Complete CDL Pre-Trip Inspection Checklists for Class A and Class B Drivers

Your fleet is loaded, and the fuel tanks are full – you’re ready to move. Or are you?

If you haven’t completed a pre-trip inspection checklist, you might not be.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all drivers holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to complete a pre-trip DOT inspection checklist before operating a commercial vehicle. Usually taking about 10-15 minutes, this inspection checks essential systems such as brakes and steering, as well as tires, mirrors, and emergency equipment.

So how can drivers know what to check? In this article, we’ll run down the DOT requirements for pre-trip inspection checklists, along with key differences between Class A and Class B inspections and even some useful tools that can help make the job easier.

What is a pre-trip inspection checklist?

A pre-trip inspection checklist is a list of items that CDL holders need to review before operating their vehicles. As you may have guessed, this process is known as a pre-trip inspection.

What is a pre-trip inspection?

Pre-trip inspections aren’t just an annoying routine – they’re an important and necessary safety measure that helps ensure that commercial vehicles are up to fleet safety operation standards.

While the scope and contents of a pre-trip inspection checklist vary according to the type of commercial vehicle and its use, you can complete most inspections in about 10-15 minutes. Checklist items generally include assessing the operational condition of anything the driver and vehicle need to operate the vehicle safely. This usually includes things like an air brake check, along with checking lights, tire pressure, couplings, and so on.

Drivers must also record their inspection results in a driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR), which is usually automated (or at least streamlined) in companies with established fleet management tools. Periodic inspection requirements require additional pre-trip inspections every 24 hours of continuous use or whenever the driver changes vehicles.

It may seem like a lot to review, but most of it boils down to common sense. Before you start crawling under the nearest truck, however, you may want to see whether you have to perform a pre-trip inspection in the first place!

Who needs to complete a pre-trip inspection?

Pre-trip inspections are mandatory for both Class A and Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders.

A collection of Class A and Class B licenses with different checklists.

If you’re a CDL holder, you probably already know which Class you fall into. But just in case, here’s a quick refresher on the types and weights of vehicles that different classes of CDL holders can operate.

  • The Class A CDL applies to commercial vehicles weighing at least 26,001 pounds that can tow at least 10,000 pounds. This usually encompasses most towing commercial vehicles such as big rigs, tractor-trailers, and flatbeds.
  • The Class B CDL applies to commercial vehicles weighing at least 26,001 pounds that can tow no more than 10,000 pounds. This usually encompasses most non-towing commercial vehicles, such as passenger buses, garbage trucks, and delivery trucks.

While there is also a Class C CDL, this usually extends to specialty vehicles not found under either Class A or Class B (such as hazardous waste transport). However, since their detailed inspection procedures are highly specific and beyond the scope of this article, we won’t cover them here.

But what’s involved in Class A and Class B inspections, and how can they differ?

Class A vs. Class B pre-trip inspections

While Class A and Class B vehicles share many of the same detailed inspection procedures (every commercial vehicle has brake lights, after all), each class and vehicle type has its own inspection procedures.

  • Class A and Class B commercial vehicles share many common inspection items, such as front and rear suspension, brake lights, minimum brake pad thickness, oil level, etc. These are usually items that apply to any type of road vehicle.
  • Class A inspection items are usually those related to towing systems in commercial vehicles, such as the trailer parking brake, coupling areas, etc. These inspection standards usually extend to the trailer, flatbed, or any other object that the truck is towing.
  • Class B inspection items are usually those related to non-towing commercial vehicles. As this is a very broad category, some Class B vehicles may not require any additional inspections, while others may have several specific systems to inspect. In the case of the latter, these are usually items specific to the vehicle itself, such as checking for broken seat frames in passenger areas of a bus.

Of course, there’s much more to each pre-trip vehicle inspection than the handful of key differences we’ve listed here. In the next section, we’ll run down the pre-trip inspection process that applies to nearly every commercial vehicle and then detail more class-specific motor vehicle safety inspections.

CDL pre-trip inspection checklist

The standard CDL pre-trip DOT inspection checklist includes everything a commercial motor vehicle needs to navigate the road safely.

List of common categories for a pre-trip inspection checklist.

