Your DOT Pre-trip Inspection Guide for New Truck Drivers [Plus Checklist]
If you’re only getting paid when you’re out on the road, you want to make sure you head out as quickly as possible every day. But as great as it is to get started on your route for the day, you should never hit the open 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 DOT pre-trip inspection thoroughly, here's a quick introduction to get you started so you and others stay safe while you’re heading down the highway.
Pursuing a career in truck driving? If you are, you’ll quickly become familiar with DOT pre-trip inspections and how to do one. A pre-trip inspection is simply a thorough check of your truck to make sure everything is functioning before you get behind the wheel. Completing your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist gives you a chance to make sure your vehicle is safe and allows you to address any issues or potential issues before you head out on the road.
A basic DOT pre-trip inspection includes checking your fluid levels, leaks, tires, 5th wheel, brakes, clutch, shock absorbers, ball joints, kingpins, gauges, lights, and more. Once you’ve completed a check of your truck, you can log your DOT pre-trip inspection in your log books and be on your way. While doing a DOT pre-trip inspection properly takes time, it can save your life.
CDL pre-trip inspections should be taken seriously for several reasons:
There’s no standard or required amount of time a pre-trip inspection should take, but on average, a thorough DOT pre-trip inspection takes around 30 to 50 minutes. While some drivers try to cut corners and do their inspection faster, it’s important to take the time to perform a thorough inspection of your truck now, rather than risk having a breakdown or other issues while you’re on the road later.
Failing to do a complete DOT pre-trip inspection checklist can also land you in hot water if you’re pulled over for a DOT inspection while on route. If you fail a routine DOT inspection, there can be some pretty hefty consequences such as a written warning, fine, suspension, or even jail time if the infraction is serious enough. Long story short—don’t rush your DOT pre-trip inspection.
There are six levels of DOT inspections, but a Level 1 DOT inspection is the most common and most comprehensive. Sometimes you’ll need to stop along a route and complete a DOT inspection. While it might feel inconvenient, it’s important for keeping our roads and highways safe. Thankfully, you can speed the process along by keeping an accurate and up-to-date logbook and understanding what a Level 1 DOT inspection covers.
Once you know how to properly perform your pre-trip check, it can be helpful to have a quick checklist to remind you of all the points you need to hit on your inspection. Each company is going to have its own checklist and its own safety process which comply with Federal Motor Carrier and Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines. Each State also follows the guidelines set by FMCSA when conducting a commercial vehicle inspection.
Here are the main points for a Level 1 DOT inspection.
☐ Drug or alcohol use
☐ Use of seatbelts
☐ Logbook record
☐ Medical examiner's certificate
☐ Hours of service
☐ Truck frame
☐ 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
☐ Safe loading
☐ Steering mechanism
☐ Exhaust system
☐ Fuel system
As you prepare for your CDL permit test you will learn how to properly conduct a DOT pre-trip inspection step-by-step. Knowing what to expect from a DOT Level 1 inspection will help you feel comfortable and prepared when you do get stopped.
The reasons you need to do DOT pre- and post-trip inspections are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s still important to understand why these inspections matter for you, your company, and other drivers on the road. You may have even met drivers who rush through their paperwork and pre-trip inspections to get out on the road quicker. While it’s appealing at the time, doing this can easily result in additional downtime for their vehicles, increased safety issues, and accidents on the road.
Pre-trip checks are in place because not all drivers understand the importance of doing a safety check before they hop behind the wheel. When you drive a massive truck, you have a massive responsibility to keep the road safe. Pre-trip inspections help you catch any safety concerns, save money on vehicle repairs, and reduce liability to yourself and your company.
When you’ve just finished a 14-hour shift, the last thing you want to do is a post-trip check of your truck for half an hour. However, a post-trip inspection is just as important as a DOT pre-trip inspection because it gives you the opportunity to repair any issues or potential issues before you need to continue or head out on your route the following day.
Taking the time to do a thorough pre- and post-trip inspection will not only save you time and money, but also lives. Pre-trip inspections make sure you don’t start driving until you know the truck is road safe, while a good post-trip inspection will give you time to fix any issues before you need to head back out on your route.
DOT pre-trip inspections are absolutely required and are essential for trucking companies, drivers, and owner-operators to run a safe and effective trucking fleet. Drivers are required by law to check their truck before they start their shift and once every 24 hours while they’re on the road. Although companies can be held liable for DOT inspection failures, the ultimate responsibility lies with you, the driver, to conduct a proper pre-trip inspection.
Here are a few more reasons you should always take the time to complete your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist:
As previously mentioned, DOT pre-trip inspections aren’t just there to keep you safe and your truck in good repair—they are required by law by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Companies that fail DOT inspections can easily rack up thousands of dollars in fines.
Something as simple as checking your tires could mean the difference between life and death for other drivers. If you get a flat or lose a tire on the interstate you could easily cause a major traffic incident for other drivers. On the flip side, a major accident of your own could mean the difference between your life and death.
Aside from protecting yourself and others, a pre-trip inspection also protects your trucking company from legal liability. Whether you work for a company or are an owner-operator, failure to do a pre-trip inspection appears negligent and can result in fines and be used against you if your case is brought to court.
Pre-trip inspections also serve another, very useful service: they allow you to track vehicle repairs and maintenance issues with your trucks. If you’re noticing the same issues cropping up again and again, it may mean a part is defective or that a truck needs to be replaced. Noticing these issues before your truck is on its last leg makes everyone safer on the road.
When you only get paid for your time behind the wheel, it makes sense that some drivers try to cut corners and rush thorough inspections. However, a seasoned driver knows that it’s always better to take the time and do your inspection than to risk losing more time and money—and perhaps even your job—down the road.
Before you graduate CDL school, you will learn how to properly conduct a DOT pre-trip inspection, but what happens in the real world when you get pulled over? When you get pulled over for a DOT inspection, make the process as smooth and easy for the inspector as possible.
Understanding what’s going on in an inspector’s mind during a check can help you properly prepare before you hit the road. Keep in mind, inspectors have seen it all:
If the inspection seems nitpicky, it’s because it’s the “little things” that often end up causing the biggest accidents. As long as you’ve conducted a thorough CDL pre-trip inspection, and corrected any issues before starting your trip, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
An inspector starts taking stock of a driver even before your vehicle comes to a stop.
If you appear lax about maintenance in your cab, the inspector may assume that you’re lax about maintenance everywhere else. Always act like the professional you are.
Now that you know what inspectors are looking for, you can make sure your vehicle is up to standards by performing a thorough CDL pre-trip inspection.
A little bit of courtesy and organization can go a long way toward getting you back on the road faster. Completing your DOT pre-trip inspection and going through your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist before you hop behind the wheel will help ensure that any DOT inspections you encounter are quick and painless experiences.
Finding a great job as a truck driver is easier than you think. With the right education, you can get your foot in the door with a great company that will allow you to develop your skills in a high-demand industry. Learning what a DOT pre-trip inspection covers and what to look for on your DOT pre-trip inspection checklist is one of the basics for safely getting behind the wheel and starting your career in the trucking industry.