Are you ready for a hot semi-truck summer? The warm weather is already here in some places, and truckers need to prepare their vehicles for what lies ahead. While most of this information may seem common sense, it serves as a good reminder for even experienced truckers to take proactive steps to prepare for the coming months.
With more than 15 million trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers on the road, owner/operators need to take special care of their equipment at all times. Here are some things truckers should keep in mind this time of year:
1. Do a summer maintenance checkup
Truckers traditionally make preparations for the harsh winter weather, while summer conditions are sometimes overlooked. Hotter temperatures may mean a new set of measurements and calibration to ensure each component is set to work properly.
Colder temperatures compress air within the tires, giving off the impression that the tire pressure is too low. Some drivers will put more air into the tires to account for this change. However, once the weather begins to warm up, the air decompresses and can make tire pressure too high. As temperatures rise, do a tire pressure check to set a new normal.
Battery and Engine
Batteries struggle to work their best in cold weather, so keeping a solid charge during the warmer months is usually not a concern. Truckers should double-check their battery, though, heading into summer to ensure it works properly. Sometimes excessive heat can drain a battery, so monitor its charge regularly. Truckers also need to verify their truck engines stay cool as well. Inspect the truck’s coolant levels and hoses to avoid overheating and replace any suspect parts before they break.
Spending all day in a truck without air conditioning sounds like a nightmare. Check internal cooling systems as summer starts, looking for leaks or cracks in the tubing. Get any parts replaced in order to have a comfortable ride no matter how hot it gets outside.
2. Be ready for emergencies
All experienced owner/operators know to be ready for whatever comes their way. That includes creating an emergency kit that can help when something goes wrong. An emergency kit should include items to help truckers survive and recover whenever an emergency happens.
Some key things to have in an emergency kit:
- Several days of food and water
- Extra clothes
- Cellphone and charger
- Toolbox with tools of varying sizes
- Swiss Army knife
It’s also a good idea to keep a first-aid kit in the truck. Use the beginning of summer as an opportunity to check that everything in the kit is current and replace any items that may have expired.
3. Take care of your health
It is vital that owner/operators take care of their physical and mental health at all times. During the summer months, truckers should wear sunscreen each day, even if they do not plan to spend much time out of the cab. While some truck windows protect from harmful UV light, truckers may often find themselves outside and need that layer of protection.
Truckers should also stay hydrated, drinking water and other healthy drinks while avoiding soda. Staying hydrated will help keep drivers alert while driving and avoid any possible distractions from feeling thirsty or dehydrated.
It’s also important to focus on regulating emotions on the road. The summer typically means more drivers on the road, especially on weekends. This may lead to increased traffic or more inexperienced drivers trying to navigate the increased traffic. Truckers must remember this fact and attempt to stay calm during stressful driving situations.
Preparing for a Busy Year
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to fade away, more and more people this summer are expected to travel. Even with increasing gas prices, there is expected to be a significant amount of traffic on the road as people want to leave their homes after spending much of the past year stuck inside.
Both owner/operators and other truckers must be prepared for this surge and ensure both their trucks and themselves are prepared for what comes ahead. For many truck drivers, the summer season may be seen as a respite from the snowy and icy conditions of winter. Summer brings its own challenges, but by taking the steps mentioned above, they can feel prepared and ready to take on the coming months.
Why it’s important to choose the right tires for your semi-truck
Every trucker has heard it a million times: The tires are the only part of the truck touching the road, so take care of them at all times. This advice has become so commonplace that it likely gets overlooked among the wide range of safety and performance checks drivers make each day before hitting the road.
It is imperative, though, that truckers ensure their tires work at peak performance at all times. A damaged tire presents an immediate safety concern for the driver and other motorists on the road. Let’s take a minute and look at what truck drivers should look for in their tires and the best ways to maintain them for safety and efficiency.
How to Pick the Correct Tires for Your Truck
The best tires for each driver depend on the type of truck piloted and the driver’s typical routes. Advances in tire technology continue to provide benefits, but even then, truck drivers may not be comfortable with some of the performance or cost tradeoffs that happen.
