Vehicle lights are some of the most important safety features on the road. They help us see the road and obstacles clearly at night, let us know when someone is going to turn or stop and help us identify the exact space occupied by the other vehicles on the road, and keep us at a safe distance.
Since they are attached to the largest vehicles on the road, truck lights are especially important to our safety on the nation’s roadways.
This is why yearly inspections are conducted by the Department of Transportation(DoT) for commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds. These comprehensive inspections tell us everything we need to know about a vehicle’s fitness and safety as they pertain to its performance.
Today, we’re focusing on helping you prepare for the lighting system portion of the inspection, which is one of the most common places people fail.
What the inspection looks for with truck lights
When inspectors go through your truck, they are mainly focused on the lights needed for safe operation. We’re talking less about things like an aftermarket LED light bar for trucks, and more about things like headlamps, tail lamps, stop lamps, turn signals, clearance lights, marker lights, tag lights, lamps/flags on projecting loads, and fog lights for trucks that have them.
This isn’t the complete list, but you can see where this is going.
Each of these truck lights is integral to the safety of the vehicle on the road. If any of them is non-operational, you will likely take a hit on your inspection score, and they may even cause you to fail your inspection entirely.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to take preventative measures to make sure something as simple as a bad bulb doesn’t cause you thousands of dollars in fines and lost time. Here’s how to make sure everything stays in working order.
Keeping your lighting system running smoothly
Keeping up with routine maintenance and thoroughly inspecting your rig before each run goes a long way, but we all know lights can fail in an instant. Here are a few hints to keep that from happening.
Switch your lights to LEDs
LED lighting has come a long way over the past decade. Both in terms of reliability and price. While they can still be on the spendier side when compared with traditional incandescent bulbs, they pay for themselves quickly in the form of long-lasting bulbs that put significantly less strain on your vehicle’s electrical system.
Price point and longevity aside, there are additional benefits and differences that you should keep in mind when switching to LEDs.
As mentioned, one of the largest benefits you’ll notice with a switch to LED is the decreased power demand. Lifted trucks with LED lights and LED truck bed lights are a good example of this concept in action. Historically, these very cool but unnecessary lights would have drained batteries quickly. In the age of LEDs, we can light trucks any way we like without killing our alternators and batteries.
A big difference in performance that you’ll notice with LEDs is that they don’t dim with reduced power. They operate at normal brightness when they receive any amount of power within the predefined range.
The downside is that if your charging system provides less power than the lowest level of the range, your truck lights could turn off without warning. That’s why you want to make sure your electrical and charging systems are working efficiently.
Electrical and charging systems
Even a light in working order only functions when it receives power, so this is an important place to focus some attention. A small puncture or area of corrosion can lead to system wide problems down the line. In addition to checking the light bulbs and housings themselves, you should occasionally check any exposed wires and other aging elements in the system.
Since corrosion is such a big culprit when it comes to light issues, it’s good to check them in the spring, after the ice has thawed and the salt and chemicals have been washed from your truck. Older equipment is more likely to be corroded, so that’s a good place to start. Any sagging wires or corroded components should be switched out to avoid future lighting failures.
While aftermarket lights aren’t part of the inspection checklist, using them on your rig can cause issues that affect the lights they are checking. Make sure you choose them carefully to avoid problems with your other lights.
Aftermarket light kits like wheel lights for trucks might look cool, but they could cause premature alternator failure or a dead battery by placing additional strain on the charging system. If you choose to light truck tires, make sure they aren’t draining power from the rest of the system. Going with LEDs helps here.
Rear and Side Reflectors
While not a part of your vehicle’s electrical system, reflectors or conspicuity tape are considered part of your lighting system for inspection purposes. They must be properly maintained and operational, just like the lights on your truck.
Make sure the rear of the cab has both horizontal and vertical reflectors in the upper corners. They help enhance visibility and safety when bobtailing and are required. Tractors are built to carry a load to present a safety hazard when they’re not. Having proper markers could save you or the drivers around you.
Reflectors must also be present on the sides and rear of your trailer. They should make up at least half the overall length of the trailer and be evenly spaced across the whole side. If you’re missing any, it’s an easy issue to remedy. Don’t let oversights here lead your truck to lower inspection scores.
Be prepared when the International Roadcheck inspection blitz hits
During the International Roadcheck inspection blitz, which has caught many unlucky drivers by surprise since 1988, carriers should make sure their entire fleets are passing muster. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance sponsors this yearly event, and if you’re not prepared, you could be grounded until your lighting flaws are fixed.
Keeping detailed service records and knowing which truck lights are going to be inspected will keep your fleet in solid safety standing and keep you on the road.