Last Updated on December 21, 2022
While not the most glamorous part of the job, pulling over for a DOT inspection is part of the job as a truck driver. Your drivers will have to make sure that they are ready to stop along their routes. The DOT does these inspections to make sure that everything is safe and secure.
Many truck business owners stress about these inspections, but they do not have to be bothersome. With a little bit of knowledge and foresight, you can be ready the next time the DOT inspects one of your trucks.
Commercial Trucking DOT Inspection: What You Should Know
The U.S. Department of Transportation performs regular inspections on commercial motor vehicles to increase roadway safety. The DOT does not do these inspections alone – it is supported by state troopers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).
DOT officers or state troopers can pull you over at any time and place. Common spots for inspections include truck stops, weigh stations, and the roadside.
You must be prepared for a DOT inspection constantly. This means keeping your vehicle in top shape and ensuring you are not violating any DOT regulations.
The Levels of Truck Inspections
In total, there are six levels of inspections for trucks on the road. They are:
- Level 1: Sometimes called the North American Standard Inspection, a Level 1 DOT inspection is a near-total review of your vehicle and relevant paperwork. The officer will also check your commercial driver for signs of drug or alcohol consumption.
- Level 2: This level is a walk-around inspection, meaning the officer will circle your vehicle to spot any violations or issues. Unlike a Level 1 inspection, the officer will not get underneath your vehicle.
- Level 3: This level of inspection is a driver-only check focused on documentation and paperwork. Common documents checked include their license, hours of service, and driver vehicle inspection report.
- Level 4: This level of inspection is a special one-time examination of a certain aspect of your truck for research purposes.
- Level 5: A Level 5 inspection is similar to Level 1, but the officer only inspects the vehicle. This type of inspection usually happens at truck depots.
- Level 6: This level is generally reserved for trucks carrying hazardous freight like medical waste and radioactive materials.
What Is A Level 1 DOT Inspection?
A Level 1 DOT inspection is a comprehensive, complete inspection of a commercial vehicle performed by a DOT officer. The inspection is a 37-step process of checking your driver, vehicle, and any illegal cargo.
In a Level 1 DOT truck inspection, drivers must show all requested documents like their commercial license, driver’s logs, and relevant certifications. The inspector will also check your drivers for alcohol or drug consumption.
What Does a Level 1 DOT Inspection Entail?
The Level 1 DOT inspection, also called the North American Standard Inspection, entails a near-total review of the vehicle, paperwork, licenses, and other related items for driving a truck. Meanwhile, the other inspection levels are for one of the parts of operating a truck.
A Level 1 inspection is an annual inspection and is required to make sure that trucks continue to stay safe while on the road. Here are some of the things an inspector will be looking for during random DOT inspections:
- Driver Credentials: This will include more than just the driver’s license for the driver. The driver should have a medical examiner’s certificate alongside other relevant licenses.
- Driver Habits: Habits such as seatbelt use, loading/unloading procedures, and other safety behaviors will be reviewed by the inspector. There is a review of smoking and alcohol use, as well.
- Documentation: Daily logs, hours of service (HoS) documentation, and similar paperwork will be reviewed with the driver during the inspection.
- Safety Features: The inspector will go over safety systems in the truck, such as the seatbelts, airbags, brakes, turn signals, and other truck features dedicated to safely operating the truck on the road.
- Other Truck Systems: The engine, exhaust system, steering, and tires are some of the other parts of the truck the inspector will review during the inspection.
The Level 1 inspection is a thorough review of the driver, truck, and all other related systems and documents. This can be a lot to go over for one inspection, but there are ways to get yourself prepared for this task.
Level 1 DOT Inspection Checklist
A Level 1 DOT inspection has 37 steps. To help you properly prepare for inspections, here is a DOT inspector’s checklist according to CVSA guidelines:
- Choose a safe inspection site.
- Approach the vehicle.
- Greet the driver.
- Interview the driver.
- Collect the driver’s documentation.
- Check for hazardous materials or dangerous goods.
- Identify the truck’s carrier.
- Examine the driver’s license.
- If applicable, check the driver’s medical and skill certificates.
- Check the driver’s record of duty status.
- Review the driver’s daily vehicle inspection report.
- Review the vehicle’s periodic inspection reports.
- Prepare the driver for a vehicle inspection.
- Examine the front of the tractor.
- Examine the left front side of the tractor.
- Examine the left saddle tank area.
- Examine the trailer front.
- Examine the left rear tractor area.
- Examine the left side of the trailer.
- Examine the left rear trailer wheels.
- Examine the rear of the trailer.
- Examine double, triple, and full trailers.
- Examine the right rear trailer wheels.
- Examine the right sighed of the trailer.
- Examine the right rear tractor area.
- Examine the right saddle tank area.
- Examine the right front side of the tractor.
- Examine the steering axle.
- Examine axles 2 and 3.
- Examine axles 4 and 5.
- Examine the brake adjustment.
- Check the Tractor Protection System.
- Check the brake system warning devices.
- Test the air loss rate.
- Examine the steering wheel lash.
- Examine the fifth wheel movement.
- Complete the inspection, and inform the driver of any violations.
How to Prepare for a DOT Inspection
There are a few easy steps you can take to get prepared for a Level 1 inspection. If you take these steps throughout your normal operations, then an inspection will go from an annoyance to another part of the job. Here the recommended tips to follow to prepare for these inspections:
Organize Your Paperwork
As mentioned before, the inspector reviews paperwork and documents as part of the process. During a Level 1 DOT inspection, all driver and truck documents, from licenses to logs, will be reviewed by the inspector. Having your papers in order before the inspection will ensure that you have what you need at a moment’s notice.
