Do You Need A CDL To Drive A Tow Truck?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

Do You Need A CDL To Drive A Tow Truck?

If you’re wondering whether a CDL is required to drive a tow truck, you’ve come to the right place.

Commonly known as a CDL, a Commercial Driver’s License permits you to operate Commercial Motor Vehicles. 

The short answer is yes, you would need a CDL to drive a tow truck. However, this simple answer gets a little complicated depending on the size and weight of your trailer and vehicle.

There are also different types of CDL certification (more on this later), which will influence what you can tow legally. 

In most cases, a tow truck operator will require a specialized driver’s license to drive a commercial vehicle

We’ll be discussing various topics surrounding the need for a CDL to drive a tow truck, including the 3 Levels of CDL certification. 

What Is The Most You Can Tow Without Needing A CDL? 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a commercial vehicle as a motor vehicle used for commercial transportation of passengers or property.

There are a number of caveats to this in terms of what you can legally tow without a CDL, which are as follows: 

  • If the weight of the vehicle and cargo combined (Gross Combination Weight/GCWR) exceeds 26,001 pounds or the vehicle itself makes up over 10,001 pounds of the total weight 
  • The vehicle weighs over 26,001 pounds but isn’t pulling cargo weighing more than 10,001 pounds 
  • The vehicle is designed to carry in excess of 16 passengers plus the driver 
  • The vehicle transports hazardous material (regardless of weight and size) 

If any of the above statements apply, you’ll need a CDL. Logically, if not of these statements apply, you won’t need a CDL. 

The Four Main Types of Tow Truck 

The four main types of tow truck that modern towing companies use are as follows: 

  1. Rollback/Flatbed Truck 

The flatbed truck is designed to carry vehicles on top of it, and features a flat-topped empty bed at the rear of the truck. They employ hydraulics to shift the flatbed up or down.

They’re relatively easy to operate, and are a common sight on roads and highways. 

  1. Integrated Tow Truck 

An integrated tow truck are specialized vehicles that are designed to assist with the recovery and towing of large vehicles, like rigs or buses.

They are quick to hook up to other vehicles, making them popular for hauling vehicles for repossession. 

An integrated truck usually has a wheel lift and boom that are integrated into one unit. They also have an extra axle.

The extra axle makes the integrated tow truck capable of withstanding the greater pressure applied when towing larger vehicles. 

  1. Hook and Chain Tow Truck

The typical use of a hook and chain tow truck is for towing junked vehicles. As the name suggests, these trucks have a heavy-duty hook and chain attached to the rear of the truck.

A hook and chain truck basically drags the attached vehicle behind them, which can sometimes damage whatever is being towed. 

  1. Wheel Lift Tow Truck 

Unlike the Hook and Chain Tow Truck, a Wheel Lift Tow Truck uses a metal yoke placed below a vehicle’s front or back wheels.

Once the metal yoke is in place, the truck uses a pneumatic hoist or hydraulic lift to elevate the towed vehicle in the air behind the Wheel Lift Truck. 

The Levels of CDL Certification

In total, there are three levels of CDL certification, which cover the four main types of tow truck (see above).

There are different requirements at each level of certification, but at all three levels, the driver is required to log work hours and sit a written test. 

At Level 2 and 3, the driver is often required to undertake an interview alongside written exams. 

Level One Certificate

At Level One, you will be able to operate a hidden wheel lift. The certification requires you to have at least 90 days of towing experience, and be able to meet all local, state and federal requirements. 

Level Two Certificate 

Level Two certification requires you to have a full year of tow truck driving experience. You’ll also need to meet government requirements and possess level one certification to gain a level two certificate. 

Level Three Certificate

At the highest level of CDL certification, all drivers must have a minimum of two years experience as a tow truck driver. You will also need to currently have a level two certificate and may need to provide a letter of recommendation and meet additional requirements. 

Restrictions and Endorsements

Endorsements and restrictions can affect the type of vehicle you can legally operate. During the process of applying for a CDL, you may be required to apply for specific endorsements.

The specific endorsements are as follows: 

  • N Endorsement: known as the tank endorsement, meaning you are able to haul a tanker of liquid or gaseous material. 
  • H Endorsement: known as the HAZMAT endorsement, it allows you to drive a vehicle containing hazardous material. 
  • S Endorsement: commonly referred to as the school bus endorsement, this allows you to drive a school bus with children. Additional background information if often required.
  • P Endorsement: referred to as the passenger endorsement, the P Endorsement allows you to operate a vehicle carrying 16 or more passengers. 
  • X Endorsement: This endorsement allows you to haul large loads of hazardous materials in the liquid or gas state. 
  • T Endorsement: A T endorsement allows you to operate a truck with double or sometimes triple trailers. 

Conversely, restrictions on a CDL limit the types of vehicle or machinery you can operate. These restrictions are as follows: 

  • L Restriction: Prohibits the use of a vehicle with a full air brake system.
  • E Restriction: Prevents use of a vehicle with a manual transmission.
  • N Restriction: Prohibited use of a Class B vehicle or school bus. You can only operate a Class C passenger vehicle or school bus. 
  • M Restriction: Unlike an N restriction, you can operate a Class B or C vehicle, but not a Class A.
  • V Restriction: A V restriction indicates that the holder of the license has a documented medical condition which may impair them whilst driving
  • O Restriction: Limits the driver from using a Class A vehicle with a fifth-wheel connection.
  • Z Restriction: Similar to the L restriction, a Z restriction prohibits the use of a vehicle with full air brakes. If, during a road test, the vehicle was outfitted with air brakes over hydraulic brakes, a Z restriction could be issued. 


In this article, we’ve discussed the big question relating to whether or not you need a CDL to drive a tow truck. 

It is vitally important that you get the correct insurance for your vehicle and license conditions.