Is a Class A CDL or Class B CDL Best for Your Career Goals?

CDL Licenses

Working as a professional truck driver offers people high annual salaries and unprecedented job security … without the burden of 4-year college debt. The industry faces a consistent national trucker shortage and the need for qualified drivers will only increase.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 2 million long-haul CDL professionals on the road today. The BLS also anticipates the need for qualified drivers will grow by 6 percent. As more and more Baby Boomers working the open road retire, the need for professional drivers will only increase.

There are also a wide range of driving professionals who secure different types of licenses. For instance, there are three types of CDLs that a driver can hold — Class A, B or C. The Class C license pertains to large passenger vans or transporting hazardous materials. The Class A and Class B licenses appear very similar. That’s why it’s common for people considering a truck driving career to have questions about the differences between a Class A and Class B.

What is a Class A CDL?
In practical terms, the Class A CDL is an almost all-encompassing truck driver license that allows you to operate vehicles under the Class B and C categories. With a Class A license, you would still need to gain certification in specialized transport such as hazardous materials and school buses. But it basically covers the driving qualification portion.

The reason most people undergo Class A CDL training is to secure a job driving 18-wheelers. Long-haul and regional route driving tends to pay among the highest salaries in the trucking industry. Although the BLS pegs the average salary at approximately $43,000, we know that companies are ratcheting up their pay scales. Big fleets such as Walmart have upped salaries to nearly $90,000 for experienced drivers.

A Class A CDL holder can operate vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or greater. The towed vehicle can be 10,000 pounds or heavier. These are examples of rigs you can operate.

  •       Tractor-trailers
  •       Truck-trailer combinations (double or triple trailers)
  •       Tank vehicles
  •       Livestock transports
  •       Flatbeds

The GVWR refers to the capacity the vehicle’s axles can handle. If, for example, the vehicle’s GVWR runs 30,000 pounds, you can haul that combined weight of the vehicle plus the cargo and trailer.

What is a Class B CDL?
The standard definition of a Class B license tends to be where the confusion starts. A Class B license holder can operate a vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or greater. However, the trailer it pulls must be less than 10,000 pounds. The vehicle capacity may be the same, but the weight pulled cannot exceed 10,000 pounds.

For example, a Class B holder might drive a box truck with a weight of 28,000 all told. You cannot operate that setup without a Class B CDL. If the trailer portion exceeds 10,000 pounds, then a Class A is required. These are examples of jobs you can secure with a Class B CDL.

  •       Straight trucks
  •       Passenger and school buses
  •       Segmented buses
  •       Local delivery box trucks
  •       Garbage trucks
  •       Cement mixers
  •       Dump trucks

People interested in local driving work in the passenger or construction sectors often gain certification for the Class B option. However, there may be strong incentives to focus on the Class A.

Differences Between Class A and Class B CDL
The choice between earning a Class A or Class B CDL depends on your long-term career goals. There are an abundance of passenger and construction sector opportunities for those who prefer highly localized positions. Many of these positions tend to be based on hourly wages, and unions play a role in maintaining high wage standards.

Class A drivers enjoy unique over-the-road career opportunities. The driver shortage has positively impacted wages, and freight companies are competing for qualified drivers. If you don’t mind the pun, Class A CDL holders are in the “driver’s seat” in terms of wages, health care benefits and other perks.

Another reason to earn a Class A CDL is the potential to become an owner-operator. Today’s owner-operators enjoy significant bargaining power in the booming economy. If you have an inkling to be your own boss someday, this may be the best career path.

How to Decide Between Class A and Class B CDL Training
If you are interested in beginning a secure, high-paying position in the trucking industry, we suggest you take some time and soul search about where you see yourself in 10 years. If that vision places you behind the wheel of a passenger bus or cement mixer, perhaps Class B CDL training is your best fit. If you envision being an entrepreneur delivering the goods and materials our country needs, you may be best suited for Class A CDL Training.

There has never been a better time than right now to start a career intrucking. We’re happy to sit down and help match your lifestyle goals with the best possible CDL training. Contact one of our trucking professionals at Southwest Truck Driver Training today.