The traditional dual tire structure remains the most popular, but wide-based low-resistance tires continue to grow in popularity. As their name suggests, these tires provide less resistance than traditional tires, offering drivers improved gas mileage. When the price of diesel fuel is low, these types of tires are used less, as they need to be replaced more often; however, when the price of fuel climbs above $4 per gallon, they may become more cost-efficient over time.
How to Take Care of Your Truck Tires
No matter what type of tires you use, it is vital they work properly. Here are some tire maintenance checks all drivers should regularly make.
- Check air pressure.
Over- or under-inflated tires can reduce the performance of a truck and alter how it drives or reacts in an emergency. Drivers should manually check their air pressure before every trip to ensure it meets the manufacturer-designated standards. Larger fleets should consider using tire pressure monitoring systems (TMPS) and continuous tire inflation systems (CTIS) on trailers. While they bring an added cost, these systems ensure tire pressure remains safe and consistent.
- Check tread depth.
Along with air pressure, the depth of tire treads should be checked before every trip. The standard way is to put a penny with Lincoln upside down between the treads. If Lincoln’s face is visible, it is time for a new set.
- Rotate tires.
Based on where they are on a truck, tires can receive uneven wear and tear on the tread. Rotating tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help expand their life span. Along with rotating tires, complete a full three-axle wheel alignment as well. While these measures may seem tedious, they go a long way in keeping tires on the road.
- Ensure proper wheel torque.
This is easier than it sounds. Wheel torque is the simple act of adjusting the lug nuts on your wheels. Wheels that are either too tight or too loose can cause damage while driving, so take a few minutes and check each one before you start a trip.
- Practice good habits.
Tires are designed to perform a certain way. Driving too fast, making hard stops, or accelerating too quickly can quicken tire deterioration. Continue to drive in a safe manner that follows all road laws and best practices to protect tires and other valuable equipment.
- Fix problems when they happen.
For busy truckers, it can be easy to neglect small items that need fixing. Too often, these smaller problems grow into larger ones that can increase the cost of repairs. If you notice something is wrong with a tire or any part of your truck, make an effort to fix it as quickly as possible, so it does not turn into a larger problem.
- Stay up to date.
New information about tires and other preventative safety measures constantly change and are continually updated. Even experienced drivers need to ensure they have all the latest training and adhere to new standards and laws when driving. Drivers can never have enough training, so put yourself in a continuous learning state to enjoy long-term success.
Drivers today must work within several standards and regulations to properly operate on the road. This can feel like a lot at times. These steps are important, and taking smart care of your truck and its tires will provide sustainable financial benefits for you and your operation.
An estimated 1 out of every 3 truckers suffers from sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition where a person struggles to breathe as they sleep. This can lead to a host of dangers and medical issues—from feeling distracted and drowsy to heart attack and stroke.
For truck drivers and the companies that employ them, this condition can lead to larger safety concerns. To safely operate their vehicles, truck drivers need to be alert and attentive at all times. Those who drive with sleep apnea symptoms may put themselves or other drivers at increased risk for accidents as the condition can affect focus and reactions, leading to fatigue-related crashes.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition where a person cannot breathe properly while sleeping, causing them to wake up sometimes several hundred times throughout a night. There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is when a person’s brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when a person’s throat muscles relax as they sleep and collapse, blocking the airway.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CSAS) is a combination of CSA and OSA.
People with sleep apnea may gasp for air as they sleep or snore loudly. Even though they can sleep for a full eight hours, the person will wake to feel exhausted as the constant interruptions impact the quality of their rest.
Sleep apnea can be incredibly dangerous, contributing to conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, morning headaches, difficulty staying asleep, attention problems, irritability, and others. Many times, a person will not know they suffer from sleep apnea unless told of potential symptoms—something that may be difficult for truckers and owner/operators who tend to spend lots of time alone.
Who is at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Anyone can have sleep apnea regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. However, there is a statistical correlation between the size of a person’s neck and their body mass index to sleep apnea sufferers.
People who have a larger neck size or are overweight have a higher chance of suffering from sleep apnea. A sleep study—done either at a sleep lab or in some cases at a person’s home—can help determine if someone suffers from the disorder.
How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?
Once diagnosed, a sleep apnea sufferer may be prescribed one of several treatments. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is typically the most common remedy. This device delivers air pressure through a mask placed over a person’s face that can help keep their airway open.
