How Do I Pass the CDL Test Vehicle Pre-Trip Inspection: Tips From the Experts

Learning the vehicle inspection portion of the CDL test is difficult for many students. In most states, there are over 100 items to be checked on the tractor-trailer. Passing the test requires each student to study and memorize the items tested. Drivers need to be able to point out a part, and describe what condition it is in.

Here are some important tips to help you learn how to pass the vehicle inspection:

1. Read the CDL Manual.
The state manual has a comprehensive list of items that will be tested. Take the time to read and understand the items. Ask your instructor questions if you are unclear on a part’s function, condition or location.

2. Make Index Cards and Use Them as “Flash Cards”.
Write a specific vehicle part on the front of the card, and the description on the back. For example, the front might say “headlights.” The back of the card might say “lights are working, not cracked or broken.”

3. Repeat After me!
There is no way around it: to learn over 100 parts, you need to practice and repeat. Every day of your training, see if you can practice a full pre-trip, start to finish.

4. Buddy System.
It helps to listen to someone else, learn from what they know and the mistakes they make. Get a buddy from your class and each of you do a vehicle inspection. Help each other learn. Use a checklist so you can keep track of what was identified or missed.

5. Know the In-Cab Air Brake Check!
This is complicated, and if you do not do it correctly, it is an ATOMATIC FAILURE of the CDL test. This includes the static and applied air brake checks, low air warning system and spring brake check, for example. These take practice and an understanding of the truck’s air brake system. This is an easy procedure to do every time you get in the truck.

6. Study Guides Work.
There are numerous study guides available that can help you learn. These can be obtained from your school, or from the internet. Formats that include a checklist and photos, and are in the order of a front to rear vehicle inspection help.

7. Break it Down to Bitesize.
Do the pre-trip in easy “bites.” This means describing items that are related. For example, always do the front exterior first; then move to the engine compartment; then look at the axles; then the brakes. This way, you are not overwhelmed with 100 items. Instead, you complete the inspection one area at a time, which is much more manageable.

8. Take photographs with your cell phone.
You can take a picture of most items on the truck. Use these to study. If you have a function on your phone to add a description or notes, you can do that too. Study the photos and quiz yourself.

9. Relax! Many students fail the CDL test because they are nervous that a “Tester” is grading them. Take a couple deep breaths before the test. Visualize yourself passing. If you need to stop and just collect your thoughts, that’s OK. Most important, practice so that you are confident. Most nervousness in testing is because the student is not prepared.

10. Use the phrases the Tester wants to hear. For most items, you can use simple language that communicates to the tester that you understand what is to be inspected. Use phrases that are standard in the industry, and that the Tester wants to hear. There are some common abbreviations and hints. For example:

– Anything mounted to the truck – PMS: means “Properly Mounted and Secure”
– Anything that is rubber – ABC: means no “Abrasions, Bulges, or Cuts”
– Any metal parts – CBB: means not “Cracked, Bent, or Broken”
– Any fluids or air hoses – say it is “Not Leaking”

11. You Tube (but be careful!).
There are very good resources on YouTube showing and explaining pre-trip vehicle inspections. Some are good, some are not. Some follow the CDL test format, others are a more practical “Driver’s” pre-trip designed for the real world, not a CDL exam. You Tube is a good resource, just keep in mind that not every YouTuber is correct or knowledgeable.

12. Consistency Helps.
Each time you do the vehicle inspection, follow the same order. Don’t jump around. Have a plan and a system. Follow it. Practice it. That way, you should miss very few items.

13. Point and Touch.
Testers want clear communication. The clearest way to identify an item is to touch it or point carefully, identify the part loudly and clearly, and then describe the condition. Since you have to speak clearly during the test, make sure that is how you practice.

14. Don’t Over-Complicate the Inspection.
Keep in mind that the vehicle inspection is not rocket science or brain surgery. Keep the inspection simple. You don’t need to ramble on and on about each part. Just identify it out loud, touch it when you can, and then give a simple explanation of the condition you are inspecting for. Then move on to the next part.

15. Listen to the Tester.
Put yourself in the Tester’s position. They administer the test several times a day to all sorts of people. They see people who cooperate, but also some who are arrogant or combative. Don’t make their job difficult. Listen to their instructions. Be friendly and cooperative. Have a good attitude. Demonstrate that you want to be a safe and professional driver.

Keep in mind that much of the process of learning the vehicle inspection depends on the student driver working to learn and memorize the pre-trip items. A school cannot force a student to memorize, learn or practice. Every student who wants to go into trucking must take responsibility for this process. So start early in your preparation for the vehicle inspection part of the CDL test, and you can easily pass!

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