Driving Test Study Guide for the CDL
The Vehicle Inspection Test
The first test you take will be the Inspection Test. It will require you to identify each part of the truck and explain what you are looking for during an inspection.
The diagrams and explanations in the CDL Handbook (“SECTION 11: VEHICLE INSPECTION TEST”) provide detailed information about inspecting each section of the truck. The diagrams and explanations don’t provide any useful information about how to inspect the entire truck or how to pass this test.
You will inspect three sections of the truck:
- under the hood
- exterior of the truck
- interior of the cab (including the air brake test)
Always inspect the same way. Start in the same corner and work around the truck in the same direction. “Changing it up” or “skipping around” are sure ways to become confused and/or forget something.
During this test, you won’t actually be inspecting. The examiner wants to be certain that you know how to inspect. For example, point to the dipstick and say, “Check the oil level.” You don’t actually pull out the dipstick and check the oil level.
If the examiner asks you to actually check the oil level, follow the examiner’s directions.
If you have to interrupt the inspection test, explain why you are stopping—“Let me double-check that the parking brake is set.”—“I’m going to get my gloves from my bag.”—etc.
Warning: Wear gloves. Don’t burn yourself on hot engine components.
The Three Inspection Areas
Under the Hood
Start at the front, and work your way to the windshield (front to back and top to bottom). Inspect systematically; the same way every time:
- radiator mounts
- fan and fan blades
- fan clutch
You should be able to rattle off the entire list of parts and what you are looking for:
“Grill: no damage, no obstructions. Radiator: no damage, no obstructions, no leaks, no rust marks. Radiator mounts: secure, no damage, no missing bolts, nothing bent. Fan and fan blades: mounted securely no damage, no missing blades, no cracks. Fan clutch: fan moves by hand, does not spin free. Belts: no missing belts, no cracks, belts deflect 3/4” when pressed with one finger. Compressor: mounted securely no damage, no missing bolts, pulley secure.” and so on.
Point and/or touch each part as you name it.
Note: The inspection will be of the driver’s side (where the majority of the parts are), but be prepared to explain the passenger’s side.
Warning: Turn off the engine before inspecting under the hood.
Exterior of the Truck
Start at the driver’s door (where the previous inspection ends), and work your way counterclockwise around the truck. Name the parts as you go.
After you have inspected one side and the rear of the truck, the examiner might not want to hear the other side of the truck inspected. The examiner might move you back to the front of the truck. The examiner might interrupt you with questions. Answer the questions, then ask if he or she wants you to continue.
Interior of the Cab
Check that the parking brake is set. Adjust the seat. Name the various controls. Especially brakes, lights, and windshield wipers. Adjust the mirror at this point. (Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to help adjust the passenger side mirror.)
This is where you will need to do a brake test. The brake test is described in our study guide for the Air Brakes test.
During the test, describe what you are doing and looking for. Point at things as you describe them. (Pointing will help you remember.) Touch things as you describe them. (Touching will help you remember.) Touching is better than pointing.
When examining the equipment, you should generally be looking for:
- missing bolts
- bent parts
- foreign objects
- streaks of rust or shiny spots on metal surfaces (which could mean loose bolts)
- puddles on the ground (leaks)
- sprays of liquids
- sounds of leaking air
- frayed wire/hoses
- wires hanging loose
- damage to the truck
Note: Duct tape is a “red flag” for examiners.
The Basic Controls Skills Test
Basic Controls is essentially backing the truck through an obstacle course—without crossing a boundary line or driving over a traffic cone.
The overview for this section in the CDL Handbook (“SECTION 12: BASIC CONTROL SKILLS TEST”) is excellent. The method of testing (“12.1 – Scoring”) and the tests (“12.2 – Exercises”) are clearly described.
Your local driving school will set up its obstacle course exactly the same way as the local DMV test course.
Backing is like a puzzle or a complicated billiards shot. Think through what you are going to do. Decide where the back of your trailer needs to go. Decide when you are going to reverse your steering wheel. If the trailer starts going the wrong direction, stop and think things through again. Taking 3–5 seconds can mean all the difference.
Except for straight-line-backing, you get one free pull-up in every exercise. (You get no free pull-ups in straight-line-backing.) Every pull-up after the first free pull-up counts as an error.
Stopping without changing direction does not count as a pull-up. If you get confused, or want to spend a few seconds looking at the backing situation, stop and look out the window (and/or into the mirrors). As long as you continue in the same direction (don’t change direction), it doesn’t count against you.
You are permitted to get out and look. Put the truck in neutral and set the parking brake. Safely exit the truck (using three points of contact). You may “look” two times (except for straight line backing, which allows one “look.”)
Opening the door or moving from a seated position counts as a “look.”
When you drive forward, you steer the first axle, then all the other axles follow. The same sort of thing happens when you back. The position of the first axle (which would be the last axle of the trailer as you back) is the most important. Get the rear axle in the right position, then the drive axles of the tractor, and then the steer axles of the tractor. When the rear axles of the trailer move into the wrong position, go back to concentrating on that axle, etc.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
The Road Test
This test involves driving in a variety of road conditions. There will be a mix of street driving, highway driving, navigating turns, etc.
This section of the CDL Handbook (“SECTION 13: ROAD TEST”) is excellent.
The examiner will tell you where to drive. The examiner will not tell you to do anything illegal or unsafe. You will be given plenty of time to make the requested maneuvers.
If the testing route lacks certain traffic situations, you will be taken down a side street, and the examiner will ask you to simulate that situation. (For example: Your town might not have railroad tracks.)
Be certain that the mirrors are properly adjusted before you set off. (Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to help adjust the passenger side mirror.) If you set off, and the mirrors are wrong, stop and adjust the mirrors. (Inform the examiner why you want to stop.) You will probably get a point knocked off, but that would be better than crashing the truck.
Keep the truck in gear (except when shifting). If your truck coasts more than one truck length, it is an automatic fail.
Constantly scan out the windows, check the mirrors, check the gauges, etc.
Consult the mirrors more frequently while turning.
Wear your seatbelt.
Obtain a Commercial Driver Handbook from your state. Read it. The sections on “Basic Control Skills Test” and “Road Test” are very good. The section on “Vehicle Inspection Test” is not very informative. Ask your driving instructor for information on how your local DMV conducts the “Vehicle Inspection Test.”
Study the material in the handbook.
Pay attention in class. Watch what your fellow students are doing. Don’t waste time. It is very easy to stand around chatting with your fellow students, but doing too much of that will leave you unprepared to take your Driving test.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
All Study Guides for the CDL are now available as downloadable PDFs