How To Get Your Commercial AZ License in Ontario

What Is An AZ License?

AZ Truck Driver Driving on Road Beside Trailer TrucksDefinition of an AZ Commercial Driver’s License

An AZ license is the class that allows you to drive the biggest vehicles in the truck driving industry. The standard license that many truck drivers get is the DZ license.  Your DZ license allows you to haul and tow 4,600 kg or less.  An “A” license, on the other hand, gives you the flexibility to carry any haul without restriction.

AZ license Open’s Doors

As you can imagine, this opens up the door to all kinds of opportunities within your career. For one thing, it makes more valuable to potential employers. An AZ license makes it easier to land a job in an industry that is packed with ambitious drivers. With your AZ, you’ll have an edge over your co-workers. With this license you’ll be assigned more lucrative hauls than those working for the same company.

In other words, if you’re looking to get into the truck driving industry, the AZ license is the best way to jumpstart your career.  It’s also a great way for those who are already in the industry and feel like they need an extra boost to reach the next level.

The “Z” Endorsement

There are two portions of the AZ license. The “A” – which, as we just covered, allows you to carry any size haul unrestricted – and the “Z”. The Z-endorsement is what gives you the credentials to operate a vehicle with air brakes. This is required for all kinds of truck drivers, recreational vehicle operators and other commercial vehicle operators. No matter what kind of driver you are, it’s in your best interest to earn your Z-endorsement.

The reason why is that most vehicles with more than two axles use air brakes instead of traditional brakes. This is why you hear a loud “whoosh” sound when a large bus or 18-wheeler completes their stop. Air brakes use pressurized air to clamp the brakes on the tires rather than brake fluid. Air brakes are used on large vehicles instead of hydraulic brakes as they use pressurized air stores for energy. Utilizing air is a safer and more reliable way to stop larger vehicles.

While air brakes are too complicated and expensive to justify being used on something like a Prius, on a truck they can literally save lives. In order to drive a vehicle that uses air brakes, however, you’re going to need your Z-endorsement which the AZ license includes.

When trying to obtain your Z-endorsement, it helps to go through the official Air Brake Handbook. This is a handbook created by Ontario’s administration of transportation specifically to explain how to drive with air brakes in accordance with their rules and requirements. The tests you’ll need to pass to earn your Z-endorsement come straight from this handbook, making it an invaluable resource during your studies.

What Can You Do With An AZ License?

One of the things that makes AZ licenses so great is that they can broaden your career horizons. An AZ license allows you to do all of the same things that you can do with a standard D license and much more. You can stick with the standard truck driving jobs if you like, or venture into some of the more exciting and high-earning positions that are exclusive to AZ drivers.

An AZ license allows you to embark on long, cross-country drives with your haul. In fact, you can even go on international drives with an AZ license without missing a beat. Not to mention that because AZ licenses are harder to obtain, you’ll be the first pick when it comes to hiring and assigning projects to drivers. Since you’re offering a more premium service to companies, you’ll make premium rates, and you’ll always be in high demand.

Additionally, when it’s the off-season for more intense AZ-exclusive hauls, you’ll still be able to pick up work doing the standard D license style hauls. This is particularly handy during the winter months when jobs like operating snow plows and de-icers start to become available.

The Difference Between An AZ License And A DZ License

As we mentioned, an AZ license is essentially an upgrade of the standard DZ license. It affords you greater opportunities due to its lack of restriction on haul size, whereas a DZ license is limited to just 4,600 kg. Since both of these licenses come with Z-endorsements, both are able to operate vehicles with air brakes, which is a must if you want to succeed in this industry.

A DZ license allows you to operate vehicles like fire and rescue trucks, dump trucks, straight trucks, and cement trucks. DZ licenses allow you to drive vehicles weighing over 11,000 kg or a tractor-trailer combination with a haul weighing less than 4,600 kg. Any kind of commercial truck that doesn’t break the weight limit is generally fair game for those with a DZ license.

While an AZ license is certainly better than a DZ license, the DZ variation is nothing to snub. It gives you the flexibility to drive both construction and transportation vehicles, providing you with work during construction and winter season. It’s also substantially cheaper than obtaining an AZ license. So new truck drivers might consider starting their career with a DZ license and then eventually working their way up to an AZ license.

