With live classes now returning to SAE, I’m excited to announce that my next Photography for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing class will be July 12-14, 2022 at Mecanica Scientific Services’s fantastic classroom facilities in Oxnard, CA. Special thanks to Mecanica’s John Steiner for hosting this class for the third time!
The class has ten major subject modules that build upon each other. We’ll explore in-depth about gear, light, camera fundamentals, settings, post-processing, and much, much more. You’ll come away not just knowing about, but actually understanding how to make better, more consistent, and more useful photographs during all your inspections and analyses, regardless of lighting conditions.
Please call or e-mail me directly if you have any questions or need more information.
It is essential to keep truck tires properly inflated so they can carry the load, wear evenly, maximize fuel mileage, and maintain their integrity. Chronic overdeflection (overinflation, underinflation, or a combination) is a common cause or contributor to tire failures.
During pre-trip inspections, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 CFR §396.13) requires the driver “be satisfied that the motor vehicle is in safe operating condition.” This includes the truck’s tires . As part of that pre-trip tire inspection, a driver is trained to look for low or flat tires. But there is no requirement that the driver check the air pressure with a gauge. In fact, while going through truck driving school before getting my CDL, we never once used an air pressure gauge during our pre-trip inspection lessons, daily routines, or exams.
It would be an onerous task to require a driver to check the air pressure of all eighteen tires on a typical tractor trailer before every trip. As an alternative to a gauge, some drivers use a “tire thumper” (usually a rubber mallet or some kind of a bat) to check their tires. If a tire is inflated, the thumper would bounce right off. Striking a tire with little or no air would have no bounce back, but would respond with a flat thud. While a thumper can’t determine if a tire is properly inflated, it can let you know if a tire is flat or near flat. [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]
Back in 1998, I bought the Trucker’s Toothpick & Tire Tester at the top of the photo at a truck stop just for fun. (Both the name of the product and the company are rather whimsical.) It is a weighted metal stick with a hand grip on one end and a protective cover on the other. Along with various wooden bats, it is typical of tire thumpers sold commercially. While their benefits are minimal, at least thumpers prevent a driver from starting off on a trip with a flat tire.
The three stick gauges in the middle of the photo look similar, but their dual heads are at different angles. One of them is bound to fit when the metal valve stems of either the inner or outer tire of a dual pair are bent and otherwise inaccessible. They prevent you from bleeding air out of the tire as you try to get the gauge head to seat on the valve.
Stick gauges seem tricky to read until you understand how their scale works. I’ll describe that below.
The digital pressure gauge at the bottom is the easiest to read (and photograph, if you do that—I don’t).
Here’s how to read a truck tire stick gauge. Assume you’ve just checked the air pressure of a steer axle tire and got the reading below. [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]
At first glance, the scale might not seem to make sense with the decimals between the longest hash marks. (Gauges typically start at 10 psi, not 0 psi; anything less than 10 psi is obviously flat.)
Zooming in might help make deciphering the scale more clear. (This photo has been rotated clockwise to be oriented as you would read the scale in use.) [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]
Let’s start with the 100 psi mark. (Note that on this gauge, the 100 psi hash mark happens to intersect the second zero.) The next short hash mark down represents 102 psi. One shorter hash mark down is 104 psi. Just below that, the longer hash mark near the center of the scale represents 105 psi. The next short hash mark at the right edge below that is 106 psi. Below that, the short hash mark is 108 psi. Next is the longer hash mark for 110 psi. Using this information, you can see the inflation pressure reading above was 118 psi.
To summarize, all the hash marks along the right edge of the scale are in 2 psi increments. Half way between the decimals, the longer hash marks near the center of the scale are in 5 psi increments.
Anywhere along the scale, anytime the end of the barrel is halfway between two consecutive short hash marks, the inflation pressure is 1 psi greater than the short hash mark above it.
-1- While truck tires must be properly inflated, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations do not require truck drivers to check tire inflation pressures with a gauge during their pre-trip inspections.
-2- Tire thumpers can indicate if a tire is flat or almost flat, but cannot determine the inflation pressure.
