CSA Proof Your Rig

Todd Dills | March 01, 2012

Pack the right parts and inspect your truck diligently to avoid time-consuming, costly inspections.

Attitudes about maintenance are changing. For that you can blame – or thank – the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

The inspection items that get written up the most involve tires, brakes and lights.

Sumter, S.C.-based owner-operator Jimmy Ardis, leased to Sapp Trucking, is one who’s noticed the shifting winds. His aggressive approach to preventive maintenance hasn’t always been shared by many carriers. “I’ve seen a lot of companies with trucks that used to run down the road with stuff that wasn’t exactly right,” he says, but now they’ve “really tightened up” on maintenance.

“If there’s a real positive story about CSA, it’s the maintenance side of things,” says CSA consultant Rickey Gooch of LegalShield and Justice for Truckers. “Before, the carriers would tell you that the only reason they ever had any equipment problems was that they didn’t know about them,” he says. “The drivers, on the other hand, would tell you the opposite – that the carriers just wouldn’t fix the problems.” With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA program, “the driver now tells the carrier about the problems and they’ll actually deal with them,” he says.

Gooch says he believes federal enforcement of the regulations will rise, meaning carriers will feel pressure from an expanded FMCSA staff that’s conducting more interventions. If you or your carrier has bad maintenance numbers “and nobody’s shown up at your door yet,” Gooch says, don’t be complacent.

Data from FMCSA’s Analysis and Information website (ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/) show that the most commonly cited items in inspections are often observable defects, such as problems with lights, tires and brakes. These kinds of violations often lead to other problems in the Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, such as Driver Fitness and Hours of Service, says Drew Anderson, director of sales for CSA data mining firm Vigillo.

Bill and Robyn Taylor keep replacement lights on their Western Star, leased to FedEx Ground.

Owner-operators who successfully deal with the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC are those who develop maintenance procedures to prevent or cope quickly with problems in these and other areas. Their attention to maintenance often helps them avoid inspections and enhances their relationships with their leasing carrier or shipper customers.

Maintenance efforts can go a long way by focusing on these key areas.


The most common light violations are worth 2 points in CSA’s accounting. That’s relatively low, but considering the number of lights on a truck and how easy it is to maintain them, it’s worth taking the steps to be prepared.

After CSA’s launch, light manufacturers Grote and Truck-Lite offered fleets light-replacement kits to address most on-road situations. Minnesota-based Jeff Zehrer, leased to Hensley Inc., always runs with at least “one of every light for my truck and trailer on hand,” he says. “As soon as one’s gone, you’ve got to replace it.”

While the strategy is nothing new for Zehrer, who runs a 2003 Freightliner Century and Great Dane dry van, CSA has upped the ante. “I’m a little more diligent on clearance lights and everything,” he says. “A trooper will see a light out and use it as a reason to inspect.”

The two most frequent Vehicle Maintenance violations last year were for lights. The total 820,244 citations for either the leading violation, Inoperative required lamp, or number 2, No/defective lighting devices/reflective devices, accounted for nearly a third of the top 12 most frequently cited maintenance violations. Those 12 numbered more than 2.62 million. Furthermore, two other lighting violations – Inoperative turn signal and Stop lamp violations – were also in the top 12.

Dealing with on-highway light problems is relatively simple, provided you’re carrying the right replacements and tools. It’s simplest if you can minimize the types of lights and use products that have long lives. Before Zehrer switched from standard incandescent bulbs to a Sylvania halogen high-low light for his headlights, “I replaced five a year,” he says, a frequency that is now much reduced.

  • Gordon A

    What most drivers do not know is that it is required for you to have a spare light and or bulb for every kind of bulb your truck has from head lights , tail lights to dash bulbs.
    It is not a bad idea to have spare fuses, relays and a turn signal flasher in the bag of “keep on truckin” spare parts. No-one expects you to carry a spare starter or air compressor but the things that puts you out of service or gets you ticket is lights and brakes. Most drivers and OO’s do not carry a spare slack adjuster. It is not a bad idea if your even a little mechanical minded..

    Seldom do drivers check the suspension bolts and the spring hanger bolts. Looking good is not good enough. Put hands on to check them for looseness.
    Some drivers will use a wrench to do this.
    If your truck has had suspension work recently then there is a good possibility you may have a loose bolt. No different than checking the torque on a wheel lug nuts after you have had a tire repaired.
    Remember, Your the back bone of this country.
    Keep on truckin drivers ,

  • http://overdriveonline.com/channel19 Todd Dills

    Thanks for the feedback, Gordon — spare slack is a great suggestion, as are the others. Thanks as always for reading.

  • Gordon A

    I want to pass along a lubrication tip to the OO’s that are as tired as I was of crawling under their truck to lube it.

    I am in the processes of installing on my truck a closed greasing system.

    This is what I am doing to help reduce or eliminate the possibility of moving parts failure and to reduce the chance of my truck not passing a equipment inspection.

    I have installed an aluminum block with a Zirk fitting for each grease fitting for the rear suspension excluding the 5th wheel.
    A like block is used for the front suspension and moving parts. Just mount it where it is easy for you to get to.

    I have installed the aluminum feeder block on the brace ahead of the sliding 5th wheel plate for convenience. I can now stand in one spot and grease the undercarriage easily. No grease globs to earn me a ticker for excess grease and or oil now.
    Clean, neat and convenient. No more sliding under the truck in a nasty urine drenched parking lot.

    Then it is a simple matter of getting the grease gun out and never having to get under the truck to grease it again.
    I am going to do my trailer that way too and it is going to be easier than the tractor.
    This system assures me I will never again have some fitting with a glob of grease making me wonder if the fitting took it or was it a sloppy uncaring tech.

    Far too many times I have had to clean the fittings after a TS grease job. They seem to just not care about neatness anymore.
    No tickets for it either.
    It has cost me less than $75 dollars for the tractor.

    I hope this idea helps someone else keep their truck neatly lubed and in passing condition.

  • Pingback: How to CSA-proof your rig | Overdrive - Owner Operators Trucking Magazine

  • Pingback: Hours debacle makes prominent news site Politico | Overdrive - Owner Operators Trucking Magazine

  • Pingback: CSA Proofing, part two: Closed greasing system | Overdrive - Owner Operators Trucking Magazine

OverdriveOnline.com strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.