How Long Does It Take To Get a CDL Credential? (Plus FAQs)

Updated March 16, 2023

Three semi-trailers or tractor-trailers travel on a highway as the sun shines behind them.

Earning a commercial driver's license (CDL) allows an individual to begin a career as a professional driver. Because there are many types of truck drivers, the time it takes to earn a CDL can vary. Learning about the process to earning a license can help you choose which type of driver to become. 

In this article, we discuss how long it takes to get a CDL and we offer answers to some frequently asked questions about this topic.

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What is a CDL?

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

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

Related: 5 Key Differences Between CDL vs. Non-CDL Driver's Licenses

Class B

Those with Class B status can drive a 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

Related: How To Get a CDL Trainer Certificate in 5 Steps

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: How To Apply for a Commercial Driver License (CDL)

How long does it take to get a CDL?

Getting a CDL can take between three weeks and 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, usually lasting 30 to 80 hours.

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

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

  • Full- 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 various trucks.

Related: How To Become a CDL Instructor in 3 Steps (With Salary Info)

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

While you don't have to attend training to earn a CDL, many companies prefer employees who studied at an accredited school with specific hours of instruction time. This is typically due to insurance policies. Attending a truck driving school demonstrates to employers that you're committed to the industry. Truck driving school also teaches fundamental skills and knowledge to 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.

Related: How To Study for a CDL Test To Earn a Passing Score

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 a criminal history and background check.

  • Double/triple endorsement (T): The T endorsement allows a driver to tow 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 regulations vary by state. You can check your state's guidelines to learn more details. Typically, these credentials are valid for five to eight years. Your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) typically 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 from non-expected interstate to excepted interstate, for example

  • Upgrading your CDL to a new group designator or class

Related: 8 Types of Careers You Can Pursue With a CDL (Plus Tips)

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How much does a CDL cost?

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

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