Basics of Truck Maintenance for First Time Truck Owners

The Transwest Team
The Transwest Team
Mar 01, 2021
Basics of Truck Maintenance for First Time Truck Owners

Now that you’ve purchased your first truck for transporting cargo around town or across the state, it’s important to know and understand the basics of maintaining your vehicle. This will ensure you get the longest life possible out of the engine, transmission, and other critical components.

At Transwest, we are here to assist you in finding the right truck for your specific needs. We carry a quality inventory of trucks, backed by trusted names, such as Freightliner, Lohr, and Western Star. We can help you pick a truck that matches your towing needs, desired gas mileage, and more.

Once you have purchased a truck, the following basics of truck maintenance can help keep you on the road with fewer breakdowns and fewer mechanical failures.

Start by Knowing Your Vehicle

The first place to begin is by getting to know your specific truck. Each vehicle requires its own unique set of maintenance tasks at specific intervals. A perfect way to start is by looking over the owner’s manual.

You'll find an entire section dedicated to maintenance in your owner's manual. You can also locate essential information about the timing of regular maintenance tasks, such as oil changes, tune-ups, and more.

Take some time to walk around your truck, familiarizing yourself with the location of important components. For example, be sure you know where your oil dipstick, brake fluid, and coolant areas are located.

Take note of any specialty items your truck might have, such as refrigeration systems for the cargo area, dumping mechanisms, built-in cranes, and more. These specialty items will have their own unique set of maintenance requirements.

Stay on Top of Critical Maintenance Items

The following are all regular maintenance items that must be attended to, ensuring you meet federally mandated safety and maintenance standards:

  • Brakes: Your truck’s brakes are critical to the safety of everyone on the road. Regularly inspect drums, rotors, hoses, and any additional components your type of brakes include. For detailed information on brake requirements, explore Section 393.40 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
  • Couplers & Fifth Wheel Safety: Before towing, it is important to inspect your truck’s coupling device. Make sure you comply with all FMCSA guidelines, which can be found in Section 393.70.
  • Exhaust: Regularly inspect your exhaust system to ensure it is properly connected and discharging correctly. Further information about exhaust regulations can be found in Section 393.83 per the FMCSA.
  • Lighting: Another critical task to staying safe on the road is ensuring proper visibility. Inspect all headlights, tail lights, and running lights to remain compliant with federal regulations as outlined in Section 5.1.8. This includes ensuring that stop lamps are activated when brakes are applied, the proper reflectors are in place and visible, and that the lamps are secured properly.
  • Steering System: Regulation requires that your steering wheel remains secure and that no spokes are cracked or missing. Additionally, you must inspect your steering system regularly to ensure that there are no loose or missing parts. For detailed information regarding steering system regulations, visit Section 393.209.
  • Suspension: According to Section 393.207, you must ensure that your truck’s axles, adjustable axles, leaf springs, coil springs, torsion bars, air suspensions, and air suspension exhaust controls are all functioning properly.
  • Mirrors: To remain compliant with Section 393.80, periodically check your truck’s mirrors to ensure that you have two rear-vision mirrors, one at each side, firmly attached to the outside of your truck. These mirrors must be located in such a way as to give the driver a view of the highway to the rear- along both sides of the vehicle.

Trucks with violations of these items can be pulled off their routes and taken out of service. For this reason, it is critical to stay on top of regularly inspecting and maintaining each item.

Check Your Tires Regularly

No matter what line of work you are in or how you utilize your truck, one of the most important maintenance tasks you can perform to ensure your safety is a tire check. In fact, tire safety is such a critical component of trucker safety that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) Office of Defects Investigations (ODI), the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), and the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) partnered with the FMCSA to put together the following information found in their USDOT Tire Advisory Card.

Before you hit the road, always check the following:

  • Tread: Pay attention to the tread on your truck’s tires. Check for any cracking, bulging, or other issues with the tread before you operate the vehicle. This is very important when hauling heavy cargo.
  • Pressure: Check your tire pressure with a gauge when the tires are cold. Adjust the pressure as needed.
  • Rims: Always ensure that your tires are paired with the proper rims. Mismatched rims and tires can lead to the tire exploding during operation, which can cause a serious or fatal accident.

Be sure to never push your tires past their limit. When you are hauling heavy cargo with your truck, always adhere to the weight limits of the vehicle. Overloading your truck can lead to tire failure, which can cause a dangerous or even lethal accident.

Also, make sure that you are adhering to the speed limits of your vehicle. Pushing your truck’s tires past the intended speeds can cause the tires to wear out early and possibly lead to tire failure.

Pay Attention to Your Brakes

Similar to your tires, your brakes play a critical role in ensuring your safety and the safety of others on the road. Make sure that you frequently check your brakes to ensure that they are still in good condition.

This is particularly true of air brake systems, which require specialized care. Be sure to frequently test the air leakage rate of your brake system and ensure that your low air pressure warning alarms are working as intended. Build out a pre-trip checklist, such as the one outlined by CDL Digest, to tackle necessary inspections based on the type of air brakes your truck or trailer is equipped with.

It is also worth noting that every state regulates air brakes in different ways. Make sure you are aware of any state-specific requirements for operating a vehicle with airbrakes before transporting goods in that state.

For example, Montana has the following restrictions placed on Commercial Driver Licenses "prohibiting the operation of airbrake equipped vehicles unless the driver has passed the required examinations (written, pre-trip, basic skills and road tests) to show that he is qualified to operate an airbrake equipped vehicle."

Never procrastinate on brake repairs. Your brakes are not only responsible for stopping your truck, but in the case of towing, they are also responsible for slowing the trailer.

Double-Check Before Towing

Finally, no matter what type of truck you drive, if you are going to be towing a trailer, be sure to double-check all connections before towing. It is critical that your hitch is in quality condition and that your truck is operating at its finest when towing heavy goods.

Always consult your owner’s manual to confirm that you're following your trucks’ weight guidelines.

At Transwest, we are here to help ensure that your next truck purchase goes smoothly. We offer a quality selection of new and used trucks backed by trusted manufacturers. We will be happy to assist you in choosing a style of truck to exploring your financing options. Come talk to our experienced staff today.