Truck Air Brakes (Non CDL & CDL, Total Brakes)

You need to know all the basics and complexities of your vehicle if you are a truck driver, from the type of truck and the brake system to the necessary accreditation required before driving it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offers guidelines and state rules concerning CDLs, and it helps to learn more about them. 

So, can a non-CDL truck have air brakes? You don’t need a commercial driver’s license to operate a vehicle with air brakes. You can use your standard license without upgrading, provided that you drive a truck that meets the minimum requirements. To consider it a non-CDL truck, the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating should be lower than 26001 pounds, but the purpose and the braking system don’t matter.

Before operating commercial trucks, all drivers must acquire a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The tractor-trailers are unlike passenger vehicles since they are bigger and more powerful, requiring more skills and special training. However, some trucks don’t require CDL accreditation.

A non-CDL truck can have air brakes, and the driver can use a standard license to operate it without upgrading to a CDL. If the vehicle’s GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is below 26001 and the truck has air brakes, it remains a non-CDL truck.

The license class typically depends on the vehicle’s weight such that you can drive a car with less than 26001 GVWR regardless of the brakes or any other aspect. It applies to non-commercial vehicle drivers with air brake systems worried about not having a commercial driver’s license.

Your respective state issues a CDL or commercial driver’s license based on the 49 CFR section 383 standards, and you can acquire it if you are a truck driver operating a commercial vehicle. You should also know how to distinguish a CMV (commercial motor vehicle), a truck used to transport people or property, from a non-CMV. The FMCSA also states that the vehicle can be categorized as a CMV if its weight rating is 26001 pounds or higher and it is used to transport 26 or more people, the driver included.

The list also includes vehicles that transport hazardous materials and have the above features. Another vital definition to learn is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), the manufacturer’s specifications on how much weight a single vehicle can carry.

If your truck’s GVWR is more than 26001, it automatically becomes a commercial vehicle. On the contrary, a non-CMV refers to trucks with a lower GVWR that lack the features described by FMCSA.

Therefore, not all trucks are CDL, meaning that you don’t need the registration before operating them. Another common question from new drivers is whether these non-CDL trucks have air brakes. You will find the system in fire trucks, tractor-trailers, and other heavy-duty machines, and it is considered one of the safest methods to stop powerful vehicles. It is one of the most reliable brakes, and drivers usually feel safer using them.

Air brakes are more intricate than the hydraulics system in lighter cars, justifying the question of whether you need a CDL to operate them. No matter the brake type, a non-commercial truck operator doesn’t need a CDL to drive a vehicle. Therefore, finding a non-CDL truck with air brakes, not only hydraulics, is typical. You don’t have to panic if you operate a non-CMV with air brakes, provided the GVWR is lower than 26001.

If you have a standard license, upgrading to a Commercial Driver’s License is unnecessary. Generally, a car’s license class depends on its weight capabilities, not essentially the use, whether for business or personal needs. Given the complex nature of air brakes, some new operators question whether the system pushes non-CDL trucks to CDL categories.

Regardless of the vehicle’s braking system, no requirement forces a non-CDL truck into a CDL version, although they may be rare and complicated, unlike hydraulic brakes. The most crucial aspect to consider is the truck’s total weight, no matter the braking. Based on most state laws, you must have a CDL if you drive a commercial vehicle weighing over 26001 pounds, hence the need to always confirm your truck’s GVWR.

Truck brakes

Braking is essential for any vehicle, and it should be reliable to guarantee your safety on the roads despite harsh elements. Trucks are heavy-duty and often carry huge loads; hence need an elaborate braking system, powerful enough for effortless stopping. If you are fascinated by how the entire system works, here is what to know about a truck’s brakes. 

Most trucks have a single brake on each axle, whether it has one or two wheels. Therefore, each axle on a trailer has two braking systems unless otherwise, and the bigger your truck, the more axles you will have, increasing the available number of brakes. Trucks that you can drive without a CDL are generally smaller but can be longer by up to 26 feet. The longer the car, the more likely it will have additional brakes, meaning that five axles will run on ten brakes.

The more brakes you have on a truck, the better, and they shouldn’t just be any brakes; you will need the best braking system for your safety and the load you are ferrying. Air brakes are among the most dependable options, but other braking options can still perform excellently on smaller trucks. To tell the number of brakes available on your non-CDL truck, you need to count the number of axles and then multiply it by two to get an accurate answer.

If your truck head has three axles, you have six brakes before adding the ones on the trailer. The more brakes you have, the better, since if there are failures on specific axles, you can still be confident of a safe drive. However, brakes require regular inspections to ensure that they perform efficiently. Whether running on air brakes or any other version, it is critical to check and test the system at least once a month to ensure your truck is in good shape.

It helps to run a complete assessment of the compressors, air tanks, brakes, and hoses alongside the air brakes. Look at the brake pads and ascertain they are functioning correctly and be keen on signs of extreme abrasion or wear and tear that requires urgent attention. Similarly, check the air tanks for damages, dents, corrosion, leakages, or cuts on the hoses and compressor, plus any other unusual issue. 

