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Fleet Management

A Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist For Fleet Managers

A pre-trip inspection checklist is essential for keeping fleet vehicles safe and in good working order. Learn what details to include on the form.

pre-trip inspection checklist

Fleet owners and managers are often looking for ways to keep their fleet vehicles safe and in good working order. Creating and implementing a pre-trip inspection checklist can help. Doing so allows businesses to preserve and prolong the use of their most important assets.

In this article, we discuss the pre-trip inspection checklist in detail and offer tips for what to include on inspection forms.

Table Of Contents

Traditional Vs. Modern Pre-Trip Inspection Checklists

pre-trip inspection checklist

Traditional pre-trip inspection checklists are paper forms that guide drivers through a thorough inspection of the vehicle that they’re about to use.

The inspection includes all major systems — interior, exterior, and basic mechanical — and ensures that the vehicle is safe to pilot and doesn’t have a small problem that could develop into a big (and often more expensive) problem.

Not only are these inspections a good idea for keeping a fleet operationally sound, but they’re required by law.

As we’ll discuss in the next section, there are quite a few points for the driver to check, but the entire process only takes about 10 or 15 minutes, so it’s not a lot of time out of the driver’s day.

As effective as traditional checklists were, modern technology has improved things quite a bit. Now, modern pre-trip inspection checklists are largely in digital format, and drivers can access and fill out the form on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other mobile device.

In many cases, digital versions of the checklist also interface with electronic logging devices and other telematics installed on the vehicle to make the inspection even easier.

The details included on pre-inspection checklists largely depend on the type of vehicles being operated and the condition and needs of a commercial fleet.

For example, if a driver will be operating a semi, their fleet manager will want to create a vehicle-specific checklist that includes an inspection of the coupling system and trailer condition.

On the other hand, if the driver will be operating a work van or work truck — that won’t be pulling a trailer — a vehicle-specific checklist that skips those steps (or at least makes them conditional on how the vehicle will be used that day) will work.

Again, it all depends on the demands of the industry and the needs of the business.

What To Include On A Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist

What To Include On A Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist

In this section, we’ll discuss some of the basic items to include on a pre-trip inspection checklist for a car, SUV, service van, or pickup truck that won’t be hauling a trailer.

Keep in mind that this list can include additional items as needed for a more thorough inspection of the vehicle.


1) Driver ID

One of the very first items on any pre-trip inspection checklist should be driver identification.

In most cases, this is just the driver’s name, but it can also include space for their employee number and any other information a manager might need when reviewing the form.

2) Vehicle ID

Every pre-trip inspection checklist should include some way to identify the vehicle that the driver is inspecting.

Fleet managers may choose to create their own fleet numbering system or use the VIN or license plate number as the vehicle ID.

3) Odometer

Another important entry on any pre-trip inspection checklist is the odometer reading.

When compared with the odometer reading at the end of the trip, this information provides insight into how much the vehicle is being used and helps managers establish an effective preventative maintenance schedule.


Woman doing a pre-trip inspection checklist

4) Seat Belts

Seat belts are one of the most important safety features in any vehicle. As such, drivers should verify that they’re functioning properly before every trip.

Every part of the seatbelt should:

  • Fit snugly when in place
  • Move smoothly when pulled gently or at a specific angle
  • Lock when tugged or pulled at a specific angle
  • Latch firmly
  • Release easily and immediately when the button is pressed

Fleet managers may even go so far as to ask drivers to quickly inspect the seat belt every time they exit and reenter the vehicle.

5) Brakes

Drivers should verify that the brakes engage with minimal pressure and that, when pressed, activate the brake lights.

If the brake pedal has too much travel, there may be a hydraulic fluid leak somewhere in the system.

6) Fuel Level

Fuel levels should be checked against the amount reported at the end of the previous day’s activities.

If these numbers (or the relative position of the needle) don’t match, there could be a leak in the fuel line or a problem with the gauge itself.

7) Cleanliness

The cleanliness of the cabin is important because it makes for a safe and comfortable working environment — especially if drivers switch vehicles every day.

The cabin should be free of debris, and all necessary gear should be stowed in its proper place and secured from moving around.

8) Horn

Though they may seem like an afterthought, a vehicle’s horn can warn other drivers and prevent accidents from occurring.

Drivers should verify that the horn works properly before leaving company property or continuing their trip.

9) Climate Control

If a company’s fleet vehicles have climate control, the pre-trip inspection checklist should include a place where drivers check that both systems — cabin AC and heat — are in good working order.

10) Documentation

This step helps drivers remember to check that they have all necessary documentation at the ready should they need it, including:

  • Registration
  • Driver’s license
  • Certifications
  • Insurance
  • Fuel cards

Most of this information should remain in the cab of the vehicle, but it’s good to verify it’s all there just in case.

11) Windshield Wipers

Drivers should turn on the windshield wipers and make sure they both work. While the wipers are running, they should test the windshield spray system to verify that there’s nothing preventing the wiper fluid from dispensing onto the window.

