Exploring the great outdoors by way of RV has become increasingly popular. Trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes are popping up in neighborhood driveways throughout the United States. RVs, however, are by far the heaviest of these vehicles.
Driving your personal vehicle is one thing, driving a vehicle that weighs over twenty thousand pounds is another. Whether or not you need a license to drive an RV typically depends on the weight. Besides, laws and regulations can vary by state.
So do you need a license to drive an RV?
Yes, at the minimum you will need a traditional driver’s license. In some states, you may be required to have a special endorsement or commercial driver’s license to drive an RV but in most cases, this will depend largely on the size of the RV.
We will give you all the details including what you will need in each state.
It is good to know the rules and laws for your home state as well as any states you plan on spending extended time in or moving to; this way you know if you will need a special license. If the special license depends solely on RV weight, you may want to consider purchasing a smaller RV.
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Why Weight Matters For Some Drivers Licenses
Weight is really the blanket determining factor when it comes to special licensing requirements. Most notably, CDL’s or Commercial Drivers License. In any of the fifty states, a CDL is required for driving a vehicle over 26,000 pounds.
Driving a vehicle that big often requires special knowledge and training to ensure that you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road are safe. Because of the increased risk of damage (to people and property) should you have a mishap, special licenses are required for these mammoth vehicles.
Thankfully, most RVs are under 26000 pounds. Class A motorhomes can sometimes exceed this limit. Class B and C motorhomes, especially camper vans, and trailers often do not surpass the 26000 weight limit.
- Class A motorhomes typically weigh between 15,000 pounds and 30,000 pounds (these are usually the ones that can exceed the 26,000-pound weight limit).
- Class B motorhomes typically weigh between 4,000 pounds and 14,000 pounds.
- Class C motorhomes typically weigh between 11,000 pounds to 21,000 pounds.
As you can see in the chart below, the majority of states do not require a special license or an endorsement. Even though states require a CDL for a vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds there are loopholes.
Motorhomes or personal recreational vehicles are often excluded from this requirement. Alternatively, states may require drivers to have an endorsement instead of a CDL. Navigating the laws of your state’s licensing requirements can be tricky, it is best to contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a clear answer.
Though the weights above are listed as the average weight of the RVs, remember that you will probably not be traveling with an empty RV. Your motorhome will be filled with your gear, belongings, and household items. Some of these things may drastically increase the gross weight of your rig.
How Much Weight Will Gear Add?
Aside from weight limits that determine if you will need a special license or not, there are weight limits that are applied to your motorhome. These weight limits are generally set by the manufacturer and the producer of the motorhome chassis.
Typically, there is little wiggle room with these weight limits. Your RV can only handle hauling around so many pounds before you will start experiencing problems. The weight limit provided on your motorhome specifications is usually a dry weight.
There are a few things that will add weight to your gross weight total. These include fluids, gear, and household items or belongings. In some cases, you can expect to add just over $1000 additional pounds of stuff!
Fuel, freshwater, waste/grey water all add up. One gallon of water weighs a little over eight pounds, 8.34 pounds to be exact. If your RV has a 45-gallon freshwater tank you can expect to be adding around 375 additional pounds just in water.
Gear, usually items added to the outside of your motorhome can increase the weight as well. Kayaks, bikes, and even a generator could put you over your weight limit. Bear in mind, if you are hauling a vehicle behind your trailer this will increase your GCWR or gross combined weight rating.
The GCWR is the gross combined weight rating of your vehicle and your trailer or rig. This can not only put you over your weight limit but also bump you into the special license required category.
The final category of items that can certainly add weight to your motorhome is personal belongings and household goods. Kitchen necessities, such as utensils, pots, pans, plates, and bowls add up. These are things that you won’t be able to forgo so you should count on adding their weight to your total.
Even luxury items such as extra pillows, blankets, and DVDs can slowly have an impact on the scale. The more items you load into your motorhome the heavier it becomes.
Finally, suitcases and clothing will pack on the pounds. Like kitchenware, you can’t get away with skimping on your clothing or personal items so factor them into your total weight.
