If you find yourself looking for a used car you might come across the term commercial vehicle. It’s also a term you’ll encounter when trying to tax a vehicle to use on the road. You might also be asked whether the vehicle you own is a commercial vehicle if you ever need to ship it across the country.
If you’re not sure how to answer such a question or would simply like to understand what a commercial vehicle is, this guide will make everything crystal clear.
What is Considered a Commercial Vehicle?
Many people consider a commercial vehicle as a vehicle that’s used for business purposes. However, the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has a much narrower definition.
It’s important to understand what a commercial vehicle is because if you want to drive one, you may need to get a commercial driver’s license.
A commercial vehicle is a vehicle that’s used for business or commercial purposes. Also known as CMVs, they can transport paying passengers or goods. A commercial vehicle might also be designated as a CMV when it is registered or titled to a company. With this definition, a commercial vehicle might include fleet vehicles, company cars, and any other vehicle used for business purposes.
But what is the official definition from the FMCSA?
The FMCSA oversees and regulates commercial vehicles. It defines a CMV as
“Any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 lb or more
- Is designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation
- Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers
- Is designed for or used in transporting hazardous materials per the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.
Do You Need a Commercial Driver’s License to Drive One?
Whether or not you need a CDL (commercial driver’s license) depends on several things. You’ll need one if you’re driving one of the following vehicles:
- A single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing another not above 10,000 pounds
- Any vehicle combination with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the gross vehicle weight rating of the towed vehicle is more than 10,000 pounds
- Any vehicle transporting hazardous materials
- Any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver
What is a Non-Commercial Vehicle?
A non-commercial vehicle is generally a vehicle used to drive to or from work, driving to a location, or simply moving from A to B for other gains or as a simple means of transport.
What are the Benefits of a Commercial Vehicle?
Commercial vehicles are practical workhorses and can take a lot of abuse. You won’t mind slinging bags of cement in the back of a commercial vehicle for example. But slinging it in the trunk of your Toyota Prius might not be so appealing.
Commercial vehicles can also be very versatile. They are just as happy transporting the family around as they are moving a load of junk.
What are the Drawbacks?
Commercial vehicles tend to be a bit more primitive than passenger vehicles. This might be perfect for some people, but it’s not for everyone. Commercial vehicles tend to have tough suspensions and are designed to take heavy payloads and be driven on rougher road surfaces.
They are not generally designed to cruise comfortably and quietly along the highway. They also tend to be larger than a standard car which makes maneuvering them in built-up areas quite tricky.
Different Types of Commercial Vehicles
The most common types of commercial vehicles include the following.
- Semi-trucks: These are combination vehicles that include a tractor unit attached to a trailer or bed. They are attached via a fifth wheel. Other names for semi-trucks include tractor-trailers, big rigs, and 18-wheelers. You would use a semi-truck for hauling cargo between distribution and fulfillment hubs. They include flatbeds, double or triple trailers, reefers, and dry vans.
- Box trucks: Also known as straight trucks, these look like semi-trucks. However, in this case, the tractor isn’t attached via a fifth wheel. They are often used for moving, local deliveries, and hauling large items such as appliances and furniture. The cargo area is usually separate from the vehicle’s cab.
- Pickup trucks: This type of vehicle is not necessarily a commercial vehicle. However, they can be used for commercial purposes, and in some instances, you might require a commercial driver’s license, depending on the business. You can use pickup trucks for transporting goods with a trailer and transporting equipment and tools for a business.
- Step vans: Other names for this type of commercial vehicle are walk-in delivery or multi-stop vehicles. You might also hear them called “bakery trucks” or “bread vans”. They are taller than a full-sized van which makes it easier to access goods and stand up inside. These vans are commonly used by police and fire departments, food trucks, and parcel companies, including the US Postal Service.
- Cargo vans: Also called sprinters, cargo vans are vehicles that have a cargo area connected to the driver cab. In some larger versions, there will be roll-up rear doors, similar to box trucks. They are commonly used for electrical, plumbing, courier, delivery, and cable repair services.
- Passenger vans: A full-sized commercial passenger van could seat as many as 15 people. They are commonly used for transporting groups of people. This could be as part of a service, such as transporting guests to a parking lot. It could also be as the service itself, such as travel or tour operations.
- Buses: Transit buses can be used to transport large numbers of paying and non-paying passengers. They might be part of a city’s transportation network or used by schools for picking up students. Because of their size and passenger-carrying capacity, they are generally considered commercial vehicles and require special licensing.
- Motorcoaches: This is a luxurious bus that is used for long distances. Modern motorcoaches are high-floor buses. Below the passenger compartment, there is usually some luggage storage. They are very comfortable and have many amenities, more than a regular bus. You can expect reclining seats, an onboard restroom, and air conditioning. Coaches tend to be used for touring or are hired for private charters.
- Minibus: a minibus has a lower passenger capacity than a regular bus but more than a passenger van. They are also called shuttle buses and tend to be used for fixed-route transit and on-demand transportation.
- Heavy equipment: Some types of farming, construction, mining equipment, and similar heavy vehicles are considered commercial vehicles.
- Specialty vehicles: These are vehicles that have been specially designed or have specific functions. For example, street sweepers, fire trucks, refuse collection, and septic trucks. Passenger trolleys, tow trucks, and RV-style mobile services might also be considered commercial vehicles.
- Commercial cars: This type includes vehicles such as taxis, delivery vehicles, and rental cars.
FMCSA Commercial Vehicle Regulations
All the vehicles in the list above are considered commercial vehicles. However, not all of them have to follow federal motor carrier safety regulations.
One exemption is taxicabs. Based on the FMCSA’s definition of a commercial vehicle, they are not subject to federal regulations. Similarly, if a vehicle and operator only engage in intrastate commerce, it’s most likely they’ll be subject to local and state mandates rather than federal law.
If a vehicle meets the FMCSA CMV requirements detailed above, the business owner must comply with Department of Transportation safety regulations relating to:
- Alcohol and controlled substance testing for all persons required to have a commercial driver’s license
- Driver qualifications including medical exams
- Driving and operations of commercial motor vehicles
- Parts and accessories necessary for safe operations
- Hours of service rules
- All inspection, maintenance, and repair of vehicles
Apart from these regulations, a business owner must also be aware of the FMCSA’s requirements regarding vehicle insurance, driving records, commercial driver’s license holders, and accessibility.
What is Required on a Commercial Vehicle?
Most vehicles used in commerce may require the following:
- The name, city, and state or registered logo or emblem of the registered owner of the vehicle, and lessee of the vehicle if it is being operated under the lease, painted, or permanently attached on each side of the vehicle.
- Businesses operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate or intrastate commerce must apply for and display a USDOT number on both sides of each commercial vehicle it operates
- A commercial vehicle driver must have a document issued by a medical examiner certifying the driver is medically qualified under state and/or federal standards to operate a commercial vehicle
- Every CMV shall be inspected at least once every 12 months by a qualified inspector
- Commercial motor vehicles must carry a charged, securely mounted, and readily accessible fire extinguisher
- The vehicle must have at least one spare fuse for any required part and accessory
- The vehicle must also have three triangles or flares in case of a breakdown
Rest assured that the carriers we work with, meet all necessary FMCSA requirements. If you ever need to ship a car across the country or simply intrastate, we have the experience to provide exemplary service.
What is a commercial vehicle in California?
According to California DMV, a commercial vehicle is a vehicle that is used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation, or profit or designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.