Other treatment options include a Mandibular Advancement Device, or MAD, which is a custom-designed mouth guard to help keep the throat open. Some sufferers simply sew a tennis ball to the back of their sleeping clothes to stop them from lying on their back.
More severe treatments include surgery or implants, although the most common way to relieve sleep apnea is to lose weight.
What Truckers Need to Know About Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea among truckers has been a concern for more than two decades. Some companies require drivers who meet certain criteria—either for age, body mass index, or neck size—to complete sleep studies to see if they suffer from apnea, although there is no formal regulation.
Some experts, including P. Sean Garney, vice president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, believe formal regulation may happen under the administration of President Joe Biden. One issue for trucking companies is the cost of sleep studies, which can be expensive both for drivers and for companies.
Many organizations have started working with organizations like SleepSafe Drivers, a third-party sleep apnea and fatigue-management service, for coaching and monitoring. With such a high number of drivers at risk for the condition, trucking companies see long-term value in finding ways to help those at risk, even before regulation makes it mandatory.
Even if a driver’s company does not require it, or if they work as an owner/operator, there is a benefit in getting tested for sleep apnea. As mentioned, several potential remedies can help a person feel more awake, alert, and calm during the day, reducing the potential for dangerous accidents. For truckers who spend their workday behind the wheel, they must do so at their full physical and mental capability for their sake and those sharing the road.
Starting out as an owner/operator can be a difficult and complex endeavor. Purchasing the right long-haul vehicle, learning standard practices and procedures of the industry, and understanding how to file your taxes properly are just a few of the challenges rookie truckers face early on in their careers. This means drivers need to be aware of the pitfalls that often plague owner/operators, costing them time, money, or overall safety.
Here are the top three mistakes to avoid as an owner/operator.
1. Thinking It Will Be Easy
The decision to become an owner/operator can be done for a myriad reasons, but one of the worst cited reasons is because “it’s easy.” It’s not. To begin with, CDL training is not like getting a regular driver’s license; there are far more rules and regulations you must adhere to on the road. Furthermore, the training courses can last for up to 12 hours a day, five days a week, for three weeks depending on which state you get your license in. The test at the end of your training course covers general knowledge, combination vehicle types, exterior vehicle inspection, and even a test on air brakes. Drivers must also provide proof they passed a physical health exam or they will not receive their license.
It’s not just the licensing process that is difficult, either. Life on the road for a long-haul driver is tough, logging 11 hour days behind the wheel for days on end. Drivers must be cautious of other motor vehicles around them as well as driving conditions along their route. When stopped for a break, truckers must be cautious when leaving their truck and make sure their load, as well as their personal safety, is intact. Being a long-haul driver is difficult and can be dangerous, but if you maintain safe practices and stay cognizant of your surroundings, you’ll find success.
2. Neglecting Your Health
Another mistake novice drivers make is neglecting their health. The CDC has found that long-haul drivers are at an increased risk of dangerous health issues, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even diabetes. These health issues are usually due to an unhealthy diet combined with an unavoidable sedentary lifestyle. Physical health issues aside, the isolation from being on the road for days—if not weeks—can impact a driver’s mental health and emotional well-being. Long-haul drivers suffer from higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Protecting your mental health while on the road is especially difficult since there is a general lack of human connection for the vast majority of your time working. To combat these issues, some drivers perform calisthenic exercises at rest stops to improve their physical health and use hands-free technology to connect with their loved ones while on the road.
3. Ignoring Safety Practices
One of the worst mistakes truckers make is ignoring safety practices. Whether that be forgetting to perform an exterior inspection of the vehicle or driving for longer than the legal limit, ignoring safety practices is a surefire way to put yourself or others in harm’s way. Safety protocols are typically in place for a reason, and in the trucking industry, those reasons are serious. A semi-truck in the United States can have a maximum load weight of 80,000 pounds, which is not to be underestimated; a truck weighing 80,000 pounds traveling at a speed of 2 miles per hour has the same momentum as a 4,000-pound SUV traveling at 40 miles per hour. If a driver fails to perform a vehicle inspection prior to hitting the highway and has a blowout while traveling 70 miles per hour, the results could be cataclysmic.
