At some point every driver will experience a truck breakdown while on the road. Sometimes there’s no choice but to pull to the side of the road and call for service. At other times, however, there may be options other than a visit to the nearest truck repair facility. Knowing your options before a breakdown happens can result in huge savings in both time and money.
Company drivers often simply call dispatch and are advised where to obtain repairs. Many truck owners, however, make their own decisions when it comes to repairs. One of the biggest is where the repairs will be made. If it’s a safety issue or there’s a risk of further damage to the truck, your best choice may be the closest available shop.
It helps to remember that the time you lose while your truck is being repaired can cost you as much (or more) than the repairs. If you’re a truck owner, your revenue drops to zero when your truck is down. The lost wages could amount to thousands. In addition, because you can’t live in your truck while it’s in the shop, you may need to pay for hotels, meals and other transportation.
When choosing a service facility, factor in the expected lost time. A dealer, for example, may have parts in stock that a non-dealer shop has to order. That same dealer, however, could be booked for days in advance, whereas another shop can get you in right away. It’s important to ask for a time estimate when discussing repairs with any facility.
Brandon Rockwell, director of truck service operations for TravelCenters of America, says a service center could be the answer. These centers often have options for the service to come to you as well. TA, for instance, has more than 1,000 bays nationwide, located at TA, Petro and TA Express locations, and offer emergency “RoadSquad” crews.
“We work on all makes and models of trucks and trailers and offer a nationwide warranty for all parts purchased and installed at our locations,” Rockwell said, adding that technician training is a top priority for the company and is an important consideration for anyone looking for a service company.
In some cases, owners are more comfortable taking their trucks to a dealer of that brand, especially if the work is covered under warranty. For Freightliner and Western Star trucks, TA Truck Service can handle warranty services and recall work as well as other repairs.
“With on-staff certified Daimler trainers, genuine OE parts on hand and an approved menu of services, we’re (a) one-stop shop for keeping drivers’ Freightliner and Western Star equipment up and running,” Rockwell explained.
For other makes, a trip to the dealer could be a better choice.
“When it comes to breakdowns related to internal engines, transmissions or differentials, as well as major electrical component replacements such as any computers or modules on a truck, those repairs are better suited for the dealership,” Rockwell noted.
Understanding the warranty — what’s covered and for how long — definitely helps the owner make better decisions. The terms vary among truck makers, components and whether the truck was purchased new or used. Aftermarket warranties, like those sold by many used truck outlets, sometimes specify where the repairs must be made. You may have to pay for the repairs up front and submit receipts for reimbursement.
As many already know, there’s an app for almost everything in today’s age, and truck maintenance is no exception. Each truck manufacturer offers an electronic maintenance program that works with the truck to monitor performance and report problems. Most of these can provide reports and alerts to the truck owner or a specified manager, helping identify some issues before the truck needs to be shut down. Some can identify the closest dealer shop and even schedule an appointment.
Kenworth’s TruckTech+ and Peterbilt’s SmartLINQ are examples of this type of program. According to the SmartLINQ description on the Peterbilt Trucks website, “SmartLINQ connected truck technology monitors the health of your truck 24/7, including up to 750 engine and transmission parameters. The system automatically sends alerts to your fleet manager and the nearest Peterbilt dealership.” You can specify who alerts are sent to, including yourself.
International (OnCommand Connection), Volvo (Uptime) and Mack (Connect) provide similar programs. A program could also be available through the engine manufacturer, such as the Detroit Connect Virtual Technician or the Cummins Connected Diagnostics program.
If a truck service center is an option, there’s an app for that as well.
“For drivers requesting in-bay work, the TruckSmart mobile app is an easy, convenient way to create a work order at any of our 246 truck service centers,” Rockwell said. “It’s a good idea to check in at the service desk upon arrival to find out when the truck can be brought in.”
Many truck centers offer emergency assistance as well, but another option for finding help is National Truck & Trailer Services (NTTS). On the NTTS website (nttsbreakdown.com) you can enter the nearest city and state to get a list of repair facilities and the distance to each. Services provided by each location are listed along with contact information.
If you prefer an app for your phone, you’ll find several options for free.
Once you find a repair facility, you’ll want to find out what the process is if you aren’t happy with repairs. Always ask to speak to the manager on duty if you have any questions or concerns. At TA Truck Service Centers, for instance, the phone number of the general manager can be found on the work order you received.
At many service locations, you’ll need to return to the facility that performed the work to address warranty issues. Some dealers, however, will allow other dealers to fix any work that wasn’t done to your satisfaction. Find out before you commit.
Finally, it’s important to ask what types of payment the repair service will accept. Most of the reputable business accept verifiable checks from Comdata, TCH, T-Cheks and others, as well as major credit and debit cards. TA facilities accept all of these. Trying to settle up with a cash-only facility located in the middle of nowhere is a nightmare that nobody needs.
No one can prevent breakdowns entirely, but if you know the details of your truck’s warranty and electronic diagnostics and you have a smart phone or computer, you’re well equipped to explore repair options and make the best choice for your trucking business.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.