Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist for Truckers

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The most important element of a truck driver’s daily routine is the pre-trip inspection. Pairing a comprehensive pre-trip inspection with a regular preventative truck maintenance schedule is key to ensuring your safety and the safety of others on the road. To give you an idea of how essential the pre-trip inspection is, consider that drivers are required by law to record at least one inspection per day.

Finding and fixing mechanical defects early is essential to functioning as a safe operator.

What is a Pre-trip Inspection?

The pre-trip inspection is the process of thoroughly examining the truck before starting a new journey. It ensures the safety of the driver and the others sharing the road with them by identifying and addressing mechanical issues early on, so truckers can prevent unexpected breakdowns, delays, and potential accidents. 

Drivers must record at least one pre-trip inspection per day. Learning the process is crucial for obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL) and continuing a successful career in the industry. 

Benefits of a Truck Pre-Trip Inspection

Aside from being a requirement, here are some benefits of conducting a thorough pre-trip inspection:

  • Safety is prioritized by the early identification of potential mechanical issues, ensuring a secure journey for truck drivers and others on the road.
  • Early detection and resolution of mechanical problems during this essential routine lead to reduced delays and costly repairs.
  • Regulatory compliance is showcased as pre-trip inspections are a legal requirement, reflecting professionalism and commitment to safety.
  • Smooth schedules are maintained as pre-trip inspections help prevent unexpected breakdowns and disruptions.
  • Early issue identification and timely repairs achieve cost savings and prolonged vehicle lifespan.
  • Improved fuel efficiency results from ensuring components like tires and engines are in top condition.
  • Trust and professionalism are earned by conducting regular inspections, leaving a positive impression on clients, employers, and regulators.
  • Reduced on-road accidents are promoted by verifying lights and brakes are in optimal condition.
  • Boosted driver confidence is achieved by confirming the truck's peak condition, enabling worry-free journeys.

This powerful routine keeps us safe, compliant, and efficient on our trucking journey.

15-minute Pre-trip Inspection Checklist

A properly conducted pre-trip inspection is a core proficiency evaluated during the CDL exam. The most efficient way to prepare for the pre-trip inspection exam is to use a checklist. Practice using the checklist several times a day until you have the process memorized and have mastered this important truck driver skill. It will serve you well in helping you obtain your CDL and will continue to benefit you throughout your career.

It may seem overwhelming and difficult at first, but with practice, the pre-trip inspection will become a habit. To help you, we’ve prepared this pre-trip inspection guide.

A good starting point is the FMCSA and its regulations concerning the pre-trip inspection. Different companies have produced their pre-trip inspection checklists, so it’s a good idea to consult your company’s guidance and compare it with the FMCSA regulations to ensure you are conducting a compliant inspection. 

Some common elements you will encounter on most checklists include:

1. Tire Inspection

Every 10 ° F change in air temperature can make vehicle, truck, and light truck tires lose one psi pressure. A tire with low pressure has a negative effect on the distance needed to stop and miles per gallon of gas.

Ensure no foreign objects are between the wheels and no space between tires and rims. Evaluate the tires for sufficient tread depth and look for cuts, bubbles, or gouges. 

Insufficient treads increase the likelihood of losing control from hydroplaning or sliding on standing water, snow, or ice. This is an especially important detail when preparing to drive your truck in winter weather conditions.

2. Lights and Reflectors Check

Verify the proper functioning of exterior lights, turn signals, warning lights, and clean lenses for maximum visibility. Ensure reflectors are free of dirt or debris and intact without cracks or missing pieces.

3. Brake Examination

Assess the brake system both inside the cab and externally. Verify proper brake adjustment with the slack adjuster, inspect brake linings for the appropriate thickness, and ensure air lines are free from damage, leaks, and properly sealed. This includes checking air brakes, parking brakes, and hydraulic braking systems.

4. Engine Inspection

Check the engine compartment for various components, such as the radiator, air compressor, steering gearbox, water pump, belts, hoses, and wiring.

5. Fuel Tank and Battery Check

Visually examine the fuel tank and battery area to ensure no cracks or leaks. Verify the battery levels for sufficient power and proper charging.