These are generally suspension- and engine-related items that would just as well apply to a regular car. As a general rule, a commercial pre-trip inspection test almost always includes the following motor vehicle safety inspections.

Brake system

There’s nothing more important than your vehicle’s air brakes. Note that the following air brake tests apply to both tractor brakes and trailer brakes on Class A commercial vehicles.

  • Brake linings and brake pads: Brake pads should be no less than the minimum thickness of one-quarter inch (¼”). Also, be sure to check linings for oil and debris.
  • Brake chamber: The brake chamber should be completely sealed with no audible air leaks.
  • Air brake hose: No air should leak from the brake hose, and the line should be properly mounted and free of cuts or splits.
  • Brake drum: Should not be blue from excessive heat.
  • Hand brake: Push rods should have no more than one inch (1”) of play in either direction and stand up 90 degrees when pulled.

Depending on the vehicle, these items are usually checked with a 9-step, 7-step, or 5-step brake test. These tests usually involve pressing the brake pedal, service brake, hand brake, or foot brake under various conditions and seeing whether air pressure recovers to the proper level in time (see your vehicle’s operating guide).

For example, drivers can check for low air pressure by pressing the brake pedal to fan off the pressure. If repeatedly pressing the brake pedal results in a low pressure buzzer or light indicator, the brake system will require repair.

Engine compartment

Engine compartment inspection items include:

A commercial driver checking the engine compartment of their vehicle.

  • Fluids: The coolant hose, power steering hose, and any tanks or reservoirs should all be securely mounted and have no leaks. Similarly, a dipstick should indicate that all fluid levels (including oil level and coolant level) are at their proper levels.
  • Belts: All belts for compressors, pumps, and alternators should have no cracks or frays and give no more than one-half of an inch (½”) of play.
  • Air compressor: Should be securely mounted and functional with no cracks or leaks.
  • Water pump: Pump hoses must be properly connected with no leaks.
  • Alternator: Wires and belts must be properly connected.

Front of vehicle

Front-of-vehicle inspection items usually include steering equipment such as:

  • Steering column or steering shaft: The steering column should be straight and unbroken.
  • Steering box: The steering gearbox should be intact, and all connected hoses should be securely mounted with no power steering fluid leaks.
  • Tie rod and control arms: Both should be straight.
  • Drag link: The rubber should be greased and uncracked.
  • Pitman arm: All cotter pins and caste nuts are present, secure, and tight.

Front suspension

Front suspension inspection items include springs, spring mounts, shocks, and suspension airbags.

  • Spring mounts and spring hangers: Spring mounts should hold spring hangers securely in place with no signs of wear, cracks, or breakage.
  • Leaf springs: Should be secured to hangers with no cracks or breakage.
  • Shock absorbers: Should have no leaks, splits, or dry rot in the rubber. Leaks are typically located where the top and bottom pieces overlap.
  • U-bolts: Should all be securely fastened around the spring and axle.

Rear of vehicle

The rear of tractor or truck inspection items include the following.

  • Driveshaft: Should be straight with unbroken U-joints.
  • Exhaust: Should be free of rust with no leaks or excessive soot.
  • Frame: Structurally sound with no damages or unauthorized repairs/welds.
  • Steps: Structurally sound and mounted properly.
  • Mud Flaps: Should be clean, unbroken, and secured at the right height.

Wheels and tires

Wheel and tire inspections check for both proper inflation and overall tire condition, specifically tread depth. Note that this also extends to trailers on Class A vehicles.

A commercial driver checking the wheels and tires of their vehicle.

  • Drive and steer tires: Tire tread should be even with a minimum tread depth of 2/32” on drive tires and a minimum tread depth of 4/32” on steering axle tires. Use an air pressure gauge to check inflation levels against manufacturer inflation levels. Treads and sidewalls should be free of cracks, bulges, and abrasions.
  • Wheel rims: No unauthorized repairs or illegal welds.
  • Hub seal and axle seals: Should show the axle and hub seal intact with no visible leaks or play.
  • Dual spacing: Any dual tires must have enough spacing between them.
  • Lug bolt holes: All lug bolt holes should have all lug bolts and lug nuts.
  • Valve stem: No audible air leaks.