-3- Different angles of dual head inflation pressure gauges can help access bent valve stems.
-4- If using a stick gauge, make sure you accurately read the scale.
Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are required on cars, pickups, and SUVs, and can be found on some heavy trucks. A TPMS simply warns the driver that the air pressure in a tire dropped to a certain pressure, or dropped a certain percent below the programmed pressure. TPMS does not replenish the air.
Onboard tire inflation systems, which are becoming common on air-braked trucks, semi-trailers, and buses, use the onboard air system to maintain the appropriate air pressure in each tire. Truck tire inflation systems only warn a driver if a tire loses air faster than the system can replenish it.
During routine maintenance, after a tire issue, or after an accident, you will often want to check all tire inflation pressures, even if there is a tire monitoring system or an onboard inflation system. You’ll need to ensure that either type of system was working properly. That requires checking each tire pressure individually.
With either system, how to you access the valve for each tire? Below are two examples.
First is a Stemco AirBat RF tire monitoring system on the rear tandems of a three-axle truck tractor. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return to this post.)
There are two standard metal valve caps—one for each tire of the dual. Remove these caps and use a truck tire pressure gauge as you normally would. You can also add air through these valves if required. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return to this post.)
Make sure you know which valve goes to which tire. It’s easy to do; just trace the hose back to its associated wheel.
As an example of tire inflation systems, the Meritor Tire Inflation System by P.S.I. (MTIS) is a popular system on both new and retrofitted semi-trailers. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return to this post.)
With MTIS, twist the knurled fitting at either end of the through tee, then use your truck tire pressure gauge on the valve at the end of each hose. Again, make sure you trace which hose goes to which tire. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return to this post.)
While these systems initially look intimidating, it is actually much easier to check tire inflation pressures with them than it is trying to get a tire gauge to fit on individual valve stems on the wheels.
I’m sure you’ve seen many photos like the one below. [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]
What is the subject? The tire and wheel? The intruding part at the upper right (which was actually from an unrelated truck)? The gravel? Is there something important that I should be seeing in the gravel?
It was actually the tire and wheel. But if you draw a vertical line down the middle of the photo, almost the entire right half of it is unrelated to the subject.
In the image below, the tire and wheel are still featured, but now you can see how they relate to part of the truck’s frame rail and steering system, too. [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]
This photo makes more sense and eliminates unnecessary and confusing elements. It’s easy to pay so much attention to your subject that you forget what it looks like in the frame. Make sure you haven’t included too much empty space or too many unrelated elements that are not only distracting and confusing, but look sloppy, careless, and unprofessional.
From August 12 through 14, 2019, I will be teaching the third Photography for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing class for SAE. This time it will be at Southeast Toyota Technical Center in Jacksonville, FL. We’ll cover a lot of material in the three days, and you’ll come away making better quality, more professional photographs from that point on, regardless of the location or lighting conditions. After all, your photographs are at least as important as any other part of your work. You’re a professional, and your photographs should reflect that professionalism. After this class, they will.
While working so intensely together to conduct testing for publication, it is worth taking the time to make photographs of all those who participated. The photos can be useful for a report, any paper presentations, and the websites of the participants. (Click on image below to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)From left to right are truck and truck ECM guru Greg Wilcoxson (Wilcoxson Consulting, LLC), truck, data acquisition, and, well, everything else guru Wes Grimes (Wes Grimes, Collision Engineering Associates), and me. In an earlier post, you’ll find a link to the papers we wrote together from this testing.
Even with my hat, I was hardly in their league. We did have fun in the evenings when I would walk into a restaurant first, and tell the hostess or host that I was their bodyguard, and needed to get them a good table. We should have recorded their reactions.
A photograph of something as long as a tractor trailer is often best presented in a panoramic format (much wider than tall). This focuses attention on the subject by eliminating excessive sky and foreground.
