How To Pre-Trip

Let’s talk about that Pre-Trip inspection that you did in school. Did you know that you must complete that before each TRIP, hence the reason it is called a PRE-TRIP. Now once you are a CDL holder, you can speed this process up quite a bit. It is time-consuming but it makes it so much better for you and your truck. This test is over 104 items you must check or state that you are checking and it has two portions. Points, and pass/fail. In the points department it differs by state, when I took my test we were allowed 15 points (missed items that should be checked). Aim for missing only 9 max, that gives you wiggle room. Pass/Fail is the In-Cab. This is the really important stuff.

How to effectively perform a Pre-Trip

Your pre-trip inspection when you are new should take you about 45 minutes. You will get faster at it the longer you are a driver and the more times you are doing it. Learn it, live it and LOVE IT!!

Approach: Speak things as you check them

Sample statement:
As I approach my truck I am checking the lights, and looking for puddles beneath the truck as well as the vehicle is not leaning to one side or the other; this could indicate broken shocks, leaf springs, or a flat tire. (This is just a sample, please do it the way your instructors are requiring it as it is different in each state. The ones I am giving you are the ones that worked in Tennessee and Kentucky)

When walking up to the truck you need to make sure that there are no puddles under the truck and that the truck is not leaning one way or another as these things may indicate a leak or that you have a suspension component broken. That is common with any beginning trip or inspection.

Now let me be clear, this is for ANY truck, whether you are in that truck all the time or you are slip seating with your truck. This is a common practice. Make sure that your truck, whether you are in it all the time or not does not have this issue on approach.

This will START your process and you want to make sure that you follow EACH STEP!

Begin Hands-on: Points System

You will then begin TOUCHING items. Yes, TOUCHING. You need to touch them in the order that your instructor has given you. Or however, your STATE requires them. If you are touching the grill, you will state I am checking the grill for loose, broken, or missing pieces, etc. That is how EACH piece will be checked that your state requires. For the pieces that you cannot touch, you will STATE that it appears not to be cracked, damaged, loose or broken and of the correct color (STATE THE COLOR IF IT IS A LIGHT). When you open the hood and begin checking hoses, state that they are properly attached and you see no signs of any being damaged, cracked, or leaking and all appear to be properly attached at both ends.

When you are doing the driver’s side, as this is the ONLY side you will do, you state that you would check the passenger side the same way you would check the driver’s side. It can also be called the CURB side.

When checking tires, talk about proper PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) and that they are properly inflated and appear to have no cuts, scrapes, bulges, abrasions, or missing threads. If they are STEER tires you must mention that they cannot be recapped tires, nor can they be less than 4/32 tread depth. You will check the brake chambers at the same time. You will mention and PAUSE to listen to see if you have an air leak. You will feel the tires, you will feel the frame!! You will TOUCH EVERYTHING you can PHYSICALLY TOUCH.

You will walk down the side of the tractor and trailer, you will call out lights, and you will touch any lights you can. You will climb under the trailer if it is required in your state to check connections and fittings.

You will get TIRED of saying nothing appears cracked, bent, damaged, loose, or broken. HINT: Too much information is better than not enough. Say it if you feel it! Don’t forget, this is a test, so STUDY. However, don’t get so nervous as I did that you begin to babble. Inspectors KNOW it is nerve-wracking and most of them will try to calm you.

The relief you feel when you get to the back of the trailer will honestly be palpable. Then your heart will skip a beat because it is on to the PASS/FAIL point in the test.

In Cab: Pass/Fail

Now to the best part or the scariest part for me. The In-Cab portion. Now that is kind of misleading. The reason is that you can lose points on PARTS of the In-Cab. However, you can only PASS/FAIL on the brake test. I will be putting that wording in as well.

When you sit down, your instructor will ask you to do a LIGHTING test. They will remain outside and call out to you with either vocals or hand signals of what they want you to test. Once this is complete they will join you in the cab of the truck. The truck is NOT running at this point.

When they join you in the cab, please thank them for helping you test your external lighting systems. Thank them for joining you and ask them to put on their seat belt, and thank them when they do.

