CSA Part 2: Maintaining your equipment

Todd Dills | May 01, 2011

“If I had a dollar bill for every inspection I’ve done on this truck, I’d be a rich man,” says Union City, Tenn.-based owner-operator Robert Shumate, leased to Williams Sausage. “In my opinion, you can’t really just look at a truck twice a day and say everything’s OK. I go over the truck early in the morning, check everything out pretty good.”

Throughout the day, Shumate says, he continues to check equipment on his Peterbilt 379. “Say I stop and walk inside at the truck stop. While I’m going in I’m looking underneath the truck to make sure I don’t see anything hanging. When I’m opening the trailer doors to unload, I’m checking out the wheel seals. You’ve got to look at everything, top and bottom, side to side.”

To be completely thorough with your inspections, know equipment regulations. The applicable regulatory parts are 393 and 396 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Visit fmcsa.dot.gov and search the numbers under “Rules & Regulations,” or revisit your paper copy of the regs.

Haul for a carrier that’s committed to maintenance.

If you’re leased, insist on needed repairs to company equipment as need arises. With CSA in effect, as Shumate suggests, any responsible leasing carrier will want to be on top of it quickly. Though Shumate owns a reefer trailer, he gives the example of a situation he’s seen many times with other carriers. “I pick up a company trailer and let’s say it’s got a bad tire,” he says. “I call the carrier and say ‘Hey, it’s licked, looks like a bathing cap.’ They say, ‘Well, we’ll fix that down the road. It’ll make another trip.’”

Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Robert Hadden looks on as an owner-operator opens his hood for inspection of the steering mechanism at the eastbound scale house on I-24 in Manchester, Tenn.

A violation for that tire today might not put Shumate out of service, but it will contribute points to the carrier’s CSA ranking in Vehicle Maintenance. It will stay for three years on Shumate’s employment history.

Jeff Sass, general marketing manager for Paccar Parts, says he thinks fleets will indeed be much more proactive when breakdowns occur, which could mean more assistance for drivers when all manner of roadside equipment issues occur. “If fleets don’t try to be more complete and more careful about their equipment, they’ll be left behind,” he says. “No one’s going to want to take risks with these new regulations – driver or fleet.”

While Sass adds that he expects to see more roadside problems resulting in towing rather than an operator “limping” along to a shop, CSA’s impact hasn’t been fully felt by Peterbilt TruckCare and Kenworth PremierCare, the former of which responds to roughly 50,000 roadside incidents each year.

States with highest percentage of carriers with Vehicle Maintenance alerts ---- Carriers in Southeastern states with rankings above the FMCSA’s intervention threshold of 80 in the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC show up more often among their state peers, suggesting both more vigorous vehicle enforcement by inspectors and lax performance by carriers based in those states. The CSA Industry Report containing this data is available free via transcorefreightsolutions.com. Click CSA Resource Center under the “Resources” menu.

Shumate suggests being a reliable partner in resolving equipment issues. “I’m not going to pull a company trailer onto the yard and do a brake job on it, but if I see lights or an air line I can do, I’ll do that repair. If I make the company money, they’ll help me out.”

Owner-operator Grantham pulls a mix of Greatwide and shipper-owned trailers, hauling on a dedicated account. Greatwide and his shippers, he says, “are very concerned about CSA. When we go out and do a pre-trip, it has to be right, they know it has to be right, and it will be right when we move out of the gate.”

Document all equipment problems as thoroughly as possible on Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports, as well as anything you fix yourself or that the carrier takes care of – or refuses to. Holding onto copies of the reports could mean the difference in whether you’ll be able to successfully challenge a trailer violation on your record in future.

Bob Grantham says his carrier, Greatwide, is “very concerned about CSA.”

A last recourse in dealing with an unresponsive carrier is to report problems to FMCSA via its whistleblower line. FMCSA can take action if notified of the violation within 60 days of its occurrence. Hotline information is available at “Submit a Safety Violation Complaint” at nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov. The site directs you to either fill out an online form or file over the phone at (800) 368-7268.