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Author Topic: Beginner Help and CDL License  (Read 3750 times)
TheWellMinistries
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« on: May 05, 2007, 09:37:00 PM »

I stumbled upon your Bulletin Board yesterday and spent hours reading some of your posts/suggestions/help/advice and I must say thank you in advance for the help I have found so far. I got up enough nerve to register and post my own problem.

2 months ago we obtained a 1973 GMC bus that had been partially converted but not completed. We began our obsession, and I do mean obsession, with the bus. It has basically taken over our life. We needed to put in 6 bunks, shower, toilet, plus some minor improvements. We're using the bus for a tour bus for our music group and we're trying to get it ready for the summer tours. If you want to see pictures and a journal of our construction, feel free to visit our website at www.thewellministries.org/bus/. This really doesn't have much to do with my question except to restate that we are new at this.

The people that owned the bus before us said that because the title had been converted to a motorhome and has a motorhome plate we did not need a CDL license. But a friend of ours is a driving instructor and said that because it had airbrakes and because it was being used as a commercial vehicle, even though our musicians are volunteers, we probably would need a CDL. Because this is a ministry we decided to get the CDL to protect our drivers and our organization in the event of a tragedy.

Our one driver prepared for the exam and when he went to the testing facility the instructor found so many errors in our paperwork that he would not even test our driver.

1. Our vehicle has no VIN number. The VIN number on the title is actually the vehicle's model number. The plate inside the bus that has the VIN and the GVW was removed.
     
  • Would anyone know how I can obtain the correct VIN number from GMC?

2. The title has our GVW as 11,000 pounds which the examiner said had to be false based on his experience. He suggested we get it weighed and submit a correction to the title.
     
  • We did, of course, get the bus weighed today. Without our equipment, the water tanks empty, the fuel tank near empty, and half the passengers, the weight was 25,960 pounds. In PA, the weight limit to require a CDL license is 26,000 pounds.

My next question would be: How do you guys do all that remodeling and keep the GVW under the limit of needing a CDL or do you all have one? Any thoughts on how we can reduce our weight by about 2,000 pounds to account for the stuff we didn't have in there yet?

Has anyone had problems in this area or do you have any suggestions for me? I would appreciate any help.

Kris Rhoades
The Well Ministries
www.thewellministries.org
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Dallas
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« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2007, 02:44:54 AM »

Kris,

You are in a typical situation that comes up every so often.

First... That probably is your VIN number if it looks something like H8H4905A-XXXX or on older GMC's it would be something like PD4106-XXXX

Next,
By law, (federally mandated), if you use the bus for commercial purposes, have a GVW of 26,001 pounds or more and carry more than 15 passengers, you must have a CDL with a bus endorsement and an airbrake endorsement.

You also must have commercial plates along with commercial insurance. Liability insurance, I believe, must be 1 million, 500,000, 500,000. (But don't quote me on that... I'm going by my trucks.).

As for keeping under the 26K limit, most of us don't have a problem since we are not commercial vehicles and don't fall under those DOT regulations.

Now, on to the plus side....

Many of the groups that I know of that use buses, keep the motorhome registration and call the group, "friends who are along for the ride, and we may just do some singing and making a joyous noise at our destination, but then, If God Wills, maybe not".
I'm not saying that that is legal or condoning it, or recommending you do it, it's just their way.

That allows one person to license and register the coach as a motorhome along with all that entails, including licensing restrictions and insurance.

Good Luck.
Dallas

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TheWellMinistries
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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2007, 03:56:16 AM »

Dallas,

Thanks for the reply...So do I understand that the 26K limit doesn't apply to non-commercial vehicles or do most individuals just not worry about it? (we don't plan on having more than 15 passengers ever so our only concern is the weight of the vehicle.) I was beginning to think you guys were using some secret substance that had the strength of plywood without all that weight. LOL  Wink

I wish we could have gone the other approach but someone donated the money to the ministry to purchase the bus and thus we had to purchase it through the organization.

At least I got a great price on commercial insurance through Progressive.

