Monthly Archives: June 2016

How To Safely Couple And Uncouple Your Trailer – Part III

Professional truck drivers need to know a thing or two about coupling and uncoupling their tractors from their trailers. After all, hauling the load is what the job is all about.

So far, we’ve examined several aspects of the coupling process. from checking the trailer height to connecting up the air system. There’s more than a few things to consider when you are coupling up your trailer.

Today, we are going to pick up where we left off, just after the air system is checked. Now that you are ready, it is time to back under the trailer and get the show on the road.

Backing Under the Trailer

Now you are ready to back under the trailer and make the connection. Put the tractor into the lowest reverse gear and disengage the parking brake.

Remember, you must back under the trailer slowly. The trailer apron should make contact with your fifth wheel and lift the trailer onto the tractor. When you hear or feel the fifth wheel’s jaws close around the kingpin, stop.

Again, we cannot stress enough, go slowly. If you hit the kingpin too hard, you could cause major damage to anything or everything, from fifth wheel to landing gear or cargo.

Checking and Securing the Connection

Put your vehicle into low gear and gently pull forward, while the trailer brakes are still engaged. You want to make sure that the trailer is locked onto the tractor. When you feel resistance from the trailer, stop.

Once the connection has been made and is verified, put your vehicle in neutral and activate the trailer’s parking brakes. Shut off the engine and exit the vehicle to inspect your coupling.

Inspecting Your Coupling

Through this process, you should fully understand how to check to make sure your coupling is safe and secure. You will have to go under the trailer to inspect it. If necessary, bring a flashlight.

Ensure you check the following:

  • Ensure there isn’t excessive space between the apron and the fifth wheel. The trailer apron and the fifth wheel plate need to be in direct contact. If there is space, something is wrong.
    • If there is a problem, fix it before doing anything else. You may want to check to see if the ground is uneven or if the kingpin is on a ridge inside the jaws.
  • Go under the trailer and look at the throat of the fifth wheel. Make sure the fifth wheel jaws are closed and lock around the shank of the kingpin. If they are locked around the head, that is a problem.
  • Check the release arm. It should be in a locked position.
  • If there is a release arm, make sure the safety latch is in position over it.

Next up, it’s time to connect the electrical cord and check your air lines again.

Electrical and Air

If you haven’t already completed this step, plug the electrical cord into the trailer and fasten the safety latch. Make sure you don’t force a connection if it doesn’t fit.

Double check both your air lines and your electrical cord to make sure they are secure and undamaged. One of the better ways of doing this is to set your tractor brakes, release the trailer brakes and keep a keen ear out for any air leakage.

Also check to make sure the air lines and electrical cord are not snagged or that any moving parts aren’t resting on the catwalk.

Raising the Trailer Supports and Removing Chocks

Most trailer landing gear mechanisms have two speeds, low and high. Begin raising the landing gear in the lower speed. Once there is no more weight on the landing gear, switch to high speed.

Raise the landing gear all the way up. Never, ever drive with it only partially up, lest you get caught on railroads or other road obstructions. After the landing gear is raised, secure the crank handle.

Do a final check for enough clearance between the rear of the vehicle frame and the landing gear. If there is a tandem axle or sliding fifth wheel, this is even more important.

Once done, remove the wheel chocks and store them. This finishes Part III of our ongoing series on coupling and uncoupling. Now you’ve learned all the coupling basics. Join us next week when we take a look at what it takes to safely uncouple your trailer!

How To Safely Couple And Uncouple Your Trailer – Part II

Welcome back to the second Part in our series taking a look at how you go about coupling and uncoupling your trailer. In our first Part, we took a look at the bare basics involved with getting the trailer and the tractor connected.

Today, we will dive into more detailed aspects of the process, from checking your trailer’s height to handling air supply. So without further delay, let’s dig in.

Checking the Trailer Height

When you check the trailer height, check it in relation to your tractor’s fifth wheel. Always make sure the trailer is low enough that it makes contact with the middle of the fifth wheel, but not so much that it puts any huge amount of pressure on it.

The trailer should be raised slightly as the tractor is backed under it. When a trailer is too low, it runs the risk of being struck and damaged. Conversely, if it is too high, it may not couple correctly, or it could miss the pin entirely and potentially strike the rear end of your cab.

