Company-Paid CDL Training Programs: A Comprehensive Guide
If you hope to earn your commercial driver’s license (CDL) and become a truck driver, you’ve likely heard about “free CDL programs.” Legitimate free CDL programs are often offered by trucking companies or other types of businesses that involve driving large vehicles, such as bus companies.
The programs can be a great option for those who want to become commercial vehicle drivers. However, company-paid CDL training programs can be more complicated than “free CDL training” advertisements often suggest.
This article will guide you through what company-paid CDL programs involve, including costs and requirements, course topics during training, and what to anticipate once your training is complete.
What is Company-Paid CDL Training?
Company-paid CDL training is an educational program run by a trucking company that has the goal of you earning your CDL and getting you on the road, working for them. Your lessons will generally include how to operate the types of trucks they use, handle the materials they transport, and master the rules of the road.
After training is over, you’ll almost universally be expected to spend a certain amount of time working for the fleet that trained you.
What CDL Licenses and Endorsements Can I Get Through Company-Paid CDL Training?
The trucking companies’ needs determine the CDL licenses and endorsements you can earn through company-paid training. They’ll all train you for the primary CDL you need for a job with them—CDL A (most commonly), CDL B, or CDL C—and, if needed, they may teach you what you need to know for an endorsement.
Endorsements you may be able to earn in a company-paid training program vary by state but often include:
- H: Hazardous materials
- N: Tank (transporting liquids or gases)
- P: Passenger vehicles with 16+ occupants
- S: School bus
- T: Double and triple trailers
- X: Combination of tank and hazardous materials
Both the CDLs and the endorsements require passing scores on exams in addition to training.
Company-Paid Training for CDL A Licenses and Endorsements
The most common type of CDL company-paid training programs are for CDL A licenses. The CDL A allows you to drive vehicles that are very large, with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001+ lbs. with a towed portion weighing more than 10,000 lbs.
Company-Paid Training for CDL B Licenses and Endorsements
CDL B programs allow you to drive smaller trucks weighing more than 26,000 lbs. with a towed portion of fewer than 10,000 lbs. This license also applies to certain types of passenger vehicles. You’re most likely to see company-paid CDL B training options through school bus or less-than-truckload companies, though others offer this training as well.
Company-Paid Training for CDL C Licenses and Endorsements
Suppose you want to drive vehicles smaller than A or B, weighing fewer than 26,001 lbs., towing less than 10,000 lbs., or transporting 16+ passengers that meet these weight ratings. In that case, you’d go for your CDL C. You may often find CDL C company-paid training with shuttle bus companies, but others exist as well.
How Do I Choose a Company-Paid CDL Program?
There are many factors to consider when choosing a trucking company training program. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- The type(s) of license training offered
- Their CDL exam pass rate
- The company’s reputation
- The details of their contract, including work commitment and any costs to you
- Salary after completing the program
- The company hub’s location, especially if you’re required to go there frequently
There are many online forums, including Reddit, where people discuss their experiences with specific companies and answer questions about company-paid CDL programs. These forums may provide you with the most straightforward answers.
That said, forums and other online review platforms should be analyzed carefully while you decide. Instead of focusing on extreme positives—which could be written by the employers themselves—or extreme negatives or poorly written reviews—which could be written by people who were fired with cause and are upset—look at the middle. Consistent trends in feedback through time and across many posters can provide you with a solid understanding of each company’s pros and cons.
Are Company-Paid CDL Training Programs Free?
The answer to this question is: Sometimes. The training is generally considered a loan, and the specifics will be outlined in your contract. For example, you may be required to work for a specific period with the company or pay back your training costs.
Upfront Costs for Company-Paid CDL Training
There may be a few costs before you begin your training program.
Many companies require a deposit. This secures your spot in the program and helps them balance their losses if a student doesn’t arrive.
You may also be required to pay for your own commercial learner’s permit (CPL), which you’ll need to obtain before beginning the program.