Kris Rhoades
The Well Ministries
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« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2007, 05:15:03 AM »

Kris,
    First, welcome to the insanity, you will find all types on this board and very few questions that cannot be answered by at least one of the members. For the "official" VIN , open the door to the outside compartment under the drivers seat (in front of the drivers side front tire). Look in the compartment and you should see a number stamped in the panel inside the compartment. that is the VIN . 
    Remember that all newer vehicles have a 17 digit VIN, but these older vehicles do not. More than once I have been told my 73' MC-8 VIN cannot be correct because it does not have 17 digits. When trying to renew my registration (done annually in Florida) one young DMV person was so adamant, I offered to go home and drive the bus to their office (which had a very small parking lot). An older DMV employee overheard our loud conversation and informed the young employee that all vehicles do not have 17 digit Vin's. 
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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2007, 05:19:26 AM »

And the vin of the older vehicles is typically the bus model number like 4104 and then a four digit production or serial number like 3012 for a total vin of 4104-3012.
Richard
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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2007, 05:33:50 AM »

 In Pennsylvania,
For the use you have planned for the bus,
It will need an Omnibus plate (registration).
Check here  https://www.dotdev3.state.pa.us/pdotforms/fact_sheets/fs-busreg.pdf
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« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2007, 05:36:12 AM »

Kris:

First, I don't think it's a bad thing to take the path of acquiring your CDL class B with air-brakes and passenger endorsements.  You'll learn good habits and hopefully follow the good practices and skills that commercial drivers employ for both checking their vehicle in advance and skills, etc. while driving.  Does it means you can't do this without a CDL?  No, certainly not.

I am in Penna., here are the CDL requirements of PA >> http://www.dot10.state.pa.us/pdotforms/fact_sheets/fs-cdl.pdf

Federal DOT determines the "minimums" for all the states.  Individual states begin with the minimums and may build on that.

If your bus were registered as "Motorhome" / "RV", and insured as such ... the driver should not be required to hold a Class B CDL.  But if the vehicle IS used for commercial purposes, then that's where the issue might arise.  Commercial applications changes the requirements.

Insurance ... I "believe" the requirement is $1,500,000.00, rather than the $1-Mil.

Kris, I also (just) noticed you are also from PA.  I'd be happy to share the course (path) I took to get my CDL, etc., etc.  Send me email at this site and I'll get back to you.

Thanks,
JerryH.
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Dallas
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« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2007, 06:20:25 AM »

Thanks, Jerry,

I wasn't sure on the Insurance requirements for commercial buses.

I do remember when I was hauling radioactives and explosives my insurance for just one truck was 50 million! I think the insurance companies made as much off those runs as I did.!

Dallas
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« Reply #8 on: May 06, 2007, 06:45:29 AM »

Jack,

Thanks for the info on where to find the VIN. We just recently found that compartment. Your answer was so inspiring that I wanted to run right out and see for sure if it was there but I thought I better not do it in my pajamas. My neighbors are complaining enough with the bus parked in my driveway.

Kris Rhoades
The Well Ministries
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« Reply #9 on: May 06, 2007, 07:40:12 AM »

I'll echo the advice to go ahead and get your CDL anyway, regardless of how you license the coach.  Lax regulations regarding vehicles with air brakes have allowed a lot of people on the road who are clueless about how air brake systems work. For that matter plenty of the truck drivers out there who have their CDL are still pretty vague about how their air brakes work.  So getting the CDL won't guarantee that you understand the sytems but it will expose you to some level of knowledge and will at least force you to be aware that the system is different than what is on your car.  That knowledge might save your life or mine someday. 

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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2007, 04:16:36 PM »

