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How to safely complete a pre-trip inspection as a truck driver

A female Schneider driver completes a pre-trip inspection of her semi-truck.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

As a truck driver, one of the most important things you will do is perform pre-trip inspections before hitting the road. CDL pre-trip inspections take as long as a driver needs to ensure their tractor and trailer are in good working condition.

If you are new to truck driving, or just need a refresher, we have provided the ultimate guide on how to do a pre-trip inspection.

How to set up for a pre-trip inspection

The most important rule to completing a pre-trip inspection is to do it safely. Prepare your truck for a safe and thorough pre-trip by taking the following steps:

  • Set the brakes.
  • Make sure the transmission is in “N” (first gear for manual).
  • Turn your four-ways on.
  • Activate your brake lights.
  • Turn on the headlights.
  • Turn the truck off and remove the key from the ignition.
  • Exit the truck cab.
  • Open the hood and look for anything loose, leaking or broken.
A female Schneider driver inserts a dipstick into the engine of her truck.

CDL pre-trip inspection checklist

1. Start on the passenger side engine and check:

  • Air filter housing: Secured mounting, cover in place.
  • Windshield washer fluid reservoir: No leaks, proper fluid level.
  • Turbo charger: No oil or exhaust leaks.
  • Engine air duct work: No cuts, secured clamps.
  • Alternator: Secured mounting, no broken or loose wire.
  • Accessory drive belt: Not cracked or frayed.
  • Air conditioner compressor: Secured mounting.

2. Review all five front brake components:

  • Brake drum: No cracks.
  • Brake lining: No cracks or damage.
  • Inner oil seal (not visible): Check for leaks.
    • Look for oil running down brake drum or tire.
  • Slack adjuster: Proper angle to the brake chamber, clevis and cotter pin intact.
  • Brake air line: No bulges or cuts, fitting tight.
  • Brake chamber: Secured mounting bolts, secured band clamp.

3. Inspect the front wheels:

  • Tires: ABCs (abrasions, bulges, cuts), pressure should be 110 PSI, tread depth must be 3/32 minimum, 2/32 DOT.
  • Wheel: Not cracked or bent.
  • Hub oil: Not leaking, at the proper level.
    • If it’s a sealed unit, you won't be able to check the oil level.
  • Oil seal (outer): Not leaking.
  • Valve cap: Secured and in place.
  • Lug nuts: All in place, no streaks or shiny areas, all are tight.
A female Schneider driver looks at the hood of her truck.

4. Look over the driver side of the engine:

  • Radiator brace: Free of cracks, all bolts are in place.
  • Radiator: Secured mounting, leak-free.
  • Water pump: No cracks, no leaks, secured mounting.
  • Fuel water separator and filter: Not leaking, secured mounting.
  • Pitman arm/drag link: Free of cracks, castle nut is secured with cotter pin.
  • Steering gear box: Secured to frame, not leaking.
  • Power steering reservoir: Secured mounting, no leaks, proper level.
  • Dipstick: Oil at the right level, dipstick secured after your check.
  • Steering shaft: Secured and not damaged.
  • Fuel pump: No cracks, not loose or damaged.
  • Engine air ducts: Secured clamps and no cuts in the ducts.
  • Brake master cylinder: Correct fluid level, no leaks.
  • Oil filler cap: Secured, no cracks.
  • Engine coolant reservoir: No leaks, proper fluid level.

5. Examine the steer axle suspension:

  • U-bolts: No cracks, no loose or missing nuts.
  • Leaf spring: No cracks, not loose or shifting.
  • Tie rod: Secured with castle nuts and cotter pins.
  • Shock absorber: Secured mounting, not leaking oil.
  • Axle: Not cracked

6. Walk along the side of the cab:

  • Mirrors: Secured mounting, no broken glass.
    • Clean them as needed.
  • Doors: No damage, glass not broken, secured hinges, opens and closes well.
  • Lights and turn signals: Working, not cracked.
  • Steps: Mounted, secured to skirting.
  • Battery box: Secured mounting, cover is latched.
  • DEF cap: Secured cap.
  • Fuel cap/tank: Gasket and vent in place, cap is secured to the tank by the chain.
  • Side skirting: No damage, secured panels.
  • Side box: Secured, safety triangles present.
  • Side of sleeper berth: No body damage.
  • Sleeper berth window: No cracks.

7. Investigate the rear of the cab:

  • Electrical cord: No bare wire, no corrosion, check the plug at the end of the cord.
  • Air line: Not tangled or worn, rubber grommets not worn, fittings tight.
  • Cab shock absorber: Secured mounting, no leaking oil.
  • Cab air bag (bellows): Not ruptured, secured mounting.