Company-Paid CDL Training Tuition Costs
When it comes to tuition costs, some companies fully cover training costs. Others require nothing upfront, but they’ll give you a lower paycheck during your initial contract period. Or, they may mandate you repay them once you’re working—usually via a set amount removed from each paycheck.
Some companies—regardless of whether they require you to repay the training costs—issue paychecks during your training, while others don’t.
No matter which type of training you attend, you’ll likely be expected to sign a contract agreeing to work for the sponsoring company, usually for between eight and 15 months.
Do I Have to Pay Room and Board for Company-Paid CDL Training?
Your living expenses during training vary based on the company and location. Some trucking companies require trainees to live in a certain location during training, while others let you commute from home if you live within a reasonable distance. Additionally, some companies provide meals, while others don’t.
If you’re required to live on-site, the type of place you’ll be staying will vary drastically by the company. Some are bare-bones operations with accommodations similar to military barracks. Others put students up in hotels or motels. A few have nice accommodations akin to college dorms, complete with laundry facilities and gyms. There’s a good chance you’ll have at least one roommate, no matter the living situation.
Of course, you’ll need to continue paying any bills you’re already responsible for, like rent or mortgage payments. The good news is most companies consider you an employee while you’re training and pay you while you learn—though not every company does, so factor that into your program decision.
If you don’t complete the program or pass your licensure exam and they paid for your housing and meals, those costs may be considered part of a “loan” you must pay back. Read your contract thoroughly to determine what costs you are responsible for.
Is There Financial Aid for Upfront Company-Paid CDL Training Costs?
Nearly all financial aid options require you to use at least a portion of the money for educational costs, like tuition and supplies. As you won’t be required to pay for training costs outright as tuition, traditional financial aid options for company-paid CDL programs are slim to none.
However, if you’re in a lower income bracket, you may be able to get assistance from your state or local government, your place of worship, or a nonprofit organization. It also wouldn’t hurt to ask the program if they offer help for students in your situation. The worst they can do is say, “No.”
Can I Work Another Job During Company-Paid CDL Training Programs?
It’s nearly impossible to hold additional employment while attending a company-paid CDL program. This is because company-paid CDL training is a full-time job, and you may even be required to live in a certain location while you learn.
So, if you’re currently employed, make arrangements to leave your job before beginning training. While this may seem frightening, remember: If you successfully complete your company-paid CDL training, you’re guaranteed a job with the company that trained you.
What is My Financial Responsibility if I Break the Company’s Training Contract?
If you leave your CDL program before completion or don’t finish your contract with the company, you’ll have to pay back the training costs, salary, and possibly room and board.
If you finished the program but did not fulfill your contract after getting your CDL, you’ll owe them for your training. Contracts often include a clause saying you must pay additional money for breaking the contract, similar to what happens if you break a rental lease early. This amount is often due immediately, though if you’re leaving for reasons out of your control, perhaps a company will work with you on a payment plan. If you don’t pay, the debt can be sent to a collection agency.
You probably won’t lose your CDL if you don’t fulfill your contract once you’ve been granted the license—even if the school says they can do that. The CDL is issued by your state, not by the company.
This may be a black mark on your job history even if you maintain licensure and could show up on your HireRight DAC Employment History File (DAC), which records your actions as a driver and could send up red flags for future employers. Additionally, some companies have a “do not compete” clause, meaning you can’t work for another trucking company for a set amount of time after breaking your contract.
How Do I Get into Company-Paid CDL Training?
As with any other type of educational program or job, you’ll submit an application to get into a company’s CDL training courses. This application will include, but may not be limited to, providing information about your:
- Age (minimum varies based on state and school but tends to be 18-21)
- Citizenship or legal residency status
- Criminal record
- Driving history
- Medical history
- Work and educational backgrounds
While all these pieces are important, your driving record is especially crucial. Most companies require you to have a fairly clean driving record, generally meaning no convictions for speeding at more than 15 mph over the limit, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, or even following too closely. They often have a maximum number of total violations you can have over the past few months or years, and license suspensions are generally considered nonstarters, especially if they happened recently.
