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Avoiding the hidden costs of a semi truck breakdown

When a semi truck breaks down, there are obvious repair costs. But even more expenses accrue from lost revenue, missed deliveries, and stranded assets. Savvy trucking companies employ preventative maintenance and roadside assistance to minimize these hidden costs. This article explores the major hidden costs of semi truck breakdowns and how fleets can avoid them.

And when you’re finished reading, check out the other articles in our ‘Truck roadside assistance’ series:

How often do semi trucks breakdown?

Semi trucks can break down for a variety of reasons, but most well-maintained trucks will break down infrequently. The industry average is about one breakdown every 100,000 miles, though this can vary significantly based on age of truck, type of routes, and maintenance quality. 

Owner-operators report an average of one major breakdown every 300,000 to 400,000 miles; again, maintenance is key. On the other hand, major fleets with rigorous maintenance programs can go 500,000+ miles before experiencing immobilizing breakdowns, though minor issues may occur more often. 

Older trucks will typically break down more often, with trucks 15+ years old potentially seeing a major breakdown every 150,000 miles or less. Severe duty cycles like frequent stop-and-go, excessive idling, heavy payloads, and vocational use also increase breakdown risk. Driver practices and operation influence breakdown rates as well, as skilled drivers practice preventive maintenance

While anecdotal, many truckers report going 1-2 years of regular driving before having a major mechanical failure if trucks are modern and well-maintained. But problems can never be fully prevented. Having a good semi truck roadside assistance policy can reduce downtime when the inevitable breakdown occurs.

Types of semi truck breakdowns

The most common semi truck breakdowns are caused by the following:

  • Tire issues: Blowouts, flats, loose tires, etc. Tires take a lot of abuse on big rigs and are one of the most common breakdown causes. Driving on poorly maintained tires can present regulatory problems as well.
  • Electrical system problems: Corroded wires, loose connections, alternator/starter failure, dead batteries, etc. Electrical gremlins can be tricky to diagnose and disable trucks.
  • Brake problems: Overheated brakes, leak in air lines, worn pads, brake fluid leaks, valve failures, etc. Brakes are used heavily on semi trucks.
  • Engine issues: Overheating, oil leaks, bad sensors, turbocharger problems, etc. Complex big diesel engines have many parts that can fail.
  • Fuel system problems: Fuel filters getting clogged, bad fuel, dirty injectors, pump failure, etc. Problems with fuel delivery can leave trucks stranded.
  • Emission system failures: Modern emission equipment is complex and faults can leave trucks in limp mode.
  • Driveline/drivetrain issues: Transmission, driveshaft, differential, axle, and other driveline component problems are common.
  • Suspension and steering system failures: Air suspension leaks, broken springs, loose steering components, etc.

Hidden costs of a commercial truck breakdown

Semi truck breakdowns can be very costly beyond just the repair bills. Some major hidden costs of semi truck breakdowns include:

  • Lost revenue from cargo delays: A breakdown that causes late cargo delivery can mean revenue losses, fines for late loads, and unhappy customers.
  • Driver wages/accommodations: If a repair takes days, wages paid to the stranded driver add up. Plus hotels, meals, etc. 
  • Costly towing/impound fees: Towing an 80,000-pound commercial semi truck is expensive. Impound yards have high storage fees if repairs take long.
  • Missed appointments: Appointment and slot times at shippers/receivers and ports are difficult to rebook on short notice if missed due to a breakdown.
  • Perishable cargo losses: For refrigerated loads, a breakdown can lead to cargo spoilage if replacement equipment/repairs take too long.
  • Equipment rental: Major failures may require renting a new truck to keep loads moving while the original truck is repaired.
  • Secondary damage: A seemingly small initial failure can lead to more problems if operation is continued in a diminished state.
  • Administrative costs: Staff resources required to reschedule, arrange repairs, communicate with customers, drivers, etc. all cost money.
  • Reputational impact: Too many breakdowns can hurt a company’s reputation for reliable service.

With so many direct and indirect costs, breakdowns can be a huge expense. Prevention through proactive maintenance is critical for minimizing these high hidden costs.

How roadside assistance for semi trucks helps avoid breakdown costs

Having a comprehensive roadside semi truck breakdown service is a critical way truckers can minimize the hidden costs associated with breakdowns. A good service has extensive coverage including towing, tire changes, lockouts, fuel delivery and more. This prevents drivers from having to pay out of pocket for potentially expensive services to get their truck moving again.

Quality roadside truck assistance also gets vehicles repaired faster. Roadside semi truck repair services performed by qualified technicians result in less time waiting for a tow or diagnosis. Faster roadside truck repairs mean less downtime losing revenue and fewer missed delivery appointments. Some tractor trailer roadside assistance providers even provide replacement rentals so cargo can keep moving while repairs are completed.

Knowledgeable commercial truck roadside assistance agents can guide drivers to the nearest approved shop and coordinate repairs efficiently. This simplifies the stresses of managing a breakdown far from home. Access to commercial truck roadside assistance plans offering service anywhere in the country prevents the higher costs of repairs at unfamiliar shops.

The best truck and trailer roadside assistance companies allow fleet managers to track service calls and breakdown trends. This data guides preventative maintenance efforts to further avoid future problems. Detailed trip planning resources some provide also helps drivers optimize routes, fuel stops and rest areas to prevent breakdowns from occurring far from repair facilities.

By handling the costs and logistics of getting broken down trucks back on the road quickly, quality roadside assistance for commercial trucks reduces revenue losses, administrative burdens, wasted driver time and many other hidden costs of breakdowns. Roadside assistance for trucks pays for itself by keeping vehicles and cargo moving safely and efficiently.

Minimize the impact of a truck breakdown

While truck breakdowns can’t be prevented entirely, diligent maintenance and quality heavy truck roadside assistance goes a long way in minimizing costly downtime. Implementing preventative maintenance programs and having contingency plans ready allows fleets to handle breakdowns efficiently. Taking these proactive steps will help improve uptime revenue and total cost of ownership for semi trucking operations.


Why do trucks break down so easily?

Trucks endure extremely demanding operation including heavy loads, stop-and-go driving, excessive idling, vibration, and hundreds of thousands of miles in service annually.

What can cause your truck to break down? 

Overuse, improper maintenance, and normal wear and tear on components like the engine, transmission, and electronics can lead to truck breakdowns. Operating conditions like hauling heavy loads, stop-and-go driving, and excessive idling also contribute to component failure over time.

What is a common truck engine problem?

A frequent engine issue is the EGR valve getting clogged with carbon buildup, which can cause poor performance, increased emissions, and eventual engine shutdown. Cleaning the EGR system regularly can help avoid this common problem.

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