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I'm not aware of any federal laws respecting non-commercial class A/B licenses, but if you can provide a reference I'll add this information to the post. As far as I know, these kinds of licenses have been introduced at the state level only, and not every state has them. I just moved to PA where there are non-commercial class A/B licenses, but back in NJ (where I moved from) they don't exist (yet).
Operator's licensing requirements are said to be reciprocal all over North America -- if you're properly licensed in your home state, you're good to go everywhere. If you're from a state that doesn't offer non-commercial Class A or B licenses you're legal to tow, even in states that do. Conversely, if you're not properly licensed in your home state, you're out of classification even in states that don't require upgraded licensing.

Keep in mind, however, that things like overlength, overweight, double towing, etc., are NOT reciprocal and you're subject to local laws, even if you're properly licensed for them in your home state.
 

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@Melonhead1102 asked that I create a post addressing this subject, since it comes up so often.

This post addresses the legalities and physical limitations applicable to vehicle (and combination) weights. I will attempt to clarify the differences in enforcement practices between commercial and personal use vehicles with regard to vehicle weight restrictions and licensing requirements. What I will not attempt to do is address the likelihood of civil liability in any given scenario, as there’s just too much variability and too few data points from which to make inference. However, I am not aware of a single instance in which an individual was found liable specifically for exceeding vehicle capacities, and I am also not aware of any instance in which an insurance company denied liability coverage due specifically to such circumstances. We all can/will be sued for any and all reasons at any given time, so use your judgment.

Let’s establish some definitions first.

GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (as specified by the manufacturer on the door sticker). Legally enforceable.

GCWR: Gross Combination Weight Rating. For enforcement purposes, if this value is not listed on the vehicle’s door sticker, it is the sum of all units’ (truck and trailer(s)) GVWRs. This is regardless of what's found in the vehicle owner's manual, marketing brochure, or the manufacturer's "towing guide." Legally enforceable.

FGAWR/RGAWR: Front/Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating. GAWRs are often specified by vehicle manufacturers to match the accompanying OEM tire load ratings (x2), regardless of the axles' true physical capabilities. Legally enforceable.

TLR: Tire Load Rating (in pounds, not the load range or number of plies). Note that this number is for a fully inflated (at rest) tire; some tire manufacturers may provide tables associating tire capacities with a range of inflation pressures. Legally enforceable.

WLR: Wheel Load Rating (in pounds). Enforceability is debatable but in practice probably impossible due to the number not being visible anywhere. Note that WLRs are often specified by vehicle manufacturers to match the accompanying OEM tires, regardless of the wheels' true physical capacities.

Payload: A manufacturer’s recommendation for single-unit vehicle loading, predicated on the weight being distributed optimally. Definitions may vary from one manufacturer to another. NOT legally enforceable.

Towing Capacity: Legacy towing capacities were determined somewhat arbitrarily by manufacturers; modern ones are determined by SAE J2807. NOT legally enforceable.

CDL-A/B: Class A/B Commercial Driver’s License.

CMV: Commercial Motor Vehicle.

TT: (bumper pull) Travel Trailer.

FW: Fifth Wheel.

GN: Gooseneck.

ITG: Internet Towing Grandpa. You know, the ones who say things like, "You're 10 pounds over your towing capacity? Well I'm going to call my attorney and we're going to follow you around until you screw up, and then we'll sue you for every dime you've ever made and/or lost. Don't you care about your family's safety?" Meanwhile, they're over their TLRs, WLRs, and GAWRs as they lecture everyone about subtracting pin weights from payloads and all other sorts of total towing nonsense. If you take these clowns' logic to its rational conclusions we'd all wind up buying Kenworths to pull jet ski trailers.

And now, to get on with it:

Licensing requirements for CMVs are pretty consistent across jurisdictions. However, the definition of a “commercial vehicle” is somewhat nebulous and beyond the scope of this post. The FMCSA website has definitions and numerous examples of vehicles that may be considered CMVs (or not) depending on the particular use case. The only definitive statement I will make on this is that a vehicle/combination being used solely for recreational purposes (i.e. not hauling vehicles/equipment to be used in a competition for which large monetary prizes are awarded, or any other quasi-commercial activity) is not a CMV. This includes any and all personal-use vehicles pulling campers (regardless of the hitch type -- TT, FW, GN, etc.) as well as motorhomes. It is important to note that, generally speaking, only CMV operators are subject to CDL licensing requirements. The implication is that two identical vehicles, one being used commercially and the other recreationally, will have different licensing requirements. Whether this is a feature or a bug is debatable, but it is a fact regardless.

