Many people say the easiest part of being a professional driver is the actual driving of the truck. Some may believe that holding the steering wheel as you survey the countryside, listening to your favorite song is the perfect way to pass the day. And even though many romanticize the open road and wide open spaces that drivers sometimes get to enjoy, this is often not the case. Stop and go traffic in bumper to bumper rush hour is most often the norm. Commercial trucks must be able to navigate the busiest of city streets, the curviest of mountain passes and the endless bumps, dips, and divots of America’s interstates and highways. But before any of this can happen, a driver is responsible for making sure that their truck is roadworthy and capable of making it safely to the next destination. A driver is not only responsible for ensuring that their equipment is in good working order but meets all of the stringent regulations and safety guidelines outlined by the FMCSA and DOT. In some instances, trips can be hundreds of miles long and drivers are responsible for making a multitude of critical decisions that can be the difference between safely delivering a load and being just one of the many costly accidents seen on the road every day.
The first step to ensure that your truck is going to be up to the task is to perform a complete and thorough pre-trip vehicle inspection. Drivers are required to complete an inspection at the start of each trip before they operate their vehicle. FMCSA Regulation 392.7 states that no commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver is satisfied that certain parts of the vehicle including the brakes, steering systems, lights, tires, and other critical components are in good working order. This also includes required emergency equipment to be in place, in good order and available for use. – FMCSA Regulation 392.8. Once this has been verified by the driver and any needed repairs have been made, he should be ready to go.
A good inspection should start at the front of the vehicle and will take between 15 – 45 minutes to complete. As you approach your vehicle, make a general scan of the area and look for any obvious signs of damage or any telltale sign that might alert you that your vehicle is in need of attention. Some pros use the 4 – L technique to begin their inspection. They look at the lights. Are they clean, clear, and properly affixed to the vehicle? They look to see if anything is leaning on the vehicle. Is the vehicle itself leaning? Has there been a load shift, a blown airbag or shock, or possibly a flat tire? Look under the vehicle and see if anything is leaking. Now that you’ve completed this cursory check, you can begin with a more comprehensive look at the rest of your truck.
Open the hood. An overview of the engine bay will allow you to verify that all of the engine components are in good condition and working properly. With the hood open you can also confirm the serviceability of the front axles. You should make certain that all of the suspension and braking systems are securely attached and are in good working order. Check the rim and tire assembly for any cracks, dents or welding repairs. Make sure your front tires have adequate tread and are properly inflated. Now begin to move down the length of your vehicle. You will need to inspect everything from the driver’s side door and fuel area to the rear of the tractor. If you are connected to a trailer, you must inspect all of the coupling system components between the tractor and trailer to make certain you have a proper connection and your trailer will not come loose or breakaway while on the road.
Continue to inspect all remaining areas of your tractor and trailer. Front to back and top to bottom. Check any parts that are found in multiple locations such as rims and tires, and the suspension and braking systems. Check all of your lights, reflectors and reflective tape. Make sure that any parts filled with air or fluid are checked for leaks. If it moves, check it for excessive movement, and if it’s held in place with nuts and bolts, check it for any missing hardware. Once you have completed a 360o check of the outside of your vehicle, you can begin with the “in the vehicle” portion of the inspection.
The “in the vehicle” check is one of the most critical aspects of the overall inspection procedure. Here you will check the serviceability of all of your control systems, emergency equipment, and vehicle brake systems. Missing one thing here can be a matter of life and death. If your brakes are not working properly, you may not be able to slow down or stop when needed. Start your truck to make sure all of your gauges, and instrumentation is working correctly. Verify the readiness of your required emergency equipment. Check all of your brakes, including your tractor service and parking brakes, your trailer service and parking brakes, your low air warning alarms, your rate of air loss, and your emergency brakes. If anything is not working properly, it must be addressed before you can operate the truck safely and be DOT compliant.
Once you are satisfied that you have completed your inspection, do a final double check of all of your outside lights. Make sure you have all of your paperwork on board, your driver’s log is current and all of your credentials are up to date. Then you’ll know you’re safe and DOT compliant. Make sure you have planned your route and have accounted for any variables such as weather, traffic, and road conditions. With knowing that your truck is safe, legal and ready to go, you can hold the steering wheel, survey the countryside, and listen to your favorite song on the radio as you pass the day.