8. Analyze the rear suspension:

  • Spring mount: No cracks, secured mounting.
  • Tires: ABCs (abrasions, bulges, cuts), pressure should be 110 PSI with a tread depth of 3/32 min, 2/32 DOT.
  • Air bag (bellows): Fully inflated, secured mounting, no ruptures.
  • Shock absorber: Secured mounting and free of oil leaks.

9. Survey the drive shaft and rear frame:

  • Drive shaft: Not cracked.
  • Universal joint: Not cracked, no missing bolts or shiny areas.
  • Differential: Not leaking oil.
  • Frame: Straight, no non-factory welds.

10. Check on the fifth wheel area:

  • Pivot pin: Keeper pin and cotter key intact.
  • Slider lock pins: Fully engaged.
  • Release arm: Not bent and in good working order.
  • Slider rail: No broken welds, no missing bolts.
  • Slider stop blocks: No broken welds, no missing bolts.
  • Fifth wheel platform: Well-greased, tilted down.

11. Review the front of the trailer:

  • Top rail: No cracks or collision damage.
  • Clearance lights: Not broken, working properly.
  • Registration: Not missing, readable.
  • Document box: In place and secured.
  • Air line/glad hands: No bulges or cuts in air lines, rubber grommets intact and securely on the glad hands.
  • Electric hook up: No broken pins, cover intact.
  • PM sticker: Make sure it is current and legible.
  • Height sticker: Legible and your height is legal for your route.
  • Placard holder: Intact with no missing rivets.
  • Tracking device: No cracks or collision damage.

12. Inspect the side of the trailer:

  • Top rail: Not cracked, no collision damage.
  • Clearance light: Operational.
  • Marker light: Not cracked, no collision damage, no missing bolts.
  • Landing gear: Legs straight, no broken welds in bracing, secured sand pads, clean with the handle in the cradle.
  • Reflector tape: Clean.
  • Placard holder: Intact with no missing rivets.
  • Side panels: No holes or cuts, no missing rivets.

13. Examine the trailer suspension:

  • Air line: No bulges or cuts, fittings are tight and not rubbing.
  • Axle: Not bent or broken.
  • Clevis pin and cotter key: Intact and secure.
  • Slack adjuster: Proper angle, clevis pin and cotter pin intact.
  • Brake linings: Minimum of ¼ thick, no cracks.
  • Brake drum: No cracks.
  • Tires: (ABCs), tread depth is 3/32 minimum and air pressure is 110 PSI.
  • Spring: Not broken, hasn’t shifted.
  • Spring mount: No broken welds.
  • U bolts: Secured and not cracked.
  • Torque rod: Secured mounting with bushings intact.
  • Spring brake chamber: Secured mounting and band clamp.

14. Look over the rear of the trailer:

  • Latches: Secured, not damaged.
  • Placard holders: Intact with no missing rivets.
  • Reflector tape: Clean.
  • Lights: Fully operational with no broken or missing parts
  • Splash guard: Secured brackets and guards.
  • License plate: Secured mounting, clean, light is operational.
  • Bumper: No damage, no broken welds.
  • Door hooks: Secured, no missing bolts.
  • Hinges: Not cracked, all bolts are in place on both sides.
  • Door seals: No separation, no rubber tubing sticking out.

15. Analyze the gauges and the inside of the truck:

  • Tachometer: 1000-1500.
  • Water temp: 180-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fuel: Matches visual when looking in tank.
  • Def level: Maintain a minimum of one light bar.
  • Oil pressure: 25-50 PSI.
  • Speedometer: 0-60 MPH.
  • Air pressure: 90-120 PSI.

When should Class A CDL pre-trip inspections be completed?

It is necessary for truck drivers to do a pre-trip inspection at any of the following times:

  • At the start of each work day.
  • Every 24 hours.
  • Any time they pick up a new trailer.
  • After all 10-hour breaks.

Please note this is an example of how to complete a CDL pre-trip inspection. It is important to remember the type of driver you are, the company you work for and the type of truck you drive can impact how you do a pre-trip. Be sure to consult your company guidelines or speak with your leader for more information about pre-tripping.

Looking for more truck driver guides and how-tos?

See more of our truck driver blogs that cover everything from how to slide tandems on a trailer to how to back up a tractor-trailer.

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Schneider Guy loves the "Big Orange." He's passionate about the trucking industry and connecting people to rewarding careers within it. He's been the eyes and ears of our company since our founding in 1935, and he's excited to interact with prospective and current Schneider associates through "A Slice of Orange."

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