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DOT truck inspection; 7 things you need to know

Like it or hate it, getting a DOT truck inspection is all part of the whole truck driving gig.

No matter what kind of commercial vehicle your drive, this article will give you tips and actionable advice on what to expect and how to prepare for DOT truck inspection either roadside or at a check station.

Some people can’t stand DOT and others don’t mind having their vehicles inspected. No matter where you fall, there will come a time when you will have to submit to a DOT truck inspection either roadside or at a check station or “chicken coop”.

Each state runs their checkstations a little different, but in general after pulling into the checksite, a ‘smartly uniformed attendant’ will direct you to a lane to start the inspection.

Generally speaking, you’re allowed to proceed unless specifically pulled in, which is the method used in my state.

In this article, I will try and focus on the inspection and help you navigate the process and what to expect.

Pre-Trip Inspection And Post Trip Inspections

This is really where it all starts – with you.

In my experience, drivers that do regular and thorough pre trip inspections on the items that are listed on their DVIR (driver vehicle inspection report) tend to do very well.

I can’t guarantee 100% of the time of course, but it does drastically reduce how many violations you could potentially receive.

Doing your pre trip in the morning and completing a DVIR each day when your supposed to (and not pencil whipping it) helps you to see what’s going on with your vehicle and stay on top of any potential problems.

Can’t remember all the items? No worries check out the below image of a DVIR post trip inspection form. Note that this form is not required for a pre trip only the post trip at the end of the day if there are safety related defect.

Drivers vehicle inspection report

Per DOT these reports are supposed to be filled out each day and turned in. The mechanic in turn should be making corrections and signing off on repairs made. During a DOT audit, inspectors will pull these reports to ensure that the deficiencies that the driver finds are getting fixed. Yes I know that doesn’t happen all the time.

Here’s a helpful video:

The 6 Levels of DOT Inspections

There are 6 levels of a DOT inspection, some are longer and more thorough than others.

DOT or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration all by itself doesn’t determine how many levels of inspection or what they should even contain. The FMCSA works in conjunction with a private organization called the Commercial Vehicle safety Alliance (CVSA).

If you haven’t heard of CVSA, they are a public/private partnership between government and industry that has established a national standard on conducting inspections.

The Federal government makes the rules and then works with industry and state partners on how the rules should be enforced. This also includes setting standards for inspections, training enforcement personnel and determining the out of service criteria.

inpsection level

Each level of inspection is a bit different and covers specific safety items. Here are the levels of inspection from the CVSA:

Level 1

This is a full DOT truck inspection. The driver, their paperwork and the vehicle(s) will be inspected. This is a “full service” inspection where they crawl underneath, over, onto and through (you get the point) of your vehicle. This is usually done at a facility (check station) or parking area, but really be done anyplace where the enforcement official feels safe in doing it and they have plenty of room to put a truck and trailer.

Pass This inspection level and you will receive the magical sticker you’ve heard so much about.

Level 2

A level 2 is a driver and vehicle inspection however the inspector or officer will not crawl underneath the vehicle. The inspector/officer will go over the paperwork and do a walk around of the vehicle to check for violations. This is commonly done roadside but can be done just about anywhere.

Level 3

Driver and credential only inspection. The inspector will look at the driver paper or electronic log (ELD) and other supporting paperwork that they should have in possession.

The first three inspections are going to be the most common inspections that drivers will face on a day to day basis.

truck driver doing paperwork

Level 4

These inspections are “Special checks”. When a level 4 inspection is done, it’s usually because DOT asks its state partners to gather specific information. I know it sounds ominous, but it’s not.

Special checks are designed to be a data study on a particular item to either support a study that has been done or to refute data that has already been gathered.

Although they can be driver related, special checks typically revolve around items that are mechanical. For example, one year a special check may focus on the most common violation(s) during an inspection or finding out the number of automatic slack adjusters vs a regular slack adjuster.

If the special check is focused on the driver, it’s always been hours of service related (in my experience).

A driver may not ever know the difference, the procedure while being inspected may seem just like a level 1 or a level 2.

Level 5

These inspections are vehicle only, there is no driver involved. Most of the time a level 5 inspection is performed at a company’s facility in support of a compliance review or safety audit.

They may also be performed at a company’s request at a terminal, but that will depend on the state.

Level 6

This level is reserved for those that haul transuranic waste and Highway rout controlled quantities of radioactive material.

The level 6 inspection is very thorough and tedious for the driver and the inspector. About the only thing that isn’t done is asking the driver to turn his head to the side and cough!