Trucking companies don’t require you to have any CDL training to enter their program, but it can help. If you’re a veteran who drove military vehicles, you have a leg up on the competition because you’ll probably be easier to train. It also helps if you’ve at least read your state’s CDL manual before interviewing with the company or beginning classes to show you’re passionate and willing to learn.
While you’re generally not required to have a medical examination before beginning—they’ll usually have a medical professional check out each student during training—it wouldn’t hurt to have one. As you’ll probably have to quit your current job, it would be inconvenient (to say the least!) to find out you have a medical condition that will ultimately disqualify you from earning your license. If you find out you have something that may result in disqualification, talk to the trucking company about your options—most medical conditions have exemptions available.
It’s essential to be honest on your application. If you’re not, you’ll probably get caught and kicked out of your training program. Many of the questions they ask directly relate to your CDL —there are certain types of criminal backgrounds and medical histories disallowed in the trucking industry. If you manage to get through the program despite being dishonest, you could face civil penalties if you are caught.
However, trucking companies have seen and heard it all. If you’re honest with them, they’ll probably be more likely to work with you to resolve any issues.
What Happens During Company-Paid CDL Training?
The best word to describe company-paid CDL training is “intense.” Participating in these programs requires both mental and physical fortitude. Expect long hours, fast-paced training, and demanding instructors. Since they’ll be training you so quickly for a more dangerous career than one might expect, there is little room for error—and trainers can be pretty tough on their students as a result.
If you want to become a truck driver quickly and possess these strengths, company-paid training could be a good fit for you. If you need a more laid-back environment, though, consider training at an independent school instead. Both paths lead to licensure, pending your success in the program and on the exams.
What Are the Differences Between Company-Paid and Independent CDL Training Programs?
Company-paid CDL programs are different from CDL training programs run by independent trucking schools in various ways. You should weigh these factors when deciding which type of truck driving education is right for you.
|$0 to minimal upfront costs
|Length of Training*
|Usually ten days to six weeks
|Generally one to six months; longer if only attending evening or weekend classes
|Daily Training Hours
|Often 10-12 hours
|Varies; usually between five and 12 hours
|Part-time Training Availability
|Varies by program
|Guaranteed employment with the training company upon earning your CDL (restrictions may apply)
|Most help you find employment after you earn your CDL
|Often 2:1 to 4:1, depending on classroom vs. on-road training
|Varies for classroom training; usually 2:1 to 4:1 for on-road training
|Financial Aid Availability
|Little to none available from outside sources
|Similar to other non-degree educational pathways
|Potentially lower pay for a certain amount of time
|Usually a standard starting salary or rate
|Paycheck During Training
|Rarely to never
*Length of training varies significantly by school, state, and your background. If you drove military vehicles as a member of the service, you may need little to no training.
How Long is Company-Paid CDL Training?
The length of company-paid CDL training varies by state and company. Some can last as little as two weeks, while others last up to six weeks or so. The shorter the program, the longer the days will likely be. But, shorter programs mean you’ll probably earn your CDL sooner.
How Much Time Will I Spend in my CDL Training Every Day?
Company-paid CDL training programs are similar to military boot camps, so you should expect to wake up early for a long day of training every day. Classes and hands-on practice can go on for 10-12 hours per day, potentially sun up to sundown.
However, this grueling schedule gives you a glimpse into your future. If you’re an over-the-road (OTR) driver, you may find yourself driving up to 11 hours with one 30-minute break within a 14-hour period, followed by only 10 hours off. You can also be expected to drive up to 70 hours in eight days or 60 hours in seven days.
What Will I Learn During Company-Paid CDL Training?
