California Non Commercial drivers license

Headlines, Toy Haulers — By on November 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm

In California, to legally tow a 5th wheel trailer with a GVWR greater than 15,000 lbs. or a travel trailer with a GVWR greater than 10,000 lbs you need to have a Non-Commercial Class A drivers license. Everyone knows this, right? Surely when you buy one of these behemoths the dealer informs you of this, right? Wrong on both counts. As a matter of fact the vast majority are either unaware of the law or choose to ignore it. Up until last week I was in the latter category.

I have a 5th wheel with a GVWR of 16,500 lbs. I felt it was time to get legal for a little peace of mind; one less thing to worry about. After a little research on the DMV website, I learned that it’s a two step process. Each step unfortunately involves a separate trip to the DMV.

The first step is a basic written test of 19 multiple choice questions. All the questions are pretty basic. If you studied the DMV manual or already have several years experience towing you shouldn’t have a problem. Then they give you a vision exam and have you answer a health questionnaire that certifies you are in good health. This questionnaire has to be updated every two years to keep your license in effect. No Doctor signature is required for the non-commercial questionnaire.

If everything has checked out to this point, you are issued a permit and you make another appointment for step two of the process.

Step two in the process is the skills and driving tests. Prior to the tests they give your tow vehicle and trailer a visual inspection. The items they check are the headlights, brake lights, flashers, turn signals, and horn. If anything on the inspection fails to work properly, you fail the test and you must make another appointment after the items are fixed.

Next is the pre-trip inspection. This is where you demonstrate your knowledge of all your tow vehicle and trailers features and equipment that must be inspected prior to every trip. For the tow vehicle you must inspect the following:

Windshield wipers and the windshield for cracks.
The mirrors are clean and adjusted.
The oil, coolant, power steering, and brake fluid levels.
The belts and hoses for any cracks or leaks.
The condition of the tires and their correct PSI.
Wheels for cracks or excessive corrosion.
Hubs for grease leaks.
Lugs for tightness.
Brake linings where visible for thinness.
Head and tail lights are working.
Suspension for levelness.
The frame for cracks.
Doors and hinges are in proper working order.

You also must identify all the working parts of your hitch or coupling system and if your tow vehicle has air brakes you must demonstrate that they work according to specs. Next comes your trailer. First, you must show the location of the emergency equipment which includes a charged fire extinguisher and 3 emergency reflective triangles. Then they check that all lights including side marker lights are working correctly. Again, if any items are inoperable, missing, or unsafe, the test will be postponed until they are fixed.

The skills test is next. The skills test is where you demonstrate that you can stop the trailer at a predetermined point, that you can back up in a straight line, that you can make a right turn without hitting a cone, and arguably the most difficult part; the dreaded backing up while turning your rig into a coned off zone that simulates a camping space. Now I’ll admit that it took me 2 tries to do this without hitting a cone but no worries, the test is very liberal; they give you six tries before they mark you down on that one item.

Now comes the easy part; the driving test! During the test you must demonstrate you have control of your tow vehicle and trailer at all times. This includes coming to a complete stop at every limit line, following the posted speed limits, traveling in the correct lane, parking against a curb on a downhill and an uphill grade, merging into freeway traffic, changing lanes, demonstrating hand signals, and ending in the correct lane after a right turn in one fluid movement. I got marked down for this last one. Because of the length of my trailer I always end up in the far left lane of a two lane road. I then put on my signal and pull into the right lane when it is clear. The correct way to do it is to make the turn into the right lane in one fluid movement so as not to allow another vehicle to squeeze in. I told the DMV rep that I had a problem with this technique with an extremely long trailer because a small quick car can easily squeeze in on you no matter how quick you are to merge. The argument was to no avail, he marked me down anyway. The driving test took about 30 minutes and I passed with just a few errors.

Overall, this was well worth the time and effort. I encourage everyone who tows a heavy trailer to take the test. It is extremely easy and gives you one less thing to worry about on a trip. For more information visit www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/cdl_htm/lic_chart.htm#classanon to see what class of license you should have and www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl648/dl648.pdf for the complete handbook. Good luck and tow safe.

Tags: 10000, 15000, 5th wheel, california, class a, drivers licence, GVWR, license requirements, non commercial class a, travel trailer

    25 Comments

  • Richard says:

    Thanks Great help!

  • Mike says:

    Hello There,
    I’m not sure if you would know the answer to this… but I’m thinking about getting my Non-commercial class A to legally tow a Voltage V3200 (which I have yet to purchase- thanks for the reviews on yours)… my question is: Do the non-commercial class A drivers have the same consequences as commercial class A drivers such as no traffic school for citations and such? Thanks!

    Mike

  • Ben says:

    Kevin,
    Go in Monday in Torrance for the pre-check, skills and driving.

    Question on the back up turn into “camping spot”. Will they care if you use a backup camera? And I presume you can’t get out to “check” during. What constitutes a try?

    I frequently will take a stab and maybe reset with pulling forward 1x or more.