Safety practices don’t just pertain to the vehicle. Drivers need to follow proper safety protocols when it comes to their rest and health. A tired driver is a dangerous driver, and it only takes a fraction of a second for something to go wrong. At 70 miles per hour, a vehicle travels over 100 feet per second, depending on the weather and road conditions. If an exhausted driver on their sixtieth work hour of the week closes their eyes for just one second, it could mean the difference between life and death for themselves and the people on the road around them.
Being an owner/operator can be an amazing and rewarding career for the right person. You get to travel the country seeing the beautiful landscape and meet new, interesting people in your industry. As you grow your owner/operator career, make sure not to let one of these three big mistakes have a negative impact on your profession or your life. Take your job seriously, protect your health, and follow all of the safety practices put in place. It’s that simple.
Working as a long-haul owner/operator is a difficult, dangerous career not meant for the faint of heart. Ever-changing road and weather conditions, unfamiliar locations, 70-hour workweeks, and almost total isolation—the modern owner/operator faces unparalleled challenges day in and day out. As the winter season creeps in, drivers have their work cut out for them as they deliver all of those unbelievable Black Friday deals and Santa’s nice-list promises. With that in mind, it’s imperative that owner/operators plan ahead for the harsh winter weather and prepare their trucks for what is sure to be one of the busiest holiday seasons to date.
Here are five tips for winterizing your semi-truck to stay safe and save money while on road:
1. Inspect Your Battery
Many people don’t know this, but extreme weather can zap the charge from a vehicle’s battery. According to Farm and Dairy, “Cold temperatures wreak havoc on batteries because they slow the chemical reaction inside of the battery. Though batteries can function under myriad conditions, the cold weather tends to degrade high-quality batteries and may render subpar batteries useless.” The last thing an owner/operator needs is to wake up to a dead battery as their truck sits in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, therefore losing valuable driving time and increasing expenses. Avoid battery problems by inspecting the battery connectors for corrosion, securing the mounts, and checking the electrical components. If the battery is over two years old, consider replacing the battery prior to peak season.
2. Install an Electric Block Heater
Diesel engines require significantly more heat to turn-over than their gasoline counterparts—the combustion range for gasoline is 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit while the range for diesel is 1,000 to 1,200. In cold enough temperatures, a diesel engine may struggle to turn-over, and during the most inclement winter weather, there may be no viable way for the engine to reach the necessary temperatures. This can be avoided by installing an electric block heater to keep the engine warm while the vehicle is off overnight, ensuring it rolls over on the first try regardless of the weather outside.
3. Check Your Tires
Ideally, drivers should inspect their tires religiously as tire blowouts account for roughly 6% of semi-truck accidents. The need to inspect tires increases with the colder weather as worn-out, damaged, or underinflated tires can struggle to gain traction in snow and ice, creating unsafe driving conditions. Additionally, owner/operators need to pack the correct size and number of tire chains in case their route takes them through a state where semi-trucks are required to use chains. Tire chains are an owner/operator’s best friend when driving on icy terrain; they can make all the difference between reaching your destination safely or sliding into a ditch—or worse. Stay prepared and plan ahead.
4. Inspect Your Cooling System
A semi-truck’s engine cooling system has to work overtime during the winter months. This is due to the fact that the harsh winter weather forces the engine itself to work significantly harder than in the warmer months. The cooling system should be thoroughly inspected and tested by a mechanic prior to the winter season to make sure no hoses are worn or damaged, hose clamps are tight and secure, and the radiator has no damage or leaks. If the cooling system fails, the entire engine will fail along with it, costing you precious dollars and quite possibly your deadline. The last thing an owner/operator wants is to be stranded on the side of the road with no fix other than replacing the cooling system completely.
5. Prepare an Emergency Kit
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, or how much you prepare, you still run into the proverbial—or literal—bump in the road. If an owner/operator finds themselves stranded in harsh winter climates while in route to their destination, it can be incredibly dangerous without the necessary supplies to ensure your safety and survival. Always prepare an emergency kit to protect yourself from the weather or other threats you may face while on the road. We recommend including the following items in your emergency travel kit:
● Extra blankets
● First aid kit
● Flashlight and extra batteries
● Canned food and bottled water
● Snow boots
● Snow shovel
● Flare and flare gun
● CB Radio
● Extra coolant, washer fluid, engine oil
● Extra fuel filter and fuel filter wrench
● Spare Diesel fuel
● Tire chains
These items will make sure you are safe, protected, and have extra supplies on-hand in case the problem can be easily solved—such as low oil levels or running out of fuel.