Your drivers should have copies of all the paperwork that they need to complete the inspection. Give your drivers a designated spot in their trucks to keep these documents. Review this with your drivers regularly so that they don’t forget where these papers are kept.
Keep Your Trucks Maintained
Once the inspector reviews the papers, they will move on to checking your truck’s systems. Safety and mechanical systems will be reviewed inside and out to make sure that everything is running the way it needs to on the road.
If you want to ace this part of the inspection, then keeping up with the maintenance of your trucks is critical. Keep a schedule of what parts need to be replaced or checked by a mechanic. Use an automated reminder or scheduling system. That way, you can get notified when the different systems and parts of your truck need to be reviewed.
Do a Pre-Trip Inspection
While you need to do an official Level 1 inspection to pass for the year, doing an in-house inspection can help you pass the official one. This gives you a chance to review the inspection process for yourself, letting you familiarize yourself with everything the government will be looking for.
Treat this as a trial run for the real deal. Go through these steps for your pre-trip inspection to make sure that everything is in order:
- Complete a Walk-Around Inspection: Walk around the truck, checking for damaged parts. Mirrors, doors, weather stripping, and steps will be some of the exterior features you’ll be checking during this phase.
- Review Your Lights: Make sure there are no fogging or cracked lights, lenses, and headlights.
- Examine the Engine Compartment: Review all your engine internals, including all the pumps and housings, to ensure there aren’t any issues that need repairs.
- Check Your Tires: Review the tires for air pressure and blemishes. Make sure you use the recommended PSI for the tire pressure and that there are no cuts or abrasions on the tires that could lead to a blown tire.
- Examine the Brakes: DO a total review of the brakes, including a pass for cracked or broken parts. Also, perform brake checks, including static brake checks, applied pressure tests, and low-pressure warning tests.
- Test the Horns and Engine: Rev the engine and honk the horns inside the cabin to make sure that everything here is working well.
Once you’ve gone through this list, you should have done nearly everything that the DOT inspector will do for your truck. Catching an issue here means that you can get dinged by the inspector out on the road.
Review Your Driver’s Training
Another key part of the Level 1 inspection will be a review of your driver’s habits and driving practices. Many of these will be things you cover with your drivers while they are being trained and certified. Review these practices with your drivers before an inspection to make sure they are doing what they need to do while out on the road.
Regular training is a straightforward way to make sure your driver uses these practices. That way, your drivers can feel confident in what they do out on the road. They will have a working knowledge of the dos and don’ts of the road, too. If you include this as part of the driver’s regular performance reviews, you can tie everything together in an easy-to-remember schedule.
Tips For Passing A DOT Inspection
A DOT inspection can be nerve-wracking, especially if you think you are not prepared for one. Here are some top tips to increase your chances of passing roadside inspections:
- Keep all relevant trucking paperwork updated and readily available.
- Behave professionally toward the DOT inspector.
- Clean your truck, and remember where your important items are kept.
- Check your truck, and address common violations before leaving on a trip.
What to Expect During and After the Inspection
Once you’ve gotten your preventative maintenance done and your driver reviewed his papers and practices, it’s time for the inspection. If you haven’t had one of your drivers go through this before, then you might have some questions on what to expect during and after the inspection.
During the Inspection
While the inspection is going on, the DOT inspector will be going down the checklist mentioned earlier. Have your driver give the inspector space to review the systems they need to check in the order the inspector deems appropriate.
Also, the inspector will give instructions or ask the driver to do tasks. The driver should follow these instructions so that the inspection goes smoothly. The inspector shouldn’t be asking about things not related to the task at hand.
Courtesy is the best practice during an inspection. Have your drivers be polite and professional during the inspection. Nothing about the inspection is personal, so the driver shouldn’t feel attacked or belittled if the inspector finds a fault in the truck or driver’s habits.
After the Inspection
Once the inspection finishes, the inspector will give the driver a rundown of what needs fixing, if anything. This is the driver’s chance to ask questions or get clarifications. The driver should politely ask for follow-up since the goal here is to learn and not to get angry.
Part of the rundown from the inspector could be citations that they are writing as a result of the inspection. Don’t have the driver take out any frustration on the inspector. Instead, the driver should bring the inspection summary and citations to you as the supervisor or owner so that you can react as needed.
If you think you were wrongly cited, then you can file a Data Q dispute against the citation to hash out the supposed violation elsewhere. There’s a proper way to do all this, and taking things out on the inspector is not one of them.
A Level 1 DOT Inspection is the most involved inspection done on your drivers and trucks. It involves reviewing almost every mechanical system of the truck, the driver’s habits and practices, and the driver’s driving abilities. The DOT does this inspection so that trucks continue to be safe while out on the road.
Despite the complexity, you can make a Level 1 inspection easier by doing some preventative maintenance and training. Follow up an inspection with respectful questions and disputes, and you’ll be cruising through DOT inspections with no problems in the future.
You can also read these guides to other aspects of running your trucking company:
- What is a TWIC card and how do you get one?
- What is a truck detention fee and how do you determine it?
- How to improve cash flow for your trucking company
Level 1 DOT Inspection FAQs
Here are some of the most common Level 1 DOT inspection questions asked.
What is the most common DOT inspection?
While there are multiple levels of inspection, a Level 1 DOT inspection is the most common. If you get stopped by a DOT officer on the road, it is likely for a Level 1 inspection.
How do you prepare your drivers for DOT inspections?
You can prepare your drivers for DOT inspections by keeping their trucks well-maintained, organizing their paperwork, and performing pre-trip inspections.
What does a Level 1 DOT inspection involve?
A Level 1 DOT inspection involves a 37-step procedure where the DOT officer examines the truck thoroughly. The officer will look for potential violations in your truck and examine the driver’s records for any faults in the documentation.