Generally, most trucks use air brakes that rely on pressure or hydraulic systems that use fluids to stop the vehicle. Although the brakes work under different mechanisms, the standard rule is that there are two for each axle. To use air brakes, press the pads that will push the pressure-filled air into the air storage tank units that were earlier filled by the compressor.

When you drop the air pressure on the air tanks, the spring will control the air pressure and activate the brakes on all wheels. Air and hydraulic brakes work almost the same, with the significant difference being that the latter is liquid-reliant while the former uses compressed air instead. Hydraulic systems have master and slave cylinders filled with fluid.

When you press the pedals, the master cylinder sends pressurized fluid to slave cylinders that force the piston to act on the brakes. Besides the two braking methods being similar, the air brakes still carry the day because, unlike brake fluids, the air is readily available and reliable whenever you need it. The recommended number of brakes per axels remains two despite how strong your brakes are on the wheels.

Air brakes are usually the most powerful braking systems, and you are safer using them on all the wheels on your truck. No matter the type of brakes your vehicle is running on, ensure that you follow the laid-down regulations according to your state of what number of brakes your car should use. Laws may differ from one country to the other, and it is common for the front wheel brakes to be optional in particular trucks, unlike in the US.

Do All Straight Trucks Have Air Brakes?

Trucks need brakes to operate; hence you need to fit your vehicle with the best you can find in the market. Straight trucks are elongated, more massive, and are meant to carry heavy loads, but some versions are tinier. One pressing question most prospective truck drivers ask is whether such vehicles have air brakes.

Not all straight trucks have air brakes. Heavy trucks with a combined weight of over 26,000 to 33,000 or more should have air brakes. However, there may be exceptions for trucks weighing precisely 26,000 pounds or slightly below. You will realize that most class 6 and a few class 5 straight trucks have air brakes, but the two classes can comfortably use hydraulic brakes. Therefore, not every straight truck you find will have air brakes unless it is a class seven or above.

Your straight truck’s weight plays a significant role in using air brakes. The heavier ones will do best with pressure-reliant brakes, with the car’s total mass and the load it carries being over 26,000 pounds.

Anything below the standard gross vehicle weight rating for issuance of CDL is not obligated to have air brakes installed. In contrast, most class six straight trucks are likely to use such brakes for enhanced road safety while braking.

On the other hand, hydraulic brakes are standard for vehicles in classes 5 and 6, but there are exceptions, and you can find them in some type 7 trucks, and the same applies to air brakes. Therefore, if your vehicle can have a heavier gross weight exceeding 26,000, it is imperative to have it fixed with one or acquire it with the manufacturer’s air brakes.

Straight trucks may have more than two axles, and all of them should have a braking system on each end. Heavy straight truck drivers often prefer air brakes to hydraulics, given the massive stopping power applied on the wheels. Its efficiency is top-notch and is available without fail whenever you need to make an abrupt stop. Furthermore, air brakes can safely stop the vehicle during a leakage in the brake links.

Unlike other options, you may lack adequate power to induce friction on the wheels to stop. Given the several upsides, the pressurized brakes come at a considerably higher price than most brands. Generally, vehicles with air brakes are driven by individuals with commercial driving licenses (CDL) because the brake type is synonymous with massive and heavy trucks weighing 26,001 pounds or more.

Therefore, straight trucks may confuse you regarding whether they are eligible for air brakes or not and if you must have a CDL to drive them. Since there are straight trucks below the standard recommended GVWR and have pressurized braking technology, you can confidently operate a straight truck without a special license. Besides guaranteeing your safety on the vehicle despite failure, the air brakes remain the best option in matters of maintenance costs.

Unlike hydraulics, you don’t suffer the risks of air affecting the fluid, which can also be messy if there are leakages. Dealing with air brake coupling lines is more manageable and friendlier since you cannot attach and detach the trailer circuits without impacting the superior braking experience. Although damages are inevitable, the best part is that they won’t cost you a fortune to repair.

Air brakes are ideal for heavy-duty trucks. If your vehicle is legible and surpasses the minimum recommended weight to use the braking systems, it is critical to ensure that it has the necessary circuits. However, you can also find straight trucks that are below the standard weight cut line with powerful brakes, especially vehicles in the class six category and sometimes a few in class five.


If you are aspiring to be a truck driver and are learning the ropes, it is critical to understand the difference between CDL and non-CDL trucks and their braking systems. You won’t need a special license if you are driving a non-commercial vehicle whose GVWR is less than 26001 pounds. Therefore, it is common to find a non-CDL truck with air brakes, provided that it has a lower overall weight.

Air brakes are the ideal system for heavy or light trucks and are not too complicated to require operators to have CDLs. Also, remember that a vehicle usually has two brakes for each axle, and the more tires you have, the more the brakes.

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