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DavidMJU

CA Non-Commercial Class A

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First post here.  We're getting ready to make the plunge to fulltiming and are currently shopping for a fifth wheel toyhauler - we both have motorcycles and having a "shop" is appealing since we both have hobbies which could use the space.

We seem to have a lot of this figured out, but aren't sure what to do about CA's laws regarding fifth wheels >15,000GVWR.  The ones we like come in at 17,000-18,000 which is no problem for our truck, but is a problem for our license class.

We won't be able to change domicile until sometime after this adventure because of my current employment (it was enough work to convince them to let me do this - I don't want to add more work for them just yet).  So this means we are stuck with following CA's laws and from what I understand, we would need a non-commercial class A license to be able to legally do this.

Cool, I thought.  There are places nearby that will rent us a truck and trailer for the driving test, so not a problem.

But then I discovered that in CA the non-commercial class A ONLY includes RVs (or a livestock trailer if I go buy a farm), but not any kind of cargo hauling vehicle.  So we couldn't just use one of the commercial options to go get the license to then go get the fifth wheel.

We have a bit of a chicken and the egg problem.  It seems we would need to get the non-commercial class A permit, then the fifth wheel AND have someone with one of these rare unicorn licenses to come ride along for the DMV test, because of course they check how you got there.

Has anyone else dealt with this?  Is there somewhere that you can hire an RV and driver to go take the test?  Is there another loophole?

-David

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Yes as a Ca resident, you need their non-comm Class A lic for a FW over 15,000 lbs

Short of finding a friend with a class A lic and FW willing to accompany & let you use it for testing (pre-purchase), the DMV does allow you to go in and take the written test only and get a "permit" that allows you to drive your FW if accompanied by a class A holder.  When you go in for the practical test make sure everything is working on your truck & rig, they go through a very thorough equipment pre-check list. Most who have taken the test, recommend lots of practice backing up straight, backing up turning into a marked space, parallel parking, right turns without hitting curb, etc. 

or you could join the 1000's of residents driving heavy fifth wheels around Ca not even aware of this special lic requirement. Its rarely enforced (until you're in an accident) and most LEO are not aware of it, except the commercial CHP & DMV testing folks. I'm not recommending this, just saying many drive for years out of class.

This is just one of many reasons you need to get out of CA ASAP. I loved my job, but retired early just to escape Ca.

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The friend with a Class A can have either a commercial or non-commercial license.  It shouldn't be too hard to find someone at a local trucking company, etc. who's looking to make a couple of bucks on their day off to accompany you to the DMV.

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Thank you both for the advice!  I'll ask around and some of the commercial operations that rent trucks for the day if we could instead pay for a similar service, but using our own equipment.  Or maybe if someone I know that has a CDL will be out this way.  I had thought it had to be the same kind of license exactly.

And I hear you on getting out of here.  We've not decided yet where we want to "live", other than "not here".  The state is pretty serious about going after people who work here but don't live here, unless you can prove that you aren't living here.  So the plan is to go visit a bunch of places over the next year that are "not here", keep a log and receipts and then officially "move" to wherever we wouldn't mind coming back to periodically.

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A fair number of people who leave CA move to Nevada. You can drive over with stuff you want to store before actually moving.

Linda

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Before I got my Class A and left CA I had a Cyclone Toy Hauler 18,000 GVWR. CA has a 5th Wheel Endorsement for driving a 5th wheel over 15,000 GVWR. It’s just a written test and no driving test. You need to go into the DMV and take the written test. You do NOT need a Class A Commercial liscense. When I went into my DMV in San Diego they didn’t know anything about it or how to give the written test and had to call Sacramento. It took about 30/45 minutes for them to figure it out and find the test for me to take. I walked out of DMV with the Endorcement and went on with my life. 

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I had a new 2012 Heartland Cyclone and a Ford F-350 turbo diesel I purchased in TX in May of 2012. TX gave me a 60 day temp registration. I got back to CA in June. I got the endorsement in June of 2012 when I registered the trailer in CA. Written test only, no driving test. Left CA in May 2014 and got a SO Dakota address using the Escapees address. Got a SD drivers liscense, no special endorsement required and registered all vehicles in SD. 

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6 minutes ago, Twotoes said:

Before I got my Class A and left CA I had a Cyclone Toy Hauler 18,000 GVWR. CA has a 5th Wheel Endorsement for driving a 5th wheel over 15,000 GVWR. It’s just a written test and no driving test. You need to go into the DMV and take the written test. You do NOT need a Class A Commercial liscense. When I went into my DMV in San Diego they didn’t know anything about it or how to give the written test and had to call Sacramento. It took about 30/45 minutes for them to figure it out and find the test for me to take. I walked out of DMV with the Endorcement and went on with my life. 

