Letter: ‘No gray areas’ for maintenance?

Owner-operator Glenn Gilbert wrote in with this tale of maintenance encroachment on the “autonomy of an independent”…


A recent periodic inspection of my tractor discovered several mechanical failures that rendered me out of commission, and resulted in a twice-tardy nearby pickup after delay led to weekend layover. But then it afforded me plenty of idle time to ponder my autonomy as an independent.

One peccadillo pertaining to the inspection on my truck in particular involved two carrier bearings on my extended-frame drive line. The inspection manual utilized describes that the general procedure for the vetting of parts, not rubricated on the written inspection form or addressed with precisionist scrutiny in the manual, is to check for loose parts. As such:

APPENDIX G — #9 Frame — (2) Any loose or missing fasteners including fasteners attaching functional components such as engine, transmission, steering gear, suspension, body parts…

Arbitrarily interpreted by the potentates at my company to mean: “If a UJ and/or Carrier Bearing is worn to the point there is sideways and up/down excessive movement then it must be replaced or we will have tractors dropping drive-shafts on the  HWY causing accidents as has been reported” (emphasis mine).

Well, the rubber component of a carrier bearing is designed to flex, so the examination of those parts is rather subjective, smacking of the “gray area” humble technicians encounter, and administrator martinets deny. The technician for my inspection made a note on the inspection form that in his initial judgment on the carrier bearing that, while not completely effete, there was appreciable slack in the rubber matrix housing the metal ball bearing. But on second thought he determined that, after considering the guidelines in that canon of all imperatives for highway safety, his judgment hadn’t been based on sufficient sciential study, since there were no measurable specifications spelled out in the manual. And I as driver had been experiencing no vibration.

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This technician had previously “gotten in trouble” on prior occasion for discussing flaws with the driver before reporting his initial determinations by fax to corporate compliance; an act apparently considered by them as prolepsis for collusion between shop and driver to circumvent safety protocol. So this time he was keen on marching in cadence with dictum.

But his shop really didn’t feel qualified or want to do the repair (nor is it particularly fond of performing these bureacracy-laden inspections), and consequently, employing a little discretion, the examiner presumed amending his findings to allow me to take my truck to a specialty shop, thus avoiding an exorbitant towing expense, and getting expert service. But he had already faxed the inspection form for review. And by order sceptered from the ivory tower, the carrier bearings had to be replaced on site. I was forbidden to drive my truck until the repair was made.

His appeal that the issue in his mind was a gray area was retorted with declaration from our erstwhile DOT femme de pivot that “there are no gray areas.”

Further quoted references to the DOT codex were sent by e-mail to highlight the “exigence” of the matter: “nowhere in the DOT Regulation book will you find the words Drive Line/Drive Shaft, however, it it is part of the inspection process”, citing:

  • 396.7(a): “A motor vehicle shall not be operated in such condition as to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle.”
  • 396.3(a)(1): “Parts & accessories shall be in safe & proper operating conditions at all times…”
  • “…the ( ) inspection sheet does not have room to add each and all individual components required to be inspected, however we do have Box#…”

It is rather doubtful that precarious drive line supports are prevalent in causing road accidents. In this case a fastidious and imperious interpolation of the law says otherwise, and trumps the debate. To be super safe perhaps we should all park our vehicles when the first snowflake falls. –Glenn Gilbert, Lebanon, Ohio

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