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What Are Commercial Vehicles? A Guide For Business Owners

What are commercial vehicles? The answer might surprise you. Discover the trucks, vans, cars, and other equipment that fall into the commercial category.

White delivery vans in a row

What are commercial vehicles? The answer might surprise you.

While most people would answer, “A semi-truck and trailer,” this is just one of a long list of commercial vehicles on the road today.

So, what are commercial vehicles exactly? In this article, we’ll answer that question and discuss all of the information you need to manage your fleet.

What Are Commercial Vehicles?

what are commercial vehicles

General Definition

At its most basic, a vehicle is designated “commercial” when a business registers the vehicle as such and uses it for business purposes. This can include cars, trucks, vans, and even scooters.

Really, anything with a motor that runs on gas, diesel, or aviation fuel could be considered a commercial vehicle.

Legal Definition

commercial vehicles

While the general definition of commercial vehicles includes more modes of transportation than you might think, the legal definition is much more specific.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees and regulates commercial vehicles in the United States, defines a commercial vehicle as:

Any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater
  • Is designed or used to transport between nine and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers
  • Is designed for or used in transporting hazardous materials per the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

This more technical definition eliminates the vast majority of the vehicles on the list mentioned earlier and leaves us with:

  • Some light-duty vans and pickup trucks
  • Medium-duty trucks
  • Heavy-duty trucks (semis)

While this technical definition focuses on heavy trucks, there are some exceptions for specialty vehicles, cars, and heavy equipment.

Fleet Vehicles Vs. Commercial Vehicles

Man who works with commercial vehicles

“Fleet vehicles” is a broad term that includes everything from the general definition discussed earlier — e.g., scooters, motorcycles, golf carts, cars, and trucks — as well as other types of vehicles, including bikes and push scooters.

On the other hand, “commercial vehicles” is a more specific term that includes the vehicles from the legal definition discussed in the previous section — e.g., vans, trucks, and semis.

Because of the way these definitions work, a business may operate a fleet without any commercial vehicles.

For example, a pizza delivery business operating in a downtown area might provide its delivery drivers with a fleet of five bikes, 10 scooters, and four golf carts. None of those are commercial vehicles according to the FMCSA.

However, if the business adds a Class 3 pickup truck (more on this below) to its fleet, that truck is legally considered a commercial vehicle.

For more information on fleet vehicles and how to manage them, check out these articles from the Coast blog:

What Are Commercial Vehicles: Types

Green commercial trucks

Trucks are, by far, the most common answer to the question, “What are commercial vehicles?” and make up the majority of vehicles on the road today.

The FMCSA divides trucks into eight categories based on the total amount of weight that the vehicle can handle (the gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR):

  • Class 1 (GVWR up to 6,000 pounds)
  • Class 2A (GVWR of 6,001 to 8,500 pounds)
  • Class 2B (GVWR of 8,501 to 10,000 pounds)
  • Class 3 (GVWR of 10,001 to 14,000 pounds)
  • Class 4 (GVWR of 14,001 to 16,000 pounds)
  • Class 5 (GVWR of 16,001 to 19,500 pounds)
  • Class 6 (GVWR of 19,501 to 26,000 pounds)
  • Class 7 (GVWR of 26,001 to 33, 000 pounds)
  • Class 8 (GVWR of 33,000+ pounds)

To make things a bit simpler, those eight specific classifications are subdivided into three general categories:

  • Light-Duty Trucks (Classes 1-3)
  • Medium-Duty Trucks (Classes 4-6)
  • Heavy-Duty Trucks (Classes 7-8)

But not all of these truck classes are considered commercial vehicles. Only Class 3 to Class 8 trucks are covered under the legal definition of a commercial vehicle as described by the FMCSA.

Examples of these trucks include:

  • Ford Super Duty F-350 (Class 3)
  • Chevy Silverado 4500HD (Class 4)
  • Peterbilt 325 (Class 5)
  • International DuraStar (Class 6)
  • Mack MD7 (Class 7)
  • Western Star 47X (Class 8)

For more information on these types of commercial trucks, take a few minutes to read the following articles from the Coast blog:


what are commercial vehicles

Vans fall into the same categories as trucks (e.g., Class 2, Class 3) but also include passenger configurations for transporting people rather than cargo.

