There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there.  So, we decided to try to clear it up for you. 

While, states, cities, and others all have different definitions and rules, today we are talking about the FMCSA / U.S. DOT regulations.   FMCSA Regulations have two definitions, the first pertains to when a CDL is required, the other we will address below. 



Confused?  Let’s break it down!


Interstate vs. IntraState


Most agencies will fall under Interstate commerce as they operate in multiple states.   If you have offices in more than one state, or operate any vehicles outside of your home state your office is located in, you are an Interstate carrier and the rules apply.


Are you a business engaged in commerce?  Well unless you are a non-profit, then yes you are engaged in commerce.  Notice it just says a commerce with no stipulations.  It does not matter if you are a private or for-hire carrier.



The US DOT loves acronyms.  The law is written so the greater of the four below apply. 


Truck or Trailer individually

       GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) -  is defined as the manufactures Weight rating.  (see example below). This can be found in the door jamb or on the              tongue of a trailer.

      • GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight). - Actual weight of the vehicle or trailer, load, fuel, etc.  It can vary (1/2 tank vs. Full).   


Vehicle and Trailer combined

     GCW (Gross Combined Weight) – Actual weight of both the trailer, truck and all of its contents. 

     • GCWR (Gross Combined  Weight Rating) - Simply the GVWR  of the truck and the trailer added together.  Note some trucks have a GCWR rating as well.           It pertains to the maximum towing capacity of the truck as established by the manufacturer.  If you are not towing a trailer, it does not come into play. 

In my experience, THE FMCSA and enforcement officers rely on the GVWR of both the truck and trailer added together as the GCWR is not typically stated on the vehicle.



So let's add this together:

  Is the truck used in interstate commerce – YES

 Does the truck have a GVWR or Gross weight more than 10,001 lbs?  YES

 Is the truck pulling a trailer and/ or the GCWR or Gross Combined of the truck and trailer over 10,001 lbs...  YES

 If you are operating in Interstate Commerce and have answered yes to #2 Or  #3,  you have a Commercial vehicle. 




Example #1

We have a #8550 lbs. GVWR tow vehicle towing a single axle trailer rated at #3500lbs. GVWR The actual gross combined weight is 9,000 lbs.   This is a commercial vehicle.  


Example #2

Ford F250 with a truck cap, NO trailer.  The GVWR of the truck is #12,000 lbs.

Gross Vehicle weight is #9800 lbs.  This is a commercial Vehicle


Example #3

Mercedes Sprinter Van with a GVWR of 9550, and GCWR of #13,500lbs NO trailer. The vehicle is fully wrapped.  This is NOT a Commercial Vehicle in the eyes of the US DOT/FMCSA since it is not pulling a trailer, only the GVWR applies. 



Now What?  We have a Commercial motor vehicle, what do we need to do? 



  • Valid US DOT Number
  • Proper Insurance
  • UCR Registered
  • May need IFTA and IRP Plates, or permits.
  • Records of Vehicle Maintenance
  • Driver DQ Files



  • Valid Annual Inspection
  • Safety equipment
    • Non-expired Fire Extinguisher properly mounted
    • Flares or Triangles
  • Properly Marked
    • US DOT # minimum of 1.5” Tall DOT numbers in the proper format
    • If traveling through CO, need last 8 of vin!
  • All equipment in proper working order
    (Lights, Windshields, Tires, Axles etc)–
  • Compliant Electronic Logging Devise
    • Manual for ELD as well as Compliance
    • Back-up paper logs



  • Driver Qualification File
  • Valid Fed Med Card
  • Proper, valid Drivers License
  • USE ELD Devises.