If you’re trying to qualify for a Commercial Driver’s License, it’s not enough to know how to drive a truck – you also need to know the ins & outs of maintenance and safety. It doesn’t matter if you’re the god of parking and you can back into an enclosed dock with your eyes shut, if you don’t know how to inspect the trailer and make sure the braking system works, steering and suspension are in order, the coupling is solid and so on, you are inviting disaster and can be a hazard to yourself and other vehicles. As the driver of a tall, heavy vehicle that makes wide turns, you are responsible for public safety and shouldn’t take chances with lax inspection routines.
Tire and wheel inspections are absolutely crucial to maintain safety, for yourself and drivers around you. In this article, we describe the essentials of a proper wheel and tire inspection. Note that these are just the basics.
A truck’s tires need to be inspected before, during and after a trip.
In recent years, with the profusion of dashboard cams, YouTube has seen a plethora of crash videos that could serve as an encyclopedia of bad driving. Some of the most terrifying incidents have to do with truck wheels that detach themselves and careen over a highway, smashing passenger vehicles. An old, improperly inflated or secured tire can blow out or come loose and cause havoc; proper basic wheel maintenance involves making sure that wheel nuts aren’t rusted or loose; studs and bolt holes haven’t become stretched into an oval shape; hub grease isn’t leaking or low.
When inspecting tires, make sure the treads aren’t worn out and cap plies or wires aren’t showing. Any cracks, separation or gashes that reveal plies are a structural integrity problem and mean the tire needs to be replaced. Pay attention to any air leaks and odd bulges – if the tire isn’t broken, this could mean an impending blowout. Next, inspect the tire valves – if they’re damaged or bent, or caps are missing, it can be a potential vulnerability.
Check tire tread depth for wear. The Department of Transportation has a legal lower tread depth limit of 4/32 inches for steering tires and 2/32 inches for trailer & drive tires. When a major tire groove becomes shallower than this depth, it must be taken out of service. Note that if your steer tires are worn to under 4/32 in, you can still use them by rotating them to the trailer or drive axle. Eighteen-wheeler tires can cost thousands of dollars, which is why, instead of being discarded, worn-out tires can be retreaded and reused. Trucking practice has found that tires that have been worn to 2/32 in and below are less suitable for retreading, because there’s not much rubber left to shield the casing and ply; for this reason, many companies remove and retread tires when they’re in the 6-8/32 inch range.
Some tires claim to be “regroovable” – meaning that the manufacturer has made it possible to carve the rubber in the grooves to make them deeper. The DOT requires tires that have thick enough rubber to make regrooving possible to be marked as such; however, many trucking experts neither endorse nor condone this practice. This is because regrooving greatly reduces the chance of a tire being successfully retreaded.
Lastly, when inspecting wheels, make sure that dual tires aren’t touching or rubbing against each other or the truck. Ascertain that all tires are the same size & design – don’t mix radial-ply and bias ply tires on one axle.
As part of your CDL test, you will have to show a proficient understanding of truck maintenance & inspections. Learn everything and don’t cut corners – it’s not just your driver’s certification that’s at stake, but your safety, and the safety of the people you’re sharing the road with.