Expert Tips Will Help You Pass DOT Inspections

Pre-trip truck inspections are critical for pumpers to operate safely and efficiently.
Expert Tips Will Help You Pass DOT Inspections
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You leave the yard with a busy schedule of pumping jobs for the day. Those flashing lights in your rearview mirror are sure to put you behind but you hope it will be quick as you pull over. You’ve been stopped because your blinker is out – and that means your truck stays right where it is until the blinker is fixed.
Rather than taking a few minutes to replace a $2 lightbulb, you’re miles away from the shop with no transportation because you didn’t take the time to complete a pre-trip inspection.

Vehicle inspections are not only important for safety, they can save a company money and time, according to Joe Zito, an educator and officer in a commercial vehicle unit for a major metropolitan area police department with jurisdiction in two states. In his 25 years of law enforcement, Zito has 15 years of roadside experience inspecting commercial vehicles.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations state that the driver of a commercial vehicle must:

  • Be satisfied the motor vehicle is in safe operating condition.
  • Review the last vehicle inspection report.
  • Sign the report only if noted defects and deficiencies were certified as having been corrected or as not requiring correction.

Zito spoke on the topic of truck inspections at the 2015 Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. We delve deeper into his advice that will be of service to the pumping community:

Pumper: What is necessary for a proper pre-trip inspection?

Zito: Drivers have to meet the inspection requirements dealing with lights, emergency equipment, securing the load – those things in Section 396 of CFR49 (Code of Federal Regulations). It’s not just routine; the drivers need training and education and have to know what they’re looking for. They should be looking at every aspect of that vehicle. It’s not just looking at a checklist and checking boxes. There is a difference between compliance and being compliant.

Pumper: They sound like the same thing; what’s the difference?

Zito: Compliance is saying, “Here’s the regulation, we’re going to comply.” Being compliant means constantly training and always knowing they’re meeting the regulations and why they’re meeting them. The driver has a responsibility, and the company has a responsibility.

Drivers should want to make sure they are operating a safe vehicle for the motoring public around them, and that they are getting into a safe vehicle so they can come home safely at the end of the day.

Performing good pre-trip inspections is going to cut the company’s costs and downtime: having a truck placed out of service, or being stuck with a flat tire, or having a service company come out to do repairs on the side of the road, or towing the truck.

Pumper: How long should an inspection take?

Zito: There’s no way a pre-trip inspection is going to take a few minutes. On average, it should take 10 to 15 minutes. Select a safe location on level ground away from other moving vehicles. Keep the key in your pocket and use wheel chocks for safety prior to going under any part of the vehicle. They should wear appropriate safety equipment like a vest, gloves and eye protection. Look for leaks or fluids on the ground when approaching the vehicle, any visible damage, unsecured cargo, and if the vehicle is leaning or sagging to one side. Then conduct a complete walk-around of the vehicle.

Pumper: What do drivers commonly miss?

Zito: First, they fail to check that their emergency equipment is there, like fire extinguishers and triangles. They’re not bending over and checking leaf springs, and they miss lamps. But generally, it’s not completing an overall inspection; they look at some part of it but don’t complete all parts of the inspection.

Pumper: When a commercial vehicle is stopped for a random roadside inspection, what does that entail?

Zito: About 4 million roadside inspections are done every year. They can be done anywhere at any time and take from 15 to 60 minutes depending on the level of inspection, which is up to the inspector. There are three levels: One, driver, vehicle, brakes; Two, driver, vehicle; and driver and credentials.

Pumper: Which violations are commonly found in roadside inspections?

Zito: Mostly lamps, brakes and securing the load. Not just cargo, it could be an empty water bottle, trash on the side of the truck, a driver forgot to secure a vacuum hose – anything that could fall off the vehicle. Brakes are the No. 1 source of vehicles being placed out of service. No. 2 is tires, with half of those related to underinflation. No. 3 is lighting, stop lamps being the most common and turn signals next on the list. If a good pre-trip inspection is done, fewer violations are going to be found in a roadside inspection.

Pumper: What does “out of service” mean to the company and driver?

Zito: The truck, or the driver if it’s a license issue, cannot operate until the defect has been corrected. If you have a 100-mile trip and are stopped 50 miles from your destination, you’re out of luck. And it’s not something the inspector can change. By not having a good pre-trip inspection, having that downtime is definitely going to cause cost to the company; having to send another driver, having to call for roadside service or having the vehicle towed, it’s an added expense.

Pumper: What’s your advice for drivers during a roadside inspection?

Zito: Always be honest, never lie. Do exactly what the inspector says and have a good attitude, don’t be negative. Leave your seat belt on until the inspector approaches you and have your paperwork in order. Having the driver trained on what is needed in a roadside inspection is going to make the outcome more positive.

Pumper: After doing this for 15 years, what are your thoughts about safety?

Zito: Safety has greatly improved. Out-of-service rates are a very small percent and going down. Companies have become more compliant and increased their safety and overall performance.

Pre-trip Inspection Checklist

Engine compartment
❏ Leaks
❏ Oil level
❏ Coolant level
❏ Power steering
❏ Belts – water pump, power steering, alternator
❏ Frame
❏ Springs
❏ Shocks and suspension
❏ Steering box
❏ Steering linkage
❏ Brake chambers and hoses
❏ Brake drums

Front of vehicle
❏ Lights
❏ Windshield
❏ Wipers
❏ Hood
❏ Grill
❏ License plate
❏ Bumper
❏ Leaks

Driver and passenger side of vehicle
❏ Lights and reflectors
❏ Steps, doors, door handles
❏ Mirrors
❏ Fuel tanks
❏ Hood latch
❏ Tire and air pressure
❏ Rims
❏ Lug nuts
❏ Emergency equipment

Tractor coupling
❏ Air lines/electrical connections
❏ Glad hands
❏ Electric plug
❏ Frame
❏ Drive shaft
❏ Exhaust system
❏ Fifth-wheel plate
❏ Suspension

Front of trailer
❏ Lights
❏ Head board
❏ Documents

Rear drive wheels
❏ Tires
❏ Wheels
❏ Lug nuts
❏ Space between wheels
❏ Splash guards
❏ Brakes
❏ Rear axle suspension
❏ Air lines

Rear of vehicle
❏ Lights, turn signals, brake lamps
❏ Marker lamps
❏ Doors and latches
❏ Cargo gates and securement devices
❏ DOT bumper if required
❏ Splash guards

❏ Emergency equipment
❏ Safety belt
❏ Steering wheel
❏ Clutch pedal
❏ Seat
❏ Air horn
❏ Mirrors
❏ Turn signal indicator
❏ Windshield
❏ Wipers and wash fluid
❏ Paperwork
❏ Emergency and parking brakes

Engine (started)
❏ Oil pressure
❏ Ammeter/volts
❏ Water temperature gauge
❏ Air pressure
❏ Heater/defroster

Post-trip inspection checklist:
❏ Service brakes including trailer brake connections
❏ Parking brake
❏ Steering mechanism
❏ Lighting devices and reflectors
❏ Tires
❏ Horn
❏ Windshield wipers
❏ Rear vision mirrors
❏ Coupling devices
❏ Wheels and rims
❏ Emergency equipment


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