Kris, I'd buy the big insurance to protect the public,the church and the occupants. Don't forget to keep the uninsured motorist at the full 1.5 million policy ammounts also, as it comes in handy if you or another passenger are seriously injured by someone else and they have one of those little $25,000 policys. The PA weight limit is probably based on axle capacity and not real weight. Lots of motorhomes are that heavy, do they all run CDLs? I don't think so. If you are using your coach for hire or are charging for your church music services you will need the CDL plus a DOT number painted on the side. If you go that route, you then need ALOT of other stuff and unless one of you already runs a Trucking Company and is familar with a DOT Audit, it is not feasable for you to consider going this route. If your choir is for hire I advise your church to sell this gift bus and use the funds to transport you in a new bus provided by a local bus company in your area. Lots of small churches have a bus that picks up congregation on Sundays. These buses are commonly driven by volunteers without CDLs. This would not be considered a commercial vehicle operation if you didn't charge for the ride. I think this is the area you should fall into with your bus. I say no CDLs, run it like any other motor home. If you see a scale house, its OK to wave as you go by. If you see a scale house that says all buses must stop, its also OK to wave as you go by! In most states a 2 axle bus is allowed 12,000 lbs steer and 20,000 lb drive axle weight so you are safe with a 32,000 lb ride. The coach chassis is probably rated around 36,000lbs. Motorhomes are exempt from commercial license regulations, so the gross weight requirement on a CDL of 26,000lbs does not apply in most states and could be argued in the rest. The last issue I see with this has to do with safety. If you are going to drive a commercial vehicle, (even privately), some experience is manditory, especially if you are hauling passengers and have other peoples lives in your hands. Also, if your gonna drive it, you also have to know how to at least keep the brakes adjusted and do a walk around DOT inspection. Its your responsibility.
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« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2007, 07:02:47 PM »

A CDL licensed driver will recieve stiffer fines/penaltys for a minor traffic infraction/violation than a non-CDL licensed driver.

Some violations will cause you to loose your CDL, then you're back where you started, or have to shell out the money to license another driver. 

The schools around here want $3500.00 for the course.

Personally I'd skip it.

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« Reply #12 on: May 06, 2007, 10:19:44 PM »

Or, you could study for and take the CDL test, and not complete the application. Then, you should know how you did on the test, but you won't be subject to all the CDL requirements.

It's a lot easier to lose your license if it's a CDL. If it's ever suspended, I don't think you will be able to just replace it with a license to drive cars.

You might study this issue; the education is great, but the price may not be tolerable for your purposes.

Good luck.

Tom Caffrey
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TheWellMinistries
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« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2007, 08:50:47 AM »

Motorhomes are exempt from commercial license regulations, so the gross weight requirement on a CDL of 26,000lbs does not apply in most states and could be argued in the rest.

I can't find any resource to back up this statement. I researced PennDOT's website yesterday and could not find any reference to motorhomes being exempt. Can you prove this? Because if this is truly the case then I have nothing to worry about.

Kris Rhoades
The Well Ministries
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« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2007, 09:28:10 AM »

I say in your situation you can do what you want to. You do work for the Lord, Right? If you ever get pulled over tell them to take it up with your boss Grin
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« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2007, 09:32:24 AM »

I think you should tell the neighbors to Lump It, unless the bus is a Hugh pile of Rusty junk, I dont think they should be complaining..
You CDL is not all that difficult to get, I did mine in California and it was not all that bad.. I barrowed a Truck from a friend and took it to the DMV, they asked me some Q's about the Operation of the truck and Air brakes and Dailey inspection..  Huh Huh. He gave me a Book, I took it home and studdied it for a week, barrowed the Truck again and took the test.. Bingo, passed the test.. No $3000.00 cours and i was On the road.. get 6 marks on the test though, that was the Limit  Grin.. hehehehe..
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« Reply #16 on: May 07, 2007, 09:44:56 AM »

I think you should tell the neighbors to Lump It, unless the bus is a Hugh pile of Rusty junk, I dont think they should be complaining..

You wouldn't believe the complaints we got and the number of times policemen were here to tell me that we were breaking the city ordinance code by having the bus parked here. You would have to read our "bus blog" (www.thewellministries.org/bus/) to get the whole story. But our mayor is behind us and gave us permission and and grace to park it here. So we tell all the neighbors and policemen to go see the mayor if they have any problems.  Grin

Kris Rhoades
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« Reply #17 on: May 07, 2007, 09:51:28 AM »

The 26,000 pound requirement is when you are operating a commercial licensed vehicle over this weight, you then must have a CDL.

If your vehicle is licensed as a motorhome/RV then you do not have to be concerned about commercial license or CDL or the weight.
 
