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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185 thoughts on “Lightweight Vehicles and the DOT

  • August 15, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Well I have a question about a different topic I know they changed the cdl laws a few years back where if you get to DUI in a lifetime you lose your cdl for life I can not see how that is fair to someone that got one 21 years ago and then got his second one on a four wheeler 21 years apart how is that truly justice to me it seems more like double jeopardy please any advice on this or is there away to keep cdl

  • August 17, 2015 at 11:59 am

    If your enterprise is strictly a hobby, and you do not get paid, you would not need a USDOT number, or need a medical card, logbook, or maintenance records. The vast majority of the rules only apply to commercial enterprises, and what you have described is not commerce. You may need a CDL, however. Even though the words CDL stand for “commercial driver’s license”, some States have taken it upon themselves to force non-commercial operators to have them, depending on the size of the vehicle. If your box truck, and travel trailer 1) have a total GVWR of 26,001 lbs., and 2) the trailer has a GVWR of 10,001 lbs., Arizona may force you to have a CDL. I don’t know the Arizona law, you should check with the DPS if your vehicle meets that definition.

  • August 17, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Most likely, your job will not require a CDL. CDL’s are needed if the truck has a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or more. A 1 ton truck probably has a GVWR of 10-15,000 lbs. at most. If you end up pulling a heavy trailer with the 1 ton, it’s possible you may need a CDL, though.

  • August 17, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Well, first, I would say you need a good DUI lawyer. Better call Saul. If it’s too late for that, and you’ve been convicted, you’re probably screwed. The way I read the Part 383 rules, you would have to serve at least a 10 year suspension of the CDL, after which point the State could, if they want, reinstate your CDL, but only if you can prove to them you’ve gone through some kind of rehab. As to whether or not justice has been served? I would need to know details. God knows the regulations do not always dispense justice, although I cannot say if that’s true or not in your case.

  • August 22, 2015 at 11:09 am

    I have a 3/4 ton pickup and 3.5k lbs trailer that i use to pull a compact track loader weighing 10k lbs all together it weighs just under 26 k lbs is this legal in the state if tx? Does the driver have to have a cdl or the dot #s since its a company vehicle?

  • August 25, 2015 at 1:29 am

    If I have a 50ft.trailer and a one ton pick up, hauling three cars, 1/2 ton each in Texas only….. do I need to log and go through weight scales? I also have my US Dot no. plus my tx. CC no.

  • September 5, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    I have one that hopefully you can answer. I have a F150 and a small trailer combined weight rating of around 11000. I myself do not have a business but my wife does. She has asked me to haul her supplies to some shows for her. I will not be paid for this. Now I would think since I am not being compensated for this I would not be commercial but I thought this might be a gray area. My name is not on her business in anyway just as her name is not on the truck or trailer. Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

  • September 23, 2015 at 10:41 am

    What does a DOT pickup need besides a fire extinguisher and reflectors?

  • September 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Eric! Question. Vans require what size fire extinguisher for vans under 10,001 pounds ?

    Liza Louszko

  • September 25, 2015 at 2:28 am

    I have had little to no success in finding the answer to the following question/scenario. I am considering purchasing a single axel older (1969)dump truck with GVW of 27500 for personnel use to haul gravel and dirt to build a road (long one) for a house I will be constructing. I assume if not then my driving it back from purchasing it in a border state should not be an issue either. Thank you for your time and consideration of my question.

  • October 2, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    How do we lobby to get the 10,001 lb limit raised
    nationally, I heard Michigan did it recently.

    DOT requirements forced on small business for the sake of a single trip or one time trailer haul is a
    bureaucratic abuse and does not serve the public good.

  • October 18, 2015 at 10:58 am

    We have a one ton vehicle with a flat bed in Louisiana. We want to pick up parts in Texas to bring to our shop and repair our equipment.Do we need a CDL driver and a US DOT I would appreciate a quick answer as my husband and I who work together are arguing back and forth on this issue. I apologize I put an incorrect email on the question before.
    Thanks in advance’Janet

  • October 20, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I just bought a 2015 dodge ram 3500 hd and a 40 ft. flatbed goose neck trailer. Is that classified as a commercial combined vehicle. Also do I have to stop at scales even though there are signs saying no pickups. I will be using it for my new business. In the state of CA.

