Tanker Trailers

What New Truck Drivers Need To Know About Tanker Trailers:

  • A general shortage of qualified tanker drivers could mean better pay rates for those who take the jobs. There are also many local opportunities available.
  • Changes to the FMCSA definition of tank vehicle mean that drivers will require a tanker endorsement to carry over 1,000 gallons of liquid in ANY trailer.
  • Getting a tanker endorsement on your CDL will require passing a separate written test, apart from the CDL exam.
  • Physically, drivers may be required to climb on top of tank trailers to open the vents as part of the job.
  • Drivers will be responsible for unloading, as well as having the empty tanks washed out.
  • Pulling tanks full of sloshing liquid presents a different type of challenge for new drivers. Shifting loads could cause dangerous situations.

About Pulling Tanker Trailers:

  • Tanks can hold any manner of liquid, from fuel or chemicals to milk or sand. Depending on the freight, other endorsements like Hazmat may be necessary. TruckingTruth generally recommends that new drivers get all available endorsements when getting their CDL to improve their job possibilities.
  • Braking and turning will cause the liquid in the tank to slosh one way (a liquid surge), which requires the driver to anticipate it and adjust for it. When the wave hits the end or side of the tank, it tends to push the truck in the same direction as the wave is moving. On slippery surfaces, this could push the truck into places like intersections, into other vehicles, or off of cliffs. It could also cause the truck to roll over. All very un-good.
  • Of course the liquid, doing what liquid enjoys doing, will then slosh in the opposite direction, requiring the driver to anticipate this change, and make another adjustment, planning his moves far in advance to avoid accidents and damage to the vehicle.
  • The slosh effect is even greater the less full the tanker is, as the liquid will travel at greater speeds and hit the walls with greater force.
  • Unloading the tanks is also part of the drivers responsibility, and generally requires just hooking up some hoses and letting gravity pull the liquid out. Most trailers are also equipped with pumps, and drivers may be required to pump out the load. Generally, drivers will be paid extra unloading pay.
  • It is the driver's responsibility to have the tank washed out after every load, which can take alot of extra time and effort.
  • Bridge height is not normally an issue for tankers.

Types of Tanker Trailers:

  • Fuel and Petroleum:

    Carries gasoline, fuel oil, propane. Will probably require a Hazmat endorsement, and may be considered a more dangerous job.

  • Food Grade:

    Used to carry water, milk, juice, etc. Some are equipped with heating and/or cooling systems. Also have dry bulk variations to carry sugar, flour, salt, etc.

  • Chemical and Acid Tanks:

    Used to transport various types of industrial chemicals. Some are specifically designed to carry corrosive chemicals.

  • Dry Bulk:

    Used to haul sand, fertilizer, roofing asphalt.

How Do Tanker Trailers Work?

Some tanker trailers will be divided in to several different sections by bulkheads (partitions). This will require the driver to pay closer attention to weight distribution, by not loading too much weight in the front or rear of the vehicle.

Other tankers will be "baffled" No, not "bewildered" or "confused". Basically just bulkheads with holes in them.to help control the backwards and forwards liquid surges.

Food-grade tankers are usually un-baffled (also called "smooth bore" tanks), and have nothing to slow down liquid surges. Because of the difficulty in washing them, sanitation regulations prevent partitioning tanks that will hold food items.

Tankers are not completely full, as a totally full tank trailer will probably exceed maximum weight limits, so the slosh factor is ever-present when pulling them.

Fun Fact: When you unload a tanker you have to vent it by opening up the hatch on top. If you unload a tanker without venting it, the trailer will implode like an empty soda can.

Bonus: Video Of Improperly Vented Tanker Imploding

Changes To FMCSA Regulations Re-defining Tank Vehicles:

Recent changes in FMCSA regulations mean that drivers pulling liquid freight over 1,000 gallons, regardless of trailer type, hazardous or otherwise, will be required to have a tanker endorsement:

"Tank vehicle means any commercial motor vehicle that is designed to transport any liquid or gaseous materials within a tank or tanks having an individual rated capacity of more than 119 gallons and an aggregate rated capacity of 1,000 gallons or more that is either permanently or temporarily attached to the vehicle or the chassis." Hauling more than 1,000 gallons of liquid, regardless of trailer type, will require a driver to have a tanker endorsement.

FMCSA Definition of Tanker Vehicle


Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.


Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations


A partition or separator within a liquid tank, used to inhibit the flow of fluids within the tank. During acceleration, turning, and braking, a large liquid-filled tank may produce unexpected forces on the vehicle due to the inertia of liquids.


A strong wall-like structure placed at the front of a flatbed trailer (or on the rear of the tractor) used to protect the driver against shifting cargo during a front-end collision. May also refer to any separator within a dry or liquid trailer (also called a baffle for liquid trailers) used to partition the load.

Commercial Motor Vehicle:

A commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle used in commerce to transport passengers or property with either:

  • A gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more
  • A gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more which includes a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds
  • CSA:

    Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA)

    The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle


    Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

    The FMCSA was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000. Their primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.

    What Does The FMCSA Do?

    • Commercial Drivers' Licenses
    • Data and Analysis
    • Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement
    • Research and Technology
    • Safety Assistance
    • Support and Information Sharing


    Department Of Transportation

    A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

    State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


    Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

    The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.


    Hours Of Service

    HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.


    When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

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