Commercial Drivers License, or more commonly known as CDL, is what we need to obtain employment driving a commercial vehicle. A commercial vehicle is a truck or bus (for hire) used to transport commercial goods or in case of the bus of course, people. To get a job driving a truck (a semi tractor / trailer or a truck with a gross vehicle weight over 26,000 pounds) or a bus, you must have a CDL. I have a CDL, but I’m not a professional driver, I’m a mechanic. I need my CDL to test drive the big rigs I repair.
Obtaining a CDL can be time consuming and expensive depending on you. If you don’t have any experience driving a truck or bus you must get some kind of training. You don’t have to go to a school if you know someone who already has a truck, and may be willing to teach you how to drive it, but you will still have to prove you can do it by taking a test. Many companies will also let you “gain experience” by apprenticeship, and some will even pay for the training, but in most cases, you really need to already have your CDL.
There are over 80 items that you must check on your truck before you go out on the road. This is called the “walk around”. You must check these items to ensure safety, not only for you, but for the motorists around you. You don’t need anything accidentally falling off of your truck while you are going down the road, or when you are trying to stop you find out your brakes are out of adjustment. You don’t need to be a mechanic to test your truck, but you’ll probably need one if you find something wrong, and the best time to find something wrong is during the walk around.
So you ask: How do I know what to check? Well the answer is you must study a book. Your local license branch has some free material that tells you what to check, but you may not know all of the terms. Items like “slack adjuster”, “brake chamber”, and “tie rod ends” are just a few of the things that need to be looked at on your walk around. This “walk around” is also part of your TEST to obtain a CDL.
Also on the test is an air brake pressure and leak test. Air brake fundamentals are not difficult to understand with the proper training. Your test consists of two parts, the written test and the driving test. Everything on the written test will be used during the driving test. The written test is not free. You will take the test at the license branch. If you fail, you can take it again and again until you pass and not have to pay the fee more than once, but if you fail it’s frustrating and you have to go back to the license branch. We all know how much fun that is, so you’ll want to pass the written test the first time. When you pass, you will get a permit to drive a commercial vehicle with a CDL licensed driver in the passenger seat. Once you get some driving experience, and you feel you are ready, take your driving test.
Driving tests can cost from $100 up depending on if you use your own truck or have to use the ones available at the test site, which of course will cost you more. The fee for the driving test is usually non-refundable, and you will have to pay again to take another one, so you want to be sure you know what you are doing. Parts of the driving test include the walk around, the air brake check, parking, backing up and docking, all done in the CDL test area, and then the actual on the road driving.
Professional truck and bus drivers are in high demand. To get the training you need you must study what will be on the test, know what you are talking about on your walk around with the CDL tester, and be able to handle a big rig forwards and backwards.
Sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Knowing the written part is the hardest. Your skill as a driver will kick in once you get behind the wheel with someone who has done it before and some simple instruction. I have personally taught regular guys off the street to drive, and help them obtain their CDL’s, when I worked as a fleet mechanic for major distributing company who needed route and over the road drivers. If one of my guys failed (and only a couple did), it was due to not being able to get through the written test to get their permit, or messing up the walk around with the tester.