This level is definitely its own animal, and if you’re a driver that hauls this, you don’t need me to explain it to you. Drivers that haul radiological material are often trained to the same level as the state troopers who are inspecting the shipment.

There you have’em; The six levels of a DOT truck inspection, coming to a roadside or check station near you. As I stated earlier, a driver or company will commonly be dealing with levels 1 through 3.

class 7 hazmat placard

What to expect during a DOT inspection

Each state is going to be slightly different when you enter the facility. Start by making sure that you obey any traffic control that’s posted, like speed limits and signal lights.

No traffic control? Be cautious and take it easy.

There are a lot people potentially walking around and you don’t want to be responsible for hurting anyone.

If you’re selected for an inspection, you will be brought into a lane or even a pit area in some cases.

The exact order may be different, but here’s a basic rundown of what happens:

You will be greeted by the inspector/officer

They will ask you to shut the truck off. You may even be asked to remove your keys from the ignition

Your wheels will be chocked.

They will ask you to release your brakes.

You will be asked for your logbook/log device and credentials, and they will ask basic questions.

The inspection (a level 1) will start and you will be given more instructions.

It’s important that you follow instructions. If you can’t hear the inspector/officer just ask for them to repeat what they want. Failure to follow instructions can get someone injured and will cause the inspection to go poorly for you.

Be organized to speed things up

Inspections have procedures that have to be followed and there’s no way to make that process shorter. But you can make it go smoother (and therefore faster) if you get yourself organized.

Here’s a basic list:

  • Do you know your dashboard? Know how to work the many systems of your vehicle. It’s amazing how many don’t know where all of the controls are.
  • Make sure you know where you’re logbook is, or have a plan for the inspector to look your electronic log. Know how to access your elogs and how to email them to the inspector.
  • Organize your permits. I always recommend to drivers to go through they’re permit book at least once a quarter and know what’s in there. Rifling through permits alone adds 5 to 10 minutes (or more) alone onto the inspection time

Have a pet cat or dog in your truck?

You need to have a plan to manage your pet during the inspection.

pet cat in semi truck
Looks like on duty not driving time!

If you have pets in the cab that need to be secured, make sure you have a way to secure them to keep them from getting injured or having an incident with the inspector. If you have a pet that’s aggressive (a dog for example) you are setting yourself up for a lot problems. Let the inspector know right away.

Animals can react in different ways in strange environments. Keeping your pets secured prevents them getting scared and running into traffic or winding up some other place they shouldn’t that could get them hurt.​

Pets have to be dealt with immediately before the inspection can really start. If you have no way to restrain your cab buddy, that can add quite a bit of time.

Paperwork you will need

Here’s a quick rundown of the paper work you may need.

I’ll start off with basic paperwork, and move on to special situations you may find yourself in.

Some of this is a repeat from above:

Driver’s license/medical card (there are certain situations you must still keep a medical card on your person)

Log or tablet/elog and previous 7 days. For elogs you will need blank logbook pages and an instruction card on how to operate the elog.

Truck and trailer registration

Insurance card

IFTA card. IFTA stands for “International Fuel Tax Agreement”. <link to Ifta site> Those are the stickers on the each side of your tractor. They change color depending on the year. As of this writing, the 2016 IFTA stickers are green.

Permits; Any state specific permit you may need.

Bill of lading, shipping papers or invoice. If your empty, just let the inspector know that your running empty.

Got a placarded hazmat load? You’ll need more stuff

– Shipping papers. They are required for hazmat loads.

– USDOT hazmat permit

– FMCSA safety permit (for certain high risk loads)

– Special permit. For certain hazmat packagings that are utilizing exceptions outlined in the permit. The permit itself will dictate if it needs to be carried.

– State hazmat permit. As far as I know, every state I know has one

– Emergency response information. Orange book (Emergency Response Guidebook) or MSDS

– Written route plan. For certain hazardous materials (such as explosives) you will need a written route plan.

– Copy of the FMCSR regulations. not for every load just for certain hazardous material that is being transported.

Other special circumstances for permits:

Oversize/Overweight loads

Operating permit for the state you’re in. If your vehicle is not registered in the state you’re operating in, you will need to obtain a permit. A look at your registration card will tell you all the states that you can operate in.

Common violations during a DOT inspection

There are tons of violations that can be listed from the regulations on an inspection.

Sometimes it may seem impossible to get a “clean” inspection but it can and does happen.

