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Advice from the pros for your pre-trip inspections

Standing in the scorching heat, freezing temperatures or pouring rain is not something many drivers look forward to before their shift, but doing so can often prevent a major breakdown or accident on the road. Federal safety regulations require a driver to be confident that basic parts and accessories are in “good working order” prior to driving the vehicle. 

“Skipping a pre-trip inspection not only costs you and your fleet money but puts you, your vehicle and other drivers’ safety at risk. These inspections are legally mandatory for a reason,” said Freightliner Team Run Smart Pro Clark Reed. “I do a thorough pre-trip inspection for the same reason one would inspect a parachute before jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft,” he continued. 

While pre-trip inspections are required by law, there aren’t many guidelines on how to perform an inspection. Stuart Wood, from BigRoad (a Fleet Complete company), said that “if you check everything you should be checking, a full inspection should take you approximately 30 to 50 minutes.”

Drivers are typically eager to get on the road. The saying “time is money” is quite literal in the transportation industry and downtime can have a negative impact on the financial health  of any fleet. However, skipping a pre-trip inspection for the sake of time can actually lead to more downtime as the chances of a breakdown are much higher, according to Reed. 

“Start at the front of the truck, pop the hood, and work your way back,” Reed recommended.

Here are the parts and areas of a truck that American Trucking Business Services (ATBS) recommends you look at carefully during each inspection:

  • Leaks
  • Leans
  • Coolant
  • Oil
  • Power steering fluid
  • Alternator
  • Water pump
  • Air compressor
  • Power steering hose
  • Coolant hose
  • Alternator belt
  • Power steering box
  • Pitman arm
  • Drag link
  • Upper and lower control arms
  • Tie rod
  • Spring mounts
  • Leaf springs
  • U-bolts
  • Inside of wheels 
  • Tires 
  • Outside of wheels
  • Valve stems
  • Lug nuts
  • Hub seal

After a terrifying incident in which Reed lost control of the steering wheel, he believes that checking that the ability to steer the truck is secure. “I found myself going 60 miles an hour on the highway with the inability to steer a large, heavy-duty vehicle,” Reed recalled. 

Fortunately, Reed had a safe outcome. He said he will never forget to ensure the ability to steer before every single shift. There are many components that support the ability to steer a truck and it is vital to check off every box when it comes to the pre-trip inspection. “You can recover from a blown tire but recovering from the inability to steer your truck is harder to recover from,” stated Reed. 

To ensure his safety, peace of mind, and the well-being of the truck, Reed recommends following these five rules:

  1. Always start at the same place. This helps with establishing a routine.
  2. Do it the same way, every day. This helps to make sure you are not overlooking anything. 
  3. Do it every day. This will help you easily recognize if something is out of place. 
  4. Do more than just look. Feeling the smoothness of a tire and the tension of a belt or the play on the steering column can help you detect the smaller issues before they become big ones. 
  5. Take your time. It is easy to feel rushed; however when it involves safety, cutting corners is no way to save time nor money. 

“Driving a heavy-duty vehicle is a dangerous job,” commented Reed, “and it is extremely important that you do everything in your power to be as safe as possible for the consideration of yourself, your company and the other drivers on the road.”