Everything You Need to Know about a Pre-trip Inspection

Truck drivers should be aware of the importance of conducting pre-trip inspections. Unfortunately, not every truck driver takes the time to understand the intricate process and details of the pre-trip inspection. In fact, the process is vital to ensure everything is functional and operating properly.

As sad as it is to say from former experience watching drivers on my 10 hour, there are a massive amount of drivers failing to do a proper pre-trip if at all. That said, it has become one of the most ignored aspect of a truck driver’s job. Comparatively, professional truck drivers do understand the relevance of the pre-trip inspections than inexperienced truckers.

Let’s look at the importance, intricate process, components, and various other aspects of pre-truck trip inspection drivers need to know:

What Exactly is Pre-trip Inspection?

Essentially, a pre-trip revolves around the extensive review of various mechanical aspects of your trailer, load, and truck. The idea is to make sure the truck and trailer are functional and safe before the driver starts the trip. Inspecting your truck and trailer is mandated federally and usually takes about 15 minutes. If you find an issue with your truck, make sure to resolve it before the departure.

Pre-trip Truck Inspection: What Makes It So Important?

Failure to abide by the pre-trip truck inspection can lead to disastrous consequences for yourself and motorists around you. The pre-trip truck inspection process is more than just a cost-effective measure; it helps you stay on the road and avoid unexpected surprises. If your trainer hasn’t told you this enough already, safety is one of the most important parts of your career driving a semi-truck.

Not performing a pre-trip correctly could land you in a situation like this:

pre-trip inspection - blowout
Credit: Matt Martin

DVIRS (Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports)

DVIRS or Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports can be electronic or manual. As of now, federal law dictates that every driver has to submit DVIR on the total operated power unit on each given day. There is a good chance that the DVIR of your trucking company is more thorough. When you do a DVIR, it should take you about 15 minutes to complete in order to check over the mechanical workings of your equipment.

What do you Inspect When you Do a Pre-Trip Inspection?

The main things that are looked at are the parking brake, service brakes, lighting devices, reflectors, horn, wheels, rims, rear vision mirrors, emergency equipment, windshield wipers, and coupling devices. These items are some of the most common issues you’ll face. We made a list of the most common semi breakdowns that you might experience out over the road and some of these tie right in.

Pay Attention to Key Elements of Truck Compliance

If you’re just starting out as a trucker, performing an inspection on a new truck may seem like a time-consuming task. However, keep your eyes fixed on essential factors to ensure compliance of your truck:

– Cab Card and Permits

It is a book that consists of permits, registration, inspection details, IFTA paperwork, cab cards, etc. For instance, you can Weight Distance Tax Permit and Heavy Motor Vehicle Trip permits in your cab card book. Your job is to keep all this paperwork in the truck throughout the trip.

– eLog Device

Professional truck companies mandate truck drivers to keep a functional eLog device.

–  Inspection Sticker and IFTA Stickers

Step out of the truck for a few seconds and see if the inspection sticker is expired. On the other hand, IFTA stickers refer to compliance of tax fuel stickers. Just make sure you have updated stickers for the current year.

–  FMCSA book on Safety Regulations and Hazardous Materials

You can count on your truck company to get these materials. Just make sure you can get your hands on the FMCSA handbook for a quick review.

–  License Plate

Check up on the back and the front license plates and make sure they are both identical.

–  Issued Medical Card

Just like a manual logbook, your medical card should be in your truck.

–  Paperwork Logbook

Without a functional eLog device, you will have to log-in your hours manually. Just make sure the paper logbook stays in your truck – not a local diner.

–  Necessary Supplies

You should be wise to keep a long list of supplies in your truck. For instance, make sure you have extra oil, windshield washer solution, coolant, straps, wrench, hammer, cable cutters, wire cutters, chains, bungee cords, seals, anti-freeze gel, and knife.

–  Emergency Equipment

For starters, you should have charged and secured the fire extinguisher, spare fuses, and at least 3 orange triangles in case of emergencies.

Doing Pre-Trip Inspections

At first, the pre-trip inspection process might come across as overwhelming. But the more you practice, the quicker you can memorize the entire pre-trip inspection protocols. Although most of the pre-trip inspection elements remain the same, don’t generalize an individual trucker’s pre-trip. The trick is to remain consistent about each swapped trailer and ensure thorough pre-trip inspection.

Paperwork, Trailer, and Destination

First, you need to make sure you have the correct and updated paperwork to drive the truck.

Second, your trailer may or may not have a seal. If it does, make sure it is the same one in your paperwork; otherwise, make sure the bills match the products inside the truck. If you plan to drive an empty truck, check back and see if it is empty.

