The Ultimate Guide to a CDL Pre-Trip Inspection

By R Scott Leonard-Barkley Sep 1, 2016

As a truck driver, you should perform a pre-trip inspection daily to make sure you’re road-worthy before you pound the pavement. Here at Schneider, our No. 1 core value is safety, which means we take pre-trip inspections very seriously.

We also know that a lot goes into a comprehensive pre-trip inspection, and it can be difficult to memorize everything on your path to receiving your commercial driver’s license (CDL). Even the most veteran truck drivers can benefit from a thorough refresher. That’s why we’ve created this ultimate guide. Use it to confirm that your vehicle is in proper working condition so you and those you will share the road with stay safe.

It’s important to ensure that your vehicle’s major components will operate as designed when you get behind the wheel. You need to check not only at the start of each day, but once every 24 hours, every time you pick up a new trailer and after every 10-hour break.

When you’re ready to start your pre-trip inspection:

  1. Make sure you have a hammer, flashlight and gloves.
  2. Check that the parking brakes are set and transmission is in first gear. If your tractor has an automated transmission, then place wheel chocks under the drive tires.
  3. Switch your four-ways on, activate brake lights and turn on headlights.
  4. Remove the key, exit the cab and open your hood.

Note: At no time during the inspection is it acceptable to be under your truck or trailer while the engine is running.

You’ll begin your pre-trip inspection under the hood, at the passenger side of the cab, working counter-clockwise to the front, then to the driver’s side. The purpose of this inspection is to look for anything broken, missing, disconnected, unsecure, loose or leaking. As you go through the process, remember to clean lights and reflectors as needed!

You are now ready to follow the sequential steps below for a successful pre-trip inspection:

1. Under the hood. Open the hood and look for any unusual items attached to your truck. This includes evaluating both sides of the engine, any hoses and electrical wiring, the radiator, water pump, accessory drive belts, power steering reservoir, engine air duct work, turbo charger, air filter housing, air compressor, fuel/water separator, fuel filter, fuel pump, coolant, windshield washer fluid, oil, frame rail, air conditioning compressor, air dryer, alternator, brake air lines, brake chambers, slack adjusters, brake linings (not less than 10/32”), brake drums, springs, spring mounts, shock absorbers, tires, tire pressure (120 psi), tread depth (5/32” or more), wheels, lug nuts, valve caps, hub oil, steering gear box and steering linkage.

2. Left side of cab. Check the steps, under the cab and on top of the cab for unusual items attached to your truck. This includes evaluating your mirror, turn signal, lights, door, side skirting, steps, fuel tank/cap (remove cap to ensure the gasket is in place, vent(s) are in place and the chain secures cap to the tank), reflectors/reflective tape, side of the sleeper, sleeper berth window glass and the Department of Transportation (DOT) annual inspection sticker.

3. Rear of cab. Check the chain box, battery box, fuel tanks, exhaust and chassis for unusual items. This includes evaluating airlines, the electrical cord, cab suspension, cross members, frame, drive shaft and battery box.

4. Front of trailer. This includes evaluating airlines, the electrical cord, registration, body panels, the preventative maintenance (PM) sticker, height sticker, lights and reflectors/reflective tape.

5. Coupling. This includes evaluating the release arm, fifth wheel mount, stop blocks, slide locking pins, fifth wheel pivot pins and pin locks, platform, apron, kingpin, gap and locking bar/jaw. Always use a flashlight when checking for correct coupling.

6. Left-side drive axles and suspension. Check the wheels, brakes, tires and suspension components for unusual items or modifications. Check for any abrasions, bulges or cuts. This also includes evaluating the tires, air pressure (100 psi), tread depth (6/32” or more), wheels, lug nuts, hub oil seals, valve caps, air lines, brake chambers, brake linings (not less than 10/32”), slack adjusters, drums, linings, air bags, shock absorbers, springs, spring mounts, U-bolts, torque rods, splash guards and lights.