This is incorrect.  The written test only is for an endorsement on the Class C (regular driver license) to tow a 5th wheel RV between 10000 lbs GVWR and 15000 lbs GVWR.  Any 5th wheel RV over 15000 lbs GVWR (and any regular trailer over 10000 lbs GVWR) require a non commercial class A license (at a minimum) in CA.

The test only endorsement is very specific and only covers 5th wheels between 10000 lbs and 15000 lbs.

I can provide the specific CA vehicle code if you would like.

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It is sounding like we are going to go the Class A license route, though we're still shopping around deciding what we want to buy and will look at buying in a couple months.  From what we are seeing that are under 15,000 GVWR we think will end up too small for us for full-time use.

If we get the Class A non-commercial in California, does that just carry over to wherever we end up moving our licenses or is there retesting?  We've not decided where that will be yet, but maybe TX if we use the service from Escapees - or NV if we set up storage there or buy a spot.  I'm guessing there will need to be a lot of thought around that decision when we get to it.

I was really surprised at how the Class A non-commercial here only really gives you RVs.  In Nevada I could have towed around my entire backyard of rocks.

 

 

Edited by DavidMJU

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Chad, when I went to my local DMV in San Diego they didn’t know the law and called Sacramento for verification. I only was required to take the written test and they added the 5th wheel endorsement to my normal non commercial license and registured my Cyclone. I believe DMV knows the law and you are misreading code. I only went by what DMV did to me and am not arguing with you but tha above is my personal real life experience. 

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Are you still licensed in California? Might want to get that license upgraded if you are over 15k. If not, it’s a moot point and you can chalk it up to the DMV! The rules are pretty black and white as they stand today. I don’t think California has a “grandfather” clause when it comes to licensing for different classes of vehicles  I pretty sure you need to have the current class of license for the vehicle you are driving. And as always YMMV. As a side note CHP has been known to stop folks at some of the more popular desert ATV spots and weight folks and it’s a long walk home!  The funny thing is most folks have no idea about the weight classes and don’t even realize they are not legal pulling that  toy-hauler.

Edited by DesertMiner

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Desert Miner. No I am not still liscensed in CA. If you took the time to read my eairly post I left CA in May of 2014 and got a SD liscense using the Escapees SD address as my  Domicle. 

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Just curious, in those states a non-commercial class A license is required, are you required to have a medical card like the commercial class A holders?

 

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2 hours ago, NDBirdman said:

Just curious, in those states a non-commercial class A license is required, are you required to have a medical card like the commercial class A holders?

 

Can't speak to the other states requirements but in California a medical card is required.  It's a "self certify" and renewable every two years.

Edited by DesertMiner

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16 hours ago, Twotoes said:

Chad, when I went to my local DMV in San Diego they didn’t know the law and called Sacramento for verification. I only was required to take the written test and they added the 5th wheel endorsement to my normal non commercial license and registured my Cyclone. I believe DMV knows the law and you are misreading code. I only went by what DMV did to me and am not arguing with you but tha above is my personal real life experience. 

Unfortunately the local DMV and whomever they called in Sacramento gave you the wrong information.  I know it is a moot point for you since you are no longer licensed in CA, but I want the correct information to be given here.  The applicable CA vehicle code section is 12804.9.  It is a long section that describes all the classes of licenses in CA. The 5th wheel endorsement for the Class C license is very specific as to weights in this section.  Here is an excerpt specifically pertaining to Class C Licenses (I bolded, italicized and underlined the applicable sub-section for this discussion):

(b)(3) Class C includes the following:

(A) A two-axle vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds or less, including when the vehicle is towing a trailer or semitrailer with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less.

(B) Notwithstanding subparagraph (A), a two-axle vehicle weighing 4,000 pounds or more unladen when towing a trailer coach not exceeding 9,000 pounds gross.

(C) A house car of 40 feet in length or less.

(D) A three-axle vehicle weighing 6,000 pounds gross or less.

(E) A house car of 40 feet in length or less or a vehicle towing another vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less, including when a tow dolly is used. A person driving a vehicle may not tow another vehicle in violation of Section 21715.

(F) (i) A two-axle vehicle weighing 4,000 pounds or more unladen when towing either a trailer coach or a fifth-wheel travel trailer not exceeding 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating, when the towing of the trailer is not for compensation.

(ii) A two-axle vehicle weighing 4,000 pounds or more unladen when towing a fifth-wheel travel trailer exceeding 10,000 pounds, but not exceeding 15,000 pounds, gross vehicle weight rating, when the towing of the trailer is not for compensation, and if the person has passed a specialized written examination provided by the department relating to the knowledge of this code and other safety aspects governing the towing of recreational vehicles upon the highway.

The authority to operate combinations of vehicles under this subparagraph may be granted by endorsement on a class C license upon completion of that written examination.

