Pre Trip Inspection Checklist

Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist for New Truck Drivers

While your CDL schools teach you how to do a complete DOT pre-trip inspection checklist, here's a fast introduction to get you started to stay safe on the road.

December 28, 2021

If you’re only paid while you’re on the road, you’ll want to make sure you leave as soon as possible each day. However, as exciting as it is to start planning your day’s journey, you should never get on the road without first doing your DOT pre-trip inspection and completing your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist.

While your CDL school will teach you how to do a complete DOT pre-trip inspection, here’s a fast introduction to get you started so you and others stay safe on the road.

What Is a Pre-trip Inspection?

Are you interested in a career as a truck driver? If you are, you will rapidly learn about DOT pre-trip inspections and how to do them. A pre-trip inspection is simply a comprehensive checkup of your truck before you get behind the wheel to ensure everything is in working order. Completing your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist helps you to ensure that your vehicle is safe and that any concerns or potential issues are addressed before you hit the road.

Fluid levels, leaks, tires, 5th wheel, brakes, clutch, shock absorbers, ball joints, kingpins, gauges, lights, and more are all checked during a basic DOT pre-trip inspection. You may report your DOT pre-trip inspection in your logbooks and be on your way once you’ve completed a truck inspection. While doing a thorough DOT pre-trip check takes time, it might save your life.

For various reasons, CDL pre-trip inspection checklist should be treated seriously:

  • For starters, it is a mandatory activity for employers.
  • Second, your own safety, as well as the safety of others driving ahead of, behind, and besides you, is at the stake.
  • Third, if you’re stopped by law authorities or a Department of Transportation (DOT) inspector, an infraction might result in fines or place your vehicle “out of service” immediately, which could have a bad impact on your wallet or career.

Pre Trip Inspection Checklist

What Is a Level 1 DOT Inspection?

A Level 1 DOT inspection is the most common and thorough of the six levels of DOT inspections. You may need to make a pit stop along the way to undergo a DOT inspection. While it may be annoying, it is necessary for the safety of our roads and highways. Thankfully, having an accurate and up-to-date logbook and understanding what a Level 1 DOT inspection covers will help speed up the process.

DOT Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist

Once you’ve learned how to correctly complete your pre-trip inspection, having a quick DOT pre-trip inspection checklist to remind you of all the items you need to cover on your inspection might be useful. Each company will have its own checklist and safety procedure that adheres to the Federal Motor Carrier and Safety Administration‘s (FMCSA) regulations. When conducting a commercial vehicle inspection, each state follows the FMCSA rules.

The following are the main points of a DOT Level 1 inspection.


  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Use of seatbelts
  • Logbook record
  • Medical examiner’s certificate
  • Hours of service 


  • Brakes
  • Truck frame
  • Tires
  • Suspension
  • Vehicle inspection report
  • Coupling devices
  • Wheels and rims
  • Turn signals
  • Van and trailer bodies
  • Lamps on projecting loads
  • Windshield wipers
  • Hazmat placarding
  • Brake lamps
  • Tail lamps
  • Headlamps
  • Safe loading
  • Steering mechanism
  • Exhaust system
  • Fuel system
  • You’ll learn how to conduct a DOT pre-trip inspection step by step while you study for your CDL permit test. When you know what to expect from a DOT Level 1 inspection, you’ll feel more at ease and prepared if you are stopped.

Read more >> DOT Weigh Station: The Ultimate Guide 2024

How Long Should a DOT Pre-trip Inspection Take?

There is no standard or needed length of time for a pre-trip inspection, however, a complete DOT pre-trip inspection takes around 30 to 50 minutes on average. While some drivers try to save time by speeding through their inspections, it’s better to take your time and thoroughly check your vehicle now rather than risk having a breakdown or other problems while on the road later.

Pre-trip Inspection Checklist

If you don’t complete a full DOT pre-trip inspection checklist, you might end up in hot water if you’re pulled over for a DOT inspection while driving. If you fail a normal DOT inspection, you might face a written warning, a fine, suspension, or even jail time, due to the seriousness of the infraction. To cut a long tale short, don’t rush your Department of Transportation pre-trip examination.

Why Are Pre- and Post-Trip Inspections Important?

Although the reasons for doing DOT pre- and post-trip inspections are self-evident, it’s still necessary to understand why these inspections are critical for you, your organization, and other road users. You may have even seen drivers who rush through their paperwork and pre-trip inspections in order to be on the road as soon as possible. While it may seem appealing at the moment, doing so can easily result in further vehicle downtime, greater safety concerns, and road accidents.

Because not all drivers appreciate the need of doing a safety check before getting behind the wheel, pre-trip inspections have been implemented. When you drive a large truck, you have a significant amount of responsibility for keeping the road safe. Pre-trip checks help you discover any safety problems, save money on car repairs, and decrease your own and your company’s liability.

Why Are Post-trip Inspections Important? 

When you’ve just done a 14-hour shift, the last thing you want to do is spend half an hour doing a post-trip inspection of your truck. A post-trip inspection, on the other hand, is just as vital as a DOT pre-trip inspection since it allows you to address any concerns or possible difficulties before continuing or departing on your route the next day.

Not only will doing a complete pre- and post-trip inspection save you time and money, but it will also save lives.  Pre-trip checks ensure that you don’t start driving until you’re confident that the truck is road safe, while a thorough post-trip inspection allows you to address any concerns before returning to your route.

Are Pre-trip Inspections Required?