START YOUR TRUCK. -note: some instructors will do this differently. Some will not have you start it yet. Follow their queues.

Then you begin calling out and TOUCHING what you can. You tell them all the gauges seem to be operating and in working order. The temperature gauge is coming up to normal temperature and your oil operating temperature is rising. You will tell them the fuel gauges and the DEF gauge. You will show them that the lights on the panels are working, your brights, and so forth. You will demonstrate that you KNOW how all these gauges work and what they mean. You will NEED to show them that the AC/HEATER and BLOWER WORK. That is a requirement. You want to call out your windshield and state it has no cracks and you have a clear line of sight on everything.

Now we get ready for the FUN. (Can you feel the sarcasm while reading?)

Air Brakes/ In Cab

Ready! SET! GO!

Your truck will be running through this portion so you have built up air pressure and stated as such to the testing official. You will then begin then telling the instructor you are testing the braking system.

This is usually the same state by state: However some differ, so know your state rules.

Once you begin you will not be allowed to have your cell phone so you will need to ask the tester if they will time you in areas you need timed. You will fan the brake pedal and make sure your window is down so that you can hear the compressor kick on and off. You will get it to about 90 PSI then you will stop fanning the brakes. You will listen for the compressor and then state that it shuts off at about 120-150 PSI.

You will state that the wheels have been chalked and watching the gauges that you are losing no more than 5 lbs of air pressure in 1 minute. You will turn off your truck at this point.

You will then turn off your truck. You will state that you are going to watch for one minute again and ask the tester to time it for you so that you are not losing more than 5 lbs of pressure in a minute. You will then fan your brake pedal and you should hear the buzzer sound at 90 PSI. You tell the instructor this and tell them that now you will pump until the buttons engage and activate the spring brakes at 60 PSI. You will then continue to pump down to anywhere from 20-45 PSI to confirm spring brake engagement.

There are a few more pieces in this test that you will have to manage from state to state. But these are the big pieces.



You have completed the Pre-Trip. Good job! Now on to the road skills test. You are one step closer to your goal of having a Class A CDL. 


  1. This is valuable information for truck drivers on how to perform an effective pre-trip inspection. It emphasizes the importance of performing the inspection before each trip and touches on the 104 items that need to be checked. It’s great to get practical tips for the inspection process, such as speaking things as you check them and touching each item required in your state. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to become a truck driver or already holds a CDL. I wonder if there are any specific tools or apps that can help truck drivers perform pre-trip inspections more efficiently.

    1. There are no apps that can help perform this action You have to know what you are checking. But I like the idea behind it. Thanks for the reply! Have a great day!

  2. One thing I always tell myself about the pre-trip and in-cab inspection is that they are all about safety. Rather than seeing it as a routine, I see it as a must-do to keep safe. Checking the lights and ensuring that I have a functional brake system is al targeted at keeping me and my truck in good condition of health. It is what every truck driver must do with all seriousness

  3. Not only is it required to do a pre-trip inspection, it is for your safety and the safety of others on the roadway. If you fail to do the pre-trip you may be putting yourself in a position of a critical system failure. If a system is not working as it should then the truck needs to either be taken out of service or repaired. If, for example, your air brake system is losing too much pressure, try bleeding the lines or taking it out of service until the system is repaired. This can save your life or someone else’s life.


  4. Thank you for sharing this informative post on performing a pre-trip inspection effectively as someone looking for tips to help my husband learn and understand the pre-trip inspection. He is taking CDL classes to get a job as a truck driver. He doesn’t have time to learn, so he asked me to look for tips for him to make it easy to understand and learn; this post is quite helpful. I appreciate your approach of speaking things out loud as you check them, touching every item that you can physically touch, and mentioning every detail to avoid missing any important points. It’s good to know that the pre-trip inspection is a crucial step that must be done before every trip to ensure the safety of the driver and the truck; I personally didn’t know that truckers have to do it. Thank you for your valuable insights. You have done all the hard work for me.

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