) topping 30,000 pounds.

That’s great news for those who need to tow really heavy trailers with their pickups.

But it’s not so good if you happen to have 20,000 pounds of trailer in tow and be stopped by law enforcement or roll into a weigh station not carrying the correct driver’s license.

Legally operating a pickup trailer combo exceeding 26,000 pounds requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in many states. There are also Federal regulations and they more often involve interstate commerce and hazardous materials.

The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1996 includes trucks with a GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds or any motor vehicle when used to transport any property for hire, including courier services.

So what may be the legal limit to tow with a regular driver’s license in your state may not be legal under Federal rule – or across the state line a few miles away.

Get busted with the wrong driver’s license and you could be easily facing fines in the four-digit range.

Generally 26,000 pounds is a CDL-requirement threshold and it’s based on the vehicle’s GCWR tag.

A few of the states requiring CDLs for combos exceeding 26,000 pounds include: Alabama, California, Texas, and Wisconsin. (Check out for more about CDL requirements when towing with pickups.)

Enforcement officers tasked with keeping an eye on those who tow are pretty good at spotting pickups pulling trailers that are in that weight range.

After all, just about any piece of rolling construction equipment larger than a compact loader or skid-steer being towed on a tandem or triple-axle gooseneck trailer is going to be pushing into that 20,000-pound trailered weight. Add in your dual-rear-wheel pickup’s 7,500-pound curb weight and you are in CDL country.

Welcome to the big league!