If you want to become a truck driver, the lure of a free CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) can be strong, especially if you don’t have the money to pay for training.
But there are some things you need to know.
We will describe them for you on this page.
No Truly “Free” CDL
First, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
If you agree to enter a program through which you get your CDL for free, the training is going to cost you something down the road.
Trucking companies don’t train you at their expense without expecting to get something out of it.
When you sign on the dotted line, you are agreeing to their terms.
Understand the Terms
Second, it’s always wise to thoroughly understand the terms — those that are written and those that are unwritten — before you sign any agreement, or contract.
We strongly recommend that you have your attorney (such as through a low cost legal services plan) review the document and advise you about potential hidden traps.
Research With Your Eyes Wide Open
Third, do your due diligence online.
Research the trucking company that you’re looking to get trained by.
Ask: How have other trainees fared?
Read trucking message boards for others’ experiences.
Once you get trained, will you have enough miles “guaranteed” to let you make a decent paycheck so that you can stay in the program to its conclusion? (See below.)
Realize that many a trucker has been exploited by an unscrupulous trucking company that has kept drivers away from home, without miles and broke. This set-up is a trap to make you pay for what you didn’t finish by starving you out.
Beware of Truck Driving Mills
Fourth, beware of ultra-short truck driver training school programs.
It is our opinion that it takes weeks for new drivers to thoroughly digest information via
- classroom instruction (book learning) and
- driving instruction on the range and
- driving on the highway (practical learning)
in order to be ready to drive a truck commercially.
Some things just can’t be rushed.
Do not allow yourself to be treated as a piece of meat or simply a means to an end.
Yes, you will be doing a job, but you are a person, not a machine.
You deserve dignity and respect.
If there is something that you don’t understand, speak up, just like Vicki did when she was having trouble learning how to consistently back up a truck.
Different people have different learning styles.
Perhaps you need a different way of having something explained for it to make sense.
(Note: The backing up “formula” that students were given when we were in truck driver training school simply doesn’t work in every docking situation. To this day, we’re amazed that anyone tried to teach it!)
Ask the Hard Questions
Fifth, ask recruiters the hard questions.
Yes, some will tell you what you want to hear.
Press for specifics, not just generalities.
Take off your rose-colored glasses here.
If you decide to “hire on” with a trucking company to get a free CDL, you’re going to be in this program and learning for awhile.
After training, you will drive for them for a period of time.
What’s Your Back Up Plan?
Sixth, have a back-up plan in case things go awry.
At the very least, we recommend having an emergency fund so that if you find yourself stranded, at least you’ll be able to get back home.
We recommend that you never ever leave a truck stranded or abandoned.
This kind of abandonment will no doubt show up on your DAC report and prevent you from ever being hired again.
Calculate the Consequences
Seventh, calculate the consequences of not completing the free CDL program.
How much money will you owe (the cost of your training) if you don’t complete your training process?
Will that harm:
- your ability to get your CDL,
- your likelihood of being hired by another trucking company or
- your future earning potential in any way?
Can You Get a Guarantee?
Eighth, know in advance how much time or how many miles you will have to promise or contract to stay with the free CDL training company.
If the time frame is too long or the number of miles is too high, beware, especially if you don’t have a guarantee of how many miles per week you will average.
Remember, once you sign the contract, you’ll be on the hook.
Reduced Wages During Training?
Ninth, know in advance how much of a wage decrease (if any) you will be expected to endure while you’re with that company.
This goes for the time you will spend in the training program and afterwards.
Being shorted by a cent or two a mile (or however much they will “charge” you) may not sound like much now, but if you average 2500 miles a week, a penny per mile is $25 per week or $1,300 per year!
Tenth, know in advance how often you will be getting home (if you have a home and want to get home periodically).
Even though getting a free CDL and a new driving career may be important to you, there is more to life than a job.
You have a life to live outside the truck.
This point of consideration is even more important if you have a family or home support team at home.
Money saving tip: Not being thoroughly acquainted with the price of getting a free CDL can land you in financial quicksand — or a situation you don’t want to be in — very quickly.
Realize that the cost of going for a free CDL may include things other than actual dollars and cents.
Some trucking companies offer a free CDL training program so that they can fill the gaps in their driving force that they can’t fill any other way.
In other words, these companies have such a poor reputation within the industry that they can’t attract or retain experienced drivers.
Avoid trucking companies with poor reputations no matter how big their incentives are.
We go into more detail about drivers being exploited by trucking companies.
Trainees who are on the hook for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) put themselves in a vulnerable position.
Their performance on the job at the company offering the program is directly tied to the training they get, which may be vastly inferior to training they could get independently.
Inferior truck driver training can lead to a preventable accident or other violations (such as through CSA) that will make a driver unhirable before he/she can even get going well in a new career.
Always research your options thoroughly.
That way you won’t be tied down to a particular company after graduation.
Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In such a case, run — do not walk — away.