A Comprehensive Guide to Pre-Trip Inspections for Truck Drivers

August 03, 2022

If you're a trucker or thinking about becoming a trucker, then you need to understand pre-trip inspections. This is the time when drivers check their truck, trailer, and load for any damage or issues that could cause problems while on the road. A pre-trip inspection should be completed because a pre-trip inspection will help you save time and money, avoid breakdowns, and ensure a safe trip. What’s not to like?

This guide will answer all of your questions about pre-trip inspections, from how often should pre-drive checks be performed to what items should a post trip inspection include.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about pre-trip inspections, including what to check for and how to do a thorough truck inspection. There are many different things truckers need to check during their pre-trip inspection, like the engine, fluids, brakes, lights, and tires just to name a few. But don't worry because our guide on pre-trip inspections will help you to become an expert and you will be able to perform a thorough pre-trip inspection like a pro!

 

Here is the outline of everything we will go over. Feel free to jump ahead to the information you're looking for.

  1. What is a pre-trip inspection?
  2. Why are pre-trip inspections so important for truck drivers?
  3. What is a DVIR?
  4. Pre-trip Inspection Checklist for truck drivers

Now, let's get started!

What is a pre-trip inspection?

Pre-trip inspections are an important safety measure that all truck drivers are required to perform before every trip. Required by federal law, pre-trip inspections are also a great way for drivers to familiarize themselves with their equipment. Truckers need to know their equipment inside and out so that they can spot any potential problems before they become serious.

 

Once you are a pro at pre-trip inspections, they shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes and you will be able to check your entire truck in a 10 minute inspection. Truck inspections must be carried out by the driver while on duty, but before driving starts, and at least once every 24 hours while on duty. Performing a pre-trip inspection may seem like a lot of work (especially in the heat, we get it), but it is worth it to avoid the mechanical, financial, and legal issues that can occur due to a breakdown on the road. 

Now that we know what a pre-trip inspection is, let's move on to why they are so important for truck drivers.

Why are pre-trip inspections so important for truck drivers?

Truck drivers have a lot on their plates - long hours, tight deadlines, and heavy traffic. With so much to worry about, it's easy to see how a pre-trip inspection might be overlooked or forgotten. However, these pre-trip inspections are essential for keeping both drivers and their loads safe. It may seem like a lot of work to perform a pre-trip inspection every day, but it's a daydream compared to the consequences of missing a truck inspection.

A pre-trip inspection will help you:

  • Avoid major delays in your schedule caused by breakdowns.
  • Reduce the risk of an improperly-secured load which can be dangerous.
  • Save money on costly repairs by performing preventative maintenance.
  • Avoid increases in your insurance which can occur even if you were not at fault. Ex. if you can't show proof that a pre-trip inspection was done, or it was improperly completed, or if you did not address known issues.
  • If audited, you can be fined and your CSA score will be affected due to ignoring pre-trip inspections or not resolving found issues. 

In short, pre-trip inspections may be one more thing on a truck driver's to-do list, but they are definitely worth the effort if you want to avoid the consequences above!

Now that we've gone over why performing a pre-trip inspection is important, let's move on to what you should inspect before every trip.

What is a DVIR? 

Every driver must submit a DVIR, or a Daily Vehicle Inspection Report, for each unit they operate, according to federal law (FMCSR Section 396.11). Multiple trailers can go on the same report and a DVIR can be either electronic or paper. Unfortunately, not all trucking companies enforce this policy, so you will have unsafe drivers going months or even years without submitting a DVIR. Not only are you required by law to log your pre-trip inspection, but you will also want this documentation in the case that someone places a claim against you. You can now see why it is important to do your pre-trip inspection daily and have it documented. 



FMCSA Pre-trip inspection checklist for truck drivers

A pre-trip inspection should be completed with your truck and trailer together unless you’re bobtailing to pick up your trailer. The most effective way to memorize everything you need to inspect before rolling out is to do your pre-trip inspection the same way each time. The most effective technique to memorize everything you need to check before going on a trip is to follow the same procedure every time. Eventually, you will create your own order of inspecting the sections of your equipment. It's best to do your truck inspection first thing in the morning, plus each time you swap trailers.

 

Let's go over the list of items you will need to check for a proper pre-trip inspection. If you are a beginner, we recommend you print out and keep this list with you until you no longer need it. You can also google 'Pre-Trip Inspection Checklists for Truck Drivers' to find plenty of resources made specifically for truckers.

 

Your Trailer and Paperwork

  1. Make a habit of checking your paperwork first thing when starting your pre-trip inspection.
  2. Double-check that the trailer number is the same as your paperwork.
  3. Make sure the seal matches your paperwork if your trailer is sealed.
  4. If your trailer is unsealed, check inside if the shipment matches what is on your paperwork.
  5. Empty trailer? Double-check inside the trailer so you don't roll off with one pallet of freight, causing you to have to go back.
  6. Finally, double-check that your delivery is the same on your bills as your load assignment or trip sheet. Let your dispatcher know if they don't match up.