Third, confirm your load assignment destination before departure. Just make sure your destination is listed right on the trip sheet.

10 Things You Need to Check Under the Hood of Your Truck

  1. As a truck driver, your first instinct should be to check the front lights before opening the hood.
  2. Make sure your brake chambers don’t have any grease.
  3. When it comes to fluid levels, check the power steering fluid, oil, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. If your oil filter or power steering cap is loose, make sure to tighten them before driving again.
  4. Make sure there is no fluid leak dripping down from the engine. Also, look out for wear or cracks in the fan belts and make sure there is no sign of wear.
  5. You need to make sure that your alternator, power steering pump, and water pump are working properly. Look for the worn-out signs or extra slack in the belts.
  6. Make sure your steering linkage is not worn out. Simultaneously, take a quick peek at the hub seal and make sure it is not leaking.
  7. Check up on hoses for any tear, crack, or leak. Simultaneously, make sure there is no wear on the wiring.
  8. As far as suspension goes, make sure shocks are in decent condition without any trace of oil or grease.
  9. Your truck tires should be optimal tread depth with an inflated outlook. If you, however, notice any flat spots, get the tire replaced without delay.
  10. As for slack adjusters, make sure it doesn’t travel more than an inch.

It’s easy to miss bad spots on tires if your semi truck or trailer is sitting on top of them, it’s good practice to roll forward a bit so you get a complete visual of your tires.

Credit: Matt Martin

4 Things You Need To Check On the Back of Your Truck

  1. Apart from grease, make sure your driveshaft is not damaged and doesn’t have any accumulated debris in the u-joints.
  2. Make sure your fuel tanks are not leaking.
  3. Check that your truck’s frame doesn’t have any rust, crack, or welds.
  4. Look at your truck’s stairs and catwalk to ensure they are safe, undamaged, and without debris.

4 Things You Need to Check On the Seat

  1. Make sure the water, oil, and air temperature gauges are at normal levels.
  2. Make sure your windshield wipers are functional and can sit flat on top of the windshield. At the same time, you can adjust mirrors to the right angles.
  3. Other items you need to make sure are functional include horn and heat/AC.
  4. Make sure you can easily move around your seat belt.

How to do a Tug Test

A tug test ensures that your fifth wheel is securely locked around the king-pin of the trailer. When you back into a trailer, you’ll hear your fifth wheel lock into place, it’ll sound like a loud click. Once you’ve heard the “click”, you’ll put your truck into drive if automatic or first if you have a manual transmission. Lastly, slowly creep forward to check that your fifth wheel is locked around the king-pin.

If it locked correctly, you’ll feel your truck stop since your trailer brakes are engaged. Otherwise if you’re paying attention, you’ll catch it before the trailer leaves your fifth wheel plate. If you pull too far away the trailer will slide off of your fifth wheel plate onto your drives.

Don’t fret if you do this! If you haven’t already raised your landing gear, slowly back up into the trailer and try to reattach. If your trailer is resting on your drive tires just set your brakes and get out of your truck. Put the landing gear in low gear and crank them down. Yes, it will take a while but this is a far better situation than dropping the trailer completely off of your truck.

Hopefully you don’t run into a situation such as the latter!

What You Should Do After the Pre-Trip Inspection

You can swap another trailer for a new trip, and that means performing another pre-trip inspection on the new trailer. It is an endless cycle that ensures the safety of the truck and the driver. Generally, the post-trip inspection involves removing the airlines, pulling down the landing gear, uncoupling, and checking the lights, tires, mudflaps, and seal of the trailer.

Suggestion for you Slip-Seaters:

You can go home as long as you complete your paperwork. However, make sure to clean out your truck for any trash beforehand. It is a basic human decency and work ethic that truck drivers appreciate the most. Similarly, if you find any issues with the truck, convey the message to the next driver or your company depending on policy.


Even if you have had the experience to perform pre-trip inspections, it is always advantageous to learn more about modern methods. Also, don’t forget the fact that the minimum requirements of a pre-trip inspection can differ and depend on your trucking company, state, truck, and trailer type.

When it comes to regular pre-trip truck inspections, drivers cannot afford to cut corners. Many aspects of a professional truck company’s growth boil down to pre-trip truck inspection. Truckers should think of the inspection as a series of precautionary measures to unlock positive short and long-term prospects.


Part-Time contributor at USABreakdown, Mandy enjoys writing about the trucking industry in her spare time covering topics geared at new truck drivers.

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