Whether you’re a seasoned professional who has been hauling semi trailers for decades, or a newer driver who is still getting a feel for the road, it is a shock to the senses when your tractor or trailer suddenly develops a serious problem while you’re on a trip.
Nobody ever expects a breakdown, but you always have to be prepared for one. Reacting properly helps protect you and other drivers around you. It can also minimize the damage to your tractor and/or semi trailer.
Below are the steps you should take any time if you encounter trouble in your rig.
A Proven Process for Managing Mechanical Breakdowns in Your Tractor or Semi Trailer
Your engine starts to steam or smoke. You blow a tire. One of the electrical systems on your rig malfunctions. Whatever the reason, it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t keep driving. Now what?
First, before you ever find yourself in this situation there are some things you should do. You should have a good understanding of your route and the cities along the way that are large enough to have a repair shop or service that can provide assistance. Ideally, you want to have an app on your phone that can help you quickly locate this type of resource.
You should also know how to contact your dispatcher or someone at your company who can provide assistance. Not only can they ensure you get the help you need—a mobile repair service, tow truck, etc.—they can also handle logistical issues like contacting someone at your ultimate destination to let them know you will be delayed.
With that as your foundation, here are ten steps you should take when faced with a breakdown:
- Remain calm. Depending on the type of breakdown, the traffic around you, the weather and other factors, a mechanical problem can be very stressful. Taking some calming breaths and thinking through your options (albeit quickly, in some instances) can help keep you from making a bad snap decision.
- Hit your flashers. With this one action, you’ve alerted drivers around you that they need to heighten their awareness and be prepared for some emergency maneuvers on your part. While serving notice doesn’t mean you can completely relax, it should help decrease your stress level a bit.
- Find the widest spot you can safely get to. This is where a clear head comes in handy. You need to make a decision about how much farther you can drive. You want to get off the highway completely or onto a wide shoulder, but you also want to bring the rig to a stop as soon as possible, especially if continued driving is causing greater damage.
- Ease off the road. Needless to say, swerving off the road abruptly can make a bad situation much worse. While you may be a little frazzled, force yourself to get over and slow down gradually.
- Assess your surroundings. What’s to the left and right of your rig? In front of and behind you? How heavy is traffic and how fast is it moving? Before you open the cab door, be sure you understand what you’re stepping out into.
- Set out flares or triangles. Cautiously space these indicators at intervals of 50, 100 and 150 feet.
- Tilt your hood. This is universally understood by other drivers to mean you are having mechanical difficulties, and it sends a message to highway patrol and others who may be able to provide traffic control assistance.
- Do a quick assessment of the problem. Your next step is going to be contacting dispatch, but it can be helpful if you have information you can provide them about the issue. So, don’t spend too long trying to diagnose the problem yourself, but do take a look.
- Contact your dispatcher or someone at your company involved in transportation. Let them know that you’re broken down, where you are, and what you think the problem may be. Then work with them to come up with a plan for resolving the situation.
- Keep people informed about progress. The more the contact person at your company knows about your evolving situation, the better they can assist you. Keep them posted on all major milestones in the process—the tow truck has arrived, now the rig is hooked up and ready to roll, we’ve arrived at the shop, etc.
A breakdown can be time consuming and frustrating, but by taking the steps above, you can greatly reduce the risk of someone getting hurt or your tractor and/or semi trailer suffering additional damage.
Breakdown Response Kit
Again, nobody expects to have their rig break down on the road. Consequently, many drivers are caught unprepared. While it’s impossible to anticipate every possible breakdown scenario, having the right tools and supplies with you can make a big, positive difference. Here are some items you should consider keeping in your rig:
- Wrench set
- Vice grips
- Electrical tape
- Duct tape
- Adjustable hose clamps
- Spare headlights
- Assorted fuses
- Motor oil
- Fuel conditioner
- Windshield washer fluid
- Tube silicone
- Fire extinguisher
- Non-perishable food
- Flashlight and/or headlamp
- Warm clothing, boots and gloves if appropriate
- Sleeping bag and/or heavy blankets if appropriate
You may need other items based on the type of driving you do and where you do it. But this list is a good starting point.
How to Avoid Breakdowns in Your Tractor or Semi Trailer
Of course, the easiest breakdown to handle is the one that never happens! Ensuring that preventative maintenance is performed on your tractor as scheduled is crucial. The same is true for your semi trailers. One of the benefits of using rental semi trailers is that the provider typically handles all maintenance on their trailers.
At Boxwheel, for example, we ensure that our semi trailers for rent, lease or sale do not leave our lot until the box is checked on every service item and the equipment is checked and in optimal operating condition.
That being said, even the most attentive care from the most skilled tractor or semi trailer mechanic can’t guarantee that your equipment won’t break down. That’s true, in part, because there are too many factors outside the mechanic’s or driver’s control—from massive potholes that can damage a tractor or semi trailer’s suspension to flying debris that can cause any number of problems.
But, by taking care of your equipment, carrying the right gear and knowing how to respond in the face of a mechanical problem, you make it much easier to rally and get back on the road with minimal downtime.
To learn more about our inventory of flatbeds, dry van trailers, liftgate trailers and refrigerated trailers for rent, lease or sale, please contact us at your convenience.