If you are using the vehicle for commercial purposes, then it would need to be re-registered as a commercial vehicle instead of a motor home, and you would have to have a CDL if it weighs more than 25,999 pounds.
Richard
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« Reply #18 on: May 07, 2007, 10:07:47 AM »

Motorhomes are exempt from commercial license regulations, so the gross weight requirement on a CDL of 26,000lbs does not apply in most states and could be argued in the rest.


I can't find any resource to back up this statement. I researced PennDOT's website yesterday and could not find any reference to motorhomes being exempt. Can you prove this? Because if this is truly the case then I have nothing to worry about.

Kris Rhoades
The Well Ministries
www.thewellministries.org

>
Kris,
Look here, section 1, introduction under "Exemptions"
http://www.dot10.state.pa.us/pdotforms/pub_223/section_1.pdf
>
Also with the Omnibus plate I mentioned before you don't need a CDL because it's a private coach.
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« Reply #19 on: May 07, 2007, 10:20:36 AM »

Motorhomes are exempt from commercial license regulations, so the gross weight requirement on a CDL of 26,000lbs does not apply in most states and could be argued in the rest.

I can't find any resource to back up this statement. I researced PennDOT's website yesterday and could not find any reference to motorhomes being exempt. Can you prove this? Because if this is truly the case then I have nothing to worry about.

Kris Rhoades
The Well Ministries
www.thewellministries.org

Kris,
I know that laws vary from state to state... but in NC, my bus is titled and registered as a House Car.  This is the exact same designation as a motorhome.  You might have to meet certain criteria for it to be considered a House Car.  I had to have restroom facilities (porta potty), cooking equipment (hot plate and microwave), HVAC for use when stationary (I had a roof mount RV A/C already installed) and a few more.  A CDL is not required to drive a House Car (motorhome) here.  I know some businesses own RV's and use them for 'retreats', etc and don't have CDL's.  I don't see that as really any different from your use.

David
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« Reply #20 on: May 07, 2007, 11:32:04 AM »

Quote
The people that owned the bus before us said that because the title had been converted to a motorhome and has a motorhome plate we did not need a CDL license
It is no longer a bus. It is a motorhome. There is no requirement in any state for the operator of this vehicle to have a CDL as long as it remains registered as a motorhome and is not used for commercial purposes.
Richard
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« Reply #21 on: May 07, 2007, 01:23:54 PM »

Kris,
First of all, welcome. 

Second of all...This was a question in my home state of Mississippi when I owned my GMC and used it for a gospel quartet to travel in (as well as my family).

Everyone had an opinion about air brakes, CDL, weight etc.  I even called the DOT and got three different answers and started a fist fight among their employees on the phone. 

Bottom line, just get the CDL.  You won't regret it.
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« Reply #22 on: May 07, 2007, 07:02:05 PM »

Kris, You do not want a CDL unless you need it to make a living. If you have a CDL and I'm a Cop, first I want to see your Log Book. Next I want to see your Annual Inspection. Got Tonnage and License? Proof that you passed your pre employment Drug Test and proof that you are in a recognized Random Drug Testing Pool records must be maintained at your Home Office. Hours of Service Records, Maintence Records, Insurance Records, Accident Records, Driver Records (in detail). You must have about 10 things in the file for everyone that touches the steering wheel. Application for Employment, DOT physical, Drug Test, proof that you contacted each previous employer and notes about what they said, Annual Copy of Drivers Record and on and on. Now you know you can't run a not for hire license plate so you will need to register with IRP for your license plate if you cross state lines. You also will have to report exact milage and dates that you drove in each state you entered because Prorate Plates distribute the portion of license fees to each state you travel in acordingly. I used to be able to have a couple beers, (and I do only mean a couple), the Law now states if I blow over .04 I get a full bore DWI. Now I don't drink ANY beer thanks to my CDL. When I drive my Eagle if I get stopped by a Cop I will insist if I get a ticket it goes on my private record and not my CDL. If you have a CDL and take a ticket on it you can expect a visit from the local office of the U.S. Department of Transportation and this will start you on your way to a Safety Rating. If you have all the above as well as about 20 other pieces of paper in your files that I have left out to make this easier, you could recieve a Satisfactory Safety Rating provided your bus passes an intense  inspection on the spot. Now for the fun part...... IF, you don't have all your ducks in a row......Get ready for some commercial size fines. Skyrockets only go half as high as your insurance is going to go
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« Reply #23 on: May 07, 2007, 09:12:49 PM »