The structure of company-paid CDL programs varies by company, but they all must meet their state requirements before allowing you to hit the road. This means some of your learning will be hands-on, while some will be theory-based.
A few topics you can generally expect include, but aren’t limited to:
Topics Taught Out of the Vehicle
- Company expectations
- Rules of the road
- Test prep
- Map reading and trip planning
Topics Taught Inside the Vehicle
- Maneuvering the vehicle through a variety of environments
- Turning, including three-point turns
- Automatic and/or manual transmission
- Starting, stopping, reversing, and parking
Topics Taught Both In and Out of the Vehicle
- Loading and unloading procedures
- Safety skills
- Vehicle maintenance
- Pre-trip inspection
What Happens if I Don’t Pass My CDL Test, DOT Physical Exam, or Drug Test After Company-Paid CDL Training?
Before you can drive independently, you need to pass your CDL test, a DOT physical examination, and a drug test. The results of failing one of these requirements will vary based on the company you are working with and why you failed.
CDL Exam Failure
As mentioned earlier, before enrolling in a program, you should check the company’s CDL test pass rate. If the rate is low, chances are they aren’t training drivers appropriately. However, not all responsibility lies on them—you need to prepare for your exams independently as well.
Most states allow you to retake the CDL test a certain number of times in a short period—often three times within a month. If you fail all three times, you’ll often need to wait a good while before you can retake the exam.
However, your company may not have these same expectations—in fact, they could expect you to pass the first time, period. If you don’t pass, you might be expected to repay the costs of the training immediately. Other companies may have a little wiggle room and allow you to try again—be sure to check your contract before signing on the dotted line, especially if you get anxious during tests.
CDL Physical Exam Failure
When it comes to your physical examination, failing often comes with the possibility of exemption except for conditions that will unquestionably impact your ability to drive safely (e.g., uncontrollable seizures).
The good news is that medical exams are usually given within the first few days of training, which is best for safety and the company’s bottom line. What happens to you financially is dependent on your contract, but chances are you’ll at least lose your deposit. This is why we recommended earlier to consider getting a medical checkup before enrolling.
CDL Drug Test Failure
Later in your career, drug testing can be done at random and as part of your DOT physical. When it comes to company-paid CDL training, you may be asked to take a drug test before you arrive or upon entering the building. The DOT only uses urinalysis for this kind of testing.
The drug tests look for amphetamines and methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP). If you come back positive for any of these, you’ll be immediately barred from driving a truck until the issue is cleared up (for example, if the test found a medication you were legally and safely taking, except medical marijuana). It’s essential to let the drug testers know of any legal medications that may pop up as positives before taking the test to help expedite the process—bring your pill bottle and doctor’s contact information as proof.
If you anticipate legal medications, like those for ADHD, showing up on your drug test, contact the company before you enroll to find out how this situation is handled—and get their answer in writing if it’s not spelled out in the contract.
Medical marijuana is strictly forbidden for truck drivers. If you were previously on medical marijuana, with a medical provider’s guidance, find a new medication that’s allowed in this career—and give yourself time to adjust to it before beginning your truck driving program. Medications can take a while to be effective, and you may need to try a few things before finding the one that works. Plus, marijuana can show up in your urine for upwards of a month after you stop taking it, and you want to give it ample time to work its way out of your system.
If illegal drugs show up, you’re probably going to be removed from the program immediately. Later in your career, you may be able to find a solution if something comes up on a test—though you should strive to ensure it never does. But, there’s no reason for a CDL training program to give you leeway. Your contract should tell you what the company expects from you if you’re removed for this reason.
No matter what, don’t use any illegal drugs, legal drugs that aren’t allowed by the trucking industry, or drink alcohol before driving—even if you think you’re sober by the time you get behind the wheel—while you’re in training or this career. Random testing is allowed, as is testing based on reasonable suspicion. It’s not worth losing your career over.
What Should I Expect After Company-Paid CDL Training Ends?
