How I Learned To Adjust My Brakes (And Clean Out My Drawers)

Topic 13180 | Page 1

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Dave B Flying's Comment
member avatar

One of my first jobs in trucking was hauling ship containers out of Baltimore, MD to Cleveland, Ohio. Sometimes I hauled pallets of Oxidizer (Haz Mat) out of Wilmington, DE Sometimes I hauled Haz Mat out of Baltimore. You can't run the toll road(called the green stamp) with Haz mat because of the tunnels in PA so instead of turning right following I-70 into Breezewood you stayed West on what then was called Hwy 40/48. I-68 has since been built leaving 40/48 off limits for trucks I believe. If you've ever driven across I-68, you know it is no easy task. There are plenty of steep grades and plenty of curves with at least one mandatory stop.

Hwy 40/48 was not much different other than it wasn't a divided highway. It was mostly 2 lane highway with a passing lane from time to time. And when I say steep I'm talking anywhere from 6 to 12% grades across MD and PA. Try that with no engine Brake. Most trucks back then were not equipped with Jake Brakes like they are today. I don't remember precisely what model truck I was driving that night other than it was a cab over. If I remember correctly, the 48 foot trailer came out sometime in the 80's so I was probably pulling a 45' trailer. I drove a lot of different trucks during those days as a lease driver. Most everything I know about trucking today I had to learn on my own and some of it I had to learn the hard way. The guy that taught me how to drive didn't have more than a couple years of experience himself. When I look back, I really didn't learn much from him except for a few basics.

Loaded to the max within the legal gross weight limits I made my way across 40/48. I was a young driver wet behind the ears and I had no formal mountain pass training(if it even existed back then) I had trucks passing me a lot of the time and behind me some of the time giving me the impression that I was Joe Slow. I became very intimidated by all this, never considering how heavy they were compared to me and started trying to keep up with the other drivers. This particular day which was in fact my first time across this route was a day that I will never, ever forget. I had many instances such as this one but this was the daddy of them all. If you don't have anyone teach you how to safely negotiate a mountain pass with an 80,000 pound rig, you're probably going to be more challenged than any cowboy in any rodeo event and your ride to glory is going to last a lot longer than 8 seconds.

The problem with going down mountain passes too fast especially when you are heavy is that you have to keep hitting the brakes in order to slow down. The faster you are traveling, the more heat you are going to generate when you press the brakes. After awhile, you can start to see what looks like smoke coming off your wheels. You've also noticed that your brakes are not working as well as they once did. I'm not sure which of those comes first, the smoke or the loss of brake power but I do know that the only option is to hit the brakes harder. This results in even hotter brakes, more smoke and less braking. If you keep this up you will eventually have a fire which I have experienced too. You get the picture. Now here comes this sign letting you know that you only have 3 more miles down to the bottom of the hill. (That makes me feel better)This event will cause your whole life to flash through your mind and it is the loneliest feeling in the world knowing that you can't seem to slow this speeding truck down this hill and around these curves hoping not to flip it over.

I was all over the CB radio that night and one driver told me about a mandatory pull off when I got to the top of the next pass. He told me that If I pulled in there and parked that he would come check it out for me. This was back in the days when drivers would actually pull over and take the time to help you. Of course we didn't have cell phones and Qualcomm's back then like today. I pulled into this pull off area and set my brakes. I started to climb out of my cab when I noticed my truck still wanted to roll. I quickly got back in and mashed the brakes, popped it in granny gear and turned off the key until the other driver arrived. This guy was a flatbedder and used some wood to chock the wheels. Next he brings out this hammer and 9/16 box wrench and proceeds to teach me how to adjust brakes. You normally turn the bolt on the slack adjuster clockwise until it is snug and then back 1/2 a turn. Typically, out of adjustment brakes are no more than a full turn. We were getting 2 or 3 turns out of each adjuster before turning back 1/2.

It wasn't until a few years later that I learned how to safely negotiate a pass but from that day forward I was a brake adjusting fool. Every time I got into a different truck and trailer you could find me under my truck/trailer adjusting ALL of my brakes. I could tell you countless horrifying stories of experiences I had going down mountain passes because No one ever taught me how. I've never had to use one of those runaway truck ramps and due to fear of the unknown I'm not sure it even crossed my mind or not because more often than not I was holding on for dear life.

I'm really glad they have schools that teach young drivers how to avoid these near fatal mistakes so they don't have to go through the trouble some of us older folks have had to go through and lived to talk about it. I hope you enjoyed!

Qualcomm:

Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

6 string rhythm's Comment
member avatar

Thanks for posting Dave. You brought back some memories for me travelling those routes.

I'm a linehaul driver out of Carlisle, PA and frequently run the hazmat route when I have bulk or stuff not allowed by the Penna Turnpike through the tunnels. Depending on the location of my meet, from Western PA to Carlisle, I'll take 79 - 68 - 70 - 81, or PA 31 - 30 - 70 - 81.

