Understanding truck brake violations

Brake-related problems continue to dominate violations during roadside inspection blitzes. They accounted for 32% of the vehicle violations recorded during the most recent Roadcheck inspection blitz alone.

Some of the tickets are easy to understand. Brake adjustment can be confirmed by marking and measuring a push rod. If an air hose is worn down to the reinforcement ply, it is placed out of service.

But some recurring issues can baffle the uninitiated.

Today’s Trucking asked Kerri Wirachowsky, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) director – roadside inspection program, to answer some of the recurring questions she faces.


How can I be put out of service for one service brake violation? The last time it happened I was allowed to continue my trip.

The out-of-service criteria for service brakes is broken into two parts. You have service brakes over the entire combination, but then there’s a separate section just for the steering axle brakes.

Steering axle brake violations are more critical than those on the rest of the combination. If you have an inoperative brake on the steer axle, that truck is automatically put out of service; if you have a brake on the left and you don’t have a brake on the right, it’s going to pull to the left.

If I take that same inoperative brake and I move it to the second or third axle of a tractor, that one inoperative brake will not exceed the 20% calculation for the out-of-service criteria. [No more than 20% of the vehicle’s brakes can be defective.] Therefore, that truck will leave with an inoperative brake violation on the tractor, but they are allowed to continue to their destination.

If I also have a brake out of adjustment or a contaminated lining somewhere else in that combination, the inspector is going to use that inoperative brake as one defective brake towards the 20%. Now I have two service brakes that are in violation and that too will place the vehicle out of service.


How can I receive multiple violations for the same brake?

Let’s say I’ve got a contaminated lining, and it’s inoperative, and the brake is out of adjustment – it’s bottoming out, and the linings are not contacting the drum. That will only account for one defective brake.

I have three violations, and they’re all going to be documented on the inspection report. But it’s only one defect towards my 20% calculation. He can go and repair that at his final destination.

If I have another brake that has a violation, now he’s out of service for two defective brakes. But he may have five violations to fix because I’m not going to let him come and adjust the brake and leave with a contaminated brake lining.

All of those violations get documented and all of those have to be repaired.

Does the root cause of the brake violation matter?

Inspectors are not trained to diagnose why something is happening. They are trained to document violations. They will document what they see and it’s up to you to repair [the issue].

You may have an inoperative brake and you may have a brake out of adjustment. That adjustment may be a factor with the inoperative brake, but maybe not. Until you actually adjust that brake and get it within the allowances, there could be seized roller pins, seized anchor pins, seized clevis pins — other things that are causing that brake to have more issues.

Another example would be steering wheel freeplay due to a pitman arm being loose on an output shaft of a steering box.

The steering wheel freeplay is one violation and potentially out of service if it’s excessive. Any loose pitman arm is out of service on a steering box. You will — if you exceed the steering wheel freeplay — end up with two out of service violations on your inspection report. It’s quite possible that the loose pitman arm on the output shaft caused the steering wheel freeplay to be the way that it is, but I don’t know that 100%. There could be something wrong with the gearbox. But until you tighten that pitman arm, I don’t know the answer to that question.


How can one worn air hose be OK, but the next one take me out of service?

We do not want inspectors citing a violation for an air hose that is just resting on the catwalk or resting somewhere [else].

Obviously air hoses — to get from a tractor to the back of a trailer –have to touch something. They can’t be suspended in mid-air, never to rub on anything. You’ll see them going through grommets. You’ll see them tacked against the frame rail. If the gladhand hoses are a little too long, sometimes they rest on the catwalk or the back of the tractor.

Just because it’s rubbing doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be written up as a violation.

In order for it to be a violation, it should have some reduction in diameter. Just because it’s shiny doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in violation.

Then it gets into when does it have to be repaired and when is it out of service. That’s when you get down into the second color of thermoplastic, or you get down to the reinforcement ply in a rubber hose.

Inspectors need to document the violations well, and they need to say what hose [they are] talking about. There’s a lot of air hoses on tractor-trailers. So when they document violations we have a policy that says, “Make sure you say it’s on the second axle, left side service hose going to the service chamber, so it takes the motor carrier’s technician directly to the right hose.”

I’ve seen it in my past where somebody shows up and you’re at the scale … if you don’t give them the appropriate information, they might get under there and repair a different hose altogether.

Sometimes they’ll repair whatever they think the inspector said – whether they think it should be repaired or not. And that’s not right either.

Talk to the inspector. Inspectors should be marking or chalking what defects they find so that it’s easier for the industry to find it.