A Good Start, a Great Finish: Pre-trip Inspections

Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what you do today.”

When it comes to the trucking industry, this couldn’t be more true. The start of your day sets the trajectory for the rest of it. Starting a trip off wrong can lead to severe consequences.

The best way a driver can start and end their day—no matter what they anticipate and how many miles they need to cover—is by conducting a thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspection. The better habits a driver develops and the more knowledge a driver has about his/her equipment, the more a driver will get out of their inspections.

Federal DOT laws require a driver to perform and document a pre-trip inspection at the beginning of their 14-hour clock. While there isn’t a minimum or maximum time is required, expert trainers recommend 15 minutes. During this time a driver should inspect the exterior, interior, and engine compartment of the truck as well as the trailer they intend to pull.

The first thing a driver should do when they head out on the road is to review their dispatches and plan their route. If over the road continuing a current load plan, a reassessment may be in order. A driver should note road detours and closers, weather conditions, appointment times, and HOS to complete tasks. A good fleet manager will do some homework ahead of time to assist their drivers. Nonetheless, you are driving the truck.

Organize the paperwork

In many cases, a dispatcher will ask a driver to take a load from the terminal’s yard or take an empty to be loaded. If you’re unclear of your dispatcher’s instructions or don’t know, please ask. If asked to take a load from the yard, first make sure you have the bills for your load. They may be located in the trailer’s inspection box or inside the terminal.

Don’t ever make any assumptions that they are in the inspection box.

Once you have your BOLS, go to the trailer in which your load is on. Make sure the trailer number and seal number all match your BOLS. If they do not, ask your dispatcher for further instructions. Then make sure your BOLS match your dispatch instructions. Again, if they don’t, ask for further instructions or make sure you have the right BOLS or the correct dispatches.

Prepare the reefer

If you are to take an empty trailer to exchange for a loaded trailer or to be loaded, check the trailer to ensure that it is clean and in good repair. Check the gladhands on the trailer and start the reefer. You may have instructions to precool. It would be unfortunate to drive 100 miles to a customer to get loaded and the reefer doesn’t start when you arrive.

Check the fuel gauge and make sure the fuel levels are appropriate. Most customers won’t accept a reefer if it’s not ¾ of the way full or more. Also, open the doors and check to ensure there isn’t equipment that belongs to the customer loaded on the trailer or OS&D product. Ensure the trailer is in good condition, odor-free, with no trash or debris. If in doubt, wash it out. If the trailer needs repair, tag it out and discuss its condition with your dispatcher.

Have a pre-trip checklist

The next thing a driver should do inspect the interior and exterior of the truck and trailer.  Here is a quick checklist:

  • After pinning to the trailer, make sure the 5th wheel locks in place. A driver should do a visual inspection looking for damage, broken glass, light lenses, etc.

  • Check all lights and make sure they work and are the correct colors.

  • Look under the truck and look for fluids such as oil, coolant, fuel, or grease. These could be a sign of a mechanical malfunction.

  • Start the truck and allow the air tanks to build enough pressure the cut off value activates. Ensure the parking brakes engage and disengage properly. Shut the truck off and listen for hissing air indicating a leak.

  • Check the pigtail and make sure it’s connected properly to the gladhands. Make sure the oil, transmission fluid, and coolant are full. If not, top off the fuel. Check the engine compartment as well for any fluid leakage, indicating a mechanical malfunction.

  • Perform a DOT air brake test to ensure all the components of the air braking system are performing properly. If you’re not sure about an issue you find, contact the shop for assistance.

Finally, check the inside component of the truck. Climb into the sleeper cab and make sure the bunk heater is working properly. When you’re ready for a good night’s sleep, the last thing you want is to be hundreds of miles with no heat. Check your gauges to ensure they are at the appropriate levels. Make sure you have enough fuel and DEF for your trip. If you don’t, make a plan to get some.

Pre-trip inspections may seem very elementary to an experienced truck driver, but failure to have thorough, proper inspections can lead to a failure on the road. It is critical to review pre-trip procedures often to ensure a driver’s success.