They should also visually inspect the area where the windshield meets the body of the vehicle. In service vans and light trucks, this is the bottom of the wiper’s travel and is where the blades sit when not in use.

They should look for and remove any debris — leaves, dirt, sticks, etc. — that might accumulate there and damage the blades or prevent the wiper from traveling freely in either direction.

Windshield wipers are an important, if underestimated, system in all vehicles and should be inspected regularly for damage and wear.

Without working windshield wipers and a functioning windshield wiper fluid system, drivers can be rendered virtually blind if the weather should change suddenly or if another vehicle starts to spray water, slush, snow, or mud in its wake.

12) Emergency Equipment

This part of the checklist includes an inspection of all vehicle and driver emergency equipment, including:

  • Spare tire
  • Jack
  • Lug wrench
  • Jumper cables
  • Reflective triangles
  • Flares
  • Extra coolant and engine oil
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit
  • Toolkit
  • Flashlight
  • PPE

Some vehicles may not include all these items — or they may include more — but each one should be securely stored in its proper place.


crew checking exterior of van

13) Body

Fleet managers will want to note any cosmetic issues, such as condition of paint and decals, as well as structural issues, such as dents, scratches, and rust.

This serves to help maintain the general repair of the vehicle and indicate which driver might be at fault for any damage incurred.

14) Lights

All lights — headlights, hazard lights, taillights, marker lights, etc. — should work and be in safe operating order.

Not only is this an easy way to keep drivers and others on the road safe, but it’s also a legal boundary fleet-based businesses don’t want to cross. Doing so can result in fines and other citations that can hinder the operation of a fleet.

15) Tires

At this point, fleet managers will want to inspect all tires for excess wear, holes, tears, or protruding objects. This is also a good place on the checklist to check the tire pressure.

16) Wheels

pre-trip inspection checklist

Drivers should inspect the wheels, lug nuts, and rims and look for cracks, corrosion, dents, and other damage on the exposed metal of each wheel paying specific attention to the rims of each wheel (the outermost portion of the wheel where the tire comes in contact with the metal).

This can help prevent the tires from losing air or suffering a blowout while on the road.

Finally, drivers should hand-tighten the lug nuts that attach the wheel to the axle. If one of the lug nuts feels loose, the vehicle should not be moved before tightening all the lug nuts on the wheel with a torque wrench to the readings specified in the owner’s manual.

17) Load Security

Most fleet vehicles will carry some type of cargo throughout the course of the day, so drivers should inspect the load security systems before hitting the road.

While such an inspection may include an on-board alarm of some kind, nine times out of 10, verifying load security has more to do with ensuring that the load doesn’t move, shift, or slide when the vehicle gets underway.

In work vans and work trucks, drivers may need to inspect cargo tie-down points along with any straps, shelves, or partitions used to keep tools, supplies, and other large objects from falling over or flying around during transit.

Even a small item can do a lot of damage — to the driver, the fleet vehicle, or someone else’s vehicle — if not properly secured in the back of a van or the bed of a pickup truck.

18) Mirrors

Before getting underway, drivers should sit in the pilot’s seat, adjust it to their preferences, and then verify that the mirrors are where they need to be for an optimal view of the vehicle exterior.

Part of the checklist should instruct the driver to pay particular attention to any hood-mounted, fender-mounted, rear-mounted, or look-down mirrors that may be installed on the vehicle in addition to the two standard side-view mirrors and the rear-view mirror inside the cab.

These mirrors can move slightly during transit, so drivers should always check them (and reset them) before getting underway and after each fuel or rest stop.

19) Coupling Hardware

If the vehicle will be pulling a trailer of any kind, drivers should check the coupling hardware on the van, truck, or semi as well as on the trailer itself to make sure there are no cracks, corrosion, or damage to any of the components.

It’s also a good idea for the driver to:

  • Verify that the tail lights on the trailer work when the pedal in the cab is depressed
  • Verify that any trailer braking system is in good working order and set to the correct value for the load
  • Verify the tie-down points on the trailer are solid
  • Inspect straps, chains, and all other retention systems

Looking over the coupling hardware (and the trailer itself) will add steps to the pre-trip inspection checklist, but it will also ensure the safety of the load, the driver, and everyone else on the road.

20) License Plate

As part of the exterior inspection, drivers should verify that the license plate is:

  • Secured to the frame of the vehicle at all requisite points
  • Not damaged, bent, or broken
  • Not expired

It can also be useful for managers or drivers to verify that all inspection/registration stickers are clearly displayed on the vehicle and are not damaged in such a way so as to obscure the information.

21) Undercarriage

Drivers should also inspect the undercarriage of the vehicle on both sides and at the front and rear before heading out.

In the process, they should inspect the axles, shocks, struts, and any other components that are visible and look for any breaks in the frame, excessive rust, and holes in the body, muffler, transmission, or fuel tank.

