CDL Pre-Trip Inspection Test and How To Memorize It

Memorizing the CDL pre-trip inspection is no doubt one of the more daunting tasks you will encounter on your way to getting your commercial driver’s license. Relax, it can be done.

The pre-trip is one of the things that students fear the most and fail the most. Let’s face it, the pre-trip is intimidating because there is so much stuff to memorize. The key to learning the pre-trip inspection is preparation, memorization, and repetition. Don’t go away, in this article I have exactly what you need to make sure you pass it the first time.

It is going to take time for you to memorize everything and the only way to do this is by repeating it over and over.

Hopefully, the school where you are being trained is giving you enough time to practice it everyday you are there.

I can’t stress that enough, regardless of which method you use below you need to repeat it daily and practice on your own.

Don’t expect that your run through once a day with your instructor is enough, it isn’t.

In this article I’m going to give you 8 tips that will help you memorize the pre-trip so you are able to pass it your first time and move on with your driving career.


The only way to memorize the pre-trip is to repeat it over and over. Start with the engine area and work your way around the truck and finally inside the cab.

There is no way around consistent repetition. The more you do it the more you will memorize it. It’s just that simple.

Now that we have established how important repetition is I want you go through the rest of this list and figure out which method (or methods) works best for you and then repeat it over and over.

It’s also a good idea to pick a few different methods so you learn about the pre-trip from different angles.

2. Record Someone Else

You can use YouTube to find a video of someone doing a pretrip and for the most part they work pretty well (more about YouTube later).

Take it a step further though. Ask someone (like and instructor or friend) to do a pre-trip and video record them.

While they are doing it try to use the zoom function on your camera so that you know what the parts look like and what is being checked.

Students that I come across have said that this method works really well because you have quality video and audio. Just watch your recording over and over and this stuff will be engraved in your brain.

Just make sure you are absolutely sure that the person you record knows what they are doing and are showing you everything. You don’t want to watch a video that skips anything that will be on the test.

3. Smaller Chunks

Break down the pre-trip into smaller chunks so that it is not overwhelming. If you think about memorizing everything at once it will be a daunting task.

My suggestion is you learn your air brakes first, then the inside of the cab, the engine compartment, and then the rest of the truck. You can chose any order that you want to as long as it helps you out.

Memorize each part and then tie it all together. You will find that learning the pre-trip is much easier if you do it this way.

4. Use Your Imagination

Do this while in bed before you fall asleep. Warning: the pre-trip is going to consume a lot of your attention during training, even while you sleep!

Here is what you can do:
Close your eyes and imagine yourself completing each step of the pre-trip. Watch yourself identify parts and listen to yourself saying, “It’s not cracked, bent, or broken” and “There are no abrasions, bulges, or cuts”. Do this over and over until you have made it through the entire inside and outside of the truck.

This method works really well. Do it every single day as a review of what you learned during the day.

When you wake up go through a video you found on YouTube or the one you recorded (see #2) and correct any errors you made.

5. Find A Truck

It really helps if you have access to a truck. Pictures alone are not enough. Most of you are probably getting your training through a private school, company sponsored training, or community college.

All of these will give you access to an actual truck and should be taking time each day to practice the pre-trip.

Take advantage of this time with the truck to practice your pre-trip as much as possible. When class ends try to stick around to get in some extra practice, this could be the difference between passing and failing.

6. Watch A Pre-Trip Video On YouTube (not straight through)

There are a lot of videos on YouTube that you can choose from. Let me save you some time, these two (below) is the best because it has good audio and video quality, is accurate, and is easy to follow.

Don’t watch the video straight through over and over. Like I mentioned earlier you should chunk it into smaller sections.

Watch a section, pause it, and list off the names of the parts and things to look for. Play it again to see if you are getting them correct. When you finish one section go on to another section until you finish it.

Don’t move on to a new section until you have memorized the section you started. When you complete all the sections you should be able to watch the whole pre-trip and repeat everything on it from start to finish.

If you want to challenge yourself a little try mixing up the sections so that the sections that was last is now first. This will let you know if you are really memorizing everything.

7. Use A Checklist

Probably the most popular ways to memorize the pre-trip is to use a checklist. No doubt that wherever you are getting your training at is already giving you a checklist to use.

Use it. A lot.

Not all checklists are done in the same order but they should all cover the same stuff. I like this one here (printable PDF document) by the people at Trucking Truth, it’s easy to follow and is accurate.

Every possible thing that you will need to identify during the pre-trip is on this checklist.

8. Use Pictures/Diagrams

There are a ton of picture resources out there that will help you memorize the test. Just do a search for “cdl pre-trip inspection pictures” and you will find a ton of stuff.

