1/20/2021  George Lee
As do many types of businesses, the tree care industry struggles with a shortage of commercial truck drivers, (otherwise known as CDL drivers). This supply and demand shortage creates a operational hurdle.  The tree care industry typically needs tough and reliable trucks. In a "best case" situation the work force would all have the skills and the proper license to drive trucks that require a CDL. Currently it appears that many companies are being driven as much by who can legally drive their trucks as they are in buying the right truck for the correct application.

In this article our focus is on chipper trucks although the information here may help you with other types of truck purchases as well. Most companies desire trucks that will carry and haul as many wood chips as possible aiming to minimize hauling and dumping time. At BTS Equipment, Inc I would say most of our customers (or potential customers) are seeking trucks under CDL requirements, automatic transmissions, storage compartments and can haul 20 or more cubic yards of wood chips.

While this topic could go on for pages my goal is to provide facts and illustrations which may help you understand the laws, best case application, and expected performance as they apply to your next chipper truck purchase. Lets look at some facts that apply in all 50 states:

FACT: Laws and rules apply to chipper trucks whether you're buying a new or used one.

FACT: Federal Law pertaining to chipper trucks is nation wide.

FACT: Some states have their own laws and regulation in addition to the Federal Motor Carrier Division of our country.

FACT: In all 50 states if you are driving a truck which has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 or less you DO NOT need a CDL license or any endorsements. Read this again, if your truck has a GVWR of 26,000 or less you do not need a CDL or any endorsements.

FACT: As long as your truck has a GVWR of 26,000 or less and even if it has air brakes you DO NOT need a CDL.

FACT: All CDL requirements and endorsements start once your truck has a GVWR of 26,001 or greater.

FACT: In many states local and state law enforcement officers can impound your truck and/or give you a citation which may require a court appearance for the following: even if the truck you are driving does not require CDL, the truck is 26,000 GVWR or less BUT, has a curb weight (once they put your truck on their scales) of 26,001 or more. NOW you are in violation as being a "truck for hire" and over loaded/OVER WEIGHT.

FACT: If your chipper truck has a GVWR of 26,000 lbs or less but you are towing a chipper which has a "true physical weight" of 10,001 lbs or more then this combination as presented by Federal Motor Carrier Laws and Regulations means you need a CDL.

FACT: A written ticket for having a overloaded truck without the correct GVWR is in most cases far more costly then driving without a CDL.

Illustration: For our example we are using a 2017 F650 standard cab and chassis. The power train is a 6.7 diesel with an automatic transmission. Mounted on the truck is a 14' long x 8' wide x, 6' tall straight chipper body (no L storage or ladder racks). We will be adding 2 underbody storage boxes, a new hoist and PTO pump. This unit is a "no frills" chipper truck in order to keep this illustration as simple and straight forward as possible. The following information is collected from vehicle, chipper body, and hoist manufacturers.


11,880 lbs average cab and chassis weight,

466 lbs average for hoist and pump required for a 14ft chipper body.

350 lbs for fuel calculating with a 50 gallon tank.

3200 lbs for chipper body

12,100 lbs for 22 cubic yards of wood chips, (measuring at 24 yards but we'll use 22 as a more typical full load and using 550lbs per yard (wet or heavy chips can be as much as 650 lbs per yard).

160 lbs 2) 4ft long X 18" tall X 18" deep underbody storage boxes with mounting brackets.

Total actual curb weight of a 2017 F650 Diesel 14ft chipper body with a full load of wood chips (again at 22 cubic yards) is 28,076 lbs.

Food For Thought!

You may be 2,000 lbs or more overweight when your chipper truck is loaded.

If pulled over by a weigh-master (or equal) your fines for being overweight could range from $500.00 -$2,500 (depending on your state and your courts and the amount of lbs over your violation is written from).

Should your truck be towing a brush chipper with a curb weight of 10,001 lbs or more then even if the truck is stamped at 26,000 GVWR or less you still need a CDL.

Are you expecting your truck to perform at a greater level than what it was built for?

Conclusion: Regardless of the challenges for your business we all have a duty to our staff, the general public and even to ourselves and owners and leaders in our companies to put SAFETY FIRST. It's easier to train people to drive trucks with manual transmission and help them become CDL drivers than it is to deal with a crash or legal matter that could have extreme impact on you and your business for years to come.

Author: George Lee, 40 years in the tree care industry and owner of BTS Equipment in Romeo, MI