On Closer Examination

| August 01, 2005

“Your truck could fall apart, you could crash, or you might break down and wind up being inconvenienced in a big way,” Antilla says. “If you don’t catch something during your inspections, you might break down where it’s not safe, and there are some terrible places to break down. If you’re somewhere very remote and it’s bitterly cold or very hot, there’s nothing fun about that.”

Nor is there any fun in paying the price for skipping inspections. “A lot of times when you break down, it could be avoided,” Gambill says. “If you blow a fully-inflated tire that looked like it was in good shape when you inspected it, well that’s something that can happen. But if you blow a tire because you’ve been running it flat, that’s neglect.”

A little neglect during a pre- or post-trip inspection can mean a dangerous, costly and time-consuming problem on the highway. “You’ve got to correct the problem while you’re at the full-service facility,” says Gambill. “They’re usually more equipped to handle the problem than road service, which costs a lot more. But also, a partial flat at the truckstop turns into a blowout on the highway. Then it’s not just your tire. You’ve got your mud flap blown off, and you have to wait by the side of the road.”

Highway blowouts, especially steer tires, can cause accidents, and tire debris on the roadway – “gators” – are common safety hazards. Drivers can only blame themselves for allowing these circumstances to occur.

And how often could a major traffic jam or hours of wasted time be avoided by a good pre- or post-trip inspection?

“If you’re on I-70 just west of Denver and you break down in the dead of winter, you’ve got a real problem,” Antilla says. “There might or might not be a place to pull over, and it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg to get road service.”

Not to mention potential damage to your rig and the resulting traffic jam.

Skipping inspections also leaves you vulnerable to vandalism by truckers who need parts or want revenge against your employer, events more common than anybody likes to admit. Pull against the trailer brakes a couple times after returning to your truck, a small thing that can make a big difference if a malcontented driver pulled your fifth wheel release while you were away. LED lights are costly, attractive and easy to steal, and a stolen license plate should be detected and reported immediately. Hit and run damage is also a possibility.

Perform at least a walk-around inspection every time you return to your truck.

Seasoned professionals systematize inspections. “If you do it the same way every time, that builds a habit, and you’re going to check more efficiently,” Gambill says. “For example, a lot of drivers start with a certain side. I always start on the left.”

DOT officials use a systematic approach when conducting inspections, and the idea has proven itself worthy of training programs.

“In training, they start right off the bat showing you all the engine points and brake points, what to look for,” says Stevens Transport company driver Jason Stevens of Lake Charles, La. “They try to get you into a habit so it becomes routine and an everyday thing.”

“Experience might be the best teacher,” Gambill says. Inspection routines become fine-tuned with time, and with experience drivers develop a practiced eye that detects more: worn glad-hand seals, poorly fitting tractor-to-trailer electrical connectors, bad trailer tag lights, and when the problem is a bulb, wiring or a fuse.

Besides stressing the importance of performing pre- and post-trip inspections, veteran drivers are usually willing to share their experience. “You can just look and tell if something’s bad,” says Gambill, with 15 years of experience. “But a lot of it is knowing what to look for. If you get an older driver to show you, that’ll help.”

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