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So I was minding my own business, looking at trucks on Ebay the other day and what should I find? Multiple used fire trucks for less than $20k. Restoring and driving one of these big rigs would be so cool. But legally driving a used fire truck on the street can be complicated: you have to meet local guidelines to pass inspection, and you might even need to cahnge the type of driver’s license you have.

What can you do with an old fire truck?

A used fire truck navigating an intersection in a crowded city, in front of an old brick building.
Used fire engine | Cristian Ceoroiu via Unsplash

Most fullsize fire engines are just built on huge diesel trucks. You can restore one yourself or have a heavy equipment mechanice do the work for you. You may even be able to drive a decomissioned firetruck down the street, but you will need to check several local regulations first.

Many government vehciels such as military vehicles and fully-equipped police cars are regulated. If you want to buy one, the agency selling it may need to remove certain equipment such as armor plating.

Fire trucks, on the other hand, are perfeclty legal to own and operate. When a fire department sells a truck, they list it with a company such as Fire Line Equipment and anyone can bid on it.

If you want to buy a fire truck, then drive it around your property, no one will stop you. Unless of course you get too giddy with the siren and the neighbors file a noise complaint.

Driving a fire truck on the road, however, is a different matter.

Can you modify an old fire truck?

Once you buy an old, used fire truck, you can do most anything you want to it. To drive it on the road, you may legally have to modify it. Common modifications include deactivating or removing lights and sirens as well as removing any safety equipment that protrudes too far into oncoming traffic.

This is a fire truck driving down a city street.
Used fire truck | John Torcasio via Unsplash

Some fire departments ask buyers to remove their town name from the vehicles door. Some states prohibit civilians from placing lights or sirens on their vehicles, so you must deactivate these devices if you buy a fire truck.

Some fire truck collectors love to modify their vehicles. For example, Jeremy Renner has bought and restored dozens of vintage fire trucks. He has customized several for special purposes, including one party-mobile with a bounce-house and slurpee machine for his daughter’s birthday parties.

Read more about Jeremy Renner’s fire trucks.

Do you need a CDL to drive an old fire truck?

You’ll need a CDL to drive many fullsize fire trucks. You need a CDL to drive anything with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) above 12 tons (24,000 pounds). You also need a CDL to drive any vehicle with air brakes.

A fire truck parked between rows of cars and buildings on the streets of New York.
Used fire engine | Johnell Pannell via Unsplash

Fire trucks are very much commercial vehicles. And cutting through city intersections in one of these requires special training and skill. It’s not surprising that many large fire trucks require a commercial driver’s license to operate.

Any vehicle with a combined vehicle weight and load capacity (gross vehicle weight) over 24,000 pounds requires a CDL to drive. In addition, any vehicle that uses heavy-duty compressed air brakes requires a CDL to drive on public roads. Many fire trucks and fire engines fall into both of these categories.

Want to see a beautiful vintage fire truck restoration? Check out Jay Leno’s 1941 American LaFrance fire engine.


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