How long does it take to get a CDL Class A

Earning a commercial driver's license allows an individual to begin a career as a professional driver. Because there are many different types of truck drivers, the time it takes to earn a CDL can vary. Learning about the process to become licensed can help you choose which type of driver to become. In this article, we explore what a CDL is and answer some frequently asked questions about earning one.

What is a CDL?

A CDL, or a commercial driver's license, is a driver's license for those operating large or heavy trucks or trailers. These drivers may also transport hazardous materials in specialized vehicles as well as people in transportation vehicles like buses. There are three different types of CDL licenses:

Class A

Class A drivers operate a combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or higher. This includes vehicles such as:

  • Flatbeds
  • Livestock carriers
  • Tanker vehicles
  • Tractor-trailers

Class B

Those with Class B status can drive any single vehicle without a trailer with a combined weight greater than 26,000 pounds. Vehicles they can drive include:

  • Box trucks
  • Dump trucks
  • Large buses
  • Straight trucks

Class C

Class C drivers operate single vehicles with a GVWR below 26,001 pounds. They also can tow another vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds and transport 16 or more passengers. Vehicles they operate include:

  • Buses
  • Double or triple trailers
  • HazMat vehicles
  • Passenger van

Related: CDL License: Definition and Types

How long does it take to get a CDL?

Getting a CDL can take between three weeks to six months. The duration for completion depends on a variety of factors, which include:

  • Classroom time: Each program offers a different amount of classroom time to teach essential knowledge, but usually lasts between 30 to 80 hours.

  • Driving hours: Some programs require more driving hours with a licensed CDL driver to help individuals become more confident and gain experience.

  • Endorsements: There are six different endorsements, which can add additional time to your training due to their test requirements.

  • Full-time vs. part-time programs: Attending a CDL program full-time helps students earn their CDL faster than those who attend part time, but part-time programs allow more flexibility with scheduling.

  • Manual vs. auto truck: The type of truck you choose to operate may affect how fast you learn the skills needed to drive it.

  • Military experience: Those with experience in the military may be able to waive their skills test, which allows them to complete the CDL process faster.

  • Student ability: A student's driving abilities can affect how soon they pass their driving exam and prevent them from having to retake their exam.

  • Testing schedule and availability: Scheduling a CDL test can also contribute to more time if the testing locations near you are full.

  • Type of CDL: Typically, a Class A CDL program is longer than a Class B CDL program since Class A focuses on driving a variety of trucks.

Do you need to take a class to get your CDL?

While individuals don't need to attend training to earn a CDL, many companies prefer employees who attended an accredited school with a specific number of hours of instruction time. This is typically due to insurance policies. Attending a truck driving school demonstrates to employers that you are committed to the industry. Truck driving school also teaches fundamental skills and knowledge which can help you pass your tests and become a successful driver.

Some places that provide truck driving training include:

  • Community colleges and vocational schools
  • Freight carriers
  • High schools
  • Military
  • Private truck driving schools

Related: CDL Certification Guide: Everything You Need To Know

How much driving practice do you need for your CDL test?

There currently is no official required amount of driving practice to earn a CDL. However, many companies prefer a minimum of 160 hours of training behind the wheel. Upon earning a commercial learner's permit (CLP), individuals can practice driving with a licensed CDL driver accompanying them.

How long does the CDL driving test take?

The CDL road skills test takes approximately two hours to complete. Typically, an examiner evaluates drivers on skills such as backing, quick stops, three-point turnabouts and approaching intersections. This portion of the CDL exams consists of three parts:

  • Basic control skills test
  • On-road driving test
  • Vehicle inspection test

Related: How To Earn a Commercial Driver's License in 7 Steps

What CDL endorsements can you get?

In addition to earning a CDL, drivers can declare specific CDL endorsements for a different type of commercial driving. CDL endorsements involve additional test requirements and a fee. Some endorsements CDL drivers can earn include:

  • Hazardous materials endorsement (H): The H endorsement allows individuals to transport hazardous materials, such as flammable liquids, gases or other explosives.

  • Tank vehicle endorsement (N): This endorsement allows drivers to operate a tank vehicle to transport liquid or liquefied gaseous materials.

  • Passenger transport endorsement (P): The P endorsement allows drivers to transport passengers in a transportation vehicle.

  • School bus/ passenger transport combo endorsement (S): The S endorsement permits individuals to transport passengers and involves passing both a criminal history and background check.

  • Double/triple endorsement (T): The T endorsement allows a driver to tow either a double or triple trailer.

  • Tanker/HAZMAT combo endorsement (X): The X endorsement combines the N and H endorsements to allow drivers to transport hazardous materials in tank vehicles.

Related: A Complete Guide To Becoming a Tow Truck Driver

How often do you have to renew your CDL?

CDL renewal depends on the state you earned yours in. Typically, they are valid between five to eight years. Your state department of transportation (DMV) mails a reminder when your CDL is about to expire.

Other occasions for renewing your CDL include:

  • Adding a new endorsement to an existing license
  • Removing an air brake restriction from your CDL
  • Changing your current federal category (ex. non-expected interstate to excepted interstate)
  • Upgrading your CDL to a new group designator or class

How much does a CDL cost?

The bulk of a CDL cost goes toward the truck driving training course. These programs cost between $1,000 to $8,000, depending on the experience of the instructors and other related factors. The endorsements cost an additional $10 to $50 per endorsement. Other fees may include an application, CLP and skills testing.