It is important to understand that while personal-use vehicles do not require CDLs for operation, their weight ratings are technically still enforceable (GVWR/GCWR, GAWRs, and TLRs). However, they are not required to stop at weigh stations, and the likelihood of weight rating enforcement for personal-use vehicles is extremely small. For clarity’s sake, I will reiterate from my definitions above that there is no legal concept of payload or towing capacity and hence there are no government entities who enforce adherence to these numbers. Generally speaking, if the actual number is not clearly visible on a door sticker, tire, or registration document, it can’t/won’t be enforced.

Manufacturers will typically cap the RGAWR at the sum of the OEM rear tires’ load capacities. The result is that some trucks’ axles actually have physical capacities far greater than what’s specified on the door sticker. An example is the 2017-2019 HD SRW pickups which have the same rear axle as the DRW but a much lower RGAWR. Nevertheless, legally speaking, these vehicles are still bound by the door sticker RGAWR even if the truck is equipped with heavier-duty wheels and tires. In this scenario it seems that the laws of physics may be more permissive than the laws of man, but you ignore the laws of man at your own legal risk. Make sure you consider the likelihood and consequences of enforcement (i.e. CMV versus personal use) before doing so.

There is no legal concept of individual-unit (truck and trailer separately) GVWR for combination vehicles because the gross weight of any unit in the combination cannot be determined without separating it from the combination (due to tongue/pin weight applied to the towing vehicle). The enforceable number for combinations is the GCWR, which is the GCWR printed on the door sticker of the towing vehicle or the sum of individual unit GVWRs if no GCWR is present on the door sticker, or if the sum of the individual unit GVWRs is less than the printed GCWR. However, some states require vehicles to be registered for a combination weight that limits the permissible gross weight of the vehicle and its trailer(s). This generally applies to CMVs only; consult your individual state’s regulations for details. Furthermore, some states have the concept of a “non-commercial” class A license, and there is surely a large amount of state-to-state variation in enforcement practices.

Note that the only way to answer the question, "Can my truck handle trailer X?" is to hook up trailer X and go directly to a CAT scale, or other certified truck scale, and verify that you're not exceeding any of the relevant limits/capacities. As a general guideline, 3/4- and 1-ton SRW trucks have about 2500 and 3500 pounds of rear axle capacity to spare for trailer and any other loads (hitch, auxiliary fuel tank, etc.). These numbers are based on the trucks' RGAWRs (which, in turn, are typically based on the OEM TLRs). Note also that staying within the mechanical load limits of all your hardware is just one part of setting up a rig that is going to tow safely and predictably, and it is the only part of that process that lies within the scope of this post.

This post is not intended to cover the full scope of all possible state-specific licensing and operation requirements and individual driver discretion is, of course, encouraged. Feel free to PM me with any specific questions or suggestions to update this post.


References:

www.fmcsa.dot.gov

Regulations

Hot Topic - Gross Combination Weight Rating
Well done. Thank you!
 

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hey guys this is very interesting since iv retired from law enforcement i head south for the winters in my new fifth wheel toy hauler and i haul it with my 08 gmc duramax that i built for retirement and i'm truly enjoying it. now its a 40 foot camper and is supposed to be around 12000 dry an by the time i put my bike in it and supply's well who knows after that but im comfortable driving it and my truck is not working that hard. oh i should say that before going into law enforcement i was in the family business witch was long haul trucking so iv literally been in a big truck since i was a baby and i maintain a class A CDL all this tongue weight and what your truck can safely pull is great but i would also like to mention that with non commercial hauling like with campers are not really regulated so operators ability to safely drive and maneuver it can be the disaster waiting to happen. So all i'm saying is if you don't feel comfortable driving it maybe think of down sizing that might be the safe way to go. just my 2 cents everyone stay safe.
 

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its a 40 foot camper and is supposed to be around 12000 dry an by the time i put my bike in it and supply's well who knows after that
Thanks for your public service! I too am prior law enforcement, although I never worked commercial truck enforcement so that’s not an area of expertise for me.

