Surviving Roadside Inspections

Can your truck pass an inspection, driver?

Every time?

There are some simple guidelines that will help you can pass any one of the approximately 2 million annual inspections with flying colors.

Grant Sheldon, an independent owner-operator, is one of a dying breed who does all the work on his truck himself. And you will never see Sheldon’s Kenworth T2000 dirty. It’s not a coincidence that Sheldon rarely has trouble crossing scales and surviving roadside inspections. But Sheldon has a secret: every three months he volunteers to have his truck inspected by a qualified inspector. While this level of confidence might seems like unwarranted bravado to many drivers, his strategy allows him to run unhindered, a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Level One inspection sticker firmly mounted on his windshield at all times.

Knowing how inspections work can keep the professional prepared. There are three areas where a driver needs to be knowledgeable: he needs to know about his equipment, about inspection procedures and about required paperwork and credentials.

Do you know whether your truck has self-adjusting brakes? Do you know that the simple expedient of applying your foot brake to the floor will adjust self-adjusting shoes and keep you from being put out of service by this most common violation? Do you know the difference between a Level One and a Level Two inspection? Do you know the expiration date on your physical card and when your annual federal inspection expires?

“The most important thing a driver can do to be ready for inspections is to have a clean truck,” Sheldon says.

But even if your truck is spotless and in total compliance for this cursory visual inspection, you may be asked to pull around back for a paperwork review or vehicle inspection. Jeff Schroeder, an owner-operator for Air Line Transportation, agrees with Sheldon: “I make sure I have good rubber all the way around and that there are no wires or hoses hanging.”

During inspections the devil is in the details. Sheldon insists that everything be right on his truck. He has self-adjusting brakes but adjusts them by hand every two weeks just to make sure they are right. He advises drivers to carry, at the very least, a 7/16-inch wrench for adjusting self-adjusting brakes and a 9/16-inch wrench for adjusting standard slack adjusters. A hammer is also a basic necessity and it does no harm to carry some electrical tools and tape to help with repair of lighting. But, Steve Keppler, Director of Policy and Programming for the CVSA, says “be careful,” because cosmetic self-repair will not always get a truck through an inspection.

When the inevitable happens, however, and an inspector finds faults, drivers need to control their attitudes. Schroeder believes the level of inspection has a great deal to do with the inspector’s attitude and he responds appropriately. “A lot of inspectors will do the low level inspections in a very relaxed mood,” Schroeder says. “You can joke around with them. But the more important inspections make inspectors serious and you have to just be quiet and follow directions.”

The more you know about what the inspector is doing the better off you will be. On the other hand, using your knowledge to question the inspector is probably not the best idea. A combative attitude is an invitation to the inspector to make the outcome of any level inspection worse for you. If you truly believe an inspector has been unfair, or if the inspector will not give you a copy of his inspection report, call your carrier before you leave the inspection site and ask for instructions. You are entitled to this document even if
no violations were found. Nearly all inspections follow procedures established by the CVSA.

Know your inspection rights and ask appropriate questions. It also helps to show inspectors the same respect you would like them to show you.

The CVSA has established procedures to handle complaints but, according to J.J. Keller’s Roadside Inspections On-Scene Guide, the best procedure is to talk the problem through with a representative from your company and a representative of the inspecting agency. If the issue cannot be resolved, contact the CVSA at (301) 564-1623.

Vu Nguyen, Director of Marketing and Technology for CVSA, says there are less than 50 complaints a year from truck drivers. He attributes this low number to the reluctance of drivers to complain. “Drivers believe they will be harassed if they complain. This is not true,” he says.

Steve Keppler, Director of Policy and Programs for CVSA, says “The most important thing a driver can do is to put himself in the inspector’s shoes. Both parties have to respect the other’s job.”

A current Level One CVSA sticker will most often get you through inspections, but inspectors have the right to re-inspect. They also have the right to see your log book. The bottom line here is, a current duty status record will keep you out of trouble.

An inspector “has the right to seize and conduct warrantless searches of commercial motor vehicles,” according to J.J. Keller. A search warrant is not necessary if a driver consents to the search. Note that “consent must be informed, not obtained under duress and given by an individual with the authority to do so.” A driver can limit the extent of a search and any evidence found “if the consent is specific about what is being searched for.” You have the right to ask basic questions:

  • What makes the officer believe there is a reason to search your vehicle?
  • What areas of the vehicle will be searched?
  • What is the officer looking for?

If you are hauling hazardous materials, you can be sure inspectors will look to see all the ps and qs are correct. Review the basic hazmat regulations for your load before starting out. Placards must be displayed correctly. Routing must be correct. Being caught on a road where hazmat is prohibited is the last thing you want to happen. For example, the fine for hauling flammables on I-95 without getting off to avoid the underpasses just north of the George Washington Bridge in New York is $10,000. If you are hauling tankers or oversize freight, you can also expect to be targeted more often.

What do inspectors find most when they find something wrong with your ride?

According to Keppler the five most common violation areas are:

  • brakes out of adjustment
  • other brake problems
  • lights
  • tires and wheels
  • load securement

Keppler is emphatic: “The most neglected aspect of the maintenance cycle is the post-trip inspection and report. Drivers are not required to carry a post-trip report for the previous day, but making sure a post-trip has been done when picking up a truck from the shop or from another driver is very important.” Drivers who drop and hook know the importance of finding an inspection report on a trailer they are picking up.


A Basic Survival Guide to Roadside Inspections

  1. Know your inspection levels.

    There are five levels of inspection. Level One is the most comprehensive and includes a thorough vehicle and paperwork review. It will take about an hour. Level Two inspections do not require the inspector to get under the vehicle, but other requirements are the same. Level Three is a paperwork inspection. Level Four is the inspection of a particular item like brakes. Level Five is an inspection that takes place at the carrier. Only the Level One will give you an inspection sticker.

  • Be aware of the Uniform Out-of-Service Criteria. It includes brake system, coupling devices, pintle hooks, frame, exhaust system, fuel system, lighting, load securement, steering mechanism, suspension, tires, wheels, rims and hubs, windshield wipers, placarding and logs. Cross check this list when you do your pre-trip.
  • Keep your truck clean inside and out. Keep both your truck and yourself looking professional.
  • Know your rights. Don’t abuse them.
  • Carry tools to adjust your brakes.
  • Do a thorough post trip and also make sure to check your truck and trailer for the post trip from the previous driver.
  • Although load securement generally applies to open equipment, vans are also subject. Make sure your load won’t move.
  • The penalties for ignoring an out-of-service order are very severe. First violation means you are disqualified to drive for 90 days. You can be fined up to $2,500.
    Don’t do it.
  • Stopping by the side of the road to fudge your logs when you are faced with a roadside inspection is dangerous. Do your logs every four hours. They are quite easy when done this way and will keep you out of trouble. Work for a carrier whose scheduling allows this kind of record keeping.
  • Show inspectors the respect you expect shown to you.
  • If you have a valid complaint, call the CVSA at (301) 564-1623.
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