How To Get Your AZ License In Ontario

Person Hand On Steering Wheel after getting AZ licenseEarning an AZ license is an immensely powerful benefit to your career. It will provide you with countless new opportunities, increase your earnings, and broaden the scope of employers seeking you out. However, it doesn’t come easy.

You need to be sure that this is an industry you plan on staying in for a significant amount of time. While complete trucking beginners can certainly enter the industry with an AZ license, it might be in their best interest to start off with something a little simpler before jumping into the AZ level.

Earning an AZ license is difficult as well as expensive. It requires an investment of several thousand dollars up front and typically takes around one month of class and field training to earn. The reason it’s so much more difficult to obtain than the more standard DZ license is that it gives you permission to drive hauls without a weight limit. This means that you’ll need to be knowledgeable on the most rigorous safety courses, regulations, and requirements within the trucking industry in order to operate your vehicle safely.

Here is a general guideline to the steps you’ll need to complete in order to earn your AZ license.

Check The Requirements

The first step in your journey to obtaining an AZ license is being aware of the requirements it necessitates. The following list are the things you’ll need to have in order before you start looking into classes. Without these you won’t be able to get out of the classroom and behind the wheel. This isn’t everything you need to become an AZ driver, just a starting point. This is also an easy way to check if the career is right for you.

Must be at least 18 years old

First and foremost, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old to earn an AZ license. The reasoning is self-explanatory as most 18-year-olds have been driving on their own for a short time.

The preferred age range for AZ drivers is over 25 years old. Anything younger than that can result in higher insurance premiums. If you are between 18 years and 25 years old, you may have a harder time getting a trucking job. Despite your training since you’ll be much more expensive to insure.

Clean driving record

You’ll need a clean driving record in order to pursue an AZ commercial driving license. Your driving record doesn’t have to be squeaky clean – minor speeding offenses are unlikely to have an impact on your truck driving career. Offenses like driving under the influence or having a high volume of moving vehicle offenses can make it much harder. Although not impossible to earn an AZ license with these, your chances of being hired are slim.

No criminal record

Not having a criminal record might not seem important to the field at first. However, you’re going to be operating machinery carrying equipment, retail goods and resources. They can be worth hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars. Companies, as well as the law, want to be as sure as possible that you aren’t going to be a liability when hauling these kinds of materials. The best paying jobs in trucking often require you to cross the border.  If you can’t cross the border you won’t be able to access these positions.

Pass an MTO Medical test

This is another requirement that may seem odd at first glance but is actually extremely important to be a successful truck driver. Driving a truck may seem easy—you’re just driving, right? Well, yes and no, but mostly no. There is a lot of stress, pressure, and variables involved with truck driving that you need to be able to manage on a constant basis.

Not only that, but you are driving machinery on highways that has the potential to wreak havoc on the roadways. Minor issues with your vision, stamina, and ability to focus can mean life or death on the road.

Pass your medical And vision exams

As we just mentioned, one of the first things that you’re going to need to get in order in your journey to AZ licensure is the passing of your medical and vision exams. To do this, you’ll first need to schedule an appointment with your physician. When you go, be sure to bring this form with you and have your physician fill it out. This is the form that will be used to determine your eligibility as a driver.

Drivers between the ages of 18 and 46, need to repeat this medical examination every 5 years. This assures they are still fit to be behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle. If they are between 46 and 64, they have to repeat this examination every 3 years. And if they’re over 64 years of age, they have to pass this test at least once a year.

This examination will typically cost somewhere in the ballpark of $50 to $150. The purpose of it is to make sure that you are physically fit enough to drive a commercial vehicle without being at high risk for causing injury to yourself or others.

Vision test

The vision test is the other half of the medical exams you’ll need to complete in order to qualify for an AZ license. This test is usually completed when you’re applying for your license, so unlike the physical test, you’ll have a chance to complete this exam when you’re actually at the center obtaining your license.

If you aren’t able to pass the vision test at the DriveCentre where you’re applying for your license, there is still hope! They will refer you to an optometrist who will perform a more sophisticated and thorough exam of your vision. They will identify the problem that caused you to fail the DriveCentre test. Be sure it truly disqualifies you from being an AZ driver, and determine if there is a solution to your vision problem.

You can grab a copy of the vision exam form here. Bring this with you when going to the DriveCentre to obtain your AZ license. If you are referred to an optometrist by the DriveCentre, the cost will be anywhere between $50 to $150.

