Smart Driving

Roadside Protocol

Practicing common sense and specified procedures will keep you safe in a breakdown

Kevin Anderson estimates he’s experienced six or seven roadside breakdowns in 10 years of over-the-road driving, but the one he remembers most vividly is the time he ran out of fuel. As he was turning in an intersection, his truck stopped. “The state patrol had to come and direct traffic around my truck until a service truck could come with some fuel,” the U.S. Xpress team driver from Louisville, Ky., says. “The truckstop was about a mile down the road. It was embarrassing.”

Anderson says it was the one time he couldn’t get his rig off the roadway. The other times when he has had to deal with a tire blowout and transmission trouble, among other problems, he safely pulled to the shoulder.

The protocol followed by Anderson and other drivers is to get off the traveled road portion while staying on the road surface to avoid getting stuck. “We try to be consistent with DOT requirements if you break down on the side of the road to make sure you’re as far off the road as you can get and still stay safely on the road,” says Jack Curry, safety director at American Central Transport.

Turn on your emergency blinkers and set reflectors or flares on the road shoulder — 100 feet in front of and 10 feet and 100 feet behind your tractor-trailer if on a two-lane highway — to alert other drivers. Contact your dispatcher or carrier and maintenance department with pertinent information such as highway location, mile marker, time of day and what you know about your truck’s operation and the problem.

Curry says his 285-power-unit fleet’s breakdown total has been holding steady this year, thanks in part to a lineup of 2007 and newer tractors. He says a large majority of recent breakdowns have been tire-related. “They are harder to catch even with good pre-trip inspections,” he says. “You get road debris, and we had extreme heat in many places this summer. If you’re running a capped tire — which we do — you have potential for a breakdown at any time.”

Shawn Bird says diligent pre-trip and post-trip inspections have helped him avoid roadside breakdowns during 10 years of driving.

Shawn Bird, a company driver for Hammel Transport Service in Hermiston, Ore., says consistent pre-trip and post-trip inspections have helped him avoid roadside breakdowns over 20 years on the road. He spends about 30 minutes at the start of his run and another 30 minutes at the end of his day. “When I park my truck I check because there are things that might start leaking overnight, or things with the motor that might happen when it cools,” he says.

If a driver encounters another disabled rig on the road, chances are that driver is on his cell phone talking with his dispatcher or repair shop. Curry says if the roadside truck is one of ACT’s, the ACT driver might stop. If it’s not a company rig, the recommendation is to continue driving. “If there’s a way to render some assistance through a phone call, perhaps there’s an opportunity,” he says. “Almost anybody out there with any volume of trucks is running a tracking system now that allows in-cab communication with the driver.”

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For many drivers, the desire to offer assistance is trumped by the issue of safety. Law enforcement officials have reported that cargo thieves have used the ruse of an apparent disabled truck roadside to snare a Good Samaritan trucker into stopping.

Kevin Anderson says his truck is equipped with three sets of reflector triangles to set up behind and to the side of his tractor-trailer if he faces roadside repairs.

Anderson says he will get on the CB and check with the driver of the out-of-commission rig if help is required. “Sometimes I’ve stopped if it’s a minor issue, like lending a tool,” he says. “Not too many people do it anymore, but I’ve stopped maybe four times.”









Description of Repairs                                                Down Time %

Towing                                                                                  17.2%

Tires                                                                                      17.0%

Brakes                                                                                   16.3%

Lighting System                                                                      6.4%

Fuel System                                                                             5.7%

Cranking System                                                                     5.7%

Power Plant                                                                               5.4%

Cooling System                                                                        5.0%

Exhaust System                                                                        4.0%

Trailer Frame and Support                                                     3.2%

Suspension                                                                               3.2%

Transmission – Automatic                                                      2.3%

Rear Wall and Door                                                                 2.3%

Wheels, Rim, Hubs, and Bearings                                      2.0%

Air Conditioning, Heating, etc                                                2.0%

Body                                                                                            2.0%

Towing troubles

When your truck is towed, it’s expensive. But if your truck is involved in an accident and has to be towed, it can turn into a major expense.