I do think it’s a responsible effort for any trailer hauler, to run their loaded rig across a truck scale and know their general weights. (Empty weight from the brochure is fairly useless, since nobody tows them empty and those weights are often understated by the manufacturer anyway.) The other half of the equation is comfort level while towing, which you also mentioned and that develops over time especially knowing you are within your truck’s intended abilities. The two factors work in tandem.
 

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@Melonhead1102 asked that I create a post addressing this subject, since it comes up so often.

This post addresses the legalities and physical limitations applicable to vehicle (and combination) weights. I will attempt to clarify the differences in enforcement practices between commercial and personal use vehicles with regard to vehicle weight restrictions and licensing requirements. What I will not attempt to do is address the likelihood of civil liability in any given scenario, as there’s just too much variability and too few data points from which to make inference. However, I am not aware of a single instance in which an individual was found liable specifically for exceeding vehicle capacities, and I am also not aware of any instance in which an insurance company denied liability coverage due specifically to such circumstances. We all can/will be sued for any and all reasons at any given time, so use your judgment.

Let’s establish some definitions first.

GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (as specified by the manufacturer on the door sticker). Legally enforceable.

GCWR: Gross Combination Weight Rating. For enforcement purposes, if this value is not listed on the vehicle’s door sticker, it is the sum of all units’ (truck and trailer(s)) GVWRs. This is regardless of what's found in the vehicle owner's manual, marketing brochure, or the manufacturer's "towing guide." Legally enforceable.

FGAWR/RGAWR: Front/Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating. GAWRs are often specified by vehicle manufacturers to match the accompanying OEM tire load ratings (x2), regardless of the axles' true physical capabilities. Legally enforceable.

TLR: Tire Load Rating (in pounds, not the load range or number of plies). Note that this number is for a fully inflated (at rest) tire; some tire manufacturers may provide tables associating tire capacities with a range of inflation pressures. Legally enforceable.

WLR: Wheel Load Rating (in pounds). Enforceability is debatable but in practice probably impossible due to the number not being visible anywhere. Note that WLRs are often specified by vehicle manufacturers to match the accompanying OEM tires, regardless of the wheels' true physical capacities.

Payload: A manufacturer’s recommendation for single-unit vehicle loading, predicated on the weight being distributed optimally. Definitions may vary from one manufacturer to another. NOT legally enforceable.

Towing Capacity: Legacy towing capacities were determined somewhat arbitrarily by manufacturers; modern ones are determined by SAE J2807. NOT legally enforceable.

CDL-A/B: Class A/B Commercial Driver’s License.

CMV: Commercial Motor Vehicle.

TT: (bumper pull) Travel Trailer.

FW: Fifth Wheel.

GN: Gooseneck.

ITG: Internet Towing Grandpa. You know, the ones who say things like, "You're 10 pounds over your towing capacity? Well I'm going to call my attorney and we're going to follow you around until you screw up, and then we'll sue you for every dime you've ever made and/or lost. Don't you care about your family's safety?" Meanwhile, they're over their TLRs, WLRs, and GAWRs as they lecture everyone about subtracting pin weights from payloads and all other sorts of total towing nonsense. If you take these clowns' logic to its rational conclusions we'd all wind up buying Kenworths to pull jet ski trailers.

And now, to get on with it:

Licensing requirements for CMVs are pretty consistent across jurisdictions. However, the definition of a “commercial vehicle” is somewhat nebulous and beyond the scope of this post. The FMCSA website has definitions and numerous examples of vehicles that may be considered CMVs (or not) depending on the particular use case. The only definitive statement I will make on this is that a vehicle/combination being used solely for recreational purposes (i.e. not hauling vehicles/equipment to be used in a competition for which large monetary prizes are awarded, or any other quasi-commercial activity) is not a CMV. This includes any and all personal-use vehicles pulling campers (regardless of the hitch type -- TT, FW, GN, etc.) as well as motorhomes. It is important to note that, generally speaking, only CMV operators are subject to CDL licensing requirements. The implication is that two identical vehicles, one being used commercially and the other recreationally, will have different licensing requirements. Whether this is a feature or a bug is debatable, but it is a fact regardless.