To address this, raise or lower the trailer as needed through cranking the landing gear up or down. You can also raise or lower the fifth wheel using the tractor’s adjustable air suspension (if so equipped). Either way, when you reach the desired height, secure the landing gear crank.

The final step in the process should include checking to make sure the kingpin and the fifth wheel are both completely aligned. Also, ensure the jaws are open, especially if the truck has been moved away.

Air Line Connection

Before you can go about connecting the tractor to the trailer, you have to ensure your trailer brakes are in good working order. Consider that most modern trailers will already have the brakes set, but if your trailer was built prior to 1975, you may need to apply air to them to ensure they are set.

Even if the trailer is equipped with spring brakes, it’s a good idea to connect the air lines. This way you ensure your brakes are set across the board.

There are essentially two different air lines that would need to be connected, the “service” and “emergency” lines. You can distinguish between the two through a number of methods.

They could be color codes, with blue or black for the service line and red for emergency, they could be stamped with words, or the glad hands (rubber grommets) could be in a certain shape, with square for service and round for emergency. The emergency glad hand is also usually on the right side when you are facing the trailer.

Once you’ve identified the two lines, you want to check all four glad hand seals for any cracks or other damage. If none is found, proceed with connecting the tractor’s emergency air line with the trailer’s emergency glad hand. After you’ve ensured a good connection, engage the safety latch or other mechanism that keeps the lines sealed together. Once the emergency line is done, connect the service line the same way.

Also make sure the air lines are supported and aren’t in danger of being crushed or caught in something as the trailer is connected to the tractor. Finally, ensure there isn’t too little slack in the lines, which could cause the glad hands to uncouple.

Pre-1975 Trailer Air Supply

If you have determined you are using a trailer that do not have already preset brakes, there is an additional step you must take.

Once you are in the cab, with the engine off, push in the air supply knob. Or you may need to move the tractor protection valve control from the “emergency” to “normal” position. This will ensure air is delivered to the trailer brakes system.

Once the air pressure reports normal, check the pressure gauge or listen for any air loss. Apply and release the trailer brakes and ensure you can hear the sound of their operation.

With air supply covered, join us back here next week, when we finish out coupling and then move on to uncoupling. In the meantime, drive safe out there!

How To Safely Couple And Uncouple Your Trailer – Part I

As a professional truck driver, being able to properly couple and uncouple your trailer is an essential aspect of your job. The fact is, incorrect coupling or uncoupling can result in a trailer being dropped or air or electrical lines being torn. You can even suffer cab  or freight damage or even other, more serious consequences.

You need to know the step-by-step procedures involved in coupling and un-coupling a tractor-trailer unit. Fortunately, we can help. Let’s go through the step-by-step process in coupling and un-coupling your trailer.

Step 1: Inspecting your Fifth Wheel and Kingpin

To ensure a safe connection, your tractor’s fifth wheel and kingpin need to be inspected before you attempt to couple your tractor and trailer.

As you go about inspecting your fifth wheel and kingpin, make sure to:

  • Properly check for any damaged, missing or loose parts.
  • Double check the mounting on the fifth wheel. You want to make sure it is secure and that there are no cracks in the frame or weld points.
  • Always grease the fifth wheel plate, if that is required.
  • Make sure the coupling positioning is proper. Always tilt the fifth wheel down towards the rear of the trailer, with its jaws open, and release the handle into the unlocked position.
  • If you are utilizing a sliding fifth wheel, ensure it is in the locked position and that all the pins are seated correctly.
  • Ensure the fifth wheel is positioned in such a way that the landing gear doesn’t strike the trailer or the back of the trailer cab.
  • Double check the trailer kingpin.

Although the details surrounding how to handle coupling are important, you must also be cognizant of the area you are working in. Checking your area and securing your trailer are just as important as knowing individual steps.

Checking and Securing

The coupling procedure must always be done in a location where there is enough space for the trailer and the truck to maneuver safely. Ensure your trailer is secured against any movement before you back up.

Then make sure you:

  • Check around the area to make sure the vehicle and trailer are clear.
  • Double check the cargo (if any) to ensure it doesn’t shift during the coupling or un-coupling procedure.
  • Check the trailer wheels. If the trailer has spring brakes, ensure they have been applied correctly before any movement occurs.

Ensuring proper spacial awareness and maneuverability are important, but if you aren’t positioning your truck properly, there’s little hope in getting in a good connection.

