Do I need a CDL to drive a tow truck?

Whether it’s roadside assistance or a secondary transport task, operating a tow truck is a heavy-duty task that requires a lot of training. However, does the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require CDL training to operate a tow truck? Is a tow truck considered a commercial vehicle, and do you need a CDL to legally drive one? Here’s how you can know for sure. 

What is a commercial motor vehicle?

It helps to first know what the FMCSA considers a commercial vehicle. The FMCSA defines a commercial vehicle as a motor vehicle used in commerce to transport passengers or property and either:

  • The weight of the vehicle plus its cargo (or its Gross Combination Weight/GCWR) is OVER 26,001 pounds, and the vehicle itself (or the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating/GVWR) makes up OVER 10,000 pounds of that total weight.
  • The vehicle itself (GVWR) is over 26,001 pounds but does not pull cargo over 10,001 pounds.
  • The vehicle is built to carry over 16 passengers including the driver, or
  • The vehicle, regardless of size or weight, transports hazardous materials.

If your tow truck does fall under one of these categories, you’ll need a CDL. However, you’ll need to know what type of CDL you need and the types of endorsements depending on what you haul.

Do I need a Class A CDL for my tow truck?

Class A licenses are generally for vehicles that fall into the first category of a commercial motor vehicle. So, if you’re planning to drive a light-duty tow truck, you’ll need a Class A CDL. If you tow multiple vehicles at once, you’ll also need to get the T endorsement for a Class A license, which will allow you to pull multiple trailers or vehicles at once. So, if your fleet also includes ramp carriers or trucks with multi-car carrier trailers, you’ll need a Class A license with a T endorsement.

Do I need a Class B CDL for my tow truck?

Class B licenses are used for more heavy-duty jobs. Typically, commercial vehicles in the second category will need Class B licenses (i.e. dump truck drivers, buses, and other specialty trucks). As far as tow trucks, Class B licenses are usually needed to operate 4-car carriers, heavy-duty service trucks, and most other tow trucks that fall into a Class 7 or 8 vehicle classification.

Can I drive a tow truck with a Class C license?

Class C licenses are generally reserved for non-commercial vehicles; however, there are commercial and non-commercial versions of Class C licenses, so determining which of these licenses to get for your tow truck can become confusing.

Commercial Class C licenses are usually for commercial motor vehicles that fall under the last two categories of the FMCSA definition. Therefore, you may be able to operate a tow truck under a non-commercial Class C license if your truck is under 10,000 pounds and you never tow anything that would bring your GCWR to over 26,000 pounds.

However, if you transport any type of hazardous material that requires a placard, you’ll need a commercial Class C license regardless of your truck’s GCWR or GVWR.

Endorsements and Restrictions

Even if you have the right license for the type of vehicles or cargo you tow, you may need additional endorsements or have additional license restrictions depending on your specific business.

For example, if your tow truck business moves disabled or wrecked vehicles from a scene directly to a repair or storage building, your license wouldn’t need an endorsement. However, if you handle secondary movement (i.e. from storage to a repair shop), you may need additional endorsements.

There are also restrictions for CDLs depending on whether your trucks operate on an air brake system, a partial air-brake system (Z), or a non-air brake system (L).  There are also CDL restrictions for corrective lenses (Q), in-state only operation (K), and operating the truck with special hand controls (V).

These CDL licenses are not to be confused for the non-commercial Class A and B licenses for motor homes and RVs. You should also keep in mind that licensing programs and requirements differ from state to state. So, make sure you research exactly what types of training, state-specific licensing, and endorsements you’ll need for your specific location.

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FMCSA Clearinghouse and Recent Regulatory Changes

The FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a crucial resource for employers, containing records of violations of drug and alcohol regulations by CDL and non-CDL holders. Employers must query the database to ensure compliance before hiring drivers. Recent changes in FMCSA rules, including modifications to hours of service and inspection protocols, are vital for all tow truck operators to understand. Keeping abreast of these changes ensures compliance and safety in operations.

State-Specific Licensing Requirements

CDL requirements can vary significantly between states. It’s important for tow truck operators to familiarize themselves with the specific regulations in their state, which can be found on local Department of Transportation websites.

Get tow truck insurance quotes.

It’s also important to research your insurance options to make sure you’re getting the best tow truck insurance for the best possible rates. We know that this process can be a bit overwhelming on your own, so our tow truck insurance professionals are here to help. We’re dedicated to using our experience to get you cheaper rates on the coverage you deserve. Call us, fill out our online form, or click the chat bubble in the bottom right-hand corner to make sure you’re not missing out on savings!


Riker, Brian J. “Who Needs a CDL?” American Towman, March 2019, pp.


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