What Is a Pilot Car and Why Are They Needed for Heavy Hauling?

<< Back to Blog Posts
What Is a Pilot Car and Why Are They Needed for Heavy Hauling?


November 18, 2022


What Is a Pilot Car and Why Is It Important?

What Equipment Does a Pilot Car Need?

What Are a Pilot Car Driver’s Responsibilities?

What Are Pilot Cars Most Commonly Used For?

When Are Pilot Cars Needed for Heavy Hauling in Texas?


What Is a Pilot Car and Why Is It Important?

A pilot car, also known as an escort vehicle, is a form of escort for oversized loads. Pilot cars help ensure everyone on the road stays safe when there is an oversized load passing through. These escorts are clearly marked and help manage traffic, especially in crowded areas like highways. 

In Texas, there are several dimensions which are generally followed across the U.S. to indicate whether a load is oversized or not. The maximum limits for any load in Texas without a permit are 14’ in height, 8’6” in width, and 59’ in length. Weight limits are also something to be aware of because loads may not exceed the size limits but could be too heavy and require a heavy haul permit anyways. The weight limit in Texas is 20,000 lbs. for single axle, 34,000 lbs. for dual axle, or 80,000 lbs. total. When you have an oversized load, it’s important to know its weight and dimensions, as well as your starting point and destination, so that you can apply for the proper permit.

Certain loads may also be escorted at night rather than during the day. Pilot cars are heavily regulated (and in some cases need to be certified) in order to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. In addition, they are driven by professionals who know the laws of each state the load will travel through and are equipped with safety kits and other equipment.

pilot car going under a bridge

What Equipment Does a Pilot Car Need?

1. Lights 

To warn drivers of the oncoming oversized load and that it might be going more slowly than the flow of traffic, pilot cars must have flashing or rotating bright lights, normally yellow, orange, or blue. In Texas, there are a few options for the color of the lights: pilot cars can have two flashing orange lights, one rotating orange light, or alternating/flashing blue and orange lights. In all cases, the light(s) must be visible from all sides of the pilot car.

2. Signs

Most states, Texas included, require an “OVERSIZE” or “WIDE LOAD” sign displayed on either the roof, front, or rear of the pilot car. These signs are commonly seen as black lettering on a yellow background to catch other drivers’ eyes, and they must be visible from the front and rear of the pilot car while they escort the oversized load. 

3. Flags

Safety flags in bright, neon colors are placed at the four corners of the load or at the widest extremities to help warn other drivers of the load. In Texas, warning flags must be red or orange and at least 12 in. squared. 

4. Radio

A working two-way radio is required for all pilot cars and truck drivers to ensure that they can maintain communication throughout the journey.

5. Height Pole

A height pole, used only for very tall loads, is made of nonconductive material and measures overhead obstructions, such as bridges or electric cables. If the pilot car’s height pole hits an obstruction, then they can warn the truck driver that they must find an alternate route and avoid an accident.

What Are a Pilot Car Driver’s Responsibilities? 

As trained experts, pilot car drivers understand that their job is essential to keeping people safe and to getting oversized loads to their location on time. However, their jobs come with other responsibilities, such as: 

  • Preventing damage to the roads and structures along the route
  • Avoiding damage to the oversized load and vehicle
  • Keeping delays to a minimum by driving/escorting at certain times of the day/night
  • Avoiding high traffic areas
  • Managing the flow of traffic
  • Preventing accidents
  • Helping to coordinate movement around obstructions like wires

Pilot Car Check List

What Are Pilot Cars Most Commonly Used For?

While pilot cars are most often associated with trucks or trailers, they are in fact used for many more vehicles that are not necessarily considered oversized loads. While their job is always to guide and support other drivers, they can also be used for:

  • Convoys of large vehicles
  • Airplanes on runways
  • Vehicles passing through construction sites

When Are Pilot Cars Needed for Heavy Hauling in Texas?

