What is a USDOT number?
And how to check for it
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Whenever you hire a moving company, you should review its credentials, read reviews and check its USDOT number. Without a current USDOT number, the company may be out of compliance with federal and state regulations, and there's no way to check its safety rating or crash history. Checking this number gives you crucial information to ensure you only work with reputable companies.
- USDOT numbers are required for all interstate moving companies operating in the U.S.
- Most states (39, plus Puerto Rico) also require commercial motor vehicles to obtain a USDOT number for intrastate commerce.
- You can check safety ratings, crash history and certification status by looking up a USDOT number.
What is a DOT number used for?
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is responsible for maintaining roadway infrastructure and setting federal safety regulations to ensure safe and efficient practices. Part of this duty includes working with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to assign unique numbers for carriers involved in interstate commerce that operate vehicles above a certain gross weight.
“USDOT numbers are a crucial part of the safety and management of the auto transport industry,” Julie Bausch, managing editor at Car Talk Digital, told us. With a USDOT number, you can track a transport company’s safety rating, check its accident history and confirm its licensing and certification.
There are three types of vehicles that must have a USDOT number:
- Any vehicle with a gross weight of over 10,001 pounds involved in interstate commerce
- Any vehicle designed to carry eight or more people for compensation (such as a chartered tour bus)
- Any vehicle designed to carry over 15 passengers not for compensation (such as a school bus)
All vehicles carrying hazardous materials — regardless of weight — also must have a current USDOT number. This number is required for companies no matter how many vehicles are in their fleet, be it one or 100.
You can use this information to your benefit anytime you’re hiring a freight carrier, and it’s especially useful when working with movers. When you hire professionals to help with a long-distance move, you’re trusting them to take care of your belongings in transport — by checking the USDOT number and researching the company’s profile, you can get a solid sense of its past performance.
» COMPARE: Moving yourself vs. hiring movers
Taking the time to thoroughly vet the company you’re working with can save you from experiences like one reviewer from Pennsylvania had when they ended up paying four times the quoted rate. They advised everyone to check the DOT’s database and “look at the number of complaints prior to giving your credit card.”
A USDOT number will also give you information about the company’s safety rating (satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory). A satisfactory rating means there’ve been no significant issues with compliance or safety concerns, while a conditional rating means the company has been out of compliance with at least one safety regulation. An unsatisfactory rating means the company has substantial safety noncompliance issues.
With a company’s USDOT number, you can determine how satisfactory its safety rating is and whether it’s prone to dangerous accidents.
You can also get important information about the company’s crash history. This section of the transporter’s profile breaks down the crash data into four sections: fatal, injury, tow and total.
While it’s unlikely a company that’s been in business for many years has avoided all crashes (some incidents are unavoidable, even for the most responsible drivers), this gives you a sense of its overall safety. The FMCSA typically lists crash data from the previous 24 months in both the U.S. and Canada.
The company profile can also tell you what kind of cargo it’s registered to carry. With movers, you should ensure “household goods” is on the list. If you’re shipping a car, make sure “motor vehicles” is selected.
How to check a USDOT number
The easiest way to find and check the USDOT number is to ask your moving company for it, though it may be listed on the company’s website or advertising materials. You can also search using the company's name; however, there may be multiple listings to weed through.
It should go without saying that if a moving company is unable to give you this number or supplies an incorrect number, you should not hire it — this could indicate fraud.
» STAY SAFE: How to avoid moving scams
In general, follow these steps to look up a USDOT number:
- Go to the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System search page, administered by the FMCSA. There are three ways to look up a company: USDOT number, company name or MC/MX number. Most of the time, you’ll use the company name or DOT number — Motor Carrier (MC) and Mexican Carrier (MX) numbers are only required for companies that transport passengers or federally regulated commodities.
- Choose the criteria you’ll be searching by and enter the information in the search box.
- If you’re searching by name, make sure you use the full legal name (pay attention to whether there’s an “LLC” or “Inc.”). Even with the full name, you may need to narrow your results by using the company’s location, which can often be found on its website. For example, if you search “Allied Van Lines,” you’ll see four separate results and may need to choose the one located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to get the correct information.
- Review the company’s profile and safety information and take note of its USDOT number, found in the upper right-hand corner under “Company Snapshot.”
If you don’t have easy internet access, you can call the FMCSA to speak with a representative.
How do you get a DOT number?
Any reputable moving company should have a USDOT number. When a company applies for a number through the FMCSA, it has to provide quite a bit of information, including the number of drivers it employs; pertinent commercial driver’s license information for each driver; the type and number of vehicles it operates; who owns the vehicles (i.e., whether they’re leased or owned outright); what class of cargo the company hauls; and basic operation information.
This info is then verified by the FMCSA and must be kept current to remain in good standing. Once the USDOT number is live, all safety ratings will be stored for consumer use.
When is a USDOT number required?
USDOT numbers are required for all companies that operate vehicles interstate, but many states also require this number for commerce within a single state. All vehicles that exceed 10,001 pounds or carry passengers or hazardous materials must have a USDOT number.
How do DOT numbers need to be displayed?
USDOT numbers must be displayed on both sides of the truck or cabin of the vehicle. The number must be bold, large (with lettering at least 2 inches high) and legible. For example, if the truck itself is black, the lettering must be in a contrasting color so it’s easily readable.
Most companies choose to place this information on both the driver and passenger doors of their vehicles, and it’s often included alongside other regulatory information, such as an MC/MX number.
How long does it take to get a DOT number?
If you have all the necessary information ready, it doesn't take long to be issued a DOT number. In some cases, the process can be completed within an hour if you apply online. However, if the application is pulled for vetting, this could add two to eight weeks to the process.
How much does a USDOT number cost?
It’s free to apply for and be assigned a USDOT number. It’s also free to check for a company’s USDOT number.
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