Even though your motorhome may have plenty of cargo space, brackets for three televisions, and expansive rooms; how much stuff you can haul with you really depends on the weight and not the available space.
Truck or trailer weigh stations can help you figure out the exact weight of your rig. If you are approaching your weight limit, it can be helpful to unload a few items and/or keep that number in mind when you bring anything on board.
However, weight is sometimes not the only determining factor in whether or not a state requires an RV driver to possess a special license.
What Other Factors Could Require a Special License?
The Length of Your RV And Licenses
Length, for one, can determine license requirements. Usually, any state that requires a license based on length has the length limit set at forty feet or greater. Commonly, forty-five feet in length is the longest an RV will measure.
Therefore, in most cases, your RV will not exceed this length limit. However, some states specify not only length but special situations in which you would need a license endorsement. These usually include towing something in addition to your RV or trailer.
For example, the State of Michigan requires an endorsement if you are towing a fifth-wheel and a trailer behind it. Though this situation is rare and risky, it is still beneficial to know so you don’t break any laws.
Similarly, if you are driving a combination of vehicles such as in the example above, weight can once again come into play. In a few states, if your combination of vehicles exceeds 26000 pounds you are required to obtain a special license.
- Class A motorhomes typically measure from twenty feet to forty-five feet, they can occasionally exceed this especially if they are towing a vehicle.
- Class B motorhomes typically measure around twenty feet in length on average.
- Class C motorhomes typically measure around twenty-nine feet on average.
Your RVs Braking System
Air Brakes may also determine the necessity for license enhancements. Air Brakes may not require you to get a special license, but some states do require an endorsement. Many CDL’s have an Air Brake portion on their test.
Extremely heavy RVs, trucks, and even trains use Air Brakes instead of hydraulic brakes. As previously discussed, these large and hefty vehicles can cause a great amount of damage if their braking system failed. In order to try and prevent any mishaps, air brakes are employed.
Where a hydraulic system using fluid can leak, and result in not enough fluid to properly brake, air brakes eliminate this scenario. A compressor pumps air into storage tanks and when the brake pedal is applied this pressure is forced into the brake chambers.
In turn, the mechanisms in the Air Brake system apply friction and force to slow the vehicle’s wheels. When you release the brake pedal, the air stops being released from the storage tanks and ceases to be applied to the braking mechanism.
Air brakes make it much safer for trucks and heavy vehicles to travel on roads and highways. However, they do require knowledge and a little bit of training to operate, hence the required endorsements in some states.
What is a Commercial Operators License
We have discussed the list of items that determine if you need a commercial operators (drivers) license, but what exactly is this license and what does it entail?
The term commercial operator license is used interchangeably with a commercial driver’s license, but most people just refer to it as a CDL. Even though individual states have requirements regarding the need for a CDL, a federal organization helps to set the foundation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or FMCSA administers the CDL and sets the basic guidelines regarding rules all states must have in place concerning CDLs. The FMCSA sets the minimum requirements for states and they can choose to issue laws above and beyond these rules.
However, it is important to note that FMCSA rules only apply to commercial motor vehicles. RVs used for pleasure or recreational use do not fall under the category of commercial motor vehicles.
Obtaining a CDL involves taking some tests. There is usually a general knowledge test (in the form of a written test), an endorsement test or two, and an air brakes test. Your states Department of Motor Vehicles will outline the requirements for getting a CDL on their website.
Some states still require a CDL based on the weight of an RV. However, other states require a special non-commercial operator’s license or a special non-CDL in other terms. In many instances, this will be in the form of a license endorsement.
What is Non-Commercial Operators License
A non-commercial operator’s license usually takes the form of an endorsement. Additionally, it is usually Class A and B motorhomes that these requirements apply to. This is due to the fact that the regulations concern weight, usually applying to vehicles over 26000 pounds.
For example, the state of California requires a special license for RVs between forty and forty-five feet in length in the form of a non-commercial Class B license. Additionally, they go on to further specify GVWR or gross vehicle weight rating.
