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Avoiding the curse of the grim creepe
Pre-trip inspections can't catch the things that go wrong when you're heading down the road. Adding en route inspections to your routine could save big bucks and prevent the dreaded out-of-service orders.

By Jeff Barker, Land Line contributor

There's not much more disappointing than pulling into a scale thinking everything is in tip-top shape and being told you need to pull around for a Level I inspection.

Many times, the DOT inspectors will pull out the creeper because of a few minor problems they eyeball as you pull into the scale. Those minor problems can usually be avoided if you take an extra trip or two around your truck and trailer throughout your 14-hour workday.

Even though most drivers conduct the mandated pre-trip inspection carefully, things can still go wrong on down the road. The idea is to catch a minor problem and do something about it before it is a violation, which can count against your motor carrier's CSA compliance rating, or before it becomes major and more expensive.

Depending on the problem, it can be cheaper to get the parts you need and fix the problem yourself. Shops also charge less when you take your truck or trailer to them than when they have to come to where your truck is inconveniently placed out of service.

If your truck has to be towed out to a shop for something more serious, then you're in a deeper hole yet. A good inspection en route would begin by looking under your truck as you walk up to it after it's been parked for a few minutes.

Are there any fluids leaking onto the ground that could reveal a problem?

Check to make sure the air lines going to the sliding tandem axles on your trailer are secured far off the ground. In the winter, check them for ice accumulation before they drag low enough to catch something on the ground, causing the trailer brakes to lock up at an inopportune time like on ice or snow-covered roads.

Do you see any signs of oil being slung out onto the inside of your tires or wheels, which could reveal a leaking wheel seal? How do those brake linings look?

Any signs of oil being forced out of the axle hub oilers? Are those grease-packed hubs (those without the plastic windows) too hot to keep a hand on? Those are indicators of a possible wheel bearing problem. Look for loose lug nuts while you're there.

What about your tires? Since they are probably still hot from being on the road, keep in mind that they will show a higher air pressure than they did during your pre-trip inspection. That is, unless they picked up a nail, screw or anything else that would cause a flat or pressure loss.

Are all of those lights working? They can often burn out or stop working after they check out OK during your pre-trip inspection, due to a connection problem somewhere in the lighting circuit.

If you're driving an International ProStar or LoneStar tractor, they have a handy exterior lamp check feature as standard equipment, which allows you to check all of the lights on your truck and trailer. Leave the light switches off. Turn the key to the accessory position, locate and hold the Work Light switch for five seconds, and then release it. Watch as every light outside (headlights – high- and low-beam; all clearance and marker lights; turn signals and brake lights) is turned on and off so you can check them out as you walk around the entire truck. LL


Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He can be reached at