When the time comes for DOT inspections, it can be an anxiety-inducing time for truck drivers everywhere across North America. Though they generally occur during the spring and summer, they can happen at any time during the year or at any place. DOT inspections can determine whether a driver is fit to operate their vehicle and whether or not a commercial vehicle is safe enough to be on the road. Because DOT inspections are rather unpredictable events with extremely high stakes, it’s incredibly vital that all drivers are adequately prepared for them. That’s why we’ve compiled some in-depth information about what DOT inspectors look for during inspections as well as how to best prepare your fleet to pass.

What is a DOT inspection?

As we briefly described above, DOT inspections are a series of roadside tests that determine whether or not large commercial vehicles are in working order. These inspections are often performed by state troopers or inspectors that work for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (or the FMCSA). Most inspections take place during what is commonly referred to as “DOT week” in which inspectors from the FMCSA work for 72 long hours, investigating almost 65,000 commercial vehicles across the country.

DOT inspections are incredibly important for the safety of everyone on the road, as well as for the operators of the commercial vehicles being inspected. They ensure that fewer accidents or other potentially dangerous roadside incidents take place as the vehicles carry their cargo.

Types of DOT Inspections

There are six levels of DOT inspections that your fleet could be subjected to. We’ve detailed what each level of inspection is looking for, and how to best prepare.

Level 1: The North American Standard Inspection

This is the most comprehensive of all the inspections. Drivers can expect a very thorough inspection of all their documents, as well as the inner workings of the commercial vehicle that they operate. In addition, inspectors also search for drugs, alcohol, and other potentially hazardous material(s).

Drivers should have their driver’s license, daily driver’s log and hours of service, and a driver and vehicle inspection report on hand when they are pulled over for inspection. In addition to this paperwork, the following vehicle mechanisms should be prepared for inspection:

  • Seat belt
  • Coupling devices
  • Brake systems
  • Exhaust and fuel systems
  • Headlamp, tail lamps, stop lamps, and brake lamps
  • Safe loading
  • Securement of cargo
  • Turn signals
  • Windshield wipers
  • Wheels and hubcaps

Level 2: Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection

This particular level of evaluation is nearly the same as the level one inspection but checks fewer of the commercial vehicle’s mechanisms. It does not require inspecting beneath the CMV, so it is generally less exhaustive than a level one inspection. All the above documents should still be in order.

Level 3: Driver-Only Inspection

As the name indicates, this is an inspection of the driver of a CMV. Inspectors will check for the following paperwork items:

  • Driver’s license
  • Medical card
  • Driver’s daily log
  • Driver incident history
  • Driver and Vehicle Inspection Report
  • Hazmat requirements

In addition to these items, the driver’s seat belt will also be checked for safety insurance.

Level 4: Special Inspection

This level of inspection usually involves the investigation of one particular facet of the truck or commercial vehicle. This usually occurs to either invalidate a previous claim about an aspect of the vehicle or to allow the Department of Transportation to conduct further research about a certain part of the vehicle’s operation. The latter of these options typically occurs when a frequent violation has been discovered, and the DOT wants to track improvement over time.

Level 5: Vehicle-Only Inspection

Level five inspections are similar to a level two inspection and specifically target the safety of the vehicle. The key difference lies in the fact that the driver cannot be present at a level five inspection. These are most commonly performed after an accident or arrest has occurred, in which the driver would already be away from his or her vehicle.

Level 6: Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments

DOT regulations that came into effect in 2005 require that every commercial vehicle carrying radioactive materials must pass a level six DOT inspection. These include detailed investigations of the following:

  • Inspecting for radiological shipments
  • Enhanced out of service criteria
  • Radiological requirements
  • Enhanced to a level one inspection

Though these requirements for the varying levels of inspection may seem daunting, there are plenty of ways to prepare your personal vehicle or your fleet for a passing grade.

How Best to Prepare for a DOT Inspection

One of the best ways to avoid a safety issue, whether you’re getting inspected or not, is to perform your own walk-around vehicle investigation. Checking the tire pressure of your vehicle, testing your lights, and looking for possible cracks in your windows can be a great start to ensuring that your vehicle passes inspection.

In addition to inspecting your own vehicle and keeping up with regular maintenance, keeping your paperwork in order is also a great way to prepare. Inspectors have a ton of commercial vehicles to check over, so having your licenses and logs organized can make the process move along smoother.

Though you won’t be judged on the cleanliness of your cab, it’s always nice to see that a truck is being taken care of. Cleaning out your cab regularly, as well as washing the exterior of your truck can tell an inspector all that they need to know about how dedicated you are to the job.

Finally, being polite to your inspector when the time comes is key. Inspectors are people too, and they’re only doing their job. Though it can be a frustrating or anxiety-inducing time for a driver, it’s just as stressful for an inspector. Being polite and prepared can definitely affect the results of your inspection in a very positive way.

Even though this is a tedious process, it might be surprising to know that FMCSA inspectors don’t actually want you to fail! We’ve given you a general summary of what occurs during a DOT inspection, but visiting their website can give you all of the answers you need about what inspectors are looking for, and how to prepare.

Certified Diesel Solutions is Here for You

Certified Diesel Solutions has been serving the commercial vehicle communities of Tennessee for over a decade. Our team of expertly trained mechanics can handle any type of repair or maintenance that your automobile or tractor-trailer may require. We offer a range of services including preventative maintenance services, DOT inspections, and detailed fleet record keeping ensuring that your vehicles are working dependably. Our team realizes how important it is to have a team of reliable mechanics that you can trust, which is why we emphasize creating long-lasting bonds with our clients. If you think our services are right for you, we’d love to hear from you! Visit our website or give us a call at (865) 964-6598.