About half the truck wheels sold today are aluminum rather than steel. As with anything, there are trade-offs when comparing steel and aluminum wheels. Aluminum wheels weigh less but cost more than steel wheels. Aluminum wheels don’t rust, of course, but they can suffer from flange wear. Alcoa recommends checking for excessive flange wear using a simple go-no go gauge (Part No. 000700).Here’s a photograph of the gauge in use. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)While the gauge is quite easy to use, it is more challenging to photograph. It can be tricky to hold the thin aluminum gauge in the proper position while also making a photograph. To make the photograph above, I used a Wimberley The Plamp II with one end clamped on the wheel center hole, and the other end clamped to the gauge.The Plamp II is fantastic since it is flexible enough to get into any position, yet stiff enough to remain in place once released. Here’s a link on B&H: Wimberley The Plamp II from B&H. The Plamp II allowed me to quickly and steadily hold the Alcoa gauge perpendicular to the rim and properly up against the flange. It was easy to focus and shoot without any motion from trying to hold the gauge by hand. It also allowed me to get the flashes into position with no shadows from my arm across the photo.
If you need to photograph something like a gauge or ruler, it is worth taking the few minutes to secure it and light it properly. You can often just tape it in place, but that wouldn’t have worked to position this flange wear gauge.
In March 2016, friends and colleagues Wes Grimes (http://cea-az.com/), Greg Wilcoxson (http://www.wilcoxsonconsulting-llc.com/), and I conducted a series of heavy truck acceleration tests using tractors with automated manual transmissions (AMTs) in full auto mode. In auto mode, the transmission chose all shift points without input from the driver.
These were straight-line acceleration tests from a stop using two different truck tractors and two different test drivers. For each truck and driver combination, we ran tests with empty, partially loaded, and fully loaded van semitrailers. The drivers were asked to do half of the runs at what they felt was a “normal” acceleration. The other half of the test runs were at full throttle acceleration. There was a slight slope along the 300-foot test distance, so runs were made in both upslope and downslope directions. Our tests showed the slope, load, and throttle position all influenced when the transmission chose to shift. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)Technical papers describing the results of both test series have now completed the peer review process and have been published by SAE. We presented these papers at SAE’s World Congress Experience WCX 17 in Detroit on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. SAE has these paper available through these links:
Often, a vehicle we need to photograph will be crammed in between other vehicles or in a small garage or storage area. I’ve encountered the same problem when trying to photograph a whole tire in a small conference room. A wide angle lens then becomes necessary to capture an overall photo in a single frame. But doing so will inevitably cause the vehicle or tire to appear distorted. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)These two images show the same van, but the top one was made with a ZEISS 50 mm lens, while the bottom one was with a ZEISS 25 mm lens. To fill the frame with the van, I made the photo with the 25 mm lens much closer to the van than with the 50 mm lens. The photograph made with the 25 mm lens looks like the van was the long wheelbase version while the 50 mm photo looks like it had the short wheelbase. This closer distance to the subject caused the wide angle lens to stretch the appearance of the van.
The best solution is to try to capture as much of the subject as possible with a lens as close to a 50 mm “normal” lens as possible. This might entail getting a higher vantage point, or shooting between obstacles. When that’s not possible, take the wide angle shot, then normal lens shots of parts of your subject.
Other effects of using wide, telephoto, and normal focal lengths for vehicles, accident sites, and for tires will be discussed in future posts.
After a truck has been involved in a wreck, driving it even a couple feet at the crash scene without first disconnecting the vehicle speed sensor (VSS) will almost certainly destroy any last stop data recorded by the Heavy Vehicle Event Data Recorder (HVEDR), whether it is an Engine Control Module (ECM), an Electronic Control Unit (ECU), or some combination. This loss of digital evidence has often been cited as evidence spoliation, which can have serious repercussions.
This situation is easy to avoid by locating the speed sensor near the transmission output shaft, and disconnecting the electrical plug from the speed sensor. Let the plug hang free. The truck many then be driven or towed without danger of overwriting and losing important data.
It is important to make this common knowledge for truck drivers, wrecker drivers, investigating police officers, and truck service and maintenance personnel. This information can be disseminated through training classes and service bulletins. Labels on trucks near the VIN, near the toll-free number decal for the trucking or adjusting company, and on the accident packet can also help at the crash scene. Here’s a suggested label:
After a crash, do not drive or move vehicle at all without disconnecting vehicle speed sensor.