Pass your written knowledge test

Next is the written knowledge test. Similar to when you first got your standard driver’s license, this is a test to make sure you have the fundamentals of truck driving down. It includes things like laws, regulations, safety requirements, technicalities, and knowledge that is required to be able to safely operate a commercial vehicle. In total, for the knowledge and road tests, your Z-endorsement, and your licensure for 5 years, you’ll have to pay around $275.

Ontario’s written knowledge test is multiple choice and largely based on the handbooks created by the Ontario administration of transportation. Therefore, you’ll have the highest chance of successfully passing these tests if you study the handbooks closely and thoroughly. The test takes about half an hour to complete, so while you obviously want to be prepared, it’s not too grueling of a test.

Ontario’s written knowledge test for an AZ license is available in 8 different languages currently, so you shouldn’t have an issue with being able to understand it. This test is divided into three sections that correspond to what you learned in your handbooks. In order to pass the test, you have to make an 80% or higher. If you fail the test you’ll have to pay a $23 fee to retake it, so you won’t have to repay all of the fees over again.

Complete Your Entry-Level Training

Now that you’ve met the AZ qualifications and have proven you know the fundamentals, it’s time to complete a training program. A Mandatory Entry Level Training Program is where you’ll start to get behind the wheel of vehicles. You will learn the ins and outs of the industry, and develop the tools you’ll be using throughout your truck driving career.

It’s mandatory to complete entry-level training in Ontario through an accredited training school. These programs take a minimum of 103.5 hours to complete and require a substantial payment of $7,000  to $13,000. These courses are known as MELT courses. Mandatory Entry-Level Training programs need to be completed by anyone pursuing their AZ license. If you have concerns about being able to afford training, there are government programs in place to help.

Similar to choosing any vocational or academic schooling, the training institute you choose for preparing for your AZ license will play a major role in your career. You’ll want to pick an institute that is highly revered, offers the best equipment for training, and has loads of experience in training students for their careers as truck drivers.

Pass Your Road And Practical Tests

Next up is the final step in obtaining the AZ license: Passing your road and practical tests. As it sounds, these tests take everything you’ve learned and puts them to the test. This is where you’ll prove that you are fully capable and prepared to get behind the wheel of a large commercial vehicle. Like every other aspect of obtaining your AZ license, this test will be tough.

On the day of your road and practical tests, you’re going to need to bring a few key items with you. The first is your current driver’s license, whatever class that happens to be. Then you’ll need to bring an insured Class A vehicle that is in working order. Finally, you’ll need to bring a copy of the email confirmation the examiners send you when approving you for taking the test. You’ll need to bring more things with you for the Z-endorsement portion of the test, like a hard hat, wheel chocks, and stopwatch.

The first portion of the test will be your pre-trip inspections. This is something you’ll need to perform every time you’re about to get behind the wheel, so you’ll need to have it down pat. The second portion of the exam will involve the instructor giving you commands and grading you on how well you perform them.

If you make the cut during your road and practical tests, you’ll walk away with a temporary AZ license. It will then be replaced with the real AZ license within 90 days. If you fail the test, the examiner will let you know why, what you need to fix, and so on. You’ll have to wait at least 10 days before being able to retake this test.

Additional Ways To Prepare

What else do you need?

And that covers everything you’re required to have in order to have your AZ license. It may seem like a lot, but don’t worry! Plenty of people have walked the AZ path before you, and though it is a challenge, it’s totally doable. If you’re dedicated and prepared for what it entails, you can get this done! In addition to everything we’ve already mentioned, there are additional ways that you can prepare for your AZ license and truck driving career.

One way is to obtain a passport. No, not every driver is going to be driving internationally, but some definitely will. And if/when the time comes for you to carry a haul abroad, having your passport already in hand will make it a much better experience. You can use a travel visa as well, though this isn’t a permanent solution if you plan on traveling between Canada and the US more frequently.

Like we mentioned at the beginning of the requirements, having a clean driving record is a must! In case you’re not sure you meet the requirements though, you can get a copy of your record for just $12. This will save you a lot of time and money before you get too invested in obtaining an AZ license.

And lastly, you’ll want to be relatively familiar with your truck. Know the way it works, how to tell what kind of condition it’s in, and so on. This may not be an explicit requirement, but it is one of those things that separates the average drivers from the great ones.