In the state of Texas, an escort vehicle is required for most vehicles exceeding the size limits, with only a few select vehicles needing an escort if their load goes over the weight limit. In some cases where a load exceeds limits in two dimensions, two pilot cars may be provided—one in the front and one in the rear. In addition to private escorts, the Texas DMV may need you to coordinate with law enforcement escorts (such as police cars) as well.


Pilot cars are a necessary and important part of any oversized load’s journey, and they are useful in other situations as well. Their main responsibility is to keep everyone safe while the load is traveling and to make sure that the load reaches its final destination as quickly and securely as possible. More specific information regarding permits, load limits, and escorts can be found on state DMV websites.

Contact Twisted Nail for Texas Heavy Hauling Today!


An end dumps carry weight depends heavily on the specific road regulations, the power unit weight, and the composition of the trailer. A steel trailer, typically referred to as a Round Bottom, will be heavier and will have a payload of approximately 21 to 23 tons. By contrast, an aluminum end dump is much lighter and can carry anywhere from 23-28 tons, with some set-ups being able to approach 30-ton payloads. 

End dumps are typically loaded by heavy machinery, such as a front-end loader or excavator, or by a series of conveyor belts. End dumps are top load trailers. An owner-operator with an end dump trailer will uncover the trailer via an electric tarp switch in the cab. With the trailer uncovered, the heavy machinery is free to load from the top of the trailer, being careful to evenly distribute the material. Once loaded, the owner-operator flips the tarp switch, covers the load, and continues their run.  

There are several different types of hydraulic lifts that are usually part of dump trailers. These include telescopic, dual-piston, and scissor lifts, among others. Most dump trailers use hydraulics to automatically lift the dump box and unload the materials in a quick, seamless action.

An end dump is an excellent investment for owner operators or construction companies that transport bulk aggregate on a frequent basis. Depending on your needs, a steel or aluminum end dump will ensure that you are able to reliable keep your customers jobsites and stockpiles full. 

Depending on market timing, a typical aluminum end dump will range between $15,000 to $70,000+, with steel round bottoms priced around $10,000-$50,000+. These trailers are also offered for rent or lease, with trailers available for around $850-$2,000 per month. When renting or leasing, it is typical for all repairs to be the responsibility of the renting owner operator. 


Flex base can be an excellent choice for a driveway but is not often used as a primary input in TXDOT construction. Flex base is best suited for farm roads, driveways, RV pads, and for other foundations that will not receive heavy traffic. Flex base is cheaper than most alternative options, such as asphalt or base that meets TXDOT specifications. Additionally, once set and compacted, a flex base road or driveway is cheaper and easier to maintain.

Yes, road base and flex base are the same material family. That said, the differentiating factor is typically the testing results of each material. When shopping for material, it is important to identify exactly what type of material you are buying. Retailers will categorize Base as a broad category and can leave identification to consumers, which is challenging and confusing. In general, if a retailer is selling a Road Base it can be assumed that the material is of higher construction quality than flex base, meaning it will have a wider range of approved uses. However, some vendors will sell Flex Base as a Road Base; this makes it important to understand if the material you are purchasing is a true Flex Base, is ‘Spec 247’, or is TXDOT approved. With each increase in quality comes an increase in cost, so it is important to identify which material will best suit the needs of your project.

Flex Base is a mixture of loose aggregate and coarse aggregate, can be a wide range of color based on source location, and is composed of materials ranging from dirt to rock that are 1”-3” in size. Most Flex Base, particularly around Central Texas, will range from tan to brown, will consist of a dirt material and rocks that range from 1” to 2” in diameter. There are specialty materials that will include rocks up to 3” in size, but these are typically reserved for heavy construction projects.

Any driveway’s depth should be at least 5” to ensure structural integrity and better load capacity. For road base in particular, experts recommend a thickness of 6-8”.

Customer Service

Get Started

Twisted Nail is here to help. If you need something hauled in central Texas, we can get your job done, safely, timely, and reliably.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.