1. Start your truck inspection at the front

Let's start your vehicle walk around inspection by checking the following components: 

  1. Lights - Check that your lights, warning lights, and turn signals are properly working. Check lenses are clean.
  2. Air Compressor - Check for a proper build-up of air pressure. Check for leaks.
  3. Radiator - Check for leaks. Check that fins are clear of debris.
  4. Fluid Levels - Check your fluids: oil, coolant, power steering, fuel, and windshield washer. Check that caps are tight for your radiator and power steering. Check your dip-stick is properly seated.
  5. Water Pump, Alternator, Power Steering Pump - Make sure they are working and the belts don't have too much slack or are worn out.
  6. Oil Pressure Gauge - Check that it's properly working.
  7. Belts - Check for proper tension.
  8. Wiring - Check for wear.
  9. Hoses - Check for cracks, leaks, and tears.
  10. Steering Linkage - Check for missing or worn parts.
  11. Engine Block - Look out for any leaks, wear, fraying, or cracking. Also, any fluid running down the side of the engine. Check your fan belts for signs of wear and proper tension. Look under the truck for signs of fluid on the ground.

 

2. Continuing your truck inspection to the back of your truck

Moving on with your truck inspection, It makes sense to head here because it's easier to check before you hook a trailer.

  1. Tires - Properly inflated. Decent thread. Replace if there are flat spots.
  2. Brakes - Your brake chambers should be grease-free and should not be out of round. The shoes should not be worn down too much. When checking brakes, include the parking brakes, air brakes, and hydraulic braking systems.
  3. Suspension - Check that your shocks and airbags are in good condition, without grease or oil covering them.
  4. Hub Seal - Should not be leaking. Wipe with oil if it is transparent.
  5. Slack Adjusters - If your slack adjusters move more than an inch when you pull them, they should be adjusted.
  6. Drive Shaft - Should be free of grease and undamaged. Double-check for debris in the u-joints.
  7. Fifth Wheel - Properly greased and should not be broken.
  8. Fuel Tanks - No cracks or leaks.
  9. Battery Area - Check for adequate starting power and that charges are holding.
  10. Stairs and Catwalk - Free of debris. Not broken.
  11. Frame - No welds, no cracks, and no major rust.

3. DOT inspection requirements for tires

  • Drives and tandems - Inflated to 100-110 PSI. Minimum tread of 2/32 in.
  • Steer tires - Inflated to 110-120 PSI. Minimum tread of 4/32 in. 
  • Check with a tire gauge. Tire thumpers aren't reliably accurate, so make it a habit to check with a tire gauge. Tires under 50 PSI cannot retain enough tire pressure and should be replaced.
  • Replace tires with flat spots. When you try to slide the tandems or drag them in the winter, flat spots can occur on the tires.
  • Check for damage, nails, and punctures on the tires. Tires should have no cuts, gouges, or bubbles. There should be no space between the rims and tires.
  • Check the lug nuts. Make sure to tighten loose wheel fasteners. Look for rust around the lug nuts. This can be a sign that the tire can come loose because the bolt hole is widening.

 

4. In-cab inspection

Time to get your truck started and do your in-cab inspection.

  1. Gauges - Check that your oil, water, and air temp gauges function properly and rise to normal levels.
  2. Heat and A/C -  Check for heat and air conditioning.
  3. Mirrors - Check that they are clean, properly adjusted, and not cracked.
  4. Windshield Wipers - Check that they are working properly and sitting flat against the windshield.
  5. Seat Belt -  Check that it's in good condition and not frayed. Don't forget to put it on when driving!
  6. Horn - Honk to make sure it works! You will be glad you did when you need it. City and air horn should be working properly.
  7. Windows - Make sure they're clean and crack-free.

5. Performing your tug test during your truck inspection

For the next part of your pre-trip inspection, it’s time to hook up to your trailer. It is important to test your connection to the trailer by performing a tug test. This way you can test that your coupling system and the brakes are up to DOT requirements for trailers.

To perform a tug test during your pre-trip inspection, back up under your trailer until you hear the click. If you pull away from your trailer during the tug test, you weren't hooked properly. If you pull the trailer with you, the trailer brakes are out of adjustment. If the brakes are out of adjustment, it's important that you write up the incident so that the maintenance team can have it fixed before you or another driver takes the equipment out on the road.

 

Next, you should check your:

  1. Headlights and 4-Way Flashers - Make sure they turn on and work properly.
  2. Airlines and Pigtails - Hook up your airlines, pigtails, and electrical connections. Check that they aren't leaking or ripped.
  3. Fifth Wheel - Check that your fifth wheel arm is coupled under the trailer. Check that the arm is locked in place.
  4. Landing Gear - Raise and check for damage.



6. Pre-trip inspecting your bulkhead

The next step in your pre-trip inspection is to check the front of your trailer, also known as the bulkhead.

