How Much Weight Can You Haul Without a CDL?

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A truck driver behind the wheel, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses.

Anytime you hop on the highway or take a road trip, you’ll see a handful of big semi trucks driving down the road with you. Those big trucks transport all kinds of products, from food to lumber and everything in between. 

In the driver’s seat of each truck is a qualified person with a commercial driver’s license or CDL. A CDL is typically required to drive big vehicles that come with big payloads. 

But do you always need a CDL to deliver shipments? What if you do it in your own personal pickup truck? What if you’re towing a trailer? 

There are a lot of different needs in shipping, and separate commercial jobs will have various vehicle and driver requirements. A commercial vehicle and a commercial driver’s license are required sometimes, but not always.

Finding Your Payload Capacity

How big is your rig? Figuring this out will be the first step in figuring out how much weight you can tow without a CDL. It’s essential to calculate your load capacity because size does matter when it comes to hauling requirements. 

Or, more precisely, weight matters. First, you need to understand a few terms to figure out how much weight you can pull without a CDL. These will help you find what is called your payload capacity.


The manufacturer sets the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which you can find on the spec sticker in the driver’s side door frame. The GVWR is the maximum weight a vehicle can weigh while driving down the road. 

The GVWR includes everything: the vehicle itself, including a full tank of gas and all standard equipment (also known as curb weight), the cargo, the tongue weight, and the passengers.

Trucks lined up behind each other on the highway.


The Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) is the vehicle’s curb weight and an attached trailer.


The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight each individual axle can carry. That weight limit will be different between the front and rear axles.

Payload Capacity

Payload is the total amount of weight a vehicle can transport. To find the correct payload, subtract the vehicle’s curb weight from the gross weight.

When is a CDL Necessary?

There are regulations on what you can haul with particular vehicles and certifications, or lack thereof, but a CDL is not always required. Federal laws require a CDL when the GVWR is over 26,000 pounds. 

A CDL is also required per federal regulations if the GCWR exceeds 26,000 lbs and the trailer GVWR of 10,000 lbs or exceeds it. While valid for most states nationwide, some exceptions may require less. 

How Do I Get a CDL?

The process and the cost of getting a CDL may vary slightly across the country, but generally, it requires getting a learner’s permit, going through driving school, and then passing the driving test.

Getting a commercial learner’s permit requires passing a knowledge test, having a clean driving record, and being medically qualified. Then you go through schooling and practice driving with a licensed commercial driver. 

Once you complete the previous steps, you must pass all three parts of the CDL test. The test focuses on three skill sections: 

  • Vehicle Inspection Test
  • Basic Controls Test
  • Road Test. 

Make it through those steps, and you’ll have your CDL. However, the good news is you can haul shipments without a CDL.

A truck driver leaning out the cab window and smiling.

How Non-CDL Driving Fits in with LTL Shipping

The product will often need transportation before reaching a full truckload’s worth. This concept is considered LTL, or less than truckload, shipping when cargo is less than 10,000 pounds. Most LTL shipments do not require a driver to have a CDL because of the lighter weight.

LTL Opens the Door for Drivers

While earning a CDL would never be a hindrance, not having one shouldn’t limit you. LTL delivery transports smaller loads of products or goods that do not require a full truckload. A CDL may not be necessary if a full truckload is not needed either.

Most LTL shipments don’t require CDs or anything other than a pickup truck and trailer. There are pros and cons to LTL freight, but if you have a truck and trailer and want to be a driver, there are many benefits for you to reap. 

A truck and trailer combo parked on the side of the road.

Make Money Without a CDL

Open Road focuses on delivering shipments that are less than 10,000 pounds, making drivers who do not have CDL eligible to haul freight. If you have a truck, trailer, and smartphone, you can start earning money when you want. 

Open Road connects small businesses to independent drivers to deliver LTL shipments faster and on time when needed. As a driver with Open Road, you can utilize the user-friendly Driver App to pick up deliveries when you want. This app allows you, as the driver, to make your schedule, work when you want, and utilize the vehicles and equipment you already own.

In the Driver App, you will have all the job details upfront, from payout to delivery date and time and pick up and drop off locations. You pick up the jobs of your choosing and leave the rest. 

If you want to be your own boss, make your own schedule, or help small businesses get the goods they need without the stress of waiting for deliveries from a large shipping company — sign up to be a driver with Open Road today. 

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