RV Special Licenses Guide: What Do You Need To Drive An RV In California?

Do You Need a Special License to Drive an RV in California?

Lots of consideration goes into getting an RV, from deciding on the type you want, to finding a reasonable price and reliable financing options. For first-time RV owners and renters, though, learning to drive an RV can be an experience, whether it's a motorhome or a travel trailer, simply because of the additional weight and size over a usual passenger vehicle.

And because of how different driving an RV can be, you may be wondering, "Do you need a special license to drive an RV?" While there isn't one universal answer to that question that covers all situations, we've got the basics ready for you to review so you can tell if your state requires a license and what kind you may need.

Commercial and Non-Commercial Licenses

Each state has its own rules about whether you need a special license to drive an RV or not. However, while the requirements can vary depending on where you live, the license you need will be part of one of two broader categories.

Commercial driver licenses (CDLs) are what they sound like: licenses used for driving vehicles used for commercial uses, like buses and delivery vehicles. Anyone that drives an RV for a living will need one of these, but there are also individual states that require CDLs if you're driving an RV that passes a maximum weight requirement.

In these states, you usually need a Class B CDL for a single vehicle that weighs over 26,00 pounds or a Class A CDL when handling multiple vehicles whose weight exceeds the 26,000-pound weight limit, though some states don't distinguish their commercial licenses into different categories.

On the other end of the spectrum are non-commercial licenses. A regular driver's license falls into this category, but there can be different variations that meet specific requirements. Many states will require you to have a specialized non-commercial license to drive an RV, usually depending on the weight class of the motorhome. These fall into two main categories.

Special License Classes in California

Non-commercial special licenses in California fall into two categories:

·       Class B licenses, required for vehicles that weigh over 26,000 pounds or over forty feet long

·       Class A license, needed for when towing over 10,000 pounds

If your RV reaches over these limits, then you will need to obtain the proper permit before you can drive it. Most other states have similar classes based on the weight of the vehicle in question, while other locations require Recreational Vehicle ("R") endorsements for drivers or have different systems. In South Carolina, for example, the same weight limits apply but are Class "E" and "F" respectively.

For the most part, smaller RVs won't pass these weight limits, and you'll be able to drive without a non-commercial special license. For anyone newer to RVing, having a lighter vehicle will be easier to learn to drive. However, in the case of larger vehicles, you'll need to obtain the appropriate licensure for your state.

Even if your state doesn't require a special license, it can still help to get an additional certification or take classes so you can drive your RV safely.

How to Obtain a Non-Commercial Special License in California

Whether you are attempting to obtain a Class A or Class non-commercial special license in California, there are many overlapping requirements:

·       Paying the application fee

·       Complete the driver license application (DL 44)

·       Pass the basic Class C law test (exempt if you renewed your Class C license within the past year)

·       Pass a vision, skills, and pre-trip inspection assessments

When attempting to obtain a Class A non-commercial license, you will also need to submit Health Questionnaire (DL 456) dated within the past two years as well as pass the Recreational Vehicles and Noncommercial Class A Trailers law test.

For those seeking a Class B non-commercial license, you will need to complete the Driver's Examination for forty-five feet Housecars law test, as well as submit a Physician's Health Report (DL 546A) signed within the past two years. Even if your vehicle has airbrakes, there is no requirement to pass an air brake law test or system check. Instead, you will perform a Vehicle Safety Check for your DMV examiner.

If you attempt to obtain a Class B license endorsement and fail, it is possible to appeal the decision through a hearing. The DMV can help you start this process.

Additional License Requirements for Minors

Any minor attempting to obtain a noncommercial Class A or B license will need to meet the same requirements as listed above. However, minors are also responsible for completing the additional requirements for Provisional Licenses, as outlined in the California Driver Handbook.

Costs of Special Licenses

When applying for a noncommercial Class A or B driver's license in California, you will need to pay fees in addition to the other application requirements. The cost of getting a first or renewal license is currently thirty-six dollars. The same fee amount applies if you are working to remove restrictions from your license.

If you need to retest for driving or skills, the associated fee is thirty-one dollars. Filing for a duplicate, name change, or additional firefighter endorsement costs twenty-eight dollars. While the cost of applying for these licenses isn't highly expensive, you should still keep it into account as you shop and look at new RV prices.

To confirm the cost of obtaining a license for driving an RV in your home state, check information with your local DMV office or website.

Do You Need a Special License When Driving Your RV in Canada?

Since part of the point of having an RV is to travel, what happens if you decide to cross the border and head into Canada? Do you need to have a special license, even if your home state doesn't require one?

In these cases, you won't need to get an international license, so long as you have the appropriate certifications for your home state. You can head up north without any issues, so long as you're clear to drive across the border.

Lastly, if you're in the market to purchase an RV, you can use an RV finder site, such as ours, to find out RV prices, values, specs, photos, and more. 

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