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Semi Truck Repair:
Tips on Semi Repair for Frugal Truckers


In a nutshell, truckers' options for semi truck repair fall in two categories:

Much will depend on whether you are an owner-operator/independent or a company driver and what type of repair needs to be done.

Truckers can prevent some semi repair by having regular preventive maintenance and truck servicing done on their trucks.

On this page, we are going to address the subject of truck repair from a number of angles, all designed to help you save money.



Simple vs. Not-So-Simple Semi Truck Repair

Close-up of headlight on a Freightliner truck.We recommend that every professional truck driver carry basic tools with him/her at all times in the truck to take care of simple truck repair tasks like replacing a lamp in a truck's headlight.

While you may wish to consult your truck's owner's manual for exact instructions, the task may be as simple as lifting the hood, unscrewing the headlight assembly, removing the burned out headlamp, installing a new one and then putting everything back together again. Of course, the right screwdriver and replacement bulb are required.

Other types of simple truck and trailer repairs that even company drivers can do with the right tools and equipment are:

  • replacing the seals in your air lines' gladhands;
  • doing landing gear crank handle repair;
  • installing a grommet and taillight on a trailer; and
  • attaching a replacement mud flap (aka "anti-spray device" in Washington state).

Truck with broken headlampsThen there are repairs that require body work or replacement of a large part, like the truck shown here needed.

Under FMCSR ยง 396.11, drivers are to complete a daily driver vehicle inspection report. Some trucking companies may put these forms on the backs of their log sheets. (We would like to know if drivers who use EOBRs fill out separate paper inspection reports.)

Paragraph "(c)" of that same section reads: "Corrective action. Prior to requiring or permitting a driver to operate a vehicle, every motor carrier or its agent shall repair any defect or deficiency listed on the driver vehicle inspection report which would be likely to affect the safety of operation of the vehicle."

Under CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability), drivers are held responsible for their equipment. For example, in "Table 5. CSMS Vehicle Maintenance BASIC Violations" (A-14) of "CARRIER SAFETY MEASUREMENT SYSTEM (CSMS) METHODOLOGY," any inoperative head lamp, tail lamp or turn signal carries a "Violation Severity Weight" of 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Therefore, it behooves truckers to be diligent about conducting their pre-trip inspection reports and performing any minor semi truck repair that they are capable of doing themselves.

Note: if you are driving a leased truck, your trucking company may require all truck repair work to be done by the leasing company.



Handling Needed Semi Truck Repair

Drivers may have to deal with both cosmetic damage and disabling damage to trucks -- and not necessarily due to their own actions.

When docks are tight, off-set or designed for smaller trucks, drivers may be prone to scrub their tires against curbs and in the process scrub wheels or air fairings.

Set up of fuel island with concrete post.We once saw a driver pull a rig through a fuel island at a company terminal in Oklahoma City. The fuel islands were set up such that drivers had to navigate between concrete posts, much like the ones shown here at a truck stop fuel island.

Just as the scrub marks on the near post show in the photo, so the driver pulled the trailer through the lane at such an angle so as to scrape a rear side marker light right off the trailer! (Ouch!)

In the past, we have picked up trailers that were left in really bad condition by other drivers who didn't want the hassle (read: delay) associated with getting them fixed. Note: If you find one problem on a trailer, protect yourself by looking for other signs of negligence or abuse (especially if the one problem you found was obvious).

Drivers aren't the only ones we've encountered who put off needed truck repair work. We described a situation in which a trucking company we once worked for didn't want to replace trailer tires at a company terminal and ended up paying bigger bucks after a tire blew on the road.

When in doubt about how to take care of any needed semi truck repair, contact your driver manager. If he/she doesn't know the answer, perhaps your inquiry will be forwarded to the shop supervisor.

Some trucking companies have a special "breakdown" phone number that lets drivers bypass their driver managers and find out how to take care of equipment breakdowns quickly.

Every driver should inform his/her driver manager about a breakdown. Depending on the time of day the event happens, a message sent via satellite communication may go to a night dispatcher or someone other than your regular driver manager. If you ask, perhaps the after-hours operator will send a message to your driver manager internally.