7. Left side of trailer. Inspect the sides and underneath the trailer for unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating the lights, reflectors/reflective tape, landing gear, underside, frame, top and bottom rails, body panels, tandem release handle, locking pins and air lines.

8. Trailer suspension. Check wheels, brakes, tires and suspension components for unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating the tires, air pressure (100 psi), tread depth (3/32” or more), wheels, lug nuts, hub oil seals, valve caps, air lines, brake chambers, brake linings (not less than 9/32”), slack adjusters, drums, linings, springs, spring mounts, shock absorbers, U-bolts, torque rods and air tanks.

9. Rear of trailer. Check the security of your seals, doors, hinges and bumper to make sure they are free of unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating the lights, reflectors/reflective tape, doors, door seals, door chains, door hooks, hinges, latches, license plate, splash guards and seal/padlock. If it is an empty trailer, check for damage or leads to nose, roof or floor.

10. Trailer suspension. Check wheels, brakes, tires and suspension components for unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating the tires, wheels, lug nuts, hub oil seals, valve caps, air lines, brake chambers, slack adjusters, drums, linings, springs, spring mounts, shock absorbers, U-bolts, torque rods and air tanks.

11. Right side of trailer. Inspect the sides and underneath the trailer for unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating the lights, reflectors/reflective tape, landing gear, underside, frame, top and bottom rail, body panels and tandem locking pins.

12. Right-side drive axles and suspension. Check wheels, brakes, tires and suspension components for unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating tires, air pressure (100 psi), tread depth (6/32” or more), wheels, lug nuts, hub oil seals, valve caps, air lines, brake chambers, brake linings (not less than 10/32”), slack adjusters, drums, linings, air bags, shock absorbers, springs, spring mounts, U-bolts, torque rods and splash guards.

13. Front of trailer. This includes evaluating the fifth wheel mount, stop blocks, slider locking pins, fifth wheel pivot pins and pin locks, lights, reflectors/reflective tape and body panels.

14. Rear of cab. Check that your seals, doors, hinges and bumper are secure. Then look for unusual items or modifications. This includes evaluating your chain box, battery box, fuel tanks, exhaust and chassis.

15. Right side of cab. Check steps, under cab and top of cab for unusual items attached to your truck. This includes evaluating the mirror, turn signal, lights, door, side skirting, steps, fuel tank/cap, reflectors/reflective tape, side of the sleeper, sleeper berth window glass, safety triangles and fuses.

16. Close hood. Check the steps, under the cab and on top of cab for unusual items attached to your truck. This includes evaluating the latch, hood mirrors and mirror brackets.

17. Front of tractor. This includes evaluating the bumper, license plate securement, windshield and lights. Check headlights and marker/clearance, and ensure the ID lights are operational and the lens is clean, not cracked or broken.

18. Inside driver’s door. This includes evaluating your clutch free play (2”–3”), accelerator, brake pedal, permit book and fire extinguisher.

19 Inside cab. Cancel brake lights and four-ways, and check turn signal/high-beam indicators. With headlights off, start the engine and check gauges, steering free play (10 degrees, or approximately 2” at the rim of a 20” steering wheel with the engine running), horn, heater/defroster, shift lever, windshield wipers/washer and in-cab air brake tests. After the in-cab air brake tests, remove the wheel chocks, if applicable.

Now that you know that everything is fastened down, secure and appropriately connected, your pre-trip inspection is complete, and you’re all set to drive safely on the road.

Safe travels!

What questions do you have about performing a proper pre-trip inspection?

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About the Author

R Scott Leonard-Barkley IMG

Scott began his career in this industry with Schneider in April 1999. He came to Schneider without any prior driving experience or a CDL. Schneider developed him into a professional driver and from there he went on to drive solo, team, dedicated, flatbed, tanker, regional and over-the-road. He has been a training engineer, road instructor and classroom instructor. He currently is a member of the Curriculum Development team for Schneider’s driver training.

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