Lights and reflectors

Light and reflector inspections include everything from running lights to DOT tape and 4-way emergency flashers.

  • High and low beams: Ensure both are functional on all forward lights.
  • Turn signals: Make sure all are functional for both tractor and trailer.
  • Brake lights: Make sure all are functional for both tractor and trailer.
  • Running lights and license plate lights: Walk around the truck and make sure all are on.
  • 4-way emergency flasher function: Walk around the truck to make sure the 4-way flasher rear and front lights are fully operational.
  • Reflector tape and DOT tape: All DOT tape and reflector tape should be clean with no signs of excessive wear.

Driver door and fuel tanks

Cab doors and fuel tanks are often located in the same area on commercial vehicles. Be sure to check the following:

  • Door and door hinges: Should be intact and latch completely. The rubber door seal should be clean and uncracked.
  • External mirrors and mirror brackets: All external mirrors should be firmly attached to their mirror brackets. External mirrors should also be clean and uncracked. Also, be sure to adjust external mirrors and mirror brackets to provide an adequate rear view.
  • Steps: Should be securely mounted and able to support the weight.
  • Fuel tank: No leaks, with cap and seal unbroken and intact.

In-cab items

Cab inspection usually covers the following items:

  • Steering wheel: Fully attached to steering column.
  • Gauges: Check that air gauges, oil pressure gauges, and any other gauges for operation function normally within their operating range. Air pressure gauges should build pressure to the governor cut out during an applied pressure test.
  • Warning lights: Lights should show clearly for any lighting indicators, such as ABS lights or oil pressure indicators.
  • Windshield: Cracks beyond one inch (1”) are not permitted. Windshield wipers should be clean and work properly, and the truck should have enough windshield washer fluid.
  • Seat belt: Should fasten securely.
  • City horn and air horns: Both air and city horn should sound properly.
  • Heater and defroster: Should heat and function properly.

Special checks for Class A and Class B inspections

As we mentioned earlier, a Class A pre-trip truck inspection will usually have different periodic inspection requirements than, say, a Class B pre-trip school bus inspection.

Special checklist items for Class A and Class B pre-trip inspections.

While periodic inspection requirements ultimately come down to the exact type of vehicle (a Class B garbage truck, for example, may require additional inspections for its armature and compactor), the main differences usually come down to trailers vs. passenger areas.

Class A

  • Trailers share many of the same inspection checklist items as the tractor, specifically the wheels and tires, suspension, and rear of trailer lights and reflectors. Also, make sure that the landing gear is not broken and can be fully raised.
  • Coupling area inspections include checking air connectors, electrical lines, and nearby glad hands. All mounting equipment, such as the fifth-wheel plate, kingpin, mounting bolts, skid plate, release arm, and locking jaw and pins, should be present, secure, and in good condition.

Class B

  • Rear of truck suspension inspections share many of the same items as those of front inspections but with special attention paid to the torque arm (or radius rod), which should be mounted securely with intact brushings.
  • Passenger items such as seating, passenger doors, and any wheelchair lifts should all be secure and in working order. Emergency exits should also be clearly labeled and sound an alarm when opened.
  • School bus items include all of the passenger items listed above, with the addition of checking student loading lights, stop arm, student rear-view mirror, and a recent first aid and body fluid cleanup kit.

Pre-trip inspections made easy with CalAmp

With fleet management software from CalAmp, you can spend less time filling out pre-trip inspection reports and more time on the road. Request a demo today to see just how easy it is to use CalAmp’s pre-trip inspection tools!

Recent Related Stories

Are Your Devices at Risk? Navigating Australia's 3G Network Closure
Introduction Australia's digital infrastructure is poised for a major leap forward as 3G networks sunset, paving the way for advanced…
Read More
Using Modbus in Industrial Telematics
What is Modbus? The Modbus communications protocol is the granddaddy of the networking industry and is still the only open-source…
Read More
Why OEMs are Increasingly Relying on Industrial IoT
Industrial IoT (IIoT) refers to devices, sensors, and industrial applications networked together via Internet connectivity to collect, exchange, and analyze…
Read More