Their laws state that trailers over 10000 pounds or fifth wheels exceeding 15000 pounds require a non-commercial Class A license. Many states use the term “class” and a corresponding letter to indicate which type of special license or endorsement is required.
It is important to check with your state department of motor vehicles to determine whether or not you need a special license or endorsement. Before calling you will want to know the specifics of your RV.
What States Require A Commercial Operators License To Drive An RV?
Though many of the states do not require a CDL to drive an RV, some do. RVShare lists the following eight states as those that require a CDL for an RV that exceeds the set weight limits. They may specify additional requirements or exceptions on top of or to the CDL.
- Connecticut – Class 2 license required for trailers exceeding 10,000 pounds GVWR
- Hawaii – Class 4 license required for trailers exceeding 15,000 pounds but less than 26,000 pounds. A CDL is required above 26,000 pounds.
- Kansas – Those above 26,000 pounds GVWR require a non-commercial Class A or B
- New York – Those above 26,000 pounds GVWR require a special Class R endorsement
- South Carolina – Those above 26,000 pounds GVWR require a special Class E or F
- Indiana – Those greater than forty-five feet in length require a CDL
- Washington, D.C. – a CDL is required for vehicles exceeding 26000 pounds
- Wisconsin – a CDL is required for motorhomes exceeding forty-five feet in length, motorhomes below this length even if weighing greater than 26000 pounds are exempt from requiring a CDL
Unfortunately, things can get a little complicated here. For example, even though Michigan states that drivers of vehicles weighing over 26,001 pounds require a CDL, they go on to specify that individuals “Operating motor homes or other vehicles used exclusively to transport personal possessions or family members, for non-business purposes”.
It can be very helpful to clarify with your state’s DMV office.
What States Require a Non-Commercial Operators License To Drive An RV?
Even if you don’t need a CDL, your state might require you to have an endorsement or “Class XYZ” license. RVShare lists the following states as requiring a special license:
- California – Those over between forty and forty-five feet in length require a special Class B license. Additionally, trailers over 10,000 pounds GVWR and fifth wheels over 15,000 pounds GVWR require a special Class A license.
- Maryland – Those weighing greater than 26,000 pounds require a special Class A or B license
- Michigan – A special Class R endorsement if pulling two trailers or pull-behinds in combination
- North Carolina – hose weighing greater than 26,000 pounds require a special Class A or B license
- New Mexico – hose weighing greater than 26,000 pounds require a special Class A or E license
- Nevada – A trailer weighing more than 10,000 pounds requires a special Class J endorsement. A vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds requires a special Class A or B
- Pennsylvania – vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds requires a special Class A or B (only while towing less than 10,000 pounds)
- Texas – vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds requires a special Class A or B
- Wyoming – vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds requires a special Class A or B
Each state has a specific class label and a set of regulations. The state of Pennsylvania requires a special “Class B” license for any vehicle weighing more than 26000 pounds. They then go on to provide an example consisting of a motorhome weighing 26001 pounds or greater and not towing 10000 pounds or more.
What States Don’t Require a Special License To Drive An RV?
The following states do not require a special license or CDL, but please bear in mind that laws change frequently and it would behoove you to check with your state prior to hitting the road.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Even if you find your state on this list, check with your local office just to be absolutely sure. Thankfully, states seem to agree with one another that if you have the proper license type in your home state, you can travel across the country without having to worry about neighboring states licensing requirements.
How Can I Avoid Having to Get a Special License?
If you are concerned about having to obtain a CDL or special license then you should consider which type of RV you plan to purchase. Often RVs that weigh less and are shorter do not require any type of special endorsement.
Class B and Class C Motorhomes typically fit this bill. They are smaller and typically do not approach the weight or length limits. Additionally, they will likely end up costing you less money to purchase, maintain, and store.
The Bottom Line
If you own or plan on purchasing any type of motorhome, be sure to check with the proper authorities regarding your state laws concerning any endorsements or special license required. Additionally, it never hurts to stop by a scale and check your RV weight whenever you have the opportunity. No matter the weight or length of your vehicle, happy RVing!