Cargo vans are also classified by their GVWR and can range from small Class 1 varieties all the way up to large-capacity Class 3 varieties.

Examples include:

  • Dodge Grand Caravan (Class 1)
  • Ford Transit-150 (Class 2A)
  • Ford Transit-250 (Class 2B)
  • Ford Transit-350 (Class 3)

Only the Class 3 vans are considered commercial vehicles.

Passenger vans are basically cargo vans with more seating. They fall into the same categories (Class 1 through Class 3) but are considered commercial vehicles when they are:

  • Designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • Designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers

Examples of commercial passenger vans include the GMC Savana Passenger and the Chevrolet Express Passenger.

For more information on work vans for businesses of all sizes, check out this article from the Coast blog: 10 Best Work Vans For Small Businesses In 2022.


Fleet of commercial buses

Buses are almost always considered commercial vehicles because of their size and passenger-carrying capacity.

Similarly, mini-buses — or shuttle buses — are considered commercial vehicles because they have more passenger-carrying capacity than a van but less than a full-size bus.

Motorcoaches also fall into the broad bus category and are, in some cases, considered commercial vehicles.

Motorcoaches are high-floor buses with luggage storage below the passenger compartment. They are commercial vehicles when they are used for activities such as touring and private charters.

Some motor coaches are converted into RVs and used for personal travel. In those cases, they are not classified as commercial vehicles.

Specialty Vehicles

Specialty vehicles are often variations on the truck, van, and bus chassis already mentioned.

Examples include:

  • Garbage trucks
  • Street sweepers
  • Fire trucks
  • Septic trucks
  • Tow trucks
  • Passenger trolleys
  • RV-style mobile services (e.g., bookmobiles and health-service vehicles)

Some Cars

Sales man explaining what are commercial vehicles

Regular passenger cars aren’t generally commercial vehicles. But, when they’re used for specific purposes, they are considered commercial by the FMCSA.

Examples of commercial cars include:

  • Rental cars
  • Taxis
  • Delivery vehicles

So, an electronics business may provide its salespeople with a company car to travel to appointments, but these aren’t commercial vehicles; they’re fleet vehicles.

If the same electronics business provides its technicians with a car to deliver equipment and make service calls, the car would be considered a commercial vehicle.

Some Heavy Equipment

Most varieties of heavy equipment are not commercial vehicles because they’re not designed to be driven long distances over the road. Most heavy equipment needs a heavy-duty truck and trailer to get from jobsite to jobsite.

That said, some construction, farming, and mining equipment are commercial vehicles. Check with your local department of motor vehicles for more information.

Commercial Vehicle Regulations

Woman showing what are commercial vehicles Regulations to a truck driver

While all of the vehicles in the previous section may be considered commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), not all are subject to federal motor carrier safety regulations.

For example, based on the FMCSA’s definition of a CMV, taxicabs are not subject to federal regulations.

Similarly, if a vehicle and operator only engage in intrastate commerce, they’ll most likely be subject to only state and local mandates instead of federal laws. Many state requirements, though, are identical to FMCSA regulations.

If a vehicle meets the FMCSA CMV requirements, business owners need to comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) safety regulations regarding:

  • Alcohol and controlled substance testing for all persons required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
  • Driver qualifications (including medical exams)
  • Driving and operating CMVs
  • Parts and accessories necessary for safe operations
  • Hours of service rules
  • All inspection, repair, and maintenance of vehicles

Besides these regulations, business owners should be aware of the FMCSA’s requirements for fleet compliance (e.g., vehicle insurance, commercial driver’s license holders, driving records, and accessibility).

Managing Your Commercial Vehicles

Managing Your Commercial Vehicles With Coast

Whichever type of commercial vehicle your business uses, you can manage your fleet better and make your job easier with Coast.

The Coast card provides real-time expense tracking and a powerful online management platform that puts your entire fleet in the palm of your hand and provides full visibility of every dollar spent.

For more information, visit CoastPay.com today