Effective Maintenance Saves Money

Having an effective maintenance program means having a systematic and preventive approach to maintenance. And it saves you money in the long run.

Every issue resolved in your shop (or a contracted shop) during routine maintenance is one issue that did not become an on-road repair. It’s easy to justify an extensive maintenance program when you compare the costs of in-house and contracted repairs to on-road repairs.

A systematic and preventive maintenance program aims to fill, adjust, tighten, rebuild, or replace parts and components during maintenance, rather than waiting for them to fail on the road. The decision on when a component is due for replacement is based on your criteria, including:

  • Age or mileage based on known failure points (from previous experience and/or manufacturer recommendations),
  • Approaching a predetermined cutoff or wear point,
  • Condition, or
  • Indications of a potential failure.

Structuring such a program involves looking at:

  1. The original equipment manufacturer’s suggested maintenance,
  2. The regulatory minimums,
  3. Your history with similar vehicles, and
  4. Your maintenance records.

This information is used to develop a maintenance schedule and maintenance checklists for each type of vehicle the fleet operates. To use your data successfully in this process, it’s best to have an automated electronic system to track maintenance activities and repairs.

By the way, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations are not intended to help you structure your program. They only require:

  • That a carrier has a systematic program and that the program is followed (see §396.3),
  • That all components meet or exceed the requirements in Part 393 and Appendix G, and
  • That detailed records of all inspection, maintenance, and repair activity are maintained (also in §396.3).

The Driver Component

All the steps noted thus far must be in place to provide the driver with a vehicle that is safe, compliant, and operating efficiently. From there, it is up to the driver to take care of it. And to do so successfully, the driver must be trained on conducting regular inspections.


Before operating a vehicle, the driver must be satisfied it’s in safe operating condition. If the vehicle has any defects, the driver should not operate it until the defects are corrected. This is required in §392.7. The regulations provide a general list of items that must be checked, but many carriers require the driver to check all visible parts and components.

Completion of a pre-trip form is not required for a driver in the United States. However, as a best practice, many carriers require their drivers to note the inspection on their logs (paper or electronic) or submit a pre-trip inspection report.

En Route Inspections

During the workday, a driver must inspect the securement of the cargo within the first 50 miles of loading, and then every three hours, 150 miles, or at the next duty change, whichever comes first (§392.9). There are exceptions if it is impractical to check the cargo or the cargo is in a sealed cargo compartment. A driver transporting placarded hazardous materials must inspect the vehicle’s tires at the beginning of the trip, every time the vehicle is parked, and at the end of the trip (§397.17).

To improve on this, many carriers require the driver to do a quick walk-around inspection every time the vehicle is parked. This inspection involves checking the lights, tires, cargo securement, and general condition. This is not an in-depth inspection. It is done at a walking pace, with a short pause at each tire and securement device.

While there is no documentation required for an en route inspection, many carriers require their drivers to put a comment on their log (paper or electronic), indicating when an en route inspection was done.

Post-trip and DVIR

At the end of the day, the driver must report any defects on the vehicle (§396.11). To know if any defects on the vehicle need to be reported, the driver must inspect it.

There are extensive documentation requirements tied to this inspection. If the driver discovers a defect during a post-trip inspection or knows of an unrepaired defect on the vehicle (such as having been informed of a defect during a roadside inspection):

  • The driver must submit a DVIR detailing the defect (either paper or electronic),
  • A carrier official must sign the DVIR saying the defect was repaired or was not necessary, and
  • The next driver to pre-trip the vehicle must then sign the DVIR agreeing with the carrier official.

Much like the other inspections, some carriers have policies that exceed what is required in the regulations. As an example, some carriers require their drivers to submit a DVIR daily, even if there are no defects to report.

Trust, But Verify

As a best practice, some companies strive to verify that their drivers are doing the required inspections. Methods they use include:

  • Observing drivers at a company facility where they should be doing pre-trip and post-trip inspections,
  • Observing drivers at a location where an en route inspection should be done (such as a company fuel stop), and
  • Placing gift certificates at commonly inspected locations on the vehicle.

If inspections are not being done, it provides an opportunity to encourage participation and build driver awareness regarding company policies, procedures, and training on vehicle inspections.

Effective Maintenance Programs Deliver Results

If you have an effective maintenance program and drivers that are doing inspections and communicating repair needs, you should have good roadside inspection results, a good Vehicle Maintenance BASIC score, a low breakdown rate, low on-road repair costs, and good equipment availability.

If any of these measures are not where they should be, look closely at both sides of the maintenance equation for trends and problems to identify potential solutions.