Pre-trip inspections by the Department of Transportation are mandated by law and are critical for trucking companies, drivers, and owner-operators to operate an efficient and safe fleet. Drivers must examine their truck before starting their shift and once every 24 hours while on the road, according to the law. Although organizations can be held accountable for DOT inspection violations, the ultimate obligation for conducting a proper pre-trip check rests with you, the driver.

Here are a few additional reasons why you should complete your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist at all times:

It’s Required by Law

As previously stated, DOT pre-trip inspections are required by law by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to keep you safe and your truck in excellent shape. Failure to pass DOT inspections can result in fines of thousands of dollars.

It Protects Drivers

For some drivers, something as easy as monitoring your tires might spell the difference between life and death. You might easily cause a big traffic situation for other drivers if you have a flat or lose a tire on the interstate. On the other hand, your own major accident might mean the difference between life and death.

It Protects Trucking Companies

A pre-trip inspection not only protects you and others but also protects your trucking firm from legal liabilities. Failure to complete a pre-trip inspection, whether you work for a corporation or are an owner-operator, seems careless and can result in penalties and be used against you if your case goes to court.

It Helps Identify Problems

Pre-trip checks also provide another important benefit: they help you to keep track of vehicle repairs and maintenance concerns. If you’re having the same problems over and over, it’s possible that a part is damaged or that the vehicle has to be replaced. Detecting these concerns before your truck reaches the end of its useful life makes everyone on the road safer.

It’s understandable that some drivers try to cut corners and rush through inspections when they’re only compensated for the time they spend behind the wheel. A seasoned driver, on the other hand, knows that it’s always best to take your time and conduct your inspection now rather than risk losing additional time, money, and maybe your job later.

Tips to Get You Through a DOT Inspection

Before you finish CDL school, you’ll learn how to do a DOT pre-trip inspection properly, but what happens when you’re pulled over in the real world? When you’re pulled over for a DOT inspection, make the procedure as simple and comfortable as possible for the inspector.

What happens during an on-the-road vehicle inspection?

Understanding what goes on in the thoughts of an inspector during a check might help you prepare appropriately before you hit the road. Keep in mind that inspectors have witnessed everything:

  • Due to faulty brakes, trucks were unable to stop in time.
  • Under-inflated tires flew out, colliding with other vehicles and dispersing deadly debris.
  • Trailers that arrived uncoupled due to faulty locking jaws.
  • Trailers that fell off the sub-frame due to improper pin locking.
  • Trucks slammed into traffic as the driver dropped out of his seat on a bend while unbelted.
  • An inspector’s responsibility is to safeguard the public as well as enforce the regulations. Compliance is extremely essential to the inspector, and your pre-trip inspection should be equally important to you.

If the inspection appears nitpicky, it’s because it’s typically the “small things” that cause the most serious accidents. You shouldn’t have anything to worry about if you’ve done a comprehensive CDL pre-trip check and fixed any concerns before leaving on your journey.

Tips about what inspectors look for

Even before your car comes to a complete stop, an inspector begins taking stock of the driver.

  • An inspector might simply follow your car to verify if it is moving in a straight path. If it isn’t, the inspector will search for damaged center pins in the axle, among other concerns.
  • As the inspector approaches your cab, he or she will listen to how your vehicle sounds and smells, which might reveal issues such as worn belts or a degraded tire seal that is leaking grease.
  • The inspector takes a mental snapshot of your living conditions the moment the door to your cab swings open. Trash or debris on the floorboards, the smell of alcohol or illegal drugs, general uncleanliness, and so on. The word “disorder” conjures up images of someone who is unprofessional and careless. It’s also dangerous:
  • Garbage may easily become stuck between the foot pedals.
  • The windshield defroster might be hindered by trash on the dashboard.

If you look unconcerned about maintenance in your cab, the inspector may conclude that you are unconcerned about upkeep in general. Always conduct yourself in a professional way.

Other common errors that can cause you to fail an inspection

  • Brakes that haven’t been properly adjusted
  • If you don’t chock your wheels, you’ll get stuck
  • Inadequate, up-to-date documents, such as your log and medical card
  • The emergency kit that is necessary is missing (hazard triangles, fire extinguisher, spare fuses, etc., all in good working order)
  • Your vehicle’s reflectors are defective
  • Rust indicators, such as painted rims or telltale spots around lug nut holes, call for a closer look
  • Seat belts that are frayed and worn out

Now that you know what inspectors are looking for, you can do a full CDL pre-trip check to ensure your vehicle is up to code.

Final Tips to Get Through An Inspection

  • Be positive and courteous to the inspectors
  • Listen to the inspectors; some of them are quite knowledgeable and can teach you a lot
  • Don’t get into a debate with them. If you disagree with a ticket, take it to court rather than to the inspector. You’re not going to win, and you can wind up with even more fines
  • Even if the inspector is mistaken about anything, don’t make a mockery of them
  • Keep your paperwork current and up-to-date by knowing it
  • To get them what they need, know how to access your e-log information
  • Know what hazmat placarding to use and have it on hand.

A little courtesy and organization may go a long way toward getting you back on the road as quickly as possible. Before you go behind the wheel, do your DOT pre-trip inspection and read over your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist to ensure that any DOT inspections you face are quick and easy. Otherwise, you can read more about truck driver safety tips to keep yourself and others safe on the road.

It’s simpler than you think to find a wonderful career as a truck driver. You can get your foot in the door with a fantastic firm and expand your talents in a high-demand field with the correct education. One of the fundamentals for safely getting behind the wheel and beginning your career in the trucking industry is understanding what a DOT pre-trip inspection checklist entails and what to look for on your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist.

If you are planning to obtain a CDL License to start your career as a truck driver, let’s practice with our free CDL practice test 2021 to get ready for your coming exam!