  • October 22, 2015 at 6:05 am

    We are in Missouri. We have ton trucks and gooseneck trailers. We do not leave the state. We haul our own equipment for our business use. Do we need DOT numbers and do we need to stop at the scales? I ask this because one of our dump trucks got pulled in the scale last night and was given a warning to our ton trucks that they have to weigh and I don’t believe that they need to.

  • November 9, 2015 at 11:29 am

    I am not sure. The rules go by the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). It’s not what the vehicles weigh. So, you must find the GVWR of the truck and the trailer. It’s on each vehicle, usually inside the door for the truck, and on the neck of the trailer, or somewhere else on the frame. Add them together. In Texas, I believe the limit is 26,001 lbs. So, if the combined GCVWR is under 26,001 lbs., you would not need a CDL, and the vehicle would be unregulated. However, if you cross state lines, the limit is 10,001 lbs. GCVWR. Check the GVWRs, that’s how you find out your answer.

  • November 9, 2015 at 11:31 am

    The rules go by the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). It’s not what the vehicles weigh. So, you must find the GVWR of the truck and the trailer. It’s on each vehicle, usually inside the door for the truck, and on the neck of the trailer, or somewhere else on the frame. Add them together. In Texas, I believe the limit is 26,001 lbs. So, if the combined GCVWR is under 26,001 lbs., you would not need a CDL, and the vehicle would be unregulated. However, if you cross state lines, the limit is 10,001 lbs. GCVWR. Check the GVWRs, that’s how you find out your answer.
    You would almost certainly have to log and go through scales. Just a guess since I don’t know the GVWRs of your vehicles.

  • November 9, 2015 at 11:42 am


    I apologize for the late reply. Yes, this is probably a grey area. Even though you are not paid for supporting your wife’s business, DOT would probably allege the transportation is commercial because you are married, and you are supporting the business. You could probably leave your truck and trailer unmarked, and probably no one would ever know what you are doing. Of course, if you had a serious accident, then questions would probably be asked. If you were subject to the rules, and take the truck across state lines, you would be subject to all the rules, except for CDL licensing and drug/alcohol testing.

  • November 9, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Susan: I apologize for the late reply. By DOT pickup, I am assuming you mean a pickup in excess of 10,000 lbs. GVWR. It would need the fire extinguisher, reflectors, a DOT annual inspection, working lights, brakes, etc. It would need to be marked with the USDOT number. That’s off the top of my head….

  • November 9, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Jon, I apologize for the tardy reply. This would not be in commerce, so it should be unregulated. I say “should”, as in today’s world, the government needs to only allege something, and then you must prove otherwise. You probably would need a CDL to drive this vehicle. Some States require a CDL, even though you are not driving a commercial vehicle. I would have your explanation ready in case you get pulled over on the way home in your dump truck.

  • November 9, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Liza: I don’t know. The FMCSA rules apply at 10,001 lbs. GVWR or more. Therefore, I don’t know what is required on vans under that limit. Maybe nothing. Maybe each State requires something. But I don’t know. Sorry.

  • November 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Nationally? That’s actually a good question. I’m not sure if you would need an act of Congress, or a simple rulemaking by the FMCSA. Either way, it will never happen, short of electing a true regulatory reformer like Ted Cruz. Hmmmm….. maybe that’s your answer. Agree with you 100%. It should be raised to 26,001 lbs. GVWR.

  • November 9, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Sorry I did not give you a quick answer. If a vehicle has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lbs. or more, then it needs everything, including CDL and USDOT number. That’s probably not your vehicle. If a vehicle has a GVWR of 10,001 to 26,000 lbs., it does not need a CDL, but it needs everything else, including a USDOT number, logbook, medical, driver files, maintenance records, etc.

  • November 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    I really don’t know. I think the limit in CA is 26,001 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. So, you need to figure out what the GVWR is of your truck and trailer. It’s generally found on a metal plate somewhere on the vehicle. Add that up, and that will tell you if you are subject to the rules. As for the scales, I would ask the California Highway Patrol if they want to stop at the scales.

  • November 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I really don’t know. I used to work in Missouri with FMCSA, but that was over 20 years ago. I really don’t remember what the Missouri rules are. Call the CMV division of the Missouri Highway Patrol. They can tell you. Sorry.