Methinks that all the P & M'ing about the reasons not to get a CDL is just so much sour grapes from people who haven't bothered to do so but suspect that maybe they should have.  An OTR trucker driving his car home from the terminal doesn't get treated any differently than any other civilian driver.  Neither will the driver of a bus conversion who happens to hold a CDL.  What the CDL will do for that driver is force him to understand how his air systems operate and expose him to the standards that commercial operators live by.  Some of those standards may even influence his preventative maintenance program.  And that, IMHO, is a good thing.  YMMV


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« Reply #24 on: May 07, 2007, 10:50:08 PM »

Kris -

Welcome to the world of busnuts!! 

Since you were so excited about Jack's info on where to find the VIN on the coach, can you share with us what you found?

PD4905-XXXX or P8M4905A-XXXX?

Also, if you drop Doug Wotrig a note (tekebird at yahoo dot com), he might still have some 4905 Shop Manuals available.

Another bit of info:  One of the best shops on the eastern seaboard for GMCs is Luke and the gang at US Coach, located in Berlin, NJ.  Add his phone number to your list of sources for parts and service: 1-888-262-2434.  Luke's a strong supporter of the busnut community, support those who support us.  Fair prices and same day parts shipping when using plastic money. . .

Finally, no busnut should leave home without one:  A copy of the "Bus Garage Index", published by the folk at BusRide magazine, an industry trade mag. (www.busride.com).  May be the best $40 you'll ever spend on the coach - you can order a copy from a link on the LH side of the main page of their website.

As for the CDL issue, I'm in CA, so this doesn't necessarily apply to PA.  But here, churches who operate buses (14 passengers + driver or more) MUST have commercial plates and be driven by an operator holding a valid CDL.  IIRC, insurance for this situation is based on exposure:  the more miles you run/year, the greater the premium.  45 minutes from me, in Visalia, there's a ministry group called "The Celebrant Singers"  (http://www.celebrants.com/index.html) that run several coaches, and all of their equipment is commercially licensed, as are their drivers.  Might want to send them a note to see how they handle the situation.  (Their coaches are all regular seated units.)

The grey area, as you've found, is the bus that's been converted from a regular seated coach into a private recreational vehicle/motorhome/housecar/etc., and licensed as such.  When this "private" vehicle is now utilized by a ministry to travel from site to site spreading the word, the question becomes whether or not it is a commercial venture.  Very sticky point.

What you're re-modeling your coach into could easily be called an "entertainer coach" - one that is set up for touring musicians.  I don't know how folk like the late Johnny Cash, who actually owned his own coach, had it set up license/registration/insurance-wise.  Many entertainers nowadays simply lease their coach and driver from one of the myriad companies that specialize in that sort of thing.  These are all CDL-operated units, and licensed commercially.

I strongly suggest that you contact all the other ministries that you're aware of that may operate a coach as their means of transportation, and see what has worked for them.

Interesting Pandora's Box, isn't it. . .

FWIW & HTH,

 Wink

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« Reply #25 on: May 08, 2007, 09:48:51 PM »

Bob, Thanks for your thoughts. Things may be a little different in the "States". I have driven commercially (CDL A) since 1969 and owned and still own my own trucking business. My home office is in Jax Fl. but the majority of my business is from the Seattle area to Alaska at this time. Everything I have stated above in both posts is how it works in the USA. I don't get to make the rules, but if I don't play by them I won't remain in business very long. A lot of people are driving commercial equiptment that don't have a clue about driver skills or safety procedures. A CDL entry level education in operating heavy equiptment is not enough in my opinion, but this knowledge is something everyone should acquire weather or not they want to be a CDL (for hire) driver. The "C" stands for commercial. I lean toward this group being commercial at this point and feel they should just hire professionals and ride in new coaches. Just concentrate on the music and leave the transportation to the pros.
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