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What is a Commercial Vehicle?

Red truck parked in front of the ocean

Whether you’re starting your own business or gearing up to become an independent contractor, you’ve got to start somewhere—and a close look at the qualities that define commercial vehicles is as good a place as any!

  • Colloquially, any vehicle that transports goods or paying passengers can be described as a commercial vehicle.
  • In the U.S., the “commercial” descriptor might also refer broadly to all vehicles that are used for business purposes.
  • However, the legal commercial vehicle definition is a little bit more complex! Even vehicles that are not used for the above reasons may be classed as commercial if it meets certain criteria.

What is Considered a Commercial Vehicle?

So, what is a commercial vehicle in the eyes of the law? If a self-propelled or towed vehicle is used on public highways or interstate systems, it is legally classed as a commercial motor vehicle if it meets any of the following qualifications:

  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,001 pounds or higher
  • Transports 8+ passengers (including the driver) in exchange for compensation
  • Transports 15+ passengers (including the driver) without compensation
  • Transports materials that are hazardous, as defined by the Secretary of Transportation

Notably, the qualifications seen above define commercial vehicles objectively, without regard for whether or not they are registered to a business or operated for business purposes.

Even if vehicles do not meet the objective qualifications above, they may be subject to certain commercial benefits and limitations if they are registered to a business or operated for business purposes. Here’s what that means in practice:

Even lightweight passenger cars and SUVs may be defined as commercial vehicles if the vehicle:

  • Is corporately owned, or belongs to a company
  • Is registered to an individual who uses the vehicle primarily for business purposes
  • Is leased, and registered in the name of a financial institution

The trickiest part of that definition is the word, “primarily”—especially because commercial vehicles are subject to tax and insurance benefits that ordinary Chicago and Madison consumers cannot claim. If you have questions about whether or not your personal vehicle can qualify as a commercial vehicle, don’t hesitate to contact our team.

Commercial Vehicle Classification

Different states have unique laws that surround the use of commercial vehicles, and many of these laws break things down according to the vehicle’s classification. The truck classification system that’s used in the U.S. includes eight different categories.

  • If a commercially owned or business-use vehicle has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of less than 10,000 pounds, it is either a Class I (<6,000 pounds) or Class II (>6,000 pounds) commercial vehicle.
  • A vehicle is objectively defined as a commercial vehicle if it has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,001 pounds or more. This lower boundery would place it in Class III, and the range of classes goes all the way up to VIII—33,000 pounds GVWR or higher.

Ready for a closer look at the features and capabilities that distinguish commercial vehicles? Check out our heavy truck guides for more information.

Find New & Used Commercial Vehicles at Badger Truck & Auto Group

If you’re looking for a new or pre-owned commercial vehicle near Milwaukee or Waukesha, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll set you up for success and keep you moving forward for years to come!

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