What you decide to haul will impact both the equipment and the authority you need. If you decide to transport federally regulated commodities, you will need proper DOT and MC authority (see links below for details). For unregulated commodities, you may not need this authority. See the FMCSA web site for full regulations, as well as a list of non-exempt commodities.
Whether you plan to buy a vehicle or own one already, you’ll need to pay close attention to the authority required to operate your vehicle. Commercial vehicles – which includes those with a gross weight over 10,000 pounds, as well as straight trucks, tractor trailers and pickup trucks with trailers (regardless of weight) – will require registering with the US DOT. Vehicles under 10,000 pounds, as well as cargo vans and pickup trucks without trailers are generally not considered commercial vehicles.
Though you can choose any geographic region to operate in, the federal government is mostly concerned whether you operate intrastate or interstate. Transporting regulated goods locally or intrastate (within one state) generally does not require you to register with the US DOT, regardless of the type of vehicle you use. However, operating interstate (between two or more states) using a commercial vehicle requires registering with the US DOT. Regardless of which region you service, check with your state’s DOT for any local regulations.
What you haul and which type of vehicle you use will determine your licensing requirements. Though it may seem like there are a lot of factors to consider, it only takes a little bit of planning to ensure everything goes smoothly. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has made it easy with a step-by-step guide available here: FMCSA Online Registration and Compliance Assistant