They don’t necessarily have to crawl under the vehicle for this part of the inspection, but they should look at as much of the undercarriage as possible before completing the pre-trip inspection checklist.


22) Oil Level

Drivers need to check and make note of the oil level in the vehicle they pilot.

Fleet managers may also want to train drivers to refill the engine oil as necessary as long as they report low levels on the form.

23) Wiper Fluid Level

Drivers will also need to check and refill the wiper fluid as necessary.

24) Transmission Fluid Level

Checking the transmission fluid level on some vehicles is prohibitively difficult, so drivers can sometimes skip this step altogether.

That said, if the vehicles haul heavy loads on a regular basis or pull large trailers, managers may want to have their drivers check levels more often.

25) Battery

Each battery (some vehicles have multiple) should be checked for signs of corrosion, loose connections, frayed or worn cables, and other issues that might lead to problems while on the road.

26) Hoses

In this step, drivers can visually inspect all hoses for damage and wear.

27) Leaks

Similarly, drivers can inspect the surface of the engine and the ground underneath for wet spots, puddles, and other signs that there might be a leak somewhere under the hood.

28) Diagnostic Trouble Codes

Fleet managers may want to train drivers to check the diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) and report any changes or discrepancies.

This step does take specialized equipment to conduct, which may not be able to go on the road with drivers. In that case, they won’t be able to run the check once they’ve left home base. But it’s always a good idea to check the DTCs before starting the day’s work.

29) Sounds

Last but not least, drivers should start the engine and listen for any out-of-the-ordinary sounds that might indicate a problem with the mechanical systems.

30) Steering

Delivery Man Checking List In Van

As part of the pre-trip inspection checklist, drivers should test the steering before putting the vehicle in drive.

Is the steering wheel easy to turn? Is it close to straight up and down when the wheels are pointed forward? Is there a lot of extra play in the wheel? Does the steering pull hard to one side or the other?

If the answer to either of the last two questions is yes, a trained mechanic will need to inspect the vehicle before the driver leaves.

Steering systems will vary in feel from vehicle to vehicle, but if a driver finds reason for concern, they should be encouraged to talk to a licensed professional before getting behind the wheel.

How To Improve The Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist

Go Digital

One of the best ways that managers can improve the pre-trip inspection checklist is to transition from paper to digital.

Drivers often find paper forms tedious and more difficult to complete. This can lead them to rush through the report or skip it altogether. That can result in unplanned downtime, reduced vehicle lifespan, and even compliance and safety violations.

Digital solutions, on the other hand, are often more readily received by new and experienced drivers alike.

Many fleet management apps come with features that give drivers access to electronic Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports (eDVIRs).

These tools can help streamline the inspection process (both pre- and post-trip), eliminate communication gaps, and increase driver participation.

Those same tools can also help reduce the time it takes for drivers to complete the process, making them a more attractive alternative to paper reports.

Train Everyone On The Team

View Of Truck Driver From Behind The Steering Wheel Wearing A High Vis Vest

Not everyone who drives a fleet vehicle will come to the business with the knowledge needed to complete the pre-trip inspection checklist correctly.

HVAC techs or delivery drivers may not be able to discern the difference between a new tire and a worn-out tire the first time they get behind the wheel.

Instead, managers should train everyone on the team, regardless of experience, how to inspect the various systems on the vehicles they’ll be driving

As part of this training, they should include information such as:

  • The way each component on the vehicle is supposed to look and function
  • The proper way to proceed through the pre-trip inspection checklist
  • How to properly check each system
  • A comprehensive list of potential risks that may arise if they drive an unfit vehicle
  • The consequences they may face if they fail to complete the report
  • Who they should talk to if they find a problem with their vehicle

In addition, managers should have all drivers sign a form that indicates that they understand all the information presented to them during the training course and are prepared to abide by business guidelines for the pre-trip inspection checklist.

Encourage Driver Buy-In

Once training is complete, managers should continue to encourage driver buy-in to the inspection process and reinforce the importance that the business places on keeping vehicles in safe working order.

Some businesses have found success by creating a rewards system tied to the inspection process as a way to motivate drivers to complete pre- and post-trip reports (and to complete them well).

Ask For Driver Feedback

Drivers are the ones who have to deal with the pre-inspection checklist every day, so managers can ask for their feedback on how to make it better.

It could be something as simple as reorganizing some of the steps to make the list flow better. Or, it could be something as involved as adding new inspection points to ensure full coverage of the vehicles.

Monitor Driver Behavior With Telematics

In some cases, making the pre-trip inspection checklist better may also involve monitoring driver behavior with telematics.

Tracking such variables as speeding, hard braking, heavy acceleration, and seat belt use (just to name a few) can help fleet managers train drivers how to pilot their vehicles to prevent many of the issues that pre- and post-trip inspections are meant to uncover.

Some fleet management apps come with telematics features that link directly to digital inspection reports to make all fleet activities run smoother.

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