CDL Pre-Trip Inspection: How To

by Pride Transport | Nov 20, 2023

Truck drivers know that in order to have a long career, safety has to be a top priority. While safe driving practices and regularly scheduled maintenance are a big part of this, making sure your vehicle is in top condition before it even leaves the garage each drive is just as important. In this guide, we’ll review the importance of pre-trip inspections then walk you through a standard CDL pre-trip inspection.


CDL Pre-Trip Inspection Requirements

The CDL pre-trip inspection allows drivers to catch small issues before they become big problems. That’s why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires drivers to perform pre-trip inspections before every trip. That includes:

  • At the start of a driving day
  • Any time a driver picks up a new trailer
  • After every mandated 10-hour break


New drivers will discover that the pre-trip inspection is one of their most repeated tasks, so even if it feels like a lot to learn at first, you’ll quickly pick up the routine and become more comfortable with the inspection. Before you know it, it’ll be something you could do in your sleep!


A standard pre-trip inspection should take around 20–30 minutes. However, completing the process within a certain timeframe isn’t the most important thing. It’s more important that drivers are thorough throughout the process and record their findings in compliance with federal regulations.

pride transport employee checking trailer


The CDL Pre-Trip Inspection Process

Before beginning the inspection, take the time to gather a few tools you might need, such as your tire pressure gauge, a hammer, a rag, gloves, and a flashlight. Next, turn the truck’s power on and turn on all of the lights, including the hazards. It’s time to get started.

Engine compartment

There’s a lot to check under the hood. Before looking inside the engine compartment, scan the ground under the engine for puddles or any other signs of a leak.

On the driver side, check the following items:

  • Oil levels. Clean off the dipstick using the rag, then reinsert to check that the fluid levels are between the minimum and maximum levels on the dipstick.
  • Radiator. Inspect for any noticeable damage. Check coolant levels and condition of the fluid.
  • Washer fluid. This should be full, especially if you expect inclement weather.
  • Power steering fluid. Check the level and condition. Also note the status of the steering components (arm, joints, gearbox) and confirm that they’re undamaged.
  • Air compressor. Check for signs of damage.
  • Inspect the water pump, fuel filter, and other fuel components for noticeable leaks or damage.

Move to the passenger side of the tractor for the next steps:

  • Inspect these components for damage or excessive wear: the turbo charger, alternator, serpentine belts, and AC compressor.
  • Check for any puddles or oil running out of the turbo or exhaust.


Both sides of the truck’s engine compartment require a look at the following:

  • Look for any leaks, loose hoses, or loose and/or exposed wires. Note if any hoses have bulges or cuts as they will need to be replaced.
  • Ensure that the brakes, brake pads, shaft, and shocks are free of damage or excessive wear.
  • Inspect the air filter housing and air ductwork for cracks or other damage.
  • Examine the frame, including the shock absorber, tie rod, and spring mounts.
  • Make sure the brake lines, ABS wire, push rod, and brake linings are in good order.

Front of truck

  • Confirm that all lights come on and that there’s no visible damage on the lights.
  • Check the mirrors for damage. Make sure the steps up to the cab are clear.
  • Inspect doors for weather stripping and any noticeable damage. Check each window for cracks.
  • Inspect the fuel tank cap and components for damage. Ensure that relevant inspection and maintenance stickers are present and in good condition.
  • Inspect the frame rail and drive shaft.
  • Between the cab and the trailer, check that your air and electrical connections are correct and safely positioned. Check that the reefer is in working order.


  • Inspect every tire for appropriate tread depth while also noting any spots with irregular wear, rips, or gaps.
  • Check that lugnuts are tight on every tire. Any shiny spots could indicate exposed threads, (i.e. the lugnuts aren’t properly secured). Look for cracks on the rims or other signs of visible damage.
  • Use your tire pressure gauge for an accurate reading. You can double-check with auto reading in the cab, or by hitting the tire with a hammer and seeing if it bounces back.
  • Check between tires for debris or anything that could cause damage.

pride transport employee checking tires


Perform the following steps on each side of the trailer:

  • Check the top and bottom rail for structural damage.
  • Make sure reflective tape along the side of the trailer is secure and undamaged.
  • Note if any panels are significantly damaged. This could indicate that freight is shifting inside the trailer.
  • Pull on splash guards and truck skirts around the perimeter of the trailer to ensure they’re all secure.
  • Use your flashlight to check items under the truck. Ensure that the fifth wheel is locked in correctly. Confirm that pins are secure. Check drive axles and airbags.
  • Inspect landing gear under the truck.
  • Check inner wheels for damage, including the inner wheel seals. While checking inner tires, listen for air leaks and visually inspect air hoses.


Moving to the back of the trailer:

  • Confirm that all lights are on and undamaged.
  • Check the license plate light and confirm that the bracket is secured.
  • Door hinges should be undamaged and operational.
  • Check for weather stripping on the door. Make sure the door closes securely.
  • The back door’s reflective tape should be clean and free of rips or other significant damage.


  • Securely store inspection and registration paperwork in the appropriate compartment at the front of the trailer.
  • Keep a permit book with paperwork inside the driver door.

Inside the cab

  • Confirm that you have a non-expired fire extinguisher and other emergency items readily accessible in case of emergencies.
  • Check that you have safety triangles on hand, as well as extra fuel and coolant.
  • Test and check all gauges for appropriate levels once inside the cab. Look at oil pressure, fuel level, air pressure, temperature gauge.
  • Test the heater and defroster (especially important in winter months).
  • Double-check windshield wipers and wiper fluid.
  • Test both horns.

Pride’s Commitment to Keeping Drivers Safe

If you’re a CDL holder, pre-trip inspections are a key element in maintaining the overall safety and condition of your truck. By taking the time to perform the pre-trip inspections with care and accuracy, drivers can travel with confidence while helping to ensure the safety of other drivers. 


At Pride Transport, our drivers have the benefit of working alongside our highly skilled maintenance team to ensure their equipment is always ready for the next trip. Check out our driving job opportunities today.

pride transport employee smiling in drivers seat

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