  1. Wall - Check for any damage on the wall.
  2. Inspection Sticker - Check for a DOT inspection sticker. Make sure it's up to date to meet the DOT requirements for trailers.
  3. Registration Paperwork - Make sure the registration is valid by checking the front trailer box.
  4. (Reefer Units) - When pulling a reefer, start the 'Pre-trip' function on the unit to run it. It should finish before your pre-trip inspection is finished.

 

7. DOT requirements for trailers and tandems

You're almost done with your pre-trip inspection! It's time to check the tandems, as well as the side of your trailer.

  1. Wall - No damage.
  2. Lights - Should turn on and flash properly.
  3. Reflectors - Check that they are free of any dirt or debris. No cracks, peeling, or missing pieces.
  4. Tires - Inflated properly. Decent thread. Flat spots need to be replaced.
  5. Hub Seals - Not leaking. If they are transparent, wipe them down with oil.
  6. Brakes - Should not be out of round. Free of grease. The shoes should not show too much wear.
  7. Suspension - Check that airbags and springs are in good condition and not covered in grease or oil.
  8. Tandem Pins - Locked in position. The slider arm should be in its cradle.
  9. Tandem Cables - Shouldn't be dragging on the ground.
  10. Underbelly - No damaged beams under the trailer. Be sure by checking the entire length.
  11. Mud Flaps - No tears. Should not be hanging.

8. DOT inspection requirements - Back of the trailer

The next step in your pre-trip inspection is to check the back of your trailer.

  1. Doors and Hinges - Should not be damaged.
  2. Latches - Should be closed and secured.
  3. Lights - Should be on and flashing.
  4. Seal - Should be intact. Should match your paperwork!
  5. DOT Bumper - No damage.
  6. License Plate - Check that your license plate hasn't fallen off and is not worn out.

9. Finishing your truck inspection with the passenger side

Finally, it's time to check the passenger side during your vehicle walk-around inspection.

  1. Wall - No damage.
  2. Lights - Should be on and flashing.
  3. Tires - Properly inflated. Decent tread. Tires with flat spots need to be replaced.
  4. Brakes - Should not be out of round. Should be free of grease.
  5. Suspension - Check that your airbags and springs are in good condition. Should not be covered in oil or grease.
  6. Mud Flaps - No tears. Should not be hanging.

10. Don’t forget your emergency kit for a full truck inspection

Not only do DOT inspection requirements say that you have to carry a properly working emergency kit in the case of an emergency, but you will be glad that your equipment is working when the time comes for you to use it. Now is a good time to check.

  1. Fire Extinguisher - Should be working and readily available for use.
  2. Spare Fuse - At least one spare for each type of fuse you will need for accessories and parts.
  3. Warning Device - For stopped vehicles. Reflective triangles.
  4. Warning Flags - Usually red flags that stand in an upright position.

Minimum DOT Inspection Requirements

Now that you know how to do a thorough pre-trip inspection, you can be confident in your ability to do a full vehicle walk-around inspection to ensure that you will have a safe trip. After completing a thorough truck inspection (usually when first receiving the truck or when slip-seating), drivers will check specific points of their equipment listed below:

  • Tires
  • Wheels and rims
  • Parking brake
  • Service brakes - includes trailer brake connections
  • Steering mechanism
  • Horn
  • Lighting devices and reflectors
  • Coupling devices
  • Windshield wipers
  • Rear vision mirrors
  • Emergency equipment 

It is important to realize that these minimum DOT inspection requirements are set by the FMCSA, but they might vary depending on the state, type of trucking company, type of truck, or type of trailer. As a professional truck driver, it's your responsibility to perform a thorough truck inspection. Make your life as a truck driver easier and avoid headaches, fines, and preventable accidents by taking the pre-trip inspection process seriously.

Post-trip inspection

We've also added a section for post-trip inspections for when you arrive at your destination or are finished with your trip. It is also best practice to perform a post-trip inspection when switching trailers.

 

A post-trip inspection consists of:

  • Lowering your landing gear.
  • Removing the airlines.
  • Uncoupling and walking around the trailer to check the lights, tires, seals, and mudflaps.

You have finished your pre-trip inspection!

Congratulations, you have thoroughly checked every component on your pre-trip inspection list. Now, you can hop in your truck and roll out knowing that your truck is in good condition for the road. Release the air brakes, roll forward, and push the service brake!

 

Conclusion

Truck drivers, don't forget to do your pre-trip inspections! A pre-trip inspection will help you keep yourself and your cargo safe. Not only that, but if you do your truck inspections properly you can avoid costly maintenance and fines from the DOT.  Be sure to use our handy pre-trip inspection checklist to make sure you don't miss anything. And if you need a little more help, our team at MigWay is here for you. We help truck drivers drive their careers further by working with a company that values the safety and the success of their team above all else. Ready to hit the road? Give us a call today!

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