CSA Part 2: Maintaining your equipment

Todd Dills | May 01, 2011


Now more than ever, you’re responsible for what you drive, including company trailers. Take control of maintenance with robust inspection procedures and self-education to avoid inspection hassles.

“I go over my truck with a fine-tooth comb every day,” says owner-operator Bob Grantham, based in San Antonio, Texas.

That routine is arguably the single biggest thing owner-operators can do to effectively deal with much of the increased maintenance scrutiny under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

This bobtail’s carrier showed an Inspection Selection System score below 50 when it pulled through the Manchester, Tenn., scales on I-24, putting it well below the “Inspect” category threshold. Nevertheless, alerted by the truck’s appearance and age, Trooper Kevin Curtis (pictured) pulled it aside.

Last month, Part 1 of Overdrive’s guide to dealing with CSA addressed what owner-operators can do to manage the driver-related data that contributes to their own and their leasing carriers’ safety scores. The other side of the coin is what might be the most well-developed of CSA’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs): Vehicle Maintenance.

“The vehicle itself is where all the compliance officers have been trained,” says Jay Thompson, president of consulting firm Transportation Business Associates.

From a maintenance perspective, CSA markedly raises the stakes for owner-operators – not just because of the program’s intensity, but because of the level of responsbility it places on drivers. Both the public Carrier Safety Measurement System (SMS) and the private Driver Safety Measurement System (DSMS) reflect accountability for equipment violations, regardless of vehicle ownership.

The Vehicle Maintenance BASIC in both ranks carriers and individual drivers on their attention to the nuts and bolts of their rigs. Unlike the SafeStat system that it replaces, which included just out-of-service vehicle violations in its scoring, CSA includes all vehicle violations in near real-time. Scoring is updated monthly.

The lower a carrier’s ranking, the better. With a score above 80 in Vehicle Maintenance, FMCSA could come calling.

Many independent owner-operators are scoring well in the category, as reflected in early SMS results ranking carriers, publicly available since December 2010. The average Vehicle Maintenance score for carriers with up to five trucks was well below the intervention threshold (or “alert” status) and lower than in all four other public BASICs.

Here are key practices to increase the odds that your equipment doesn’t get selected for inspection and that, when it does, it will pass:

Double down on pre- and post-trip inspections.

Performance of the daily vehicle inspections required by federal regulations has degenerated over the years, says adviser Bill McClusky, with owner-operator business services provider ATBS. Too many operators, he says, may hit the ground only one time, if at all, during a pre-trip.

“You need to get underneath and check all the brake mechanisms, air lines going to the trailer, brake travel on the slack adjusters, spring hangers, air bags, checking for all leaks, any loose chassis components,” he says.

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