Check Your Vehicle
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), low tire pressure-related crashes are to blame for 660 fatalities and 33,000 injuries every year. NHTSA estimates that about one in four cars and one in three light trucks has at least one significantly under inflated tire.
“10.1 percent of the crashes studied cited a critical reason as ‘vehicle failure’” - Large Truck Crash Causation Study, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Despite the best efforts of government agencies, insurers and employers, injuries and fatalities caused by motor vehicle collisions continue to exact a toll on our society. While most collisions are preventable, they continue for a number of reasons. Driver error due to distraction, impairment, frustration or aggression continues to top the list of causes for most crashes; however, roughly one in ten crashes are caused equipment that was not operating properly.
While a small number of crashes are the result of a design defect or gross failure of the equipment due to years of neglect, many crashes could be prevented with a regular inspection program that leads to proper maintenance of the equipment.
Every professional pilot inspects their aircraft before takeoff. It’s not a lack of trust in the ground crew who actually maintain the plane, but a matter of being responsible for the plane once it is in operation.
Similarly, drivers have a responsibility to check their equipment before operating it – whether the equipment is their personal car or their business vehicle.
If there’s something broken, missing or working improperly it is the driver’s responsibility to report it to management (or take it to the service shop if it’s your own vehicle) in a calm, professional manner so that it can be repaired. At that point, you rely on individuals with extensive training and/or a proven background in vehicle repair and maintenance to provide the expertise and labor necessary to keep your vehicle safe and dependable. However, driving is hard on any vehicle; therefore, the vehicle must be monitored closely.
You don't have to be a qualified mechanic to take a few moments and check out some of the basics before heading out.
Why Do Inspections?
If you leave on a trip without checking that the vehicle is safe to operate, you may suffer wasted time due to a mechanical breakdown, or worse, an injury from a collision due to mechanical failure while driving.
Inspections often reveal issues that affect fuel consumption, brake wear and tire condition. Tires that are properly inflated (consistently), rotated and aligned extend their service life and reduce fuel consumption. Braking systems that are adjusted, cleaned and repaired before critical failures save time and money for the maintenance team.
Many state drivers’ manuals mention the driver’s general responsibility to ensure that the vehicle is fit for driving. Also, drivers of “commercial motor vehicles” that are regulated by state and/or Federal safety standards must perform documented inspections (FMCSR 396.11 Driver vehicle inspection report(s) and 396.13 Driver inspections) before leaving on trips.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has published voluntary guidelines for motor fleet operations. These suggest that all drivers inspect their vehicles before any trip (ANSI Z15: 6.5 Periodic Vehicle Checks. Visual checks shall be made by drivers each time a vehicle is to be operated.)
Everyone Is Different
Every company has its own process for inspecting vehicles. This makes sense since:
some have in-house mechanics on staff and others rely on local garages for repairs
some use specialized vehicles or equipment that requires training in order to properly (or safely) conduct a “ready for use” inspection
others disagree about the extent of the inspection: lights and brakes only versus getting into the engine compartment to check fluid levels and belt tension, etc.
Just as there are many reasons to expand or restrict inspections, there are many ways to organize a vehicle inspection program.
Our suggestions are merely intended to help outline possible issues to check in order to prevent unexpected breakdowns or crashes. Your company may want you to handle inspections in a specific way so follow your company procedures.
What Do Many Drivers Look For?
Most inspection checklists include the following items:
Gauges function as designed
Fuel and fluids are sufficient
Wheels and tires (appearance, pressure)
Mirrors and mirror adjustment
Windscreen for cracks and chips that obscure visibility
Windscreen wipers for condition and effectiveness
Lights, including headlights, turn signals, and brake lights
Emergency equipment is in place and ready for use
Part of your inspection might be to adjust your seat and mirrors to fit your body position while driving, and to secure any personal or work items that you’ll be taking along in the cabin/driver’s compartment. Unsecured items could launch through the air in the event of a collision and cause injuries.
Another aspect of vehicle inspection is notifying managers when you’ve discovered something that doesn’t seem correct. This applies during “pre-trip” inspections, and when you’re driving. If you notice that the vehicle is running hot, or “pulls” to one side of the road consistently, you can help your company by letting them know that your vehicle may need expert attention.
Follow Up Repairs
When defects are reported, the vehicle ought to be repaired by a qualified service technician as soon as practical. Safety related defects should be repaired before the vehicle is placed back in service, and your team may want to carefully update the maintenance records on the vehicle to see if there is any re-occurrence of similar issues in the future.
Vehicle inspections help to prevent time wasting breakdowns, out-of-service delays, and crashes. Inspections that help assure proper maintenance may also reduce fuel waste and extend vehicle life. Every company may have it’s own method or style in conducting inspections, but as long as they help assure that each vehicle is working properly, it can save lives.