How To Handle a Truck Breakdown

Female checking under the hood of a big rig truckIt’s just as important to properly handle a truck breakdown safely roadside, as it is to be behind the wheel on the road.

All professional drivers need to know what to do in the event of a big rig breakdown.

If you’re a career truck driver, you’ll undoubtedly experience a mechanical failure or a breakdown, sooner or later.

Be Prepared For the Unexpected

Breakdowns are usually unpredictable and always guaranteed to be annoying. However, they are a fact of life for a truck driver.

There are several things to keep in mind to handle an equipment failure ‘like a pro’.

  1. Have a resource to help you locate a repair facility.

If you are an owner operator and responsible for your truck, you’ll want to ensure you have a resource to help you find the locations of repair facilities and safe stopping spots on your route, in case of mechanical failure.

It’s often possible to limp your broken rig into a shop or truck stop where there’s food and convenience facilities, rather than being stuck on the shoulder of the road waiting for repair service (which is very unsafe and inconvenient).

  1. Dispatcher instruction.

If you are a company driver, your dispatcher/driver manager will most likely give you instructions as to how to handle the breakdown, re: tow truck and what facility the truck should be sent to.

Reducing the Odds of a Breakdown

Although this may sound simple enough, preventative maintenance is THE best way to reduce the odds of breaking down.

I cannot stress enough the need for very through pre-checks, post-trip checks and on route checks of the vehicle.

This is where your efforts will most certainly pay off!  It’s always preferable to do these checks in daylight whenever possible. Night time visuals with flashlights often miss indicators of potential trouble.

If Broken Down, Keep Calm

If your truck does fail mechanically, there’s no need for panic.

  1. Keep your wits about you. Breakdowns can happen in unsavoury places, be it in bad weather or in bad neighbourhoods.
  2. Making smart decisions can save your life.
  3. If you are calm, you can make better decisions as to what to do next. A panic stricken individual can make bad decisions and can place themselves in danger as well as others.

Staying Safe When Broken Down

  •  Being broken down on the shoulder can be very dangerous. You are exposed to speeding traffic in very close proximity. It only takes one inattentive driver to plow into you on the shoulder. As we all know, these days there are lots of inattentive drivers using their cell phones, rather than paying attention to their driving.
  •  If you’re broken down on the shoulder, stay alert. Be aware of the danger of the traffic nearby and stay in your vehicle as much as possible.
  • If you are driving and feel the truck starting to fail, even though not an ideal place to get off the road, pulling over on an off ramp is safer than the shoulder of the highway.

Related > Our Top Winter Driving Safety Tips 

7 Simple Steps to Follow When Your Truck Malfunctions

  1. Lady trucker fixing big rig Wide spot, flashers. Go for the widest pullover spot you can find. Turn flashers on and remember to watch your mirrors to monitor the traffic behind you. Be prepared if the traffic behind does not understand what your situation is! You could be rear-ended when your truck fails.


  1.  Ease off the road if you’re able, rather than hard power turn to the side, if possible.


  1.  Flares. Once the truck/trailer is parked as far off the road as possible, carefully get out of the truck and set up your flares or triangles behind the truck at 50′, 100′, and 150′ intervals.


  1. Tilting open the hood is a good way to indicate the fact that you’re broken down and won’t be moving the truck anytime soon.


  1. Assess the problem. Try to determine what the problem is and whether or not you can repair it yourself or whether you need roadside assistance. With most trucks these days, odds are you’ll need a service call if the problem is electronic. There’s a good chance the issue will be electronic. At this point, you may be given specific instructions by your dispatcher on how they want the repairs handled.


  1. Contact dispatch. Common truck breakdowns are often faulty sending units or faulty emission equipment. Both of these require shop repair. Determine what you think the problem is before you call for roadside assistance. If you’re a company driver, call your dispatcher, and explain you’re broken down and then talk to the company shop foreman to see if he can advise you or contact repair services for you. However, do keep in mind your safety while taking direction and instruction from your company.


  1. Keep your dispatcher informed of what’s going on throughout the repair process, to aid him in keeping the customer informed. Also he will give you any necessary further instruction. Waiting and repair times can often be lengthy. Most shops are fully booked from the breakdown issues from the new emission friendly engines. I’ve heard of week long delays, just to get into some shops. This is just another good reason to carry a few basic supplies and do the simple repairs yourself, if the situation is right.

Related >What You Need to Know About Owner Operator Vs Company Driver Jobs

Truck Breakdowns – Handy Supplies to Have

Carrying a number of different supplies is always a good idea. Sometimes, just a simple tool or two, can mean the difference of getting you up and back on the road in an hour or so, or sitting dangerously roadside for hours, waiting for a tow truck.

Most everyone has a cell phone, which in the event of a truck failure when on the road, is a great thing! Also be sure to have your dispatcher’s number and after hours number handy as well. Breakdowns can happen any time of day or night and any season.

Basic Trucker Tool Kit Items

This may sound like a lot of gear to travel with, but it’s best to be prepared. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

  • full wrench set
  • vice grips
  • electrical tape
  • adjustable hose clamps
  • air to air strength hose clamps
  • duct tape
  • plastic zip locks
  • extra oil
  •  extra coolant
  •  fuel conditioner
  •  flares
  •  triangles
  •  fully charged fire extinguisher
  • windshield washer fluid
  • screw driver set
  • tube of silicone
  • spare headlights
  • bulbs
  • assorted fuses
  • few circuit breakers
  • flashlight
  • full set of warm clothing
  • boots and gloves
  • sleeping bag and/or heavy blankets
  • dry food supply

ALWAYS Remember When Your Truck is Broken Down Roadside….

  • Keep calm.
  • Your safety is of paramount importance. Don’t make sudden moves when roadside or step near the moving traffic.
  • Everything will work out best, if you keep your head on straight.

Breakdowns as with everything else in professional driving, require the driver to make good safety conscious decisions.

Always keep safety in mind, even during a break down.

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