Get A FAST Card

A great addition to a passport for international drivers is a FAST card. These cards were created post-9/11 as a way to make it easy and fast for commercial vehicles to cross borders. They permit crossing without going through the standard, rigorous checks and measures. FAST cards – short for Fast and Secure Trade cards – are available to eligible drivers with clean backgrounds who are driving vehicles with shipments known to be low-risk in nature.

Along the northern border of the US and Canada, in high traffic areas you will find there are FAST lanes. In states like Michigan, Washington, and New York, you will find these FAST lanes. These lanes aren’t completely check-free, for obvious reasons, but the checks performed are much simpler and less time-consuming.

The only difficulty in working with the FAST program is that every link in the transportation chain needs to qualify for the program. That includes you and your truck, but also your boss, the manufacturer, carrier, importer, etc.

That being said, if you are able to qualify for a FAST card, it can save you a lot of time and energy in your truck driving career. Especially if you and your company frequently make shipments internationally. If your company does frequently cross the border for hauls, the odds are pretty good that they will be enrolled in the FAST program.

Why The AZ License Is A Great Choice For Commercial Truck Drivers

If you’ve been in the truck driving game for a few years now and are looking to accelerate your career growth, an AZ license truly is the best way to do so. It’s the highest level license offered in the commercial truck driving industry, so it’ll put you ahead of everyone else by a long shot. It gives you the ability to haul in any weight class, operate vehicles with air brakes, and carry hauls across national borders.

Essentially, having an AZ license will give you the freedom to work any job within the commercial truck driving industry. Not only that, but it will make you extremely valuable to potential employers. This will give you more options in your career, an easier time advancing, more negotiation power, and so on.

Some may be put off by the investment that an AZ requires, both financially and academically. While it is a difficult and expensive license to acquire, the opportunities it creates for you within your career will quickly make up the difference. An AZ license will propel your career to the next level and give you a competitive edge that’s tough to beat.

How Much Do Drivers With An AZ License Make?

Like any career, one of the first questions you should be asking yourself is how much money are you going to be able to make? Without knowing this, there’s no real way to decide if the career path is right for you. This is especially true with obtaining your AZ license, as it requires such a large investment upfront.

To keep things simple, we’re going to assume that you’re a completely new truck driver just beginning to get behind the wheel, starting your career on the right foot with an AZ license. A pretty safe estimate for your first year’s earnings is somewhere between $45,000 and $55,000.

Not too shabby when you compare the price and time investment with a standard college degree. And in a few year’s time, as you begin to find your footing in the industry, build connections, and tackle more demanding hauls, you’re likely to earn upwards of $75,000 annually. You are going to have to earn that salary, though. Truck driving is a demanding industry, so you’re going to need to log the hours and miles in order to work your way up.

What Do Commercial Truck Drivers Do?

The next question you should be asking yourself is what it is exactly that commercial truck drivers do? You’ve probably been able to build a decent picture in your mind after reading through this article. In its simplest form, commercial truck driving involves driving big vehicles. Sometimes that means 18-wheelers hauling a trailer full of goods, while other times it means operating a snow plow or a firetruck.

With an AZ license, the majority of what you’re going to be doing is hauls. This means driving a truck cab with a loaded trailer attached to the back from one location to the other. Since your AZ license qualifies you to carry a haul of any size, you could potentially be hauling things substantially bigger and heavier than the standard truck and trailer combos you see carrying grocery store goods.

During the seasons when transportation jobs are less frequent, you’ll be able to make up the difference by driving other kinds of commercial vehicles. This includes things like buses, fire trucks, dump trucks, and so on. While these jobs won’t always pay the same as your standard haul, they’ll give you a break from driving semi’s and give you a broader range of experience.

5th Wheel Training Institute's AZ License Courses

You’ve made it to the end of this article. You meet all of the requirements for obtaining an AZ license and still are interested in what the career has to offer! So now it’s time to start thinking about what training institute you’ll attend to kick off your career.

5th Wheel Training Institute is one of the leading schools in Ontario for truck drivers pursuing their AZ license. We’re certified by the Ministry of Training College and Universities and Ontario Ministry of Transportation to teach MELT courses to students of all experience levels.

Our classes are top of the line, with hands-on experience with the kinds of vehicles you’ll use throughout your career. 5th Wheel Training instructors have abundant experience covering the course material and will set you up for the best success possible. They not only prepare you for  your tests, but all aspects of your career as well.

If you’re interested in 5th Wheel’s AZ training courses, don’t hesitate to check out what we offer and be sure to reach out if you have any questions!