What is a BIT Inspection and How Do You Pass One?

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We’ve talked a lot about acronyms lately, haven’t we?

TMC. ATRI. VMRS. And of course the DVIR.

Friends, we’ve got another for you: the BIT.

The Basic Inspection of Terminals program, previously known as the Biennial Inspection of Terminal program, is the Californian counterpart to the DOT inspection. Well, more accurately it’s half a DOT inspection, half a fleet inspection—but we’ll get to that.

To help us better understand the BIT and all it entails, we sat down with one of our favorite customers, Jimmy Wall of Donahue Truck Centers and Idealease. He had some great information for us, and today we’re happy to share it with you.

So grab yourself a beverage, make yourself comfortable, and learn all about our latest acronym!

WHAT IS A BIT INSPECTION?

“BIT inspection” is the shorthand common slang for 90-day inspections that are performed on any commercial motor vehicle (CMV) over 10,001 pounds.

The current weight regulation is a recent one; up until 2016, the regulation applied to vehicles over 26,001 pounds. Once the requirement dropped to 10,001, it encompassed way more vehicles, including those some folks might not consider “heavy.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, not all of these lighter vehicles are getting their 90-day inspections.

“Maybe no one’s come to you and fined you or written you up yet,” Jimmy says, “but it’s only a matter of time.”

But what is a BIT inspection, anyway? On paper, they look a lot like DOT inspections. You’re looking at similar safety systems and potential problems; the big difference is how frequently they are performed. Areas that are looked at include:

  • Wiper blades (must work and not be worn out)
  • Tire tread depth (must be within legal limits)
  • Functioning lights (lamp failure!)
  • Defroster

“The center of the DOT and the BIT inspection is really around safety,” Jimmy says. It’s really, truly not just something the feds came up with to annoy us. The safer a vehicle is, the less danger it is to others on the road.

HOW OFTEN DO I NEED A BIT INSPECTION?

If you drive intrastate (that is, if you drive only or primarily in California), then you need a BIT inspection every 90 days.

Certain vehicles will need even more frequent checkups; passenger buses, for example, need to pass an inspection every 45 days.

WHO PERFORMS A BIT INSPECTION?

BIT inspections are performed by your friendly neighborhood diesel technician. You’ll likely want to have a third party look at the vehicle as opposed to performing your own inspection.

Technicians need a certain amount of experience and qualifications to perform BIT inspections. You need to either:

Complete a state or federal training program and have a certificate from a state or Canadian province that qualifies the holder to perform a vehicle safety inspection…

Or

Have a combination of training or experience totalling at least one year in one or more of the following:

  • Participate in truck manufacturer-sponsored training program
  • Experience as a mechanic or inspector
  • Experience as a mechanic or inspector in a commercial maintenance or garage
  • Experience as a commercial vehicle inspector for a state or federal government

Basically, you need at least one year of work experience in the commercial truck maintenance world.

You also, however, need to be certified to inspect brakes. The requirements are similar for the overall BIT inspection: a certificate from a state or Canadian province, or at least one year of experience in a brake or vehicle manufacturer, a motor carrier program, or at a commercial garage, fleet leasing company, or shop.

HOW DO BIT INSPECTIONS AND DOT INSPECTIONS COEXIST?

A BIT inspection can take the place of a DOT inspection, but a DOT inspection can’t usually take the place of a BIT.

Thanks, Fullbay, you may be saying, that’s clear as mud.

We can explain! It’s a matter of timing. The DOT inspection happens annually. The BIT inspection happens every 90 days.

This means:

If you have your DOT inspection on March 1, then yes, it can take the place of a BIT inspection through May 30. But once that 90 days is up, you need to either get a BIT inspection or, well, stop operating your vehicle in the state.

If you are driving interstate (that is, into states besides California), get the DOT. Your BIT does satisfy the requirements of the DOT, but some officers in other states might not know what the BIT inspection is. In that case, if you know your truck will be headed out of state, you might want to get a DOT inspection instead.

WAIT…DO I NEED A BIT AND A DOT?

No—not in California, anyway.

Sometimes customers come in requesting a DOT and a BIT. “I’ll charge you for both, I’ll do both, I’ll collect twice as much money from you if you do both…you don’t need both,” Jimmy says.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A BIT INSPECTION?

Your customers are going to keep them in their facility—the terminal in the Basic Inspection of Terminals—so the CHP can easily review them when they arrive.

Wait a sec, Fullbay, you may be saying, the POLICE are going to visit my customers?!

Yes. The CHP will be visiting the facilities of your clients to see how their vehicles are looking. They do their bi-annual inspection of the terminal, reviewing the home base of the trucks. They’ll want to see 20% of the fleet—if your customer has 10 trucks, they’ll need to see at least two of them; if you have 100 trucks, they’ll need to see 20— and they will spend an hour or two poking around those trucks. They’ll roll under with a creeper, they’ll pop the hood, they’ll check the brakes and tires. They will check over every inch of those vehicles.

They will then look at the maintenance records and all the 90-day inspection checklists that a mechanic or shop completed for every truck in the fleet over the last two years. They’re also going to check on any write-ups received. If a technician reported that a truck needed, say, new wiper blades or brakes, the CHP officer is going to want to see the invoice or work order for those repairs.

They’re also going to look at the driver records. Are they licensed? If they have their CDLs, are they getting drug tested?

Basically, they’re making sure a fleet is keeping up with everything. Jimmy gave us a more familiar scenario to compare it to: “If the IRS comes out to do an audit, you need to produce all your documents. If you’re fumbling around for receipts and calling people…it’s not gonna look good.”

Keep your records, people.

The CHP won’t show up unannounced, by the way. They provide plenty of advance notice unless they get reports from the public about poorly maintained trucks (“The drivers are drunk! The trucks are falling apart!”)—but that’s an extenuating circumstance.

HOW DO I PASS THE BIT INSPECTION?

There are three possible ways to finish up your BIT.

If you pass it, you get a “Satisfactory.”

If you don’t pass it, you get “Unsatisfactory.”

If you land somewhere in between and they find a couple of things wrong, the CHP may give you 30 days or so to make it right before coming back for a re-check. Think of it as the mother of fix-it tickets.

HEAD DOWN TO THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA

California is a wonderful land of beaches, burritos, and the BIT. If you’re planning on operating a truck or vehicle of any considerable size within the state, you’d better make sure you have your 90-day inspections in order.

And hey, if you’re a repair shop that wants to keep track of those 90-day intervals, we’ve got an app for that! Fullbay tracks routine preventive maintenance and inspections, which means it can help you alert your customers that they’re due for their BIT. Keeping the roads safe and the CHP away? Now that’s California dreamin’.

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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