Remember: all truckers are now held accountable for basics including vehicle maintenance under CSA. If your trucking company attempts to get you to drive a truck that needs repair, remember that the whistle blower laws are in place to protect you. Be resolute because it is your driving record that is on the line.





Breakdown on the Road

When has a truck driver ever planned a truck breakdown?

The answer, of course, is never.

Truck accident breakdown.
Truck parked on shoulder with hood up.One afternoon after Vicki had begun riding with him full-time again, Mike was driving south on I-77 in North Carolina when we both heard a loud bang. Mike looked in both mirrors, fully expecting to see rubber flying from a blown tire. Seeing no rubber flying, his next thought (since he had dealt with the issue in another truck) was that the turbo under the hood had blown.

He pulled over to the shoulder with his flashers on and parked. He got out and lifted the hood. Sure enough, the turbo had blown. Without a working turbo, Mike knew the truck would never be able to pull the hills. So, he contacted his company, who arranged to have his truck towed.

At the company's direction, the tow truck driver brought another tractor so that Mike could haul the trailer while the tow truck driver took the disabled tractor back to headquarters for semi truck repair.

In this particular case, the work couldn't be done at the company's shop; the turbo work had to be outsourced to a nearby authorized truck repair shop.

The mechanic at the shop said that in his 15 years of doing truck work, he had never seen a turbo blow that badly and that it was a wonder that the action of it blowing didn't take out more stuff along with it!

It was also during that down period that Mike's trucking company put us up at a nearby hotel and then decided to move Mike into a brand new tractor.

Even though the old tractor wasn't quite "old enough" mileage-wise to be traded, the company decided they had put enough money into semi truck repair so as to get rid of it.

Every owner-operator has the same decision to make: at what point do repairs cost too much to warrant keeping an older truck?


When a truck breaks down on the road, the only choice truckers may have regarding semi truck repair location will be determined by

  • the nature of the breakdown;
  • any advance preparation the driver has made; and
  • what parts and services are available in the area.

Sometimes, one repair leads to another. Or in the process of needing to repair one thing, other things that aren't yet scheduled to be replaced could be replaced ahead of schedule.

Owner-operators need to weigh these options carefully.


As you may know, a steer tire blowout sidelines every truck. Questions to answer include:

  • Can the tire be replaced on the side of the road or does the truck need to be towed to a shop for a replacement?
  • How many truckers have the tools to replace a tire on the side of the road?
  • Out of weight concerns, how many rigs carry a spare steer tire?

When a truck breaks down, truckers are responsible to make sure that appropriate warning signs are displayed, like flashers and hazard triangles.

If the repair needs doing on the driver side of the vehicle, see if you can pull over as far as possible off the road without endangering anything or anyone. Beware of soft and low shoulders.



Scheduled Repairs

If repairs are the scheduled kind, owner-operators have a choice as to where they want semi truck repair done:

  • at home,
  • in a rented facility or
  • in a shop by others.

Some truckers are so skilled at semi truck repair they they could function as truck mechanics. Our hats are off to them. Of course, these mechanically-minded truckers generally carry a larger number of truck tools with them on the road with which to do their work.



Procurement of Truck Parts

When a trucker is considering options for semi truck repair, he or she must also factor in procurement of the replacement parts and warranties.

We wrote "warranties" as plural on purpose because there may be a warranty on the installation service as well as on the actual part(s) being installed.

Truck parked at truck stop with hood up.

Will a manufacturer void a warranty on a truck part unless it is installed by an "authorized" dealer? Find out in advance.

When it comes to procurement of truck parts for semi truck repair, owner-operators have a choice between three types:

  • brand new parts from the manufacturer
  • used parts or
  • replacement parts by third party manufacturers.

When Vicki attended the 2012 Mid America Trucking Show, she learned about two different manufacturers who sold products that were supposed to be superior to the original equipment!

