Top Endorsements That Will Help Your Trucking Career

by Audrey Beim - Published: 3/14/2017
4.6 40 votes

Working as a truck driver with a current commercial driving license in good standing provides a stable, enjoyable, well-paying career. 

But what if you could increase your earnings on every load you haul? What if there was a relatively simple path to a bigger paycheck?

One of the best methods to growing your presence and securing a high paying truck driving job is to become a more valuable asset to a trucking company. 

One of the most important attributes trucking owners look for is a driver with multiple endorsements.

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Where it All Starts

Regardless of which state you obtain your CDL, you are given the choice of which class to get. There are three CDL classes:

Class A: For most truck drivers Class A is the way to go since it is necessary for those who are long-haul truckers - those interested in more regional and local runs also benefit from receiving a Class A 

Class A allows for any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 26,001 pounds or more, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a GCWR or GCW of more than 10,000 pounds, whichever is greater

Class B: This type of license allows a driver to operate commercial trucks that have an attached cab and cargo area with a combined weight greater than 26,000 pounds, as well as trucks with a detached towed cargo vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds

Class C: This group includes any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous. Class C drivers are typically bus drivers or those hauling passengers rather than freight.

After one has received their CDL for a commercial trucking job they can continue to boost their CDL status by getting a variety of endorsements.

What is an Endorsement?

Getting a commercial driver license is similar to getting a regular driver license.And just like a standard driver license, a CDL offers different classes and endorsements. An endorsement in addition to a CDL provides authorization to operate different types of vehicles and cargo.

Unlike the situation as it pertains to many other jobs, an endorsement in the trucking field does not relate to the accolades or rave reviews you receive from your boss or customers. Yes, such recommendations are important and helpful to one's career, but an endorsement in the trade refers to additional licenses that show the diversity and expertise of the driver while broadening employment opportunities.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) which is the agency that regulates the trucking industry in the United States, there are a variety of endorsements that can be acquired through different testing.

The penalties for driving without the appropriate endorsement are harsh and include monetary fines and suspension of your license, so one should be sure to acquire the proper endorsements needed for your runs before accepting them.

The Top Three Most Valuable Endorsements

Most industry experts believe that there are there are three endorsements most helpful to advancing a driver’s career, namely:

Hazardous Material

Tank Vehicle

Combination Tank Vehicle / Hazardous Materials

Hazardous Materials Endorsement

To obtain a HazMat endorsement, you must possess a valid commercial driver’s license for the state in which you’re applying and take these required additional steps:

- Pass the Hazardous Materials Endorsement Knowledge Test

- Furnish proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent legal presence

- Have a valid Social Security number

- Present a medical examiner’s certificate (DOT medical card) and be able to pass a vision screening test

- Pass a background check initiated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) due to homeland security concerns. Leave yourself a lot of time for  this since some criminal background checks can take up to 60 days

The definition of “hazardous materials” includes items designated by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation as posing an unreasonable threat to the public and the environment. They are classified into nine categories and each necessitates specific signage on the vehicle:

1) Explosives

2) Gases

3) Flammable Liquid and Combustible Liquid

4) Flammable Solid, Spontaneously Combustible and Dangerous When Wet

5) Oxidizer and Organic Peroxide

6) Poison (Toxic) and Poison Inhalation Hazard

7) Radioactive

8) Corrosive

9) Miscellaneous

Tanker Endorsement

A tanker endorsement refers to any commercial motor vehicle that is transporting cargo under the following conditions (and now includes dry vans, reefers, flatbeds and box trucks, as opposed to previously referring to "tanker" type rigs):

Liquid or gaseous individual contents

Containers larger than 119 gallon capacity

Containers that are either permanently or temporarily attached to the vehicle or the chassis

Containers that are loaded, not empty

Total combined volume in those containers exceeding 1,000 gallons

This relatively new regulation from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires drivers who are hauling large amounts of gaseous or liquid freight to obtain a tanker endorsement on their commercial driver’s license.

Tanker Testing

Obtaining a tanker endorsement requires a valid commercial driver’s license and passing an additional written knowledge test. There are a few key areas that

the exam will likely cover to ensure that you can safely and competently operate a tanker. These key areas include:

Weight Distribution

Tankers are easily overturned and can be especially difficult to handle at higher speeds. Understanding how weight distribution affects performance and safety is essential.

Emergency Stops and Accidents

One should have knowledge pertaining to stopping in an emergency situation and what you should do if you’re involved in an accident.


In the walls of the tank are small holes known as baffles. These allow liquid to flow throughout the walls and move freely in the tank. The purpose of baffles is to ensure that the fluid is evenly distributed.You will likely be tested on how baffles work and their limitations.

Speed Limits

Because these big rigs are filled with gas or liquids they have a higher center of gravity. Therefore, it becomes especially difficult to slow down.

Combo of Hazmat and Tanker

If you’ll be transporting hazardous materials via a tank, then an “X” endorsement that combines hazmat and tanker endorsements will be required. It is this type of endorsement that is mandatory for transporting materials such as gasoline.

This endorsement requires a hazmat tanker test. You’ll be asked to show proof of U.S. citizenship or legal permanent resident status. And much like the HazMat endorsement, a driver must pass a TSA background check. 

But Wait, There’s More

The range of endorsements does not end with those mentioned above.The following endorsements provide other options and require specialized training and testing:

Passenger “P" endorsements are required to drive passenger vehicles that can carry at least 16 passengers. Jobs such bus driver and airport shuttle driver are examples. The P endorsement assures the driver is skilled in loading/unloading passengers, responding to emergencies, handling troublesome passengers, and other tasks specific to carrying passengers of all ages.

S Endorsement - This permits the operation of a school bus. There is both a written and road skills test. To earn a school bus “S" endorsement, you must first qualify for a passenger “P" endorsement. A driver may not apply for the "S" at the same time they are applying for a "P" endorsement.

Requirements for Moving People

Although applying for S and P endorsements may differ slightly by state, in general, one can expect to:

It is not unusual for some school districts to also require separate background checks for employment that involve their community’s students.

Why Do It?

Getting endorsements demand an investment of time and some money. However, there are powerful reasons for one to embrace the process of earning them.

Drivers who earn these endorsements are eligible for a greater assortment of loads and specialty endorsements allow individuals a constant variety of options in what they haul. You’ll avoid any type of boredom and become a key asset to any employer with these bonus skills. Additionally, loads involving hazardous materials pay much better than regular loads due to the perceived risks involved. Overall, the decision to get endorsements comes from a place of a driver who wants to better their professional lives by equipping themselves with skills that make them more competitive. As truckers are often continually learning every day they are on the road, endorsements are yet another avenue for a driver to educate themselves and truly show their value on the road. 

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