Pre-Trip Inspection Tips for Commercial Truck Drivers

Pre-Trip Inspection Tips for Commercial Truck Drivers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at the Department of Labor requires that every commercial vehicle driver complete a pre-trip check. A pre-trip truck inspection involves a thorough examination of the vehicle and its essential systems. The driver must complete this examination while on duty but before starting to travel. 

When the check is complete, any issues must be identified, and corrections must be made.  

Drivers Should Expect to Spend 15 to 30 Minutes on the Average Pre-Trip Inspection  

No laws require a pre-trip inspection to take a specified amount of time. An examination should last as long as required to guarantee that the vehicle is fit for driving and has had the appropriate maintenance. An average inspection might take between 15 and 30 minutes if no issues are found. 

Inspections shouldn’t be rushed. Things that put drivers and others in danger are simple to overlook. 

Truck Drivers’ Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist 

Drivers are required to log every pre-trip inspection. This is required both by federal law and to protect the driver and their employer against claims. There are several areas a pre-trip inspection checklist should cover.  

The Engine Compartment  

The driver should check the following components inside the engine compartment:  

  • Radiator 
  • Air compressor 
  • Steering gearbox 
  • Steering linkage 
  • Water pump 
  • Alternator 
  • Belts 
  • Hoses and wiring 

The Fuel Tank and Battery 

The fuel tank and battery area should be visually checked to ensure there are no leaks or cracks. Battery levels should be checked to ensure they can start the truck and hold a charge.  

The Fluids  

Look under the truck to make sure there are no fluids that have collected under it. This could include fuel, oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. In addition to looking for leaks, make sure that all components have adequate fluid levels. Check all of the following: 

  • Power steering fluid 
  • Coolant 
  • Oil 
  • Windshield wiper fluid 
  • Fuel 

If any fluids are low, top them off.  

The Brakes 

Faulty brakes are a serious issue. A thorough pre-trip inspection should include checking the brakes in the cab and externally. This can be done by: 

  • Checking the brake adjustment with a slack adjuster to make sure of alignment 
  • Inspecting the thickness of the brake linings  
  • Double-checking that the airlines are not damaged, aren’t leaking, and are sealed correctly 

Remember that checking the brakes includes the air brake, parking brake, and hydraulic brakes.  

The Tires  

Safe tires make for safer driving. The first step is to check the amount of tread on the tires. Then look for cuts, bubbles, or gouges. Any foreign object in the tire is a red flag. This includes stones or other large debris.  

Make sure there are also no foreign objects between the wheels and no gaps between the tires and rims. Tire pressure should be checked as well.  

The Wheel Lug Nuts 

Loose wheel lug nuts can make tires unsafe even if your tires are in great shape. Tighten any are that are loose. If there is any rust, this could mean the bolt hole is getting wider. This can lead to loose tires and serious danger.  

The Coupling System  

An undetected issue within the coupling system can lead to lost loads. Look at the kingpin and sliding fifth-wheel locking pin. You can also take a look at all other materials that connect the trailer and cab, such as the airlines, apron, gap, locking laws, electrical connections, glad hands, skid plate, mounting bolt, release arm, and platform.  

The Lights and Reflectors  

Driving at night is more dangerous for numerous reasons, including the fact that it’s harder for other vehicles and pedestrians to see trucks. This is why it’s essential to make sure that exterior lights and reflectors are correctly working and attached.  

Each pre-trip inspection should involve the following: 

  • Check that lights are working 
  • Check that warning lights are working 
  • Check turn signals 
  • Clean lenses to increase visibility  

Your reflectors should be checked to make sure that: 

  • They’re not faded 
  • There is no dirt 
  • There is no debris 
  • They are free from cracks 
  • They have not peeled 
  • They are not missing pieces 

Checking reflectors is one of the most commonly overlooked steps during a pre-trip inspection. Do not make the mistake of heading out on the road without clean reflectors in proper working order.  

The Trailer  

Check to ensure that the tractor is securely mounted. Check the following:  

  • Headboard 
  • Frame 
  • Release handles 
  • Crossmembers  
  • Release pins 
  • Locking pins 
  • Doors 
  • Hinges 

The above should be checked for holes, breaks, bends, cracks, or missing rivets.  

The Cabin 

Start by checking the seatbelts to ensure there is no wear or fray and that the seatbelt fits snuggly when secured. Buckle the belt and then tug on it sharply to determine if it will stay locked in the event of an accident.  

Check the seat positions, mirrors (both inside and out), steering wheel, and pedals to make sure they are adjusted (or can be adjusted) correctly. Turn on the windshield wipers to ensure they’re working correctly, and engage the horn to do the same.  

Check the windshield for chips or cracks. Look at the lights and gauges on the dash to ensure there are no lit warnings.  

The Emergency Kit  

Every commercial truck must have an emergency kit, and it must be properly outfitted. It should include the following:  

  • Non-expired fire extinguishers that are ready to be used 
  • One+ spare fuse for every type of fuse in all parts and accessories  
  • Bidirectional reflective triangles or similar warning devices for stopped trucks  
  • Red warning flats that can remain upright  

Everything in the emergency kit should be ready to use and in good condition. It is not enough to simply check that it is there. You should also check the contents to ensure they’re in good shape, that they’re organized so that you can quickly grab what you need if necessary, and that it is centrally stored.  

Four Reasons a Pre-Trip Inspection is Essential  

Yes, pre-trip inspections take time. But they are truly essential for these four and many other reasons.  

1. Pre-Trip Inspections Help Keep Everyone Safe  

When done correctly, pre-trip inspections can detect many potential hazards that could lead to dangerous situations. The old adage “better safe than sorry” couldn’t be truer. Just 15 to 30 minutes of a driver’s day could save someone’s life.  

2. Pre-Trip Inspections Can Help Prevent Costly Truck Repairs  

Drivers perform maintenance on their trucks to keep them running in the best possible condition. Why? Because doing so prevents costly, unnecessary repairs and issues in the future. The pre-trip inspection does the same thing. 

By identifying issues and making minor fixes before hitting the road, drivers can save time, money, and costly repairs in the future.  

3. Pre-Trip Inspections Keep Drivers Compliant  

One of the main reasons that truck drivers do a pre-trip inspection every single time is to remain in compliance with DOT rules. If a driver is audited, the DOT might check the pre-trip inspection logs to ensure they have been complicated. If they are not, or if they were incomplete, violations can be given. This can lead to both hefty fines as well as a reduction in Compliance, Safety, Accountability scores.  

4. Pre-Trip Inspections Can Reduce Your Liability  

It’s true that truck accidents make up just a sliver of overall vehicle accidents, but they do account for thousands of deaths every year. Even when a driver is not at fault, a savvy personal injury attorney could argue that the driver was at least partially to blame if their pre-trip inspections were not completed. 

The bottom line is that taking a few minutes to do a pre-trip inspection is a smart move for everyone involved.  

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