(G) A vehicle or combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating or a gross vehicle weight rating, as those terms are defined in subdivisions (j) and (k), respectively, of Section 15210, of 26,000 pounds or less, if all of the following conditions are met:

(i) Is operated by a farmer, an employee of a farmer, or an instructor credentialed in agriculture as part of an instructional program in agriculture at the high school, community college, or university level.

(ii) Is used exclusively in the conduct of agricultural operations.

(iii) Is not used in the capacity of a for-hire carrier or for compensation.

(H) Firefighting equipment, provided that the equipment is operated by a person who holds a firefighter endorsement pursuant to Section 12804.11.

(I) A motorized scooter.

(J) A bus with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds or less, except a trailer bus.

(K)  Class C does not include a two-wheel motorcycle or a two-wheel motor-driven cycle.

 

If you are a licensed CA driver, you can tow a 5th wheel that has a GVWR of 10000 lbs or less on a Class C license with no endorsement.  If you tow a 5th wheel with a GVWR between 10000 lbs and 15000 lbs, you need the above described endorsement on your Class C license.  This endorsement is obtained through a simple written test.  If you tow a 5th wheel with a GVWR greater than 15000 lbs, then you are outside the the Class C license restrictions and fall under a Class A license in CA.  As long as you are towing the 5th wheel for recreational purposes only, then it would require a Class A non-commercial license.  The testing for a Class A non-commercial license is basically the same as testing for a Class A commercial license in CA.  The difference between the two licenses is the medical certificate required.  The non-commercial medical certificate is a form you fill out self certifying your medical ability to obtain the license.  The commercial medical certificate requires a properly licenses medical practitioner to examine you and certify you qualify.

Most DMV and LEO personnel don't know this information (commonly) unless they have been educated on it specifically.  I am a LEO in CA and have been educated on it specifically through trainings related to vehicle code enforcement.  Above is the actual vehicle code to back that up.  I do my best to educate others about this because I know it is not commonly known by even those responsible for issuing licenses or enforcing driving privileges.  I know of many people who have gone into the DMV to attempt to get the 5th wheel endorsement on their Class C license and have been told there is no such thing or have been given incorrect information as Twotoes was.  It is unfortunate, but it happens.  The CA vehicle code is a massive document with many obscure sections that no one could know completely.

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This makes no sense, they appear to contradict each other:

Quote

(A) A two-axle vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds or less, including when the vehicle is towing a trailer or semitrailer with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less.

(B) Notwithstanding subparagraph (A), a two-axle vehicle weighing 4,000 pounds or more unladen when towing a trailer coach not exceeding 9,000 pounds gross.

Does this mean towing a 10,000+ lb .GVWR trailer coach is OK as long as you don't load it above 9000 lbs. gross weight?  An example would be the Arctic Fox 26x trailer I used to own with a 10,400 GVWR and 3100 lb. payload capacity.   It would appear to be illegal under (A) but OK under (B) as long as it's gross weight (not GWVR) doesn't exceed 9000 lbs.  That's 1,700 lbs worth of payload in a 26 ft. trailer ... not bad. 

There's no way to load it to the full rated GVWR unless you seriously upgrade Lucy's rock collection.

The main effect these restrictions will have is to ensure CA licensed trailers are loaded at or near their maximum GVWR ratings.  Since these are determined by axle and tire ratings, CA trailers will be seeing more tire and axle failures.  Way to go guys!

I'm SO glad i moved out of CA when I retired!

Edited by Lou Schneider

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the ratings are cause ca taxes to the highest limit for each "class". not for the individual gvwl of the car, truck, trailer.

i am happy as i have held a commercial class A with air brakes, and double/tripple endorsement, tanker (dropped haz-mat decades back) for 40 years now.

when i can retire will drop the commercial part. and still will be good to go pulling most anything.

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As expected, we broke the DMV.  Not quite sure where we ended up yet - they've gotten it wrong, but maybe wrong in our favor.

I was also renewing my CM1 at the same time, and that threw them completely off in trying to add Restriction 41 to the C and also give me the permit for non-commercial A to go take the driving test.  We aren't sure yet if we will end up right under or right over the 15,000lb limit with what we buy, so wanted to get both - if we buy under, we are all set.  And if we buy over we can go do the driving test.

For a moment it sounded like I was going to walk out with a non-commercial A with no tests as the supervisor was explaining to the 5 (!!) people who were involved at that point that I'd have to do a driving test for the fifth wheel (10000-15000) on the class C, but I could just do the written test to do a class A.  (Yes, please do that).  Unfortunately someone corrected them.

So now I have the permit for the class A to go do the driving test...  But I also seem to now have a weird CM1 license that has a new restriction - not the fifth wheel 41, but code 71-See Over.

I'm waiting for the online records to update to see what they ended up put in the notes for 71 on the CM1...  I think its the language that usually goes on the back of the non-commercial class A, which will be hilarious.

I'm going to move to Nevada at the end of the year I think!

Edited by DavidMJU

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