    Thanks for the info.

    Ben

  • Kevin McKenzie says:

    Ahhh, Torrance, one of my old stomping grounds. I don’t think they will care if you use a backup camera and a try means you having to pull forward and straighten out.

    Good luck!

    • Jason says:

      Kevin, thanks for the info…. do you happen to know if they give a hassle if you drive your own rig to the test site? I don’t happen to know anyone with a noncommercial class a to drive with me to the test site…. and I don’t want to get them pissed off BEFORE the test, thats a fail for sure.

  • Fred Lombardi says:

    Kevin,

    Thank you for taking the time to list all this out, was lost until I came across your article. Going from a 26′ bumper pull with a suburban to a 39′ fifth wheel with a dualie. A little apprehensive!

  • Dan p says:

    I’m confused. I sit the written test then I have to find someone who already has a non commercial A to take me to the testing center in my rig. Is this right? Or is there a place in CA that has where you can use their equipment/ trucks and trailers to sit you test? It seems not only do I have to take the day to do this but also someone else’s day. I just want to do this without involving a friend or neighbor in the rv park.

  • Jason says:

    Dan,

    I had the same question regarding the driving test. Does anyone know if they give you a hassle for driving to the test site on just the permit? Or if there are any instructors in the riverside, ca area that will go with you (for a fee of course) so there is no issue driving unlicensed in that class of vehicle to the test site?

  • Scott says:

    I am taking my test tomorrow at Fullerton DMV. Had same question about having to have another driver with class A (or non commercial class A) so I talked to the supervisor, explained what I am doing and she agreed to waive the class a driver. We’ll see how this goes.

  • Randy says:

    Get licensed in AZ and you don’t have to go through any of this stuff.

  • Scott says:

    Passed the written Monday; the permit says “valid for any vehicle or combination, unless otherwise restricted below. Must carry a current medical certificate while operating Class A or
    B vehicles.”

    Question: Doesn’t our self certified health questionnaire act as our medical? Or do we need to get a medical certificate as well?

    Permit also says you must be accompanied by a Ca. Driver over 18 of the same class who must ride in a position to instruct and control the vehicle if necessary.

    Question: This is the same question a few others have had. Do we need to find someone to ride around with us or take us to the test site who has a Non-commercial Class A?

  • dillon says:

    Passing The written gives you a permit allowing you to drive your rig to dmv

    • Rich says:

      That is incorrect. You will need another Non Commercial Class A Driver or Regular Class A Driver to accompany you for your test. Once you get to the testing facilty with your truck and trailer, they will check your Class A Driver for his license before you proceed with the test. I just went through this 2 weeks ago at the West Sacramento Commercial Test Facility.

  • Jim says:

    can you get a class A non comerical license in
    ca. witg only one eye

    • Michael says:

      I am blind in my right eye. DMV required me to go to the optometrist and have them fill out a form. You will be given the form after you don’t pass the eye exam.

      Also, I asked the CDL DMV guy how to find a person to go with me for the test. He said, “Whose truck are you driving?” I said mine. He said, “Don’t worry about it.”

      Today, I failed the pretest. I got hung up on the idea that I had to go through the tire check list for each tire.

      Front left, evenly worn, properly inflated, brakes not leaking oil…
      But when you get to the rear tire, you have to repeat the list again. If you don’t it’s 4 points for each tire. So, by omitting 5 tires, assuming I would be redundant, I missed 20 points.

  • Art says:

    Howdy

    Is the non commercial written test about 18 questions

  • Ricardo says:

    Ok I want to know if they will be checking payload stickers to see if you are over weight at the time of test

  • dAVID says:

    ANYONE WITH A CLASS A COMMERCIAL OR CLASS A NON COMMERCIAL WILLING TO RIDE WITH ME GET MY CLASS A NON COMMERCIAL TO DMV, PLEASE EMAIL ME AT ds@davidsilversplumbing.com i AM IN ORANGE COUNTY CALIFORNIA

  • Richard Nester says:

    David, did you find anyone yet?

    R. Nester

  • Michael says:

    I just left the DMV in Santa Rosa, CA after 3 hours. I passed everything including the driving but then the test administrator said because my GCVW with the 5th wheel and dully will be over 26,001 pounds. Told me I had to come back and take the commercial written test…which is a bear compared to the non commercial and get a physical for my medical. I said it didn’t make sense and the RV trailer handbook said I only need a non commercial A. But of course they said it was the law. Get home and the handbook they gave me says in black and white 5th wheels are except from this law. Anyone else have this.
    Thanks
    Michael

  • Charles says:

    Thanks so much for the information. Do you have to take someone with a class a license to the driving test? In other words, will I automatically fail if I drive my 5th wheel to the test with only a class A permit, but no accompanying person with a class A license?

  • Bruce fry says:

    Any one know of a driver training site for Non Com class A and a drivers that can go to the DMV for the test in the Sacramento area?

Leave a Reply

Trackbacks

Leave a Trackback