  • November 25, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Guys was wondering if you need cdl for box trucks that are 25000lbs and some companies you don’t need cdl

  • December 1, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    By 25,000 lbs., you mean Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, which is the value assigned by the manufacturer? Which is found on a metal plate inside the door of the truck? If a truck has a 25,000 lb. GVWR, the driver does not need a CDL.

  • December 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    I have a small bucket truck that weighs 12,500 lbs, that I use on my pecan tree farm here in Georgia and for my RV parks. (my park is in part of the pecan orchard, which we are continuously trimming down tree limbs) I have “Private Carrier, Not For Hire” on the doors and I only drive it from one property to another property down the road and I only use it to maintain my properties. It never leaves the state. Do I need USDOT numbers?

  • December 4, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    I have a trenching business which I use my dually and Trailor most of the time and a small transport business with it I have my dot and mc numbers but my dually is used also for my personal truck do I have to have business name and dot and mc numbers on the side of it

  • December 7, 2015 at 8:55 am

    I have a welding truck in Maryland, that is listed by the title at 10,000lbs. I have heard that welding trucks are not covered by dot. I was hoping for some advice.

  • December 9, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    I drive a service truck under 15000 gvwr in Texas and Louisiana do I need a cdl driver license

  • January 18, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Mike: I apologize for the tardy reply. I did a very fast google search, and tells me that yes, you need a number. You would get it from the State of Georgia, rather than the USDOT. If you never leave the state, you are regulated by that state, in this case, Georgia. Hope that helps.

  • January 18, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    David: I apologize for the tardy reply. What is the GVWR of the dually? If it is 10,001 lbs. or more, then every time you use the dually for business purposes, it is supposed to have the numbers on it. If it is under 10,001 lbs. then you would only need the numbers when you are pulling a trailer for a business purpose.

  • January 18, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Wayne: I apologize for the tardy reply. Welding truck are covered by the DOT. However, it goes by the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of the vehicle: it must be 10,001 lbs. or more. It’s not on the title. It’s found on a metal plate inside the door. 10,000 lbs. or less… unregulated. 10,001 lbs. or more: subject to many, many, many rules.

  • January 18, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Eddy: I apologize for the tardy reply. No: CDL is only necessary when the vehicle has a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or more. It also applies if you pull a trailer, so if you are using your service truck to pull a trailer with a 11,001 lb. GVWR or more, then you would need a CDL A, because the combination is 26,001 lbs.

  • January 20, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Hey Eric –

    I’m a car buff, and every once in a while I’ll travel to buy one for my collection or take a car to a car show.

    I recently traded some old 50’s cars for a International Harvester with a crude 18ft rollback bed. According to the build plate on this old truck the Max G.V.W (Its a 1972 model truck) is listed as 23500lbs. I

    My question is – if I get the opportunity to buy a car in a neighboring state, am I also going to be subject to DOT regulations?

    From what I gather currently, as long as I have NOT FOR HIRE on the sides of the cab and I am not running a business I should be golden, but I figured I should probably ask a pro!


  • January 21, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    If a company operates cargo vans that are under 10,001 gvwr and they are owner operators, does the company need to supply vehicle liability on each of those owner operators and are these drivers subject to keeping log books since this would be an interstate operation?

  • January 25, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Are there exceptions for agriculture? Moving equipment and supplies between locations within the same state?

  • January 28, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Well, under ‘General Applicability’ in 49 CFR 390.3, and the Definitions in 49 CFR 390.5, it specifies that the DOT safety rules apply to vehicles in ‘commerce’. It does not really define what ‘commerce’ is. If you have a hobby of collecting cars, and you are not actively in business, it might not be considered ‘commerce’. Of course, on the other hand, some aggressive DOT cop could make the argument that the buying and selling of cars does constitute ‘commerce’. By placing ‘NOT FOR HIRE’, it makes it more likely than not that no one will bother you, however, it is possible that some aggressive, looking-for-trouble DOT cop could still pull you over; at which point you will have to convince him what you are doing is not commerce. Hope that helps.

  • January 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Vehicles under 10,001 lbs. GVWR are not subject to the DOT safety regulations, unless they have a placardable amount of Hazmat in them.

