Pre-trip Air System/Air Brake Test – Eagles International Newsletter – July 2011

Pre-trip Air System/Air Brake Test

Article for Eagles International Newsletter

Jim Shepherd

7/31/11

Our buses often sit for long periods of time between our road trips.  There have been posts on the various bus boards that suggest that these storage periods can be tough on many parts of our buses.  One of the areas that I am most concerned about is our rather complex air brake system.  These systems are normally very reliable, but a small component failure (either a normal failure or one brought on by storage) can result in a brake system that is compromised.

Commercial Drivers are required to perform a daily pre-trip safety inspection.  This inspection is described in the CDL manual that is available at any state vehicle licensing facility or online.  Over the next few issues of the newsletter, we will discuss not only the daily inspection but the annual inspection required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). 

Our buses are classified as recreational vehicles and as such we are exempt from CDL and FMCSA regulations.  That said, we should all maintain our buses in a safe working condition and the CDL manual and FMCSA documents are excellent reference sources.

For this newsletter issue, we will discuss air brake system tests.  That system consists of the air supply system and the application system.  Testing the system is a rather simple process that can be performed from the driver’s seat (we will not cover brake adjustment inspection in this article).  The following test description is detailed in  CDL manuals.

Test Low-Pressure Warning Signal.

Shut the engine off when you have enough air pressure so that the low-pressure warning signal is not on. Turn the electrical power on and step on and off the brake pedal (sometimes called “fanning” the brake) to reduce air tank pressure. The low air pressure warning signal must come on before the pressure drops to less than 60 psi in the air tank.  If the warning signal doesn’t work, you could lose air pressure and you would not know it.

Check That Spring Brakes Come On Automatically.

Continue to “fan off” the air pressure by stepping on and off the brake pedal to reduce tank pressure. The parking brake valve should close (pop out) when the air pressure falls to approximately 40 psi. This will cause the spring brakes to come on. Note: some older Eagles are equipped with DD3 brake systems and this test does not apply. Learn more about converting from DD3 to Spring Brakes here.  Learn more about DD3 Brakes here.

Check Rate of Air Pressure Buildup.

When the engine is at operating RPM, the pressure should build from 85 to 100 psi within 45 seconds. Notes:  1) there is quite a bit of discussion about what RPM the engine should be at – most agree that it should be at high idle or about 1000 RPM and at least one source suggests 1800 RPM;  2) the regulation makes provision for systems with larger air reservoir systems and since our Eagles have the auxiliary tank, it may take more than 45 seconds (I would be concerned it if takes more than 90 seconds).

Test Air Leakage Rate.

With a fully-charged air system (typically 125 psi), turn off the engine, release the parking brake, and time the air pressure drop.  The standard acceptable rate of loss is three psi in one minute. Note:  with all the air systems on the OEM Eagle, that loss might be higher.  The important leak test is the brake portion of the system.  To test the brake system, make a full brake application with the brake pedal. After the initial pressure drop, the air pressure should not drop more than three PSI in one minute (this is the rate above “normal” pressure drop).

Check Air Compressor Governor Cut-in and Cut-out Pressures.

Pumping by the air compressor should start at about 90-100 psi and stop at about 125 psi. Run the engine at a fast idle. The air governor should cut-out the air compressor at about 125 PSI.  To test the cut-in, with the engine at high idle, step on and off the brake to reduce the air tank pressure. The compressor should cut-in at 90-100 PSI.  Note:  as you fan the brakes and the pressure drops, you will have to slow the rate of “fanning” as you approach 100 PSI and wait a few seconds to see if the pressure starts to increase.  If it does not start to increase, continue the procedure until the pressure begins to increase.

Test Parking Brake.

Stop the vehicle, engage the parking brake, and gently pull against it in a low gear to test that the parking brake will hold.

Test Service Brakes.

Wait for normal air pressure, release the parking brake, move the vehicle forward slowly (about five mph), and apply the brakes firmly using the brake pedal. Note any vehicle “pulling” to one side, unusual feel, or delayed stopping action.

These tests are simple to perform and should be done before each trip as a minimum.

Watch this video for more information

As noted above, we will discuss other safety inspections in future newsletters.  If you want to get a head start, visit these sites: