Getting a CDL Ain’t Easy

Getting a CDL Ain’t Easy

I just spent the last 2 1/2 days in an intensive, one-to-one instruction course from Jiffy Trucking in 100-degree Sacramento heat prepping for the driving portion of California Commercial Class A Driver’s License (CDL). Why you ask?

Well…during the past year I learned that I need a CDL to drive my RV – but only when the 28’ stacker trailer is connected. After some debate and varying answers from varying degrees of experts, the nice folks at the CA Commercial CHP office did the research for me and came back with the answer: It is indeed necessary to have the CDL when towing the trailer because the trailer weighs more than 10,000 lbs., is 28’ long and has 3 axles. While even the random CHP might not know the difference between the commercial and non-commercial class A licenses, I would not want to be driving out of class and certainly do want to get pulled over and have my trailer impounded, especially when it’s loaded with race cars while heading to a race. That would not be good.

Before the trip to Sacramento even came to fruition, I had to have the class A drivers permit in hand. I had to pass a medical exam and pass the DMV written test which I did and is valid for 12 months. After obtaining my permit, I was able to drive my RV and trailer with a fully licensed commercial driver in the passenger seat. I took advantage of this on our road trip to Sonoma and Monterey earlier in the year, but this is foreshadowing here, I should have practiced a lot more…

Back to June and Jiffy Trucking – I prepped for the oral exams: Pre-Trip, Air Brake, and In-Cab inspection by reading their study material in advance of the class. The skills part included backing, parallel parking and dock parking one of their Freightliner 5th wheel trucks.

Below is just one of the many pages I studied in order to be familiar with all the parts of the truck and trailer that would be on my DMV Pre-Trip test. There was so much to learn but I found it a worthwhile exercise as it can be applied to the Pre-Trip check on my RV before heading out on vacation with the family. Fortunately, the engine, brake and suspension parts are easy to locate. The last thing I would want is to have a bent or cracked part give way and brake while on a long trip. Notice the verbiage. The DMV examiners have certain way they want to hear you locate and explain each part of the truck and trailer.

(One of Jiffy’s 2016 Freightliner trucks with 26’ trailer)

I totally misjudged how difficult it is to drive a big rig straight backwards. It was frustrating to see the tail of the trailer go one way when I thought I had it going the other way. In addition to having to drive straight back inside a 12’ x 100’ rectangle, I had to be able to back up into a lane that was one over from my lane (the offset parking could be to the left or right depending on what the DMV examiner selects). The skills test does not end there. The next two possible drills are even more difficult. The docking test involves backing up at a 90-degree angle into a spot that is lined with cones. It supposed to be a loading dock. I thought that was easier than the optional parallel parking test.

(My instructor Dale showing me how to parallel park the Freightliner)

None of that mattered as I failed the first skill test which is simply driving straight back for 100’. Sounds easy huh!? Well, that trailer had a mind if its own and I needed a lot more practice. Additionally, the clutch pedal on the rental truck was so heavy that I had to ice my knee when returned to my hotel room at the end of the day (had surgery on left knee about 10 years ago). But that’s not why I did not pass the skills test.

The reason I chose Jiffy is because they have the trucks for rent that qualify for a CDL and include an instructor. My instructor Dale was a long-haul trucker that could not have been more qualified. He was a genuine nice guy to boot. I thought for sure I’d get the driving skills down easy but boy was I wrong. After paying for the truck rental, airfare to Sacramento and hotel, I’m out of pocket $3,000 with little to show for it. Fortunately, I did pass the Air brake, Pre trip inspection and in cab inspection tests. However, I can’t find a company like Jiffy in Southern CA and going back just to practice isn’t a realistic solution.

I felt bad for Dale too. He invested a lot of time and energy into me passing. I could tell this was not just a job for him, he cared and my passing the tests mattered to him. So, the massive undertaking of the CA CDL continues. Practice makes improvement. Next step is to find a school in Southern California that will work with me to customize a program specifically for the skills section of the test.