There's a running debate amongst linehaul drivers on which route is better during bad weather. 68 definitely has it's grades. The one grade that you descend into the town of Cumberland is a doozy. I've seen drivers underestimate that grade and smoke their brakes.

As far as adjusting your own brakes, that's a no-no where I work, probably where most drivers work in this day and age. Most companies what their mechanics to make those kind of adjustments. I know when my brakes need adjusting, it's not hard to tell, and I take my set to the shop (I pull doubles).

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

Linehaul:

Linehaul drivers will normally run loads from terminal to terminal for LTL (Less than Truckload) companies.

LTL (Less Than Truckload) carriers will have Linehaul drivers and P&D drivers. The P&D drivers will deliver loads locally from the terminal and pick up loads returning them to the terminal. Linehaul drivers will then run truckloads from terminal to terminal.

Doubles:

Refers to pulling two trailers at the same time, otherwise known as "pups" or "pup trailers" because they're only about 28 feet long. However there are some states that allow doubles that are each 48 feet in length.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Dave B Flying's Comment
member avatar

Thanks for posting Dave. You brought back some memories for me travelling those routes.

I'm a linehaul driver out of Carlisle, PA and frequently run the hazmat route when I have bulk or stuff not allowed by the Penna Turnpike through the tunnels. Depending on the location of my meet, from Western PA to Carlisle, I'll take 79 - 68 - 70 - 81, or PA 31 - 30 - 70 - 81.

There's a running debate amongst linehaul drivers on which route is better during bad weather. 68 definitely has it's grades. The one grade that you descend into the town of Cumberland is a doozy. I've seen drivers underestimate that grade and smoke their brakes.

As far as adjusting your own brakes, that's a no-no where I work, probably where most drivers work in this day and age. Most companies what their mechanics to make those kind of adjustments. I know when my brakes need adjusting, it's not hard to tell, and I take my set to the shop (I pull doubles).

Yea, I forgot to mention that these were the old style breaks that required a 9/16 wrench and a hammer. Today's breaks are better left to mechanics. They are supposedly auto adjusting. I assume that means if they are working correctly. For that reason, I like the old style myself because I can make sure they are right myself but gone are those days.

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

Linehaul:

Linehaul drivers will normally run loads from terminal to terminal for LTL (Less than Truckload) companies.

LTL (Less Than Truckload) carriers will have Linehaul drivers and P&D drivers. The P&D drivers will deliver loads locally from the terminal and pick up loads returning them to the terminal. Linehaul drivers will then run truckloads from terminal to terminal.

Doubles:

Refers to pulling two trailers at the same time, otherwise known as "pups" or "pup trailers" because they're only about 28 feet long. However there are some states that allow doubles that are each 48 feet in length.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Turbo Dan's Comment
member avatar

Hi Dave, Knowing how to adjust Brakes is something most of the new Drivers won't get to do. I'd have to check the Regs as to what year Self adjusting Slack adjusters became manditory on tractors and trailers.

The reason the companies don't want the Drivers adjusting brakes is because if a modern Brake needs adjusting, then something else is broke, readjusting won't fix the problem. Most likely the automatic slack adjuster went bad, or worn out S cam bushings, cracked brake drum, ect.

The reason a mechanic has to do it is he has to find out what needs replacing and Document what was wrong on the repair ticket. He cannot wright down that he just adjusted the brakes, think of him as the same as an Aircraft Tech, if there's a wreck, the paper work leads back to him also.

If you get DOT'd and you get put out of service because your slack adjusters have too much travel, the driver isn't allowed to adjust the brakes anymore. A mechanic has to make a service call to the truck to adjust the brakes and even he can't do it in front of the Trooper unless he has his Brake certification card on him.

I think that Knowing how to adjust the brakes is still a good skill to have as it could get you down the road in situations like you had. When I was hauling tankers to Williston ND from Chicago, one of my trips they had a driver meet me with a full tanker at the Wisconsin border for me to swap out and save me 6+ hours on my trip back to Williston. After I hooked up I did a tug test on the trailer, good thing I did, all the brakes were replaced the night before and someone messed up as I basically had NO trailer brakes. So I had to get down in the snow and mud and finish adjusting all the trailer brakes so my 80,000 load would stop. Yes I did have my Brake certification card on me. :-)

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Scott M's Comment
member avatar

I think that Knowing how to adjust the brakes is still a good skill to have as it could get you down the road in situations like you had. When I was hauling tankers to Williston ND from Chicago, one of my trips they had a driver meet me with a full tanker at the Wisconsin border for me to swap out and save me 6+ hours on my trip back to Williston. After I hooked up I did a tug test on the trailer, good thing I did, all the brakes were replaced the night before and someone messed up as I basically had NO trailer brakes. So I had to get down in the snow and mud and finish adjusting all the trailer brakes so my 80,000 load would stop. Yes I did have my Brake certification card on me. :-)

NEED experienced drivers response.