6. Fluid Inspection

Inspect fluids under the truck for signs of leaks, including fuel, oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Check fluid levels and assess the condition of hoses, belts, and wires for safe operation. Pay special attention to the oil pressure gauge for proper functionality.

7. Windshield 

Chipped, cracked, or deteriorated glass weakens the final barrier that prevents the driver from being thrown during an accident and can inhibit clear road visibility. Also worn-out wipers will reduce visibility when driving in the rain or snow.

8. Emergency Kit

Road flares, triangles, and a fire extinguisher are the emergency equipment necessary to safeguard the vehicle and the driver should an accident or breakdown occur and must not be missing or broken. The fire extinguisher must be easily accessible, with a current inspection, and maintain the appropriate PSI. 

9. Mirrors with Swivel Mounts

Frozen or loose mirrors prevent the driver from properly adjusting them to cover blind spots. It can create a greater risk of hitting the side or colliding when turning.

10. Coupling System Assessment

Examine the coupling system, paying close attention to the kingpin and sliding fifth wheel locking pin. Check the condition of air lines, apron, electrical connections, gap, glad hands, locking jaws, mounting bolt, platform, release arm, and a skid plate that connects the trailer to the cab.

11. Cabin InspectionTemperature

Inside the cabin, check the seat belts for wear or fray and ensure a snug fit. Assess the operation and functionality of inside and outside mirrors, seat position, steering wheel, pedals, windshield, wipers, horns, lights, and gauges. Make sure all alerting systems, including ABS lights, are working correctly.

Verify the temperature, controls that are not working properly can produce physical stress, fatigue, and distraction while driving.

12. Trailer Examination

Conduct a thorough inspection of the trailer for mechanical defects that might hinder secure mounting to the tractor. Look for holes, cracks, breaks, bends, or missing rivets in the headboard, frame, release pins, cross members, release handles, locking pins, doors, and hinges.

13. Back of the Truck Inspection

Before hooking up to a trailer, check the back of the truck for properly inflated tires with decent tread, undamaged brake chambers, intact shocks and airbags, a clean driveshaft without debris in the u-joints, a sturdy and unbroken frame, well-greased fifth wheel, and leak-free fuel tanks. Also, inspect stairs and catwalks for cleanliness and integrity.

A thorough pre-trip inspection should take approximately 15 to 30 minutes to complete.

How to Properly Report a Pre-trip Inspection?

According to current guidelines by the FMCSA, at least one inspection must be logged in your hours of service each day. Previously, drivers were also required to fill out a pre-trip inspection report each day. However, recent changes in the guidelines now only require you to fill out an inspection report for the purpose of recording a defect found during your inspection. If you have uncovered no defects, you are no longer required to fill out the inspection report. 

Companies such as JJ Keller produce market inspection reports that you can keep on board your truck in the event you need to fill one out. Additionally, you can, in a pinch, use these reports as a checklist if you are still unfamiliar with the pre-trip inspection process. 

Regardless of how long you’ve been working as a truck driver or how many other trucker safety tips you follow, the pre-trip inspection will serve you well to keep you safe as you go about your day. Discovering critical defects early can be the difference between making it to your next stop and ending up broken down on the side of the road, or even worse, involved in a preventable accident.

Download Your Free Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist for Trucks

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I perform a pre-trip inspection?

It should be conducted before every journey, ensuring the vehicle's safety and readiness for the road.

How long does a pre-trip inspection typically take to complete?

It usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete, depending on the complexity of the vehicle and the driver's familiarity with the checklist.

Can I skip a pre-trip inspection if I'm in a rush?

Never skip a pre-trip inspection. Not only is the inspection a legal requirement, but also it is essential for your safety and the safety of others on the road.

Can I keep a pre-filled inspection report for daily use?

While it might seem convenient, it is not recommended. The pre-trip inspection report is meant to reflect the vehicle's actual condition. Using a pre-filled report without physical inspection may lead to inaccuracies and compromise safety.

Can I delegate the pre-trip inspection?

The pre-trip inspection is the driver's responsibility to operate the vehicle. While others can assist, the driver remains accountable for ensuring it is conducted correctly.

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