Once you’ve completed your company-paid CDL training and passed your CDL test, your contract with the company begins.
However, you likely won’t be allowed to hit the road solo immediately. Chances are you’ll be partnered with an experienced trainer to help you get fully comfortable with the job. Besides having someone providing feedback as you work, this part of your experience will be more-or-less identical to when you’re fully released to work. Pay during this time may be a set amount, or you may be paid mileage, depending on your contract. Your company will determine the time spent in this phase of your contract; it could be a set amount of time, number of miles, or based on your trainer’s advice.
Once they’ve determined you’re ready to work without supervision, you’ll probably be granted your own truck. Truck drivers, especially OTR ones, are often paid by the mile, and you should be given the full amount guaranteed by your contract at this point. As mentioned, you may be paid less during your contract’s duration than independently-trained drivers or have money taken from your paychecks to reimburse the company.
You’ll be expected to stay with the company that trained you for the time indicated by your contract, usually around a year. If your contract was for less than one year, it might be worth sticking it out for a full year anyway. Experience and loyalty are important to many hiring managers, and having more than one year’s experience makes you a valuable hire.
When your contract ends, you have two options: stay with the company or find a different company to work for. While you’re working for the company that trained you, learn everything you can about what it’s like working for them long-term, and try to read the contract drivers need to sign before working for them beyond the training mandated time. This could help guide you in your decision.
Staying with a company may be in your best interest if you’ve had a good experience with them, haven’t maintained a pristine HireRight DAC Employment History File (as companies use these in hiring decisions), and can’t find a better fit or higher pay elsewhere.
Leaving a company may be best if you’re unhappy at your current position or see a better opportunity at another company. It’s business, not personal—but if you decide to leave, leave gracefully. This may help you get a good recommendation and more easily return if you choose to do so later. This includes giving appropriate formal notice of your plan to resign, leaving the truck in the state you were given it, and thanking everyone you worked with along the way.
You should also ask for employment documents and letters of recommendation. It’s important to record the communication during this period so you can prove you resigned and met all their expectations—better safe than sorry.
When your contract is over, a company can’t force you to stay on.
Alternative Options for Funding Your CDL Training Costs
If you’ve read this and think company-paid training is wrong for you, but you also don’t want to take on debt to be trained for your CDL, you have a few options.
No matter what route you take, remember you—and only you—are responsible for any debt you take on, and payments need to be made regardless of your employment status in most cases. Bear that in mind when you consider company-paid versus independent training.
First of all, you can look for financial aid and scholarships. This assistance isn’t as common as it is for degree programs, but it’s out there. However, you may have more luck in finding tuition reimbursement.
Tuition Reimbursement for CDL Training
Many trucking companies offer tuition reimbursement. These tuition reimbursement programs usually have a set maximum they’ll reimburse you—often around $10,000—paid out in small amounts over several months. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get $10,000, though—you’re only eligible for the amount you spent on school up to their maximum. So, be sure to keep your receipts if you independently financed your CDL training.
If you took out a loan for CDL training and join a company that grants you tuition reimbursement, those reimbursements are paid to you via your paycheck, not to your loan provider, so you’re still responsible for ensuring the money makes it to the financial institution you owe.
As with company-paid CDL training, companies agreeing to reimburse your tuition costs often require a contract stating you’ll work for them for a certain amount of time. It may not be the length needed to repay the loan fully, and you may have to sign an additional contract to have them continue to pay.
These companies may also require you to work for them for a certain amount of time before beginning to do tuition reimbursement to prove you’re there to work for them and not just for the reimbursement. During that time, you must still make any loan payments you owe.
A good way to find these companies is to attend a program that partners with driving companies. Roadmaster Drivers School is one such school. They offer financing for students—meaning they hold your loan. If you’re employed by one of their partner companies, the company will reimburse up to 100% of your educational costs. Their partner companies are major carriers and can be found nationwide.