BOTTOM line- I believe some companies would fire me over this one.

As to Turbo Dan's situation- driving full tanker with NO brakes. I would write company on Qualcomm that this is unsafe, that I need a tow, after brakes are fixed that I will finish the job. I would put myself on sleeper birth. Hopefully I would have HOS enough that I could promptly finish the job, so I am happy and so is everyone else who is involved.

There have been several issues here on TT where people disagree on how to handle situations. But in this situation, I see only one solution- which is the one I gave. But I just thought of another completely workable solution- If Road Service were sent, and mechanic correctly adjusted brakes, I would gladly jump in and finish the job (my delivery).

To throw in another ingredient to complicate the situation is what if my Dispatcher or FM telephoned me and told me- "Drive 10 miles to a Pilot or TA or whatever and they will adjust brakes". Maybe they say 40 miles. Then I would have to take into account: is terrain hilly, bad weather, and other things. So I'm throwing in this "What if?..."

Qualcomm:

Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Fm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Brett Aquila's Comment
member avatar

Jetguy, one of the reasons it takes a number of years to get to the level of what I refer to as a savvy veteran out there is because there are a million scenarios you'll come across and countless ways to handle each one. There is just no way possible to give everyone a long list of things that might happen and exactly what to do about each of them.

As you're finding out already, trucking is a game of time management and often times the way you manage your time will come down to how you manage risks. Often times there will be a slightly riskier but much faster way of doing something and you're going to constantly be pondering what tactic you'd like to use. This example of picking up a trailer with no brakes is a great example.

First of all a savvy veteran will have learned quite a bit about doing minor maintenance to the truck. Things like bolting on new mudflaps, changing a headlight, fixing a tiny leak in an airline, or bending a trailer door latch back into place so it will close. There are a million things you can learn to do yourself so you won't have to keep wasting hours and days sitting around at mechanic shops. That's one huge way to save time - learn to do things yourself.

Now we get to the part where you have risk management as part of time management. How much of a risk are you willing to take in order to keep rolling? In this case we're talking about a heavy trailer with no brakes. If you drive it down the road to a shop you'll save time (and money for your company) preventing it from being towed. But if you get caught driving with it like that you're getting one or more tickets and you're getting placed out of service and road service will have to fix it before you can move again. If you get in a wreck because the lack of trailer brakes allowed the trailer to plow forward and force you into a tractor jackknife it's likely the end of your job and probably any really good job prospects for a few years.

The advice I would give anyone getting ready to start their driving career would be of course to stick with doing things by the book and always get things done the safest way possible. It's going to be more time consuming and at times it will probably annoy dispatch that you're taking an approach that may seem more time consuming and overly cautious than what many veterans would be willing to do. But that's what it takes to learn the ropes out there and stay alive while you're learning this trade.

Turbo Dan's Comment
member avatar

Just for the Record I ended up being a truck mechanic the day I got my CDL A, (long story) there isn't a part on a MACK CH or Vision truck that I havn't repaired, rebuilt or replaced.

After about 2 and half years of doing that our company picked up a contract driving tankers to the Oil fields so I sort of got Volenteered to go onsite to deliver product (12hr 10 days) they flew me up there and I road back with the driver when the job was done. I decided the days of pulling oil pans and getting my hair full of oil were over and that I was ready to drive. Before the second trip I went to the DMV and passed double/tripples Tanker and Hazmat (thank you TT). So I was legal to team drive as I still had an air brake restriction but had drivers permit for training to get that lifted. So my first OTR was driving 80,000 smooth bore Tanker.

Thing is I was one of the mechanics in the shop that was doing road calls (they sent out the young guys to change tires) I'm Qualified to do the AVIs (Annual Vehical Inspections), I do have my Brake inspectors Card, I was on the phone with the Trailer shop forman ( I wasn't happy), I was just doing my Job.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

DMV:

Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Motor Vehicles

The state agency that handles everything related to your driver's licences, including testing, issuance, transfers, and revocation.

Stevo Reno's Comment
member avatar

Section 393.53 (b) Says that if your truck was manufactured after Oct 20, 1994 and was equipped with air brakes, then it has to have auto slack adjusters, and if it had to have them when it was made, it has to have them when inspected, either on the side of the road, or for it's annual inspection. It's a sure bet if you are involved in an accident, some lawyer will want to take a look to see if you were up to code.

I worked on tractors in 1980s up to 1991, so we dealt with manuals.....I also performed the annual our pre-B.I.T inspections and adjustments before C.H.P came out......When your signature on the repair order was your "certification" ...I was actually pretty good at finding things wrong other mechanic's missed....So being the smart-asses they were, I came into work 1 day, and found a home-made C.H.P "inspector" badge stuck to my time card hahaha

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