Want to spot brake defects? ‘Bend at the waist’

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TORONTO, Ont. – Brakes are a focus of roadside enforcement officers every day of the year, but that focus will intensify later this month during Brake Safety Week.

Scheduled for Sept. 16-22, the week coordinated by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) combines education initiatives and inspections alike, depending on the jurisdiction. It has traditionally allowed enforcement teams to shine a light on a variety of systems and issues.

The focus for the last two years has been ABS violations, added CVSA director of roadside inspection program Kerri Wirachowsky, during a webinar hosted by EROAD. “Before ABS we wanted to know how many vehicles were using air disc brakes.” The focus for this year has yet to be determined.

But no matter what the focus has been, a wide range of violations are spotted. Last year there were 7,698 related inspections during Brake Safety Week, with 14% of the vehicles put out of service for brake violations. Twenty-two percent were put out of service for violations of any kind.

The most common brake-related violations fall under six categories, she said. Chafing or kinking brake hose and tubing; brakes out of adjustment; general brake issues; automatic brake adjusters on vehicles manufactured since 1994; malfunctioning ABS lamps on towed vehicles made between March 1998 and 2009; and inoperative or defective brakes are all recorded.

“I’m not suggesting drivers can find them all, but I’m suggesting in some cases they can find more than they do,” Wirachowsky said. “Bend at the waist.”

Sure, dust shields can obscure the view or brake linings, but the most common issues of all include out-of-adjustment brakes and chafing air lines. “You can see kinked air hoses as you’re walking,” she said. Push rods are marked with visual indicators as well.

Wirachowsky refers to cracked spring brake housings, a loose compressor, or leaking air tanks as brake-related issues that might place a truck out of service. The cracked spring housing presents an “imminent danger” of a spring breaking free, for example. And if 20% of a vehicle’s brakes fail to meet the standards, it’s put of service with a general inspection, repair, or maintenance violation – recorded on an inspection report as 396.3(a)(1).

Understanding the related codes can help maintenance teams identify the underlying causes. “Sometimes there’s two citations on a vehicle for one brake being out of adjustment,” she said. In a case like this, it might not make sense to simply replace the slack adjuster. There could be another issue with a worn clevis pin that kept the slack from working as it should.

Differences can also be seen in the codes for lighting-related defects. A 393.9 code refers to a lamp on a truck that is burnt out, for example, but the 393.11 for defective lighting should only apply if the light is actually missing.

Checking the condition of ABS warning lamps is also becoming more important in an era when emerging safety systems like roll stability controls rely on the underlying ABS systems, Wirachowsky said. “All the safety systems that are being manufactured and added to vehicles rely on ABS.” And they could leave drivers with a false sense of security if there’s an ABS failure.

“Most drivers think it’s as simple as turning the key and the light will cycle on the truck and trailer. Possibly, but not always,” she adds of such inspections, referring to the example of a double combination with an older trailer in the lead position. “They [drivers] are not necessarily aware that all these scenarios exist, and they sell themselves short if they don’t know.”

Avoiding any violations is a goal, of course, and she stresses the value of some best practices – not the least of which is conducting thorough pre- and post-trip inspections that follow proper and timely procedures. Ensure drivers are trained in what to expect in a Level 1 inspection, she said. Because not everyone will be familiar with the procedures.

“Everyone feels they get inspected all the time,” she said, referring to drivers that she stopped who were never inspected before. “The odds of being inspected is pretty low.”



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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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