It is important to understand that while personal-use vehicles do not require CDLs for operation, their weight ratings are technically still enforceable (GVWR/GCWR, GAWRs, and TLRs). However, they are not required to stop at weigh stations, and the likelihood of weight rating enforcement for personal-use vehicles is extremely small. For clarity’s sake, I will reiterate from my definitions above that there is no legal concept of payload or towing capacity and hence there are no government entities who enforce adherence to these numbers. Generally speaking, if the actual number is not clearly visible on a door sticker, tire, or registration document, it can’t/won’t be enforced.

Manufacturers will typically cap the RGAWR at the sum of the OEM rear tires’ load capacities. The result is that some trucks’ axles actually have physical capacities far greater than what’s specified on the door sticker. An example is the 2017-2019 HD SRW pickups which have the same rear axle as the DRW but a much lower RGAWR. Nevertheless, legally speaking, these vehicles are still bound by the door sticker RGAWR even if the truck is equipped with heavier-duty wheels and tires. In this scenario it seems that the laws of physics may be more permissive than the laws of man, but you ignore the laws of man at your own legal risk. Make sure you consider the likelihood and consequences of enforcement (i.e. CMV versus personal use) before doing so.

There is no legal concept of individual-unit (truck and trailer separately) GVWR for combination vehicles because the gross weight of any unit in the combination cannot be determined without separating it from the combination (due to tongue/pin weight applied to the towing vehicle). The enforceable number for combinations is the GCWR, which is the GCWR printed on the door sticker of the towing vehicle or the sum of individual unit GVWRs if no GCWR is present on the door sticker, or if the sum of the individual unit GVWRs is less than the printed GCWR. However, some states require vehicles to be registered for a combination weight that limits the permissible gross weight of the vehicle and its trailer(s). This generally applies to CMVs only; consult your individual state’s regulations for details. Furthermore, some states have the concept of a “non-commercial” class A license, and there is surely a large amount of state-to-state variation in enforcement practices.

Note that the only way to answer the question, "Can my truck handle trailer X?" is to hook up trailer X and go directly to a CAT scale, or other certified truck scale, and verify that you're not exceeding any of the relevant limits/capacities. As a general guideline, 3/4- and 1-ton SRW trucks have about 2500 and 3500 pounds of rear axle capacity to spare for trailer and any other loads (hitch, auxiliary fuel tank, etc.). These numbers are based on the trucks' RGAWRs (which, in turn, are typically based on the OEM TLRs). Note also that staying within the mechanical load limits of all your hardware is just one part of setting up a rig that is going to tow safely and predictably, and it is the only part of that process that lies within the scope of this post.

This post is not intended to cover the full scope of all possible state-specific licensing and operation requirements and individual driver discretion is, of course, encouraged. Feel free to PM me with any specific questions or suggestions to update this post.


References:

www.fmcsa.dot.gov

Regulations

Hot Topic - Gross Combination Weight Rating
Excellent information; well done.
 

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Up until recently there was no tow standard, each mfg would have their own and run tests accordingly. That being said the gcvwr, tire loading, axle liadingt, etc where all calculated basically the same way. Adding more power or air springs wont increase your load capability. From personal experience tow capacity is normally limited either thermal rejection capability especially for the transmission or braking capacity. In other words adding more power will likely make both of these worse. There now is an sae standard that also incorporates speed and grade measurements as well.
Also IMHO most people have very little experience or training in managing heavy loads and this is a real recipe for a disaster.
Be careful in what you tow, how you tow and what speed you choose to drive at as when things go wrong they go wrong fast and it is always ugly.
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
Up until recently there was no tow standard, each mfg would have their own and run tests accordingly. That being said the gcvwr, tire loading, axle liadingt, etc where all calculated basically the same way. Adding more power or air springs wont increase your load capability. From personal experience tow capacity is normally limited either thermal rejection capability especially for the transmission or braking capacity. In other words adding more power will likely make both of these worse. There now is an sae standard that also incorporates speed and grade measurements as well.
Also IMHO most people have very little experience or training in managing heavy loads and this is a real recipe for a disaster.
Be careful in what you tow, how you tow and what speed you choose to drive at as when things go wrong they go wrong fast and it is always ugly.
Agreed. In particular, I chuckle a bit when guys refer to a "tow" tune that increases HP. Doesn't get much sillier than that -- there's a reason the cab/chassis or commercial versions come with detuned engines. It's one thing to demand 500HP from an engine for 10 seconds to accelerate quickly, and another thing entirely to expect it to put out 500 HP for 10 minutes straight climbing a grade at 30k GCW.
 
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