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Definitive Guide to Truck Classifications: 1 to 8 from A to Z

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First off, what are truck classifications and what do they mean? Here’s the short answer: Trucks and commercial vehicles fall into eight classifications based on weight ranges stipulated by the Federal Highway Administration. These standards set the foundation for regulations established by federal, state and local authorities for what organizations can transport, how they can operate and who can drive.

It pays to know how commercial vehicles are classified and the laws that regulate their use. Here is your definitive guide to everything you need to know about the main truck classifications 1 through 8 from the people who supply those trucks with products from A to Z, Imperial Supplies. 

What’s a commercial motor vehicle and when does an SUV cross the line?

The designation “commercial motor vehicle” (CMV) doesn’t refer to a kind of truck, like a cement mixer or 18-wheeler. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a CMV as a vehicle used by a business or nonprofit with any of these characteristics:

1.    Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 10,001 lbs. or more

2.    Carries hazardous materials and requires placarding

3.    Is able to carry 8 or more riders including the driver.

If any of those conditions exists, a vehicle is considered a CMV and is subject to regulations that vary by the relevant truck classification 1-8 and the federal, state and local laws that apply. The only exceptions are military vehicles and firetrucks.

Weight Defines Truck Classification

The truck classification system is based on Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This is the weight of the vehicle including the vehicle itself, its fuel, passengers, cargo, trailer and every accessory or attachment. GVWR is a measure of a vehicles maximum poundage when it’s loaded.

There are 8 main classifications of CMVs

Class 1 (Up to 6,000 lbs.)

Examples: minivan, utility van, multi-purpose, mini pickup, full-size pickup

Class 2: (6,001 lbs. - 10,000 lbs.)

Examples: minivan, utility van, crew compartment pickup, full-size pickup, mini-bus, step van

Class 3 (10,001 lbs. - 14,000 lbs.)

Examples: mini-bus, step van, city delivery

Class 4 (14,001 lbs. - 16,000 lbs.)

Examples: conventional van, large walk-in, city delivery, landscaping truck, utility truck

Class 5 (16,001 lbs. - 19,500 lbs.)

Examples: Bucket truck, large walk-in, city delivery

Class 6 (19,501 lbs. - 26,000 lbs.)

Examples: Rack truck, single axle van, beverage truck, school bus, stake body truck

Class 7 (26,001 lbs. - 33,000 lbs.)

Examples: home fuel truck, garbage truck, tow truck, high profile cab over engine (COE), city transit bus, furniture truck, medium conventional truck

Class 8 (33,001 lbs. and heavier)

Examples: Fuel truck, dump truck, cement truck, reefer van, city transit or tour bus, fire engine, heavy conventional tractor, COE sleeper

Vehicle classifications matter for safety first and foremost

Classifications—and the weight limits that define them—have the primary purpose of safeguarding the motorways. Mechanical failures and accidents can occur when vehicles are overweight. Brakes are particularly sensitive and may not be strong enough to work beyond the classification’s specified weight.

GVWR sets a maximum weight for the vehicle so that all equipment—axles, frame, suspension and more—can be specified for the heaviest loads that will be hauled. Truck classifications set safety standards followed by manufacturers and shops throughout the U.S.

Classification determines many important aspects of operating CMVs

Local restrictions: in New York City, for example classification determines whether you can park, stop or stand in “truck loading only” zones without being fined.

Permitting: CMVs may require a permit to haul, for example, oversized loads.

DOT number: Regulated CMVs (over 10,001 pounds) must display their Department of Transportation (DOT) number on both sides of the vehicle, as well as company name and city in some jurisdictions.

Industry standards: Standardization of parts, tools and procedures for the different truck classifications supports smooth operations throughout the industry.

Licensing: Ensuring drivers meet standards of training helps keep everyone safe. Anyone operating a CMV over class 6 (26,001 lbs.) needs a Commercial Drivers License (CDL).

Hours-of-service (HOS) restrictions: To prevent fatigue, CMV drivers are restricted in the number of hours they can drive. If a CMV is being driven, FMCSA’s Interstate Truck Driver’s Hours of Service rules apply.

Inspection and weigh station mandates: If a vehicle is considered a CMV, the driver is required to pull into all open weight and inspection stations.

Truck classifications 1-8 have different licensing requirements

Drivers are required to obtain and hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) if they operate in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce and drive a vehicle that is a Class 7 or higher.

Motor carriers are responsible for ensuring that their drivers know and comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) and Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), including possession of a valid and up-to-date CDL. If a driver fails to comply, it will affect the carrier’s safety record and can lead to a driver’s CDL being revoked.

States issue CDLs to drivers according to three classes 

Class A: Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 26,001 lbs. or more whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a GVWR or gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 lbs. whichever is greater.

Class B: Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,001 lbs. or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 10,000 lbs. 

Class C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172 or is transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.

Special types of CMVs require endorsements

Drivers who operate special types of CMVs must pass additional tests to obtain any of the following endorsements placed on their CDL:

T       Double/triple trailers (knowledge test only)

P       Passenger (knowledge and skills tests)

N      Tank vehicle (knowledge test only)

H      Hazardous materials (knowledge test only)

X       Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements

S       School Bus (knowledge and skills tests)

Additional restrictions and requirements may apply to CDLs

Drivers and motor carriers must meet additional requirements relating to medical examinations, driver disqualifications, notifications of convictions or suspensions, and drug and alcohol testing. Restrictions placed on drivers’ CDLs must also be heeded. These include restrictions on such things as driving without corrective lenses, operating a school bus, operating trucks with full air brakes or air over hydraulic brakes.

Regulated motor carrier fleets are required to maintain comprehensive driver qualification files containing such items as employment application, CDL copy, medical care copy, current drug/alcohol test, current year MVR, certificates of driver training, road test summary and any accident information.  

Maintenance practices are also determined by truck classification

According to the FMCSA, motor carriers are required to systematically inspect, repair, and maintain all CMVs under their control, according to the rules and regulations of 49 CFR 396. Parts and accessories must also be kept in safe and proper operating condition at all times, per the details of 49 CFR 393. Records of all inspections, repairs, and maintenance of CMVs must be retained, as stipulated by 49 CFR 396.3.

As the safety, maintenance and record-keeping requirements of your CMVs evolve, count on the experts of Imperial Supplies for help.

Whether your fleet is comprised of Class 8 trucks or Class 1 vehicles, Imperial Supplies has the tools, parts and accessories you need, backed by service that’s a perfect ten. Talk to us.


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