The picture I like most are these (link to PDF) by Driver Solutions. The pictures are easy to see and distinct arrows are used to point to each part. Along with pictures is an explanation of what to look for and what to say for each individual part.

What Is The Pre-Trip Inspection?

The pre-trip inspection is an inspection of the commercial vehicle including the cab, engine compartment, and exterior.

A driver of a commercial vehicle is required, by federal law, to complete one every day before driving the vehicle and at least once in a 24 hour period. Every single time you begin driving your truck you will have to complete a pre-trip.

The purpose of it is to make sure that the vehicle is safe to drive.

This gives you a chance to get whatever is wrong fixed. If you miss something and are inspected it could result in citations by the DOT.

A lot of drivers find it to be a pain in the rear but you really need to do it every single time you drive your truck. Don’t listen to the irresponsible driver at the truck stop that tells you it’s okay to skip it. It’s not okay.

How Long Does An Inspection Take?

A pre-trip usually takes about 15-45 minutes to complete. It really depends on the type of truck you are inspecting and your experience.

After several years of driving it’s inevitable that your pre-trip is going to be quicker because you are better at doing it and you know what to look for.

As a new driver you should take your time and make sure you do it right. Make it a habit to always conduct a thorough inspection so that you run into less problems while on the road.

What To Say During The Pre-Trip Test

Knowing what to say is important during the test. There are some specific language the person testing you is going to be listening for. More than likely you already heard these phrases but here is an easy way to remember what to say:

PMS— Properly Mounted, Secure
ABC— Abrasions, Bulges, Cuts
CBB— Cracked, Bent, Broken

There are some tricks that you can use to make sure you say the right thing, here they are:
1. If its mounted (almost everything is) use the words, “Properly Mounted, Secure” (PMS)
2. If its rubber use the words, “Abrasions, Bulges, Cuts” (ABC)
3. If it’s metal or another hard surface use the words, “Cracked, Bent, Broken” (CBB)
4. If it has fluid or air going through it or in it remember to say, “Not Leaking”

This language shouldn’t be new to you, hopefully the school that is training you has already taught you this stuff.

What Should You Cover During The Pre-Trip?

The areas that you should cover include the coupling system, light check, in-cab inspection, engine compartment, trailer, and drivers door fuel area. Make sure that you are prepared for all of these.

Also, keep in mind that CDL schools/classes may cover the pre-trip in different orders. It’s okay though, they all cover the same stuff. The order that you practice is probably going to be different from someones in a different school/class.

There is no correct order as long as you memorize everything.

What Will Be Tested On The Actual State Pre-trip Inspection Test?

You will be required to perform a pre-trip for the light check, the in-cab inspection, and the coupling system. These 3 areas you have to complete.

After completing those 3 areas your examiner will have you perform one of the following: the engine compartment, trailer, drivers door fuel door, or the entire vehicle.

You will not know ahead of time which one the examiner will choose. This is why it is crucial that you know all the areas.

What Else You Can Do To Prepare?

Aside from the ways listed above to help you memorize the pre-trip there are some other things you can do.

One thing you can do is try answering some practice tests like these here from Trucking Truth. There are 5 free practice tests you can take.

I really find that these practice tests reinforce what you need to know for the real test. It’s worth your time try them out just to see how you do.

What If You Fail The Pre-Trip?

If you do fail the pre-trip you are able to retake it. Make sure you know why you failed the test, ask the inspector if he/she can specifically tell you what you did wrong.

This is usually never a problem because the inspectors want you to know what you missed so that you can pass the test the next time.

One more thing, don’t be embarrassed because you didn’t pass it on your first try! This happens to a lot of people! You are not the only person that will fail the pre-trip and you won’t be the last.

Study what it is that you missed/did wrong and pass it on your second attempt.

Extra Tips For Passing The Pre-Trip Test

Probably the most common reason people fail the pre-trip is because they are nervous.

The two things that will help you out the most is to always remember that the pre-trip is a verbal contact test.

As you start walking towards the vehicle you should already be looking for any leaks under it, broken marker lights, loose mirror brakes and anything else that seems out of place.

BE VERBAL! Your number one priority is to make sure the examiner knows that you know what you are talking about. The more you talk the greater your chances are to pass the test.

Even if it might seem you are going overboard just keep going. Examiners tend to like when testers are verbal.

CONTACT! The second most important thing you can do is make contact with the item you are describing.  For example, as you are explaining the radiator brace you need to make sure you point to or put your hand on the brace as well.

Your examiner wants to make sure that you actually know what the item is that you are explaining.

Make sure you are pointing the the correct item though! Don’t describe the radiator brace
while pointing to the turbo!

Again, make sure you are VERBAL and CONTACT every single item (correctly) that you are describing.

Now go pass that test! Good luck driver!