Unsafe makeshift trailer landing gearJust like breakfast is the most important meal of the day, your pre-trip inspection is the cornerstone to operating a healthy vehicle. The reasons for having a healthy vehicle should be obvious. It ensures the safety of not just the driver, but also everyone else on the road.

As a driver, you are required by law to inspect your truck and trailer before the start of your shift and once within every 24 hours while on the road. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure the vehicle is safe for operation and is free from defects.

Currently, there are no guidelines as to how long a pre-trip inspection should take. If you check everything you should be checking, a full inspection should take you approximately 30 to 50 minutes. The key to a good inspection is to take your time while working your way systematically around each section of your vehicle and performing each check fully.

Drivers can eliminate many CSA violations with a thorough pre-trip inspection. It's in your best interest to find a problem before an inspector does, as the fines can be high, on top of your vehicle being put out of service.

In a time-critical industry like trucking, a pre-trip inspection can add up to a big chunk of time that could have been spent on the road. No wonder it’s not uncommon to hear of inspections that last only 10 to 15 minutes. If that wasn’t bad enough, some drivers do not get paid for the time they spend on inspection even though it's part of their required day.

If you attended a CDL training program at a reputable truck driving school, you should be familiar with all the requirements of a pre-trip inspection. In fact, you should be able to perform one that far exceeds the minimum requirements. No matter how diligent you think you are though, we all occasionally miss a few details.

Here are some of the most commonly overlooked inspections items:

1. Chock Your Wheels

Chock your truck and trailer wheelsEveryone knows they are supposed to do it, but it’s one of those common sense things that people forget when rushing. Chocks are a simple safety measure that help prevent accidental movement of the vehicle.

During the inspection, you are going to have the engine running at times and you will also be performing tests on the braking system. You really do not want the vehicle to move while you are inspecting the wheels or if you are under the trailer.

2. Cleanliness

Get all that junk out of your cabOne of the first areas an inspector will check during a roadside inspection is your cab. The cab is your main office of business and the condition of this workspace gives an inspector a quick impression of the kind of person they think you are.

When you have a junk-filled cab, it not only marks you as a messy person, it can also present its own dangers. If your dash is strewn with junk, it can prevent your windshield defrosting and defogging from working properly.

Garbage in your cab can hinder mechanical operations by getting lodged under pedals and other mechanical devices. Loose objects also have the potential to become dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident.

Keep your cab clean. Put all loose objects in the glove box and ensure all other objects are secured or mounted correctly.

3. Brakes

DOT Brake Adjustment InspectionTesting your truck's braking system comprehensively involves a lot of steps. It requires checks to be made from both inside and outside of the cab, hunched over the wheels or under the trailer.

Brakes are also one of the hardest working components on any vehicle and subject to a lot of wear and tear.  It's no wonder that violations involving brakes take 6 of the top 20 spots for most frequent violations in roadside inspections.

As well as performing your in-cab check, also be sure to check the brake adjustment with the slack adjuster to ensure your brakes have been adjusted properly. Brake chamber air lines should be secure and able to flex. Also check that air lines are not leaking, are free of mechanical damage and the seals on the glad hands and trailer side are in good condition.

4. Emergency Kit

Make sure you have a proper functioning fire extinguisherYou are required to carry an emergency kit containing spare fuses/circuit breakers, warning hazard triangles and a fire extinguisher. Just because you have these items in your truck, doesn’t mean you’ll pass an inspection though.

Do other drivers use the truck? Not everyone is going to be as considerate as you. Test fuses for continuity to ensure they work properly. If the hazard triangles have been used, make sure they are free of dirt and the reflective strips will serve their purpose.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to use the fire extinguisher but it’s not something you can ignore during an inspection. Fire extinguishers can lose pressure over time and need to be serviced on a regular basis. Check the tag to see when it was last serviced, make sure the safety pin has not been tampered with and ensure the fire extinguisher is firmly secured. 

5. Reflectors

Reflectors make you more visibleIt should make perfect sense to check the lights on your vehicle but do you ever think to check the reflectors? Reflectors can greatly increase the visibility of your vehicle at night and can pose a hazard if they are not functioning correctly.

You can also receive a violation for having defective reflectors and reflective strips on your vehicle. Make sure that reflectors are free of cracks and clean off any dirt. Don’t forget reflective strips along your cab and trailer. Over time, these can weather to the point they become ineffective. Look out for any strips that are worn or peeling and also make sure they are not obscured by dirt.

6. Seatbelts

Seatbelts save livesWe all know that seatbelts save lives, so be sure yours is in good working condition. Check your seatbelt for signs of wear and look out for any frayed edges. Your belt is not going to be effective if it snaps.

You should also check that your seatbelt retracts and returns smoothly from the mechanism. If the action isn’t smooth, this could be an indication that the seatbelt needs replacing.

Also, check that your seatbelt locks and releases properly by giving it a sharp tug. One last thing, don't forget to wear your seatbelt when driving!

7. Wheel Lug Nuts

Make sure lug nuts are tightenedThere are a whole multitude of problems that can arise from not properly checking your wheels, tires and brakes properly. One persistent problem that is often cited is the wheel fasteners. No one wants one of your wheels to come off and start barreling down the interstate toward them.

Wheel fasteners need to be checked to ensure they are not loose and that they are tightened correctly. Rust around lug nuts can also be indicative of a widening of the bolt hole. Check rims that have been painted; sometimes the paint is an attempt to hide these rusted areas. If you have ever noticed during rain fall that you get a rusty trail of water coming from behind the nut, this could be a sign of a more serious problem with the wheel's bolt holes.

8. Don’t Forget the Paperwork

Documents and paperworkAnd finally, make sure you have the correct paperwork and documents as it is often overlooked. Let's face it, you already have enough paperwork to worry about with all your shipping documents. We are all for reducing paper in the truck but be sure you check that your vehicle registration, permit documents, and trailer ownership documents are all valid and up-to-date.

If you are using an eLog, make sure you have at least one cycle's worth of paper logs as a backup. In addition, don’t forget to check your safety inspection approval sticker and commercial driver license are up-to-date. Is your medical card still valid? You better make sure you have that as well. That's just the tip of the iceberg; we haven't covered what you need if you're carrying hazardous materials.

If you want to know some of the things a DOT officer is looking for during an inspection be sure to watch this video:

Have you ever been caught-out during an roadside inspection or think we missed a common problem? Please leave us a comment.

About the Author: Stuart Wood

Stuart Wood

Stuart Wood is part of the marketing team at BigRoad. In his spare time, he's an avid home brewer.