Safety Tips

Pre-Trip Inspection

Scot Barney
10 minutes

Practical Pre-Trip

We are required, by law, to do a pre-trip inspection every day. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency within the DOT responsible for the regulation of the trucking industry. The primary mandate of the FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving the commercial transportation industry. To ensure that it is not operated in a condition likely to cause hazardous conditions to the public, the FMCSA enforces laws governing the systematic, inspection, repair, and maintenance of commercial transportation equipment. The agency also oversees commercial driver’s licensing, including suspensions and revocations.

So, I’ve done enough dumb things over the course of my life that I’ve gradually developed a habit of looking into the future with a focus on what conditions my actions might bring about that could disrupt “normal life” for myself and my family somewhere down the road. There have been some real potholes that I didn’t see coming at all. You know, when you put all of the, well, the one egg in the one basket, and then the basket has a steer tire blowout and destroys the basket’s whole fender and headlight pod. Then you get to take an unplanned, un-funded vacation down by Savannah to think about these types of things.  

It would be great if all the statistical information about our lives was available to us. I’d be curious to know if the days that drivers don’t do a really good pre-trip were also the days they had problems with their equipment. There is probably a high coincidence of causation and correlation. My DOT inspections have gone well for the most part. I was marked off one time for the pressure cap on my CO2 trailer not being screwed on and the guy would not hear me when I told him that it wasn’t a pressure cap. It’s a dust cap dude, it has holes in it.

I was put out of service once while pulling a carrier’s trailer. When he walked me around to show me what he’d written me up for, he told me about how he put a baseball team’s bus out of service the week before. Nice enough guy, I guess, but I think he was determined to red tag something. He followed me to make sure I could complete the delivery before putting me out of service.

That story brought to mind another point. If I were a different type of person, for instance, who has a tough time separating their inside and outside voice, that day could’ve been much worse. The DOT officer probably spent about two hours in his cruiser looking through his book trying to figure out how to put that trailer out of service. It was the first trip of my night and, all said and done, it probably cost me about 2 days’ pay. It was extremely frustrating, but losing my cool would only have served to make the situation worse. Maintain your Zen. Channel your inner Fonzie. Do your pre-trip.

I don’t think a thorough pre-trip inspection would have made any difference that day, but there were other occasions when it could have spared me a lot of pain. A thorough pre-trip inspection can be the difference between a good, profitable day and a lousy, expensive one. When you maximize your productivity and minimize your downtime to keep your money right, a lousy expensive day really hurts. If the immediate financial loss isn’t motivation enough, there are circumstances that could cause our CDL to be suspended or revoked by the DOT. I’ll save that for another time. Now, here are the bullet points.

Pre-Trip Inspection Checklist:

1. Engine Compartment:
  • Check for leaks, belt tightness, electrical wiring and connections, and fluid levels (oil, coolant, power steering, washer fluid).
  • If you’re suspicious that you have a leak, put a cardboard box down under your engine when you park.
2. Fuel Supply:
  • Inspect for leaks, cap security, and fuel level.
  • If you don’t have much faith in humanity, some locking fuel caps aren’t a bad investment, but they can be aggravating.
3. Cab Check/Engine Start:
  • Ensure gauges are working, mirrors and windshield are clean and undamaged, and seatbelts are functional.
4. Lights and Reflectors:
  • Verify that headlights, taillights, turn signals, and reflectors are clean, functional, and free from damage.
  • Squeegee off yesterday’s dirt and snow so people know there is someone in front of them.
5. Steering Mechanism:
  • Examine for excessive play in the steering wheel and ensure smooth steering.
6. Windshield Wipers:
  • Check wipers and washers for proper operation.
7. Horn:
  • Test horn for functionality.
  • If you’re at the truck stop, maybe do this after you are rolling so you don’t ruin your neighbor’s day before it has even started.
8. Air Brakes:
  • Check parking brake, service brake, and if equipped, trailer brake.
  • If you think you may have an air leak, find a quiet spot, kill the engine, walk around, and have a listen.
9. Wheels and Tires:
  • Check for proper inflation, tread depth, and overall condition of tires; inspect wheels and rims for damage.
  • Steer tire failures are particularly expensive and dangerous.
10. Suspension System:
  • Look for damage or leaks in the suspension components.
  • Leaky shocks can provoke an out of service violation.
11. Exhaust System:
  • Check for secure mounting and signs of leaks.
12. Frame and Body:
  • Inspect for any visible damage or issues with the truck frame and body.
13. Coupling Devices:
  • Inspect the coupling devices for security and wear.
  • If your truck has been bobtail for a while in the cold weather, make sure the jaws of your fifth wheel don’t have any ice built up. You definitely don’t want to drop a trailer when you don’t intend to.
14. Emergency Equipment:
  • Verify the presence and accessibility of a fire extinguisher, safety triangles, and spare fuses.
15. Documentation:
  • Ensure possession of required documents (license, registration, insurance, inspection, permits).
16. Battery:
  • Inspect for secure mounting and clean connections and sniff for that expensive rotten egg odor.

Thank you for all you do!

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