Bottom Line
Cover your assets
Making money in trucking has more to do with the trailer and what's in it than trucker conversation would make on believe. Proper cargo securement isn't just about safety and compliance; it's about protecting your bottom line.

By Paul Abelson
senior technical editor


When drivers talk about their rigs, they speak of engines and transmissions, sleepers and seats, and a host of other items centered on the tractor. That’s where the interest is, but the money to buy all the goodies comes from the other half of the combination: the trailer.

The trailer seems to be the all-so-important, but routinely ignored portion of the equation. After all, it carries the loads that are the heart of trucking – the reason trucking exists.

Because delivering the loads where they’re needed is important, getting them there safely is critical. “Safely” means undamaged, in the condition they were when placed on or in the trailer or in the box. It also means getting there without incident or accident.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration developed rules on securing loads, based on the North American Cargo Securement Standard Model Regulations that went into effect Jan. 1, 2004.

FMCSA is not involved to protect loads from damage, although properly secured cargo is far less prone to damage than loosely packed items. Their interest is in keeping trucks steady and stable in order to prevent crashes. Loose cargo shifting from side to side is a significant factor that contributes to single truck crashes.

The commodity-specific securement requirements are Part 393, Subpart I. According to the title, FMCSA’s concern is “Protection Against Shifting and Falling Cargo.”

One key concern in Section 393.104 is the condition of your tools. Part (b) is a “Prohibition on the use of damaged securement devices.” It states that, “All tie-downs, cargo securement systems, parts and components used to secure cargo must be in proper working order … with no damaged or weakened components … that will adversely affect their performance.”

Part (d) addresses “Material for damage, chocks, cradles, shoring bars, blocking and bracing.” It states that “Material … used for blocking or bracing must not have damage or defects which would compromise … the system.”

FMCSA officials clarified their references to vehicle structures as they pertain to securement devices. While some wording may appear to set zero tolerance with regard to any cracks or cuts, the agency is only concerned if they will “adversely affect the performance of securement devices, vehicle structures or anchor points.”

They believe their stated policy “combined with the use of uniform enforcement tolerances such as the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s “Cargo Securement Tie-Down Guidelines” will ensure consistent and appropriate enforcement actions.”

In ordinary language, FMCSA told inspectors that things don’t have to be perfect, just functionally sound. A nicked chain link isn’t the same as one that’s been cut. A small scratch running with the webbing isn’t like a cut across the web.

But while inspectors will be allowing for normal wear and tear, there are steps you can take to prolong the life of your tie-down and securement devices and to keep them functional.

The Technology & Maintenance Council has two Recommended Practices addressing these devices:

  • RP739 – Maintenance, Inspection and Operating Guideline for Cargo Securement Systems Used on Flatbed Vehicles – covers anchor points, mounting hardware, chains, straps, wire rope, webbing and wedges used on platform vehicles.
  • RP745 – Inspection and Maintenance Guidelines for Cargo Securement Systems Used with Van-Type Trailers and Truck Bodies – covers anchor points, mounting hardware and load control devices including straps, chains, webbing, wedges, logistics tracks, D-rings, load bars, wood blocks, pallet racks, wooden cleats, rubber skid mats and all forms of dunnage.

Before and after each use, inspect all securement devices for wear or damage, especially those exposed to dirt, ice, chemicals or cleaning solutions. Load strength and product ratings are for new products. Wear often occurs gradually. It may greatly reduce strength as products age. It’s a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes check the devices periodically, as an operator using a product daily may not notice gradual wear.

The TMC RPs advise that any field repairs should be limited to replacement. No straightening of bent products or welding is permitted. Securement devices should be placed out of service if synthetic webbing has any acid or alkali burns, or any melting, charring or weld splatter. If there are holes, tears, cuts, snags or embedded particles that will leave the web damaged if removed, the strap should be replaced. Broken or worn stitching in load-bearing areas and any excessive abrasion are cause for removal. Also, don’t use any knotted webbing.

Pitted or corroded fittings should be replaced. So should bent, dented or cracked load bars. If any apparent defects that could affect the ability of any tie-down, anchor point or cargo securement device are found, the device should be replaced if it looks as if its strength might be compromised.

Platform trailers have more specialized equipment, including winches, winch tracks, ratchet tie-downs, chain binders, chains, wire ropes and fiber ropes, both synthetic and manila. Winches should be inspected for secure mounting fasteners, crack-or break-free welds, and any deformation of the mandrel that could affect either anchoring or winding webbing or weaken the mandrel itself.

If deformed or broken ratchet teeth or damage to the pawl mechanism are found, replace the winch. Damaged pawls and teeth could result in a sudden release of a loaded mandrel. Inspect winch tracks for damage. Make sure there are positive stops to prevent unused winches from falling off.

Ratchet tie-downs should have undamaged frames. All pawls and ratchet teeth should operate smoothly. Hooks should be undamaged. Anchors and bolts should extend through lock nuts by at least 1-1/2 threads. Anchor end pins should have cotter pins in place, if so equipped.

Check flatbed webbing for cuts, abrasions and burns, especially near the hook eye. Free ends should be seared to prevent unraveling. Inspect chain binders for damage at hooks, eyes and swivels. If the frame or handle is deformed, or if hooks are bent, remove them from service. Check chains for stretched or deformed links. Never field-weld chain.

No more than six broken strands per full turn around the core are allowed on outside layers of wire rope. If cores have broken wires, discard the rope. Also discard if the rope is kinked. Kinked rope should never be straightened. Fiber ropes should be inspected like wire rope.

Keep your cargo restraints undamaged and make sure they’re in good working order. Your cargo will thank you, and you’ll enhance your reputation for delivering loads claim-free. And that is where the real money comes from.  LL


Paul Abelson can be reached at