  • January 28, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Yes, there are some exception in the rulebook for farmers, but I’d need more information to determine if you meet any of them.

  • February 10, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Do these DOT rules apply to someone towing a camper across state lines? I have a 2015 Silverado 2500HD and tow a 27′ camper. Total GVWR is about 11,000 lbs. I live in NY and camp in Pa. It’s totally recreational use.

  • February 23, 2016 at 9:05 am

    No, the rules do not. They only apply to commercial vehicles.

  • February 29, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    My question is slightly different than the other ones I’ve read on this thread. I’m in Missouri and I have been driving a 2003 Chevrolet W3500 (Essentially a Isuzu NPR) flat bed for the last 9 years in Kansas City as my non-commercial, daily driver. I treat it like a big pickup. My job doesn’t require me to drive anything this large, I just have been sold on a forward cab or cabover orientation ever since my old VW bus. The local DOT simply don’t believe me that I’m not on the clock- just a weirdo with a preference. I even tried to find a non-commercial size truck of this type, but besides the off road mini trucks which are all too tiny and also not street legal, I haven’t found a market here in the states for something like I want. I am considering selling my W3500 to avoid this hassle, but have been toying with the idea of having the frame chopped to get under the 10,000 gvw limit. What I really want is to find a new 1/2 ton, cabover. Any suggestions?

  • March 1, 2016 at 9:02 am

    If I understand the question, you are driving a truck that’s over 10,000 lbs. GVWR for personal use and the DOT is hassling you about it. Sadly, the police are wrong, but you’re guilty until proven innocent, regardless of what you learned on the Dragnet re-runs. If you chop the frame, there’s still a chance they may go by what’s on the GVWR plate. If you pop off the plate, then they would probably go by the weight of the vehicle itself, or assume that you’re hiding something and simply declare the truck over 10,000 lbs. GVWR, and make you prove otherwise. I’m not sure I have any magic suggestions on how to get them to enforce the law correctly. Maybe you could explain to them that’s it’s really no different than driving around a 1 ton pickup for personal use, many of which are rated well over 10k. That happens all the time. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

  • March 5, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Eric, I live in Texas and am going to build house out of shipping containers.I know I can pull a 40 footer. But I wondering if I can pull a 53 footer with my f250 super duty???? I’m gonna build a pipe trailer that can stretch out when in use and short up when empty,it’ll have either 3 5200# axles,or set of multi max suspension with 9×14.5 tires and either 6 or 8 lug rims,and a I’m thinking goose neck…

  • March 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I have a Freightliner FL 70 I use to tow my 50′ travel trailer. I have done this for ten years and NEVER been bothered. I have had a CDL for more than 20 years and then towed my horse trailer. No tickets, warnings or accidents. My current rig (truck and trailer) weighs about 40,000 on the scales. I have no DOT number as I am private: i.e. not hauling for hire. I by-pass all scales and no one has ever come after me. AM I REQUIRED TO HAVE A MEDICAL CARD?

  • March 7, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I am not sure this falls under the Federal DOT safety rules, however, it may fall under Texas size and weight rules. Each State has some kind of size and weight rules. For example, I probably cannot transport 20,000 lbs. in my 1/2 ton pickup truck… if I could even get the truck to drive like that. The first cop I pass is going to pull me over, if for no other reason, on general principles. I don’t know the answer to your question. Sorry, you might want to check with the Texas DPS.

  • March 9, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I live in south carolina, I am starting a hauling & transport service, I have a 24 foot gooseneck for hauling but also have my truck set up for young pull as well as 5th wheel for campers and such. When looking for insurance, do i need just cargo or on hook as well if such a thing. I worked in the towing industry for seven years but knew nothing of that paperwork. That was office Secretary’s job. And also when trying to fill out online form for usdot, it says I need 750,000 coverage. Does that sound right? Can you advise

  • March 10, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Yes, you need a minimum of $750,000 public liability insurance. Unless you intend to transport automobiles, then it’s $1,000,000. Not sure about the answer to your cargo insurance question. Sorry.

  • March 28, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    if we have regular pickups – under 10.001 gvwr marked with our USDOT numbers – would the drivers be required to have a CDL license and medical card? Should we just take off the USDOT numbers and put them back on if they are ever used to pull a trailer that would put them over the limit? Thanks.

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