Note: This article is an introduction to FMCSA record retention for new owner-operators or as a refresher for experienced trucking company owners. It is not intended as complete coverage of the regulations. For the complete regulations, see the FMCSA website.
If you’re new to managing or owning a trucking company, you’ll need to become familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. The FMCSA laws cover all non-exempt commercial motor vehicles that cross state lines, including big rig trucks.
One area that the FMCSA rules cover is record retention. In other words: how long you have to keep your business-related documents around. Some things you can get rid of after a few months; other things you have to keep around for many years. If you get rid of your records too early, you could face hefty fines if there’s an audit or investigation.
The best tip for business-related record retention is:
Err on the side of caution.
When in doubt, don’t throw it out.
FMCSA lists minimum regulations. There’s nothing stopping you from keeping records much longer. And there’s no downside to keeping things around for a long time, except maybe if you’re running out of physical space or digital storage space.
But it’s not hard to find a place to put an extra filing cabinet or two. And it’s pretty cheap these days to get hard drives and cloud-based online storage for digital data and scanned images.
Okay, let’s look at a rundown of what documents and records you need to keep around and for how long:
Hours of service
The FMCSA was created mainly to improve public safety, so it makes sense that their biggest focus is driver hours, also called hours of service. You want to make extra sure that you keep a lot of records about driver hours of service and that you keep them around for a while.
Truck drivers must:
- Complete a record of duty status (a log, in other words, either physical or electronic)
- Stay under the 60/70-hour driving/working limits
- When on the road, carry a copy of the previous 7 days’ worth of logs
- If there’s a motor carrier employing them, send log originals to the carrier within 13 days
- Send all supporting documents that show hours of service evidence (receipts, statements, bills of lading, accident reports, phone bill statements, traffic citations, etc.) to the carrier
- Show due diligence in enforcing the 60/70 hour driving rules and the 10-hours-off-duty-prior-to-first-dispatch rule
- Keep drivers’ logs and supporting documents for 6 months after they are received
- For short-haul hours of service, record the driver’s clock-in, total time worked, time clocked out, and total time for preceding 7 days
Repair and Maintenance
Truck maintenance is also obviously important from a safety perspective.
When a vehicle is under a company’s control for 30 or more days, the company must have certain information about it on file, including:
- Identifying aspects of the vehicle, including company number (if it has one), the make, the serial number, year, and tire size
- If someone else owns it, the person or company who owns it
- Record of inspections, repairs, and maintenance
- A means of showing how future inspections and maintenance will be scheduled
Maintenance records for a company’s vehicles must be kept for at least 12 months. If a company leases or sells a vehicle, those records must be kept for whichever occurs first: a) the remaining time left of the 12 months, or b) 6 months from when the vehicle leaves the company’s control.
In-depth vehicle inspections must be done annually. These inspections:
- Must be performed by a qualified inspector (in accordance with §396.19)
- Must contain the name of the inspector, the motor carrier name, the date, the vehicle, the components inspected.
- Must contain a statement certifying accuracy and completeness
- Must be kept for 14 months
- A copy must be kept in the vehicle, or a decal with the information required in §396.17
Drivers must perform a daily vehicle inspection report (DVIR) of certain required parts and accessories at the completion of each work day. These must be retained for three months at the place of business or where the vehicle is housed.
For brake inspections:
- The person inspecting brakes must be shown to be capable by reason of experience, training, or both
- Records are kept until one year after the employee stops performing inspections
For roadside inspection reports:
- Drivers must turn roadside inspection forms into their carriers within 24 hours (can fax, mail, or otherwise transmit)
- If repairs are required, carriers must send evidence of repairs to the state and keep a copy of that for 12 months
Training and driver qualification
For training and driver qualification:
- Monitor and track all records related to training
- Evidence of training must be kept for the duration of employment, plus 1 year
- Most driver qualification records must be kept for the length of employment, plus 3 years
If there is an accident:
- Retain proof of insurance covering the period when the accident happened
- If you have paperwork connected to an accident or lawsuit (i.e., driver training, truck maintenance reports, or drug/alcohol tests) talk to legal counsel before getting rid of those
There are varied amounts of retention length for various drug and alcohol test records. The most important ones are:
- Negative or cancelled tests only have to be kept 1 year
- Positive tests must be kept 5 years
- Names selected for testing and who was actually tested: kept for 2 years
If there is an audit or investigation, you are expected to produced records quickly: within 48 business hours. This means you want to stay organized. You want to file your records well and know where they are at all times. You don’t want to put your records in deep storage where they are hard to get to.
Scanned documents are acceptable, as are microfiche and photocopies. They must be high-resolution enough and legible enough to authenticate signatures if that is required. For the most part, you can destroy original documents once you scan them, but double-check with FMCSA to be completely clear before you do that.
If you’re using electronic records and you’re in doubt about whether you’re meeting the requirements, contact FMCSA.
Remember: this article was just an overview of some of the most important aspects of FMCSA for owner-operators and small fleet owners and managers. See the complete list of FMCSA regulations for more in-depth information, or contact them with questions.
If you have any comments or questions about this article, or want to learn more about how our software, Rigbooks, can help you with running your owner-operator business, send us a message on our Contact Page.
My name is Jason Forrest, and I’m the creator of Rigbooks. Rigbooks is a cloud-based software that makes it easier for small and medium-sized trucking companies run their business while keeping organized. We’ve been around since 2010.
A little about me: I grew up in a trucking family and from an early age I learned about the day-to-day problems that truck owner/operators have to deal with. I was into computers and programming as a kid so over the years I helped write small computer programs that helped my parents run their company better. Eventually that led to the idea of putting all those tools together in one package. And Rigbooks was born.
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More resources for trucking business owners:
- What’s the difference between HVUT, Form 2290, and IFTA?
- "How long do I have to keep these?": FMCSA record retention for owner-operators and small fleet owners
- Top tax filing tips for owner-operators
- Tips for owner-operators with tax problems
- How are fuel surcharges calculated?
- Simple rules for maintaining long-term profitability in your trucking business
- Starting out with an owner-operator trucking business
- Owner-operator expenses: Fixed costs vs variable costs
- Understanding owner-operator expenses and costs
- Gaining half an MPG can put more money in your pocket than adding $90,000 in revenue
- Cutting fuel costs and improving fuel efficiency for Owner Operators
- Top truck-buying tips for owner-operators
- New versus used truck pros and cons table
- Buying a truck: Should you get a new or used rig?
- Preventative maintenance strategies to avoid major repair costs
- IFTA fuel-buying strategies: Where is the best place to buy fuel?
- Calculating your cost per mile
- Owner Operator Expenses - Fixed Costs vs Variable Costs
- How do I calculate IFTA?
- How does IFTA work?
- How did IFTA start?
- What exactly is IFTA?
- Tracking miles for IFTA
- Fitness for the road
- Acronym cheatsheet for the trucking industry