Going Commercial

May 2, 2011 by Stu Chisholm


The advantages are obvious: plenty of room for gear (including all the back-up gear I’d ever need, which has always been a priority with me); cargo control rails for keeping things from being damaged in-transit and a cargo box tall enough to stand in, saving wear and tear on my back! Plus, I can carry an array of hand trucks, Rock-N-Roller carts and even a CSL Supertable. With graphics on the side, it also makes one great billboard! My van has always been my best call generator.135goingcommercial
There were some disadvantages. For one thing, it’s BIG. It requires a ten-foot clearance, so there are occasionally those banquet facilities with an overhanging carport roof that I must back-up close to rather than drive up underneath. It also takes a lot of getting used to, due to its un-car-like handling and length. I also learned that if I didn’t live in an apartment complex with very indulgent management, vehicles longer than 22 feet and/or with commercial markings aren’t permitted to be parked in a regular home driveway by ordinance. I just happened to live in the one area that had an exception to said rule, since an apartment complex is already commercial property. In short, it?s not something that everyone can do.
When I first picked it up, I naturally inquired as to whether a special license plate or other regulations applied to such a vehicle. I was instructed to take the truck, while new and empty, to a weigh station. The gross vehicle weight would determine the cost of my plate. Beyond that, there were no other conditions.
Because of some previous experience, I decided it was also a good idea to install a fire extinguisher and pick up a supply of road flares.


Fast-forward to last February, more than 14 years later. The flashing lights in my rear-view mirror signaled an impending education on how the rules have changed. The policeman was actually a “motor carrier compliance officer.” He informed me that there were several regulations that had popped into existence that I needed to attend to. A federal department that didn’t exist until four years after I’d purchased the van had dreamed up these new rules, and they didn’t even begin enforcing them until 2007. So I, along with many other owners of commercial vehicles, have been driving around in blissful ignorance, unaware of the risk of some fairly hefty fines! (Might you also be one of us?) And yes, this applies to ALL commercial vehicles, including the trailers that many DJ companies prefer.
Here, in a nutshell, is what I’ve learned:
First, you may need a DOT number. This is the easiest new rule to comply with. You may even have seen these on the doors of commercial vehicles when you were out driving around. Any commercial vehicle weighing over 8,000 lbs, or with a weight class above 10,000 lbs (as indicated by a sticker inside the driver’s side door frame) needs one. This includes pickup trucks that pull commercial trailers if the combined weight is over 8,000 lbs. You can apply for a number via the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website (www.fmcsa.dot.gov) and there’s no charge. If you’re not using your truck for commercial use all the time, you can have your number printed on magnetic signs. Otherwise you can have it painted on or contact a vinyl graphics company. Caution: New applicants will be scheduled for a “safety audit,” which is done at your local DOT office and takes between two and 4 hours. If you’ve got a day job, prepare to take at least part of a day off. Getting the number is free of charge; however you’re responsible for getting it on your vehicle.

Also easy to comply with, not to mention smart, are the rules regarding safety equipment. The officer commended me for having a fire extinguisher, but what I did voluntarily is now the law. You’re also required to have some road flares (I did) and a set of plastic reflective triangles (which I didn’t). None of these are overly expensive and can be found at any decent auto supply store.


The next requirement is the annual inspection. According to the new rules, all commercial vehicles have to be inspected each year. Such inspections can take anywhere from an hour to an afternoon and, in my state of Michigan, run anywhere between $85 and $125, depending on the shop that does it. The stated reason for this is to assure that commercial vehicles meet minimum safety standards. But wait, there’s more?
YOU have to be inspected, too! In an effort to show government busybodies that you have two legs, two arms and are reasonably sure that you’re not going to pass out or die while driving, you must obtain and carry a “medical card” each year.
This will add another $65 to $150 to your annual tab, and your doctor’s office can usually provide you with one.
For drivers of commercial vehicles, not carrying a current inspection certificate and medical card can get you a ticket, just as not having proof of insurance can.


The last horrible violation I apparently was guilty of was not having an “E.G.V.W. plate.” This stands for “Elected Gross Vehicle Weight,” and makes drivers of heavier vehicles pay a bit more since they tend to do the most damage to roadways. At least that’s the theory. When I visited my Secretary of State, they told me that they didn’t need to issue a plate for vehicles under 8,000 lbs. When I told them my van was weighed and that it was nearly a half-ton under that, I was told my current plate was good. A relief, because the difference was almost $400.00!
When I mentioned the “weight class” sticker and asked which trumped which (the actual weight vs. stated class), nobody knew. I phoned my local DOT office. They didn’t know either. So this issue is still up in the air as I write this. I’m having my van re-weighed and have also contacted a local trucking group who, I’m told, deals with these issues.
With the possible exception of the license plate issue, all of these new rules are federal, so if you drive a commercial vehicle or haul a commercial trailer, they will affect you anywhere in the United States.


This brings us to the opinion section of this article: whenever you hear TV news stories with people who talk about excessive government regulation, they might be thinking about just this situation. In just a four-year period, guidelines have become new regulations with the force of law, and in my case will potentially add an annual operating cost of an additional $600.00 to my overhead. I can’t help but think what this might mean to a large multi-op with a dozen large trailers. In a country that needs jobs, does placing overly burdensome regulations on small business “the fastest growing employment sector in the nation” make sense?
Until next time, safe spinnin! MB

Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (52 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.

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