Here’s a list of some common violations discovered during an inspection. Of course it can vary by state depending on what that state focuses on, but here’s a good general list.

tire cord

For drivers:

Log not current to your last change of duty status

14 hour rule violation

False logs

Form and manner violations. This has to do with any of the required information or formatting of the log, whether it’s hand done or an elog.

Not using your ELD when your required, unless your one of the few that can still use paper logs.

Not having extra paper logs with in case your ELD fails and your ELD instruction card. I call these ‘low hanging fruit violations’. They’re easy for an officer to write up and add CSA points to your score. They’re also easy to avoid.


Brakes out of adjustment and other brake problems


Load securement

Lighting; from brake lights to turn signals

Leaking oil

Damaged/obstructed windshield

No proof of annual inspection

Hazmat loads:

Improper hazmat placards get drivers into trouble all the time. If you struggle with this, check out our article on Hazmat Placards.

Improper markings (UN numbers on truck)

No or expired hazmat permits

Shipping paper violations

Three outcomes of a roadside inspection

There are three things that can happen after a truck inspection that very in degree.

I’ll start with the easy go all the way to the most severe.

No Violations

Hurray! You continue on your merry way and your boss may even give you a Scooby snack! Ok maybe not a scooby snack.

Actually, from what I understand from many drivers, companies have incentive programs for getting clean inspections.

Check with your company and see if they have one. It will depend on the company, but many drivers I’ve talked to say they get anywhere from $25 to $50 per clean inspection.

girl in field

Violations, Non out of service

You received some violations, but no Scooby snack. These are simply violations of the regulations but they are not listed in the out of service criteria, so they are not out of service.

An example would be a clearance light on the cab or trailer that’s out or a form and manner violations on a drivers logbook.

Having said all that, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a ticket for it also. Not saying you will, but technically you can receive a ticket with any violation you receive in an inspection. Many times, tickets are not issued unless the violation is out of service, but no guarantees.

Again, every state is different.

Violations, Out of service

Out of service means that you have at least one violation of the federal regulations that is listed in the CVSA (remember those guys n gals I mentioned previously?) North American Standard Out of Service Criteria.

The violation must be listed in the criteria or it is not out of service.

If you have received an out of service violation, be prepared to receive a ticket for that violation regardless of whether you own the truck or are a company driver.

Every state is different, so make sure you understand what the officer is telling you.

Out of Service? Now what

There are two kinds of drivers.

Those who have been placed out of service, and those who haven’t been placed out of service yet.

It happens to every driver at one time or another whether it’s their fault or a maintenance issue that rears its ugly head they didn’t know about at a really bad time.

No matter what, you should have a plan in place to deal with being parked. Make sure you understand your company’s policy, and have a list of phone numbers that you can call for a service truck.

Generally speaking, You shouldn’t be getting parked out in the middle of nowhere unless your vehicle is so unsafe that it can’t move. Officers/Inspectors will generally escort you into the nearest town or you may have to remain at the checkstation and make your arrangements from there.

If you were placed out of service for leaking hazmat, let your company know ASAP so that they can start arranging for a cleanup company if necessary. It also never hurts to have a basic spill kit on board your vehicle so that you can at least contain a simple fluid leak.

Before doing that, again, make sure you check with your company and understand what your trying to do before doing any containment. You may need to be OSHA trained before doing any form of hazmat containment.

yellow semi truck and trailer on highway

Tips for success During an Inspection

Here are some helpful tips to get you through an inspection:

Do your pre trip inspection. A lot of violations can be caught simply by doing a thorough pre trip. Make sure that you not everything on your drivers inspection report.

Be organized – I talked about it previously but being disorganized and not having a clue about what’s going not adds time to the inspection, but can cause inspectors to be suspicious. Don’t make it look like it’s your first days on the job (even if it is).

Listen and follow instructions. You will be getting a lot of instructions thrown your way so if you don’t hear or understand just ask.

Be Polite! This is huge. If the inspector is a jerk, it’s not going to benefit you to try and match it. At the end of the day, we’re all people doing a job with good days and bad days.

If you receive a violation that you don’t agree with, ask the inspector to explain it. If you still don’t agree get with a supervisor or company official and then contact the agency and speak with a supervisor.

If you’re still having problems go through your company and have them conduct a Data Q. A data Q is the official way to dispute violations in the system and potentially have them overturned.

There you have it, a DOT inspection crash course! With this helpful guide you should be able to minimize your hassle at the next roadside inspection and be back on your way in no time flat!Also, make sure that your getting out and doing walk arounds on your truck. It’s good excercise to stretch your legs and prevent knee pain but also can help prevent receiving violations.

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