Picture this: You’re on the road and the inevitable happens… You get stopped for a roadside inspection. Such blitzes can happen at any time but are particularly enforced during certain times of the year. For example, Operation Safe Driver Week took place in July 2020. During that time period, law enforcement observed over 66,000 drivers engaging in unsafe driving on roadways and issued 71,343 warnings and citations.
There’s also the annual International Roadcheck. In this three-day period, the emphasis is placed on compliance with federal regulations, and inspectors use the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria to spot any violations. Last year’s International Roadcheck revealed staggering results. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of the 3.36 million inspections conducted, 952,938 driver violations were noticed, of which 199,722 were out-of-service (OOS) conditions.
At some point in your trucking career, you will be flagged down for a roadside inspection. Passing or failing inspection, however, is ultimately contingent on your preparedness. Listed below are the top four ways you can plan ahead to pass a roadside inspection.
1) Make Sure You Have Proper Documentation
There are a total of eight inspection levels. Level III inspection is specifically centered on the driver’s credentials, which includes but isn’t limited to a CDL review, medical examiner’s certificate, plus the record of duty status, and more. Among the top 25 truck driver violations last year, driving without a valid medical certificate ranked at #2. This is merely a one-point violation, but it’s easily avoidable when owners/operators keep themselves organized.
Unfortunately, when you’re in a rush to hit the road, staying up to date with important documents can easily fall by the wayside. It’s helpful to already have a binder or folder consisting of the documents the inspector will need. Such documents include a driver’s license, registration, vehicle insurance, medical examiner’s certificate, record of duty status, annual inspection records, hazardous materials paperwork, IFTA card, and permit credentials.
2) Have a Pre-trip Checklist Ready
During a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) Level I Roadside Inspection, there are some equipment problems that can lead to trip delays, citations, or worse yet, an OOS order. In order to avoid the three aforementioned issues, make it a habit to address the following items daily: replace/mend deflated or worn tires, adjust brakes or other brake-related problems, secure your load, take care of oil leaks, and repair any damaged lights or windshield.
Another facet of the checklist needs to include understanding how your electronic logging device (ELD) works. In the event you’re flagged for an inspection, you’ll need to know how to email your e-logs to the inspector. This will help expedite the entire process quickly, so you can get you back on the road.
What if you covered your checklist, but encounter an issue and an unexpected inspection on the road? Be transparent with the inspector about anything that may cause further inspection. This can mean the difference between a waiver of citation(s) or incurring a violation. If you recently discovered the issue, tell the inspector and take steps to handle it promptly.
3) Keep up with the Maintenance of Your Truck
This tip goes hand-in-hand with having a pre-trip checklist. Staying safe on the road for you and others is the top priority—besides passing the roadside inspection. And the key to safety comes down to the upkeep of your truck.
When you start your semi-truck, take time to do the following:
- Check the tires for punctures, pressure, and air leaks.
- Ensure all your lights are working properly. This is not to be taken lightly. A broken light is a six-point violation, and in some instances, can result in an OOS.
- Make sure your truck’s windshield is clean. Not only is this highly important to your safety and that of others, but it also can make or break your chances of getting pulled over by law enforcement for an inspection.
- Perform a Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) to ensure you’re meeting the law’s standards for your truck. This includes checking things such as your battery, clutch, exhaust, and more. Covering all your bases by paying attention to detail can help you not only pass a potential inspection but will also help you stay safe.
4) Don’t forget to conduct a post-trip (and en route) inspection
Let’s face it: Roadside inspections are part of being a trucker in the U.S. Whether you’re a rookie or an expert truck driver, you need to get into the practice of conducting routine inspections en route and post-trip. A solid post-trip inspection gives you time to address an identified problem before the truck makes its next trip. Much like the pre-trip checklist, the post-trip inspection list is equally important. Though it’s time-consuming, such a task will help in keeping you safe for your next trip and possible inspection. So, take time to check major details such as the functionality of your brakes, windshield wipers, steering efficiency, and tire condition.
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