The objective of a pre-trip inspection is to thoroughly evaluate the good working order and safety of a semi truck, trailer and load prior to trip departure. The truck driver is the person responsible for performing a pre-trip inspection and addressing any damage or issues requiring attention.
What does a thorough pre-trip inspection include? It includes major hoses, fluid levels, brakes, tires, lights, couplings, clutch or gear shift, emergency equipment and much more. You must validate that the vehicle is safe to drive on the open road.
There are several reasons to take this activity seriously. First, employers require it. Second, it’s an activity that could save your life. Third, if you’re stopped by law enforcement or a Department of Transportation (DOT) inspector, an inspection violation could result in fines or put your vehicle “out of service.”
Training schools teach the pre-inspection process to truck drivers-in-training and most have their own version of what the process looks like. But, at a high level, here are eight inspection steps that every truck driver should follow before departure:
Check under the hood
- Check oil, windshield wiper fluid and coolant levels.
- Check for oil, fuel, coolant and power steering fluid leaks.
- Make sure all caps (for oil, power steering fluid, etc.) and dipstick are secure.
- Check for fluid running down the side of the engine.
- Examine the hoses for wear, cracking or fraying.
- Inspect fan belts for proper tension and signs of wear and tear.
- Inspect the engine fan for pieces missing from blades.
- Check for exposed wires.
- Check steering axle tires for nails and uneven wear.
- Check shock absorbers, ball joints and kingpins for deterioration and proper lubrication.
Inspect tires, brakes and body
- Examine all tires on your rig and trailer.
- Inspect the airlines and electrical cords to ensure they are properly connected.
- Check the fifth wheel to make sure the coupling to the trailer is secure.
- Check the landing gear.
- Check trailer suspension.
- Examine the brake pads for appropriate thickness.
- Look for proper positioning of brake adjustment indicators.
- Look over the entire rig and trailer for exterior body damage.
Start the vehicle
- Once inside the vehicle, check the seat belt — does it look worn out or frayed?
- Make sure you have the required emergency kit (hazard triangles, fire extinguisher, spare fuses, etc.) and everything is in good working order.
- Depress the clutch and start the engine (in neutral).
- Observe gauges to be sure oil pressure is good and electrical system is charging.
- Gently ease the clutch out slowly and carefully.
- Turn on all lights and flashers and exit the vehicle to validate that they are working.
- Visually inspect the motor, looking for leaks.
- Observe belts for proper tension and that they are turning properly.
- Listen to how your truck sounds and how it smells (this can indicate problems like worn belts or a wheel seal that’s degraded and leaking grease).
Walk around the truck and trailer
- Check for the proper function of lights on the truck and trailer.
- Listen for air leaks as you walk around the unit.
- Check for signs of rust.
- Look for defective reflectors.
Ensure that all trailer wheels are turning as you back up.
- Pull the trailer brake. This will make sure the brake is operating properly and ensure fifth wheel coupling to the trailer.
- Stop the truck with the foot brake.
Complete the required pre-inspection documentation on your log books. Any problems you identify should be documented on your log book (pre-trip inspection report) and the problems should be resolved before you embark on your trip.
It’s the Law
Remember: You are required by law to inspect your truck and trailer before you begin your shift and once within every 24 hours while you’re on the road. Learning to perform a proper pre-trip inspection on your truck from the very beginning of your career will help make your job easier, safer and more enjoyable.