On Closer Examination

| August 01, 2005

Handy pre-and post-trip inspection guides are near the front cover of many atlases such as
the Rand McNally Motor Carrier’s Atlas.

When it comes to pre- and post-trip inspections, do you see the glass as half full or half empty?

These inspections are tedious requirements from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. But you might also consider them gifts, daily opportunities to make your job safer, easier and smoother. Not to mention ways to save money and earn respect.

Why not consider the glass half full and accept the gift instead of complaining about the work?

“The most important thing about inspections is to do them,” says Watkins Motor Lines company driver Theodore Gambill of Water Valley, Miss. “But most drivers are in too big of a hurry or too lazy to check things.”

Drivers who skip pre- and post-trip inspections may actually be choosing to risk death and injury, costly breakdowns, fines, out-of-service orders, huge traffic jams, wasted time and the feeling of utter foolishness knowing it could have been prevented so easily “if only I had done a pretrip.” By then it’s usually too late.

Excuses can be compelling. When it’s 3 a.m., 20 below, windy and snowing, it’s bad enough just hooking a trailer and crawling under to knock frozen brake shoes loose. Who adjusts brake pushrods or replaces bad running lights at a time like this, or even at the first safe stop? More commonly, drivers say there’s no time for thorough inspections, or they may think it doesn’t matter because emergencies, breakdowns and DOT inspections won’t happen.

But it does matter. Inspections are not complicated or difficult. You know how, or you can easily learn from many willing teachers. It’s not a question of your ability. It’s a question of your professional attitude: 15-30 minutes, and yes, more if you find a problem. But that’s part of the job you agreed to do.

Veteran drivers never stop inspecting their trucks, and they use all their senses. “I check for leaks, things that are loose and irregular wear on the tires,” says owner-operator Joe Antilla of Duluth, Minn. But his inspection is ongoing. “While I’m driving, I listen for noises, like if something doesn’t sound right, or if there are things that are rattling,” he says. Air leaks are often heard rather than seen. Pop the end cap of an axle hub and poke a finger in to check for adequate lubrication. On a glaring day or at night, a small puddle beneath the truck might be condensation from cooling coils or leaking fuel; only a touch and maybe a whiff will tell for sure.

“If you’re driving and you smell something, that can tell you something’s wrong,” Antilla says. “Burning oil and grease have different smells, overheating metal has a stinky smell, leaking coolant has its own smell, and burning brakes have their own smell, too.”

Nothing might cause a driver more despair than smelling burning rubber from the cab cooling vent on a hot day: a sign the A/C compressor has seized and burnt its drive belt.

When sharing equipment, careful inspections are even more important. FMCSA regulations speak directly to sharing equipment. It’s illegal to leave safety-related repairs unreported or to use the vehicle in question until reported problems are fixed, and with good reason: lives are at stake, including yours.

“I pull the same trailer all the time,” says Antilla. “If you’re constantly hooking to different trailers, it’s more critical, because you don’t know what shape they’re in.”
Pre- and post-trip inspections are also matters of courtesy toward fellow truckers. If truckers don’t respect truckers, who will?

“If a driver brings a truck in and signs off the paperwork that everything’s fine on it without performing an inspection, then the next driver who comes along has to spend time in the shop getting repairs,” Gambill says.

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