Lightweight Vehicles and the DOT

1-ton-pickupDOT rules and regulations apply to all vehicles, and their drivers, used in interstate commerce with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GWVR) of 10,001 pounds or more. The GVWR of a vehicle is a value assigned by the manufacturer. It is how much he thinks the vehicle can safely carry, including the weight of the vehicle. It is not the weight of the vehicle, or the weight at which you register the vehicle. The GVWR is commonly found on a metal plate on the inside of the door.

Power units are not the only vehicles with GVWR’s; trailers have them as well. When determining the GWVR of a combination unit, you must add the GVWR of the truck to that of the trailer. If it is 10,001 pounds or more, and goes across state lines, it is subject to the rules.

It doesn’t take much to come up with a 10,001 pound or more rig. A ¾ ton pickup probably has a GVWR of around 8,000 pounds. A one ton pickup is close to 10,000 pounds, if not over. If you pull any sort of trailer with these type of pickups, you are very likely over 10,001 pounds for the combination, thus making you subject to the rules.

A vehicle, which has a GVWR of over 10,001 pounds, but not over 26,001 pounds, which is a CDL vehicle, is subject to all of the same rules as a CDL vehicle, except for drug and alcohol testing. This means if you have a one ton pickup, pulling a kiddie ride, going state to state on your route, that driver must fill out logbook. He must have a medical card. The truck and the trailer must have an annual inspection. The truck must have a fire extinguisher and reflectors. The truck must have a USDOT number on it.

Trucks being used for non-commercial purposes are not subject to the rules. For example, you use your one ton truck to pull a trailer loaded with construction equipment for your job: subject to the rules. You use your one ton truck to pull a trailer with some ATV’s on them so you can so four-wheeling on the weekend: not subject.

Undoubtedly, you are thinking, “hey, I see those type of hot-shot combinations all the time on the highway, and none of these guys have USDOT numbers on them”. They’re probably violating the law. Most DOT cops don’t bother with the smaller combinations. However, if a DOT cop wants to write some easy tickets, all he needs to find is a one ton pulling a trailer for a business purpose with out-of-state plates, and no USDOT number on it. It just a question of if the officer wants to spend the time writing all those tickets that day. If you get stopped in one of these smaller rigs, and your driver is not adhering to any of the rules, it can be several hundreds of dollars in tickets. You should review their equipment and determine if they have any of the 10,001 – 26,001 pound GVWR vehicles. These vehicles and their drivers are subject to nearly the same rules as the big trucks!


Eric Arnold is a Former Enforcement Agent with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and a leading expert on USDOT compliance for small businesses. Do you have a question for Eric Arnold? Email him at

Arnold Safety simplifies D.O.T. Compliance for commercial vehicle operators. Get Eric Arnold’s USDOT Compliance Guide, DVD, & Regulations at ArnoldSafety.Com.

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161 thoughts on “Lightweight Vehicles and the DOT

  • November 20, 2017 at 8:15 am

    I hate to say it, but, yes, whatever token compensation you get from the band probably does make it a commercial enterprise in DOT’s eyes. Therefore, you would have to comply completely with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, with the exception of CDL and drug and alcohol testing. Of course, the chances of you getting pulled over probably is not great…. however, I do believe they would consider you subject to the rules.

  • November 20, 2017 at 9:53 am

    One additional question: FL officials (DOT and Agriculture check stations) told me that a Bill of Lading is required even if I am transporting my own gear and I’m NOT picking up or delivering freight involving any other parties.
    Is that true?

  • December 26, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Hi again, I’m considering building a custom rig for car hauling. My Truck, Ram 3500 GVWR – 11,500. Going to replace bed with a 17′ aluminun wedge bed – this puts my Truck length at 30′.In addition to this I need a 34′ trailer to pull two cars. My new truck weight will be 8200# dry, add a 3k# car and I’m under my GVWR of 11,500, so I’m good here. My aluminum trailer is under 3k# plus 2 cars at 3500# each puts my trailer under 10k#…so I’m good here too. My GCVWR is 21,500 this will be very close.Questions: Does DOT punish truckers with fines for exceeding the manufacture’s GCVWR? I know that individual states vary on GCV lengths from 55′ to 75’…in Tennessee there is no length specification…is there a federal length specification? If I get pulled over in Alabama where their max trailer length is 28.5′ can they ticket me if I’m tagged in Tennessee?
    Also if I am well under 26,000 lbs can my trailer exceed 10k# and not require a CDL? Thanks so much and Happy New Year!!

  • December 27, 2017 at 10:05 am

    I don’t know. You should check with the State of Florida.

  • December 27, 2017 at 10:16 am

    My short answer is ‘I don’t know’. You probably need to check with the DOT offices of the various States in which you intend to operate, starting with wherever you based. Each State has its own size and weight rules. While they are similar, there are some variances, as you pointed out. As far as your home-made improvements, you probably need to double-check with the DOT on that too. Yes, at some point they will punish you if you make changes to the vehicle. For example, if I start pulling off the bed of a truck, welding new beds, adding axles, I’m going to make a mess, and create an unsafe vehicle, because I don’t know how to do that. You probably do, but the police will probably scrutinize your work if they stop you.

  • January 7, 2018 at 1:50 am

    OK my company is going through geting dot numbers and being certified now our biggest question is on the gvrw weights our 550 are aproximetly 19,600 and tge trailer is 4,000 lbs gvrw OK that is 23,000lbs now if we put a piece of equipment on that trailer that weighs let’s say 4,000 lbs does that put us over tge limit and require a cdl or is it just tge gvrw that goes into that requirement any helpful knowledge would be appreciated?????

  • January 7, 2018 at 10:31 am

    CDL is determined by the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of the trailer, or the weight of the trailer, whichever is more. If either is over 10,000 pounds, and the entire rig is over 26,000 lbs, again whether it be the GVWR or the actual weight of the rig, then it’s a CDL. It used to go strictly by the GVWR, which is a value assigned by the manufacturer, attached to the vehicle via a metal specification plate, usually either inside the door, or on the front of the trailer somewhere. However, they expanded the definition to include the actual weight of the vehicles, I suppose because they found overloaded vehicles exceeding 26,000 lbs, and decided those should have CDLs too. Hope that helps.

  • January 21, 2018 at 4:46 am

    what about traveling up to Quebec with a 12 ft livestock trailer…and using a 3/4 truck, what numbers must I have, I also work in maritime commerce licensed by us coast guard, we’ve medicals every 2 years, with medical cards & part of random drug screening.

  • January 22, 2018 at 10:15 am

    It sounds like your combination vehicle will very likely exceed 10,001 lbs Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, which will make it subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. You will need to fully comply with these rules, which includes driver qualification, medical cards, logbooks, maintenance records, annual inspections, among other things.

  • March 24, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    I have a 14,000lb refrigerator truck that is used to pick up food from local grocery stores. It is DOT regulated. It is a non-commercial vehicle. Does my driver have to pass a road test? What do I have to keep in file?

  • March 29, 2018 at 8:35 am

    The Federal DOT rules apply at 10,001 lbs. GVWR. Rules for CDL licensing and drug/alcohol testing apply at 26,001 lbs. GVWR. Assuming your 14,000 lb. refrigerator truck crosses state lines, you would need to comply with all the rules except for the CDL and drug/alcohol testing. This would mean time records, and possibly an ELD, maintenance records, and a complete driver file. One of the requirements of a non-CDL driver file is a road test. Someone familiar with the safe operation of the truck would need to road test your driver, and the test and certification that he passed should be in his driver file.

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