Smart Driving

Max Kvidera | April 01, 2011

Tips for Pre-trips

Checking out your rig before you hit the road is a DOT requirement and could make the difference between smooth sailing and a costly breakdown

“The pre-trip inspection is the beginning of my job,” says Gina Angsten, an owner-operator leased to Duplainville Transport. “It’s the base of keeping me safe. It’s my responsibility whether it’s a company trailer I’m pulling or not. It’s important I inspect not only my truck but my trailer.”

An oil spot on the ground is a telltale sign that something might be amiss while inspecting your truck.

While the pre-trip inspection is a DOT requirement, Angsten says it’s something about which “drivers tend to get lax from time to time, particularly if they drive the same truck every day. Many drivers get really comfortable going off of what they hear [on the road] rather than what they see.”

But consistently conducting pre-trips, and practicing preventive maintenance, can help you avoid all manner of problems on the road, from roadside inspections to high-dollar breakdowns. While Angsten takes a solid 20 minutes on pre-trips, Dick McCorkle, an owner-operator leased to Perkins Specialized, says he’s been following the same 10-minute inspection routine for 25 years. It begins with looking for oil, water and radiator leaks on the ground.

Heyl Truck Lines driver Mark Padgett estimates he spends 30 minutes on pre-trips daily. He follows the same sequence each time to ensure he doesn’t forget something.

Mark Padgett makes sure he crawls under his trailer to check connections as part of his pre-trip.

For Paccar General Marketing Manager Jeff Sass, the rule of thumb is “lights and leaks. Any type of lighting and seals are the big things often found. The third thing is tire condition — tread wear or inflation level.”

Angsten’s ritual begins with the hood open at the driver’s side steer tire and follows a counterclockwise path around the truck and trailer. She checks components under the hood, including belts, hoses and fluid levels. She uses a gauge to check each tire’s air pressure. McCorkle, on the other hand, uses the thump method to determine if all his tires are properly inflated. He also makes sure the spare is inflated and secured and that all the tires have valve stem caps to keep out dirt.

Gina Angsten carries bulbs for every type of light on her tractor and trailer in case she needs to replace one.

Angsten does her inspections with the vehicle lights on to make sure all lights and four-ways are clear and working, including brake lights. She’ll pump down the air brakes and watch the pressure go down, then let the pressure build back up.

McCorkle checks the trailer’s back door, sealing it if the trailer’s empty or checking load security and sealing it again if it’s loaded.

Both operators check mirrors, horn, windshield wipers and washer fluid in the reservoir. They start their trucks to make sure dash gauges are functioning. Monthly, McCorkle checks battery cables. Padgett makes a point of ducking under his trailer to ensure all connections are intact and in good condition.

For repairs on the road, McCorkle carries fuel filters, a drive belt and a headlight. Angsten packs a replacement for the four different types of lights on her truck and trailer, and Padgett carries light bulbs and fuel filters.

One of first things Dick McCorkle does in his truck pre-trip inspection is look for fluid leaks on the ground.

Truckers know that even the most complete pre-trip won’t prevent every breakdown, but it will head off most mechanical problems that can lead to costly roadside episodes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program provides further incentive for consistent pre-trips. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.