It behooves truck manufacturers to look into incorporating better designs on those parts to begin with, but in the meantime, owner-operators should familiarize themselves with truck parts like these.

Bear in mind that some dealerships and repair facilities no longer keep certain truck parts in stock. Added delays may ensue from having to order and take delivery of these parts.





Paying for Repair Work

One weekend when we were homeless and stayed in a hotel, Mike had a conversation with an owner-operator who had parked his rig in the same nearby lot where Mike had parked his truck.

Truck on shoulder with hazard triangles out.The driver said that he was still paying for semi truck repairs done to his truck two years before! He had basically had to beg and borrow the money to get the repairs done.

Mike doesn't recall finding out, but this issue would have been compounded had the driver been paying for repair work on top of making monthly truck payments!

Perhaps they are out there, but we're not familiar with any banks that will loan money to truckers for truck repair work. Owner-operators need to set aside money throughout the year in their budgets to pay for semi truck repair.

In our experience, mileage-paid drivers who are delayed due to semi truck repair come out on the losing end paycheck-wise. Even when they receive layover pay or breakdown pay, it is usually never as much as what they could have earned by hauling freight.

While one would think that all driver managers would authorize layover or breakdown pay automatically when their mileage-paid drivers experience equipment problems, the cold reality is that sometimes these drivers may need to request it in order to get it.

Drivers who are paid on an hourly basis -- perhaps local truck drivers who drive day cabs -- may be more concerned about getting back to a company terminal before their Hours of Service "time out" for the day. For them, being delayed by the need for semi truck repair may mean a larger paycheck that week.



Manufacturers' Factory Specifications (or "Factory Specs")

For a long time, company drivers at the last regional trucking company Mike drove for noticed and complained about the performance of newer trucks. Although the newer trucks had more horsepower, they just seemed not to be performing up to their potential.

Close-up of two shop bays at a trucking company.As it turned out, not only had the company governed truck speed, but they had cut back the pulling power of the trucks. The company had overridden the manufacturer's factory specifications (or "factory specs") because supposedly they knew best!

In cutting back the pulling power, the engines were having to work harder and consequently needed more work done under warranty.

One day when Mike's truck was in the shop, he was talking with a company mechanic who revealed something enlightening. After a number of company trucks needed to have the same kind of work done under warranty, the truck manufacturer investigated. When the investigator found out what the trucking company had done to the engines, the manufacturer started to void the warranties!

It is our understanding that the manufacturer "wised up" to the company's ability to tweak the engines and redesigned them so that factory settings could not be overridden or adjusted.

If you're an owner-operator, be alert to any extra semi truck repair work you may be foisting upon your truck because of overridden factory specs. You will need to do a careful evaluation of which is more cost effective for you:

  • keeping factory specs or
  • overriding them.

If you're in the market to buy a new truck and you're fond of tweaking your engine's specs, make sure you determine ahead of time whether or not the engine's specs can be tweaked and what it will do to your warranty if you do.






truck drivers money saving tip icon

Money saving tip: Save money on some costly semi truck repair by doing regular preventive maintenance and truck servicing.

If you have a choice about where to get semi repair done, evaluate all of your options for the best value.

Carry at least some tools with you to handle small truck repair jobs yourself. Unless you're part of a group of truckers who have bought expensive tools for the use of all group members, leave large repair jobs to professionals and those who have the expensive tools that you would use only rarely.

If your truck breaks down on the side of the road, put out your warning devices promptly. Don't become a sitting duck for rear-end accidents.

Evaluate which kind of truck part has the best value for you in your truck. Will a warranty be voided through manipulation of factory specs or installation by an unauthorized repair shop?

Minimize lack of income during times when your truck must be repaired by budgeting ahead of time.

Two sections of this website are preventive maintenance and "tricks of the trade." If you as a professional truck driver are skilled in saving money in either of these areas, please share your knowledge to help other truckers in the worldwide trucking community. You can even earn money in so doing.








Return from Semi Truck Repair: Tips on Semi Repair for Frugal Truckers to our Truck Operations page or our Truck Drivers Money Saving Tips home page.





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