Positioning the Truck

First, get into your truck and position it squarely and directly in front of the trailer, and not at an angle. Also, double check to ensure your kingpin is aligned with the throat of the fifth wheel.

Always keep in mind that if you back under the trailer at an angle, it might push the trailer sideways and damage the landing gear. Without the landing gear, the trailer could tip and fall into something, which is never a good scenario.

If you are forced to back in at an angle, make sure you are constantly getting out of the cab to frequently check whether or not the alignment of the fifth wheel to the kingpin is still on target.

As you position your vehicle, use your side mirrors to look along both sides of the trailer and drive axle tires. You must always be frequently checking your mirrors on both sides so that you can get a true picture of the alignment between both units.

Next, back slowly into position. Always make sure you are backing your truck into the trailer very slowly. As soon as the fifth wheel touches the trailer, stop.

Here’s where we invite you to join us next week in Part II of our series, when we look into securing the trailer, checking its height, connecting the airlines and supplying air to the trailer. We hope you’ve enjoyed this primer, we’ll see you next week!

A Primer On Space Management – Part II

Welcome back to the final Part in our two-Part series on space management. As you may have noticed from reading the first Part, space management is crucial to safe driving.

You are powering a very large, very heavy vehicle down the road, and you must be completely aware of its spacial dimensions. Do you want to be the truck driver that misses the clearance sign and slams the roof of their reefer trailer into a steel column or other structural support? To avoid such instances, you must have spacial awareness above and below.

Space Management – ABOVE

Adequate space above your vehicle is required for clearing bridges, trees, overpasses and wires. Most importantly, never automatically assume that the heights posted on bridges and overpasses are correct.

There may have been a recent repaving, or perhaps there is snow packed on the road. As a professional truck driver, you must be able to quickly and decisively take these factors into account as you operate your vehicle.

The weight of your cargo may also contribute to the vehicle’s overall height. An empty vehicle will ride a little higher than a fully loaded one.

Also take into account how the road has been graded. A high vehicle will tilt more on a high road grade, which could create a clearance problem.

Always remember, if you have doubts about whether or not it is safe to proceed with enough overhead clearance, find another route.

Space Management – BELOW

It can be easy to forget about the space below our vehicles. Out of sight, out of mind, right? The fact is, the space below your vehicle can be very small when you are fully loaded, especially for heavy haulers.

Things like driveways, railroad tracks, dirt roads or unpaved sections of roads or lots can all present a clearance problem for your vehicle. For this reason alone, make sure you always have your landing gear cranked all the way up.


Your vehicle accelerates slower and is longer than other vehicles, so you will need a larger gap to enter traffic. Also remember that your vehicle’s acceleration will vary depending on the load, so allow even more room if your vehicle is fully loaded.

Before you head out across the road, always properly gauge whether you can get safely across well before traffic reaches you. Allow yourself at least 7 – 15 seconds to clear an intersection. Clearing a longer intersection would take even longer.

Space Management – RIGHT TURNS

Utilizing proper technique when turning is essential as a professional truck driver. Whether it be wide turning or off-tracking, big rig trucks run the risk of hitting either objects or other vehicles as they execute a turn.

When making a right turn, always proceed slowly and with caution. Scan ahead to identify problems and always give yourself or others enough time to respond to an unexpected problem.

If you are having a problem making a right turn without swinging into another lane, make sure to turn wide as you complete the turn and keep the rear of your vehicle as close to the curb as possible.

Keep an eye on the right side of your vehicle, and never take for granted that a smaller vehicle may have tried to pass you on that side. Never turn wide left in the turn, lest a driver behind you thinks you are turning left and try’s to pass you on the right side.

If for any reason you have to cross into the oncoming lane to make a turn, keep a keen eye for approaching vehicles. Always give them enough time or give them room to stop or go by. Above all, never back up.

Space Management – LEFT TURNS

When making a left turn, make sure your vehicle has reached the very center of the intersection before executing the turn. Starting too soon could put the trailer on a shorter path, potentially leading it to hitting light poles, signs or other vehicles.

In the case where you are on a road with two turn lanes, always utilize the farthest right turn lane. Starting on the inside lane could result in a hard swing to the right to make the turn, which is unsafe.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage on how important it is to manage the space around your vehicle. Above all, always remember your safety cushion. Don’t face disqualification, or worse, for a lack of spacial awareness. Safe driving out there!