If you’re involved in an accident and don’t have a preference for a tow, the law enforcement representative on site will call the tow firm that is next on the rotation list of available companies. The financial calamity comes into play when your truck or trailer is moved or removed by a “renegade” or “rogue” towing company that has the upper hand and chooses to charge whatever it wants.

“Depending on how severe the accident is and depending on the name on the truck, the tower will charge maybe $30,000 for two hours of work,” says Oren Summer, president of FleetNet America, a vehicle maintenance company that coordinates service for truck fleet emergency breakdowns and contract maintenance. “If you want the truck, you’re going to have to pay this. That’s as non-consensual as can be.”

Summer says his company confronts a situation like this at least daily among the 250,000 breakdowns it provides service for annually. “The thing that prevents it from rising to the top with many fleets is that it doesn’t occur often,” he says. “But when it does occur, it is a traumatic experience.”

Summer estimates the average mid-size fleet experiences two of these high-priced towing events a year. After, the fleet will forget about the cost until it occurs again. Summer and other maintenance industry representatives have been working on a proposal that would rein in abusive towing providers. They have created a model towing statute that states could use to establish guidelines for rotation lists, rates and complaints. It recommends a process for hearing and mediating complaints and imposing penalties against towing companies. “Some states don’t even require a license to tow,” Summer says.

Cold weather preparations

Oren Summer of FleetNet America says the following prep items are imperative if you operate in northern latitudes during the winter. Keep them in mind or check to minimize cold weather breakdowns and maximize delivery window commitments..

• Cooling systems must be charged and validated for freeze protection as well as Supplemental Coolant Additive (SCA) levels. Antifreeze types and SCA consistency have tendencies, under sustained heat and time, to chemically breakdown and minimize protection. Simply adding antifreeze isn’t adequate. Refractometers must be used to determine the acceptable dosage of the proper antifreeze, in addition to OEM/aftermarket supplied test procedures and devices to check SCA levels.

• Fuel purchases and availability should be reviewed and attention given to the consistency, gel points and respective flow restriction attributes. Fuel tanks, especially aluminum tanks, will make water with ambient temperature changes, potentially leading to algae growth in the tanks and sometimes catastrophic fuel system failure.

• Fuel/water separators should be serviced and brought up to OEM specs.

• Air dryers must be serviced and desiccant inspected for proper absorptive values. Trucks may have had air dryers bypassed due to line or inoperative valve conditions during the summer and problems may arise as temperatures drop.

• Cold water leaks occur as the ambient temperature changes and as the aluminum coolant neck housings expand and contract. This may cause low-coolant sensors to activate shutdown programming in your ECU. Careful tightening of hose clamps is recommended at your next preventive maintenance session.

• Trailer and dolly air systems must be serviced and purged of condensation that’s occurred during warmer months. Many tractor air dryers are capable of removing the condensation in the trailer when connected, but trailers that have been un-tethered for a period of time in cold weather have converted the condensation in the system to ice that could definitely cause initial hook-up problems, including possible brake drag.

• Cab heater cores have not been active during the summer and these must be inspected to ensure no detrimental corrosion has occurred. Drain lines must also be cleared of debris.

• Tires are also more susceptible to damage in cold weather. Extremely cold temperatures can cause sidewalls to become brittle and vulnerable to impact damage from curbing.

• Check tire pressure. During summer, air pressure tends to rise. As temperatures drop, the acceptable PSI gauged in your tires will be much different.

Being Prepared

If you sustain a breakdown, a few tools and supplies will help you perform roadside repairs:


• Battery brush

• Crescent and box-end wrenches in 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch and 1-inch

• Electrical light

• Electrical contact gel

• Fuel filter wrench

• Grease tubes and gun

• Oil filter wrench

• Phillips-head screwdriver set and 6-head screwdriver set

• Socket sets: standard and metric — 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch drives with 3/8-inch to 1-inch sockets

• Work gloves and coveralls


• Brake lights (2)

• Bypass kit for air filter pump

• Clamps from 3-inch to 5-inch

• Clearance lights (2)

• Electrical kit with additional fuses

• Fuel lines (2)

• Headlights — 1 high, 1 low

• Metal hoses for air lines (2)

• Relays for your make/model of truck

• Water hoses ranging from 1/2-inch to 3-inch