Disaster. You’re a couple of hours east of Nowhere, your delivery window’s tight, and your truck’s just dribbled to a stop. What do you do now?
Assuming you’re prepared with the number of a breakdown service, help is a simple phone call away.
If you’re a company driver or an owner-operator leased to a fleet, chances are the company you drive for has some sort of breakdown system in place. If that’s the case, make sure you know the number to call, whether it’s an in-house support system or an outside service.
However, if you’re responsible for your own maintenance, you might want to consider using a breakdown service like one of those listed below in this article. While the details vary, here’s the basic blueprint: when you break down, you call a toll-free number that’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The person on the other end listens to your tale of woe and then finds the nearest service provider that can help.
If you’re lucky, the person on the other end of the phone will be an actual truck expert – maybe even an ex-mechanic – who can help you get rolling by some simple fix you do yourself without paying for a service call or, heaven forbid, a tow.
Most services do try to get the problem fixed by the side of the road to save towing costs. In fact, 85% of breakdowns are handled roadside, according to FleetNet America. If that’s not possible, however, the service arranges a tow. Most services also follow up and make sure the truck gets back on the road quickly.
Why use a breakdown service instead of calling a shop yourself?
“It’s basically establishing a safety net,” says Jeff Parietti, Kenworth spokesman. “The bottom line is the customer is going to get help. The customer doesn’t have to start calling around in the middle of the night.”
That alone will save time and heartache, of course, but there’s more. Using an established service might well save you money and help get the job done right because it will direct you where you need to go. An independent service like TruckDown International or FleetNet America also knows all those shops and their strengths and weaknesses. You, on the other hand, will be working blind if you’ve never had a problem in Nowhere before this and you’re just digging a name out of a phone book. If there’s a phone book handy, of course.
“A one-time call from someone that, as a rule, a vendor is never going to see again, doesn’t carry any leverage with regard to pricing or service,” says Oren Summer, president of FleetNet America. “We offer that leverage for owner-operators just like we would for a fleet.” In almost every case, he says, “we’ll be able to get the repair done quicker, less expensive, and with a higher level of quality” than an owner-operator acting on his own.
“We know that there’s a real need for a comprehensive roadside assistance product,” says I-Truck Assist President Ron Gardner. “Many owner-operators are frequently left to fend for themselves when a breakdown occurs, but our full-service non-warranty emergency roadside assistance program offers peace of mind that for as little as $.41 per day they have breakdown coverage and we’ll be there to get them back on their way quickly.”
Some breakdown services offer other benefits, such as guaranteed pricing or parts discounts, communication via Qualcomm, GPS location of the disabled truck, various payment/billing options, and the ability to track the repair progress on the Internet. Some programs are free, some charge a flat fee per truck, some charge a fee per breakdown incident, and some are included as part of a credit card, fuel card or other special program. The customer is responsible for any repair or towing costs, unless they’re covered by warranty.
And Canada’s own TruckDown International, which covers all of North America, will even help you find a truck-friendly motel or hotel.
Here’s a rundown on the major services offered…
TruckDown Info International
Emergency road service: 800-800-4237
Business phone: 204-261-4810, 866-562-4081
The brainchild of Stan Cork, formerly senior vice president in charge of equipment maintenance at Kleysen Transport in Winnipeg until his retirement a few years ago, TruckDown isn’t like the other breakdown services. It began as simply an Internet-based, searchable database of known service providers across Canada and has grown fast since its launch in 1997, now numbering more than 33,000 in North America at large. In 2001 it helped put truckers and services together to the tune of about $53 million worth of transactions. Last year that number was just shy of $119 million. It’s growing more this year.
It’s still based on the web, but for owner-operators there’s also an emergency 24/7 phone number. If that’s not going to work, the solution is to call someone with access to a computer – wife, dispatcher? – and have them look at the database of service providers, many of whom have been added to the list by its own users. TruckDown won’t organize a service call for you, but it will tell you where to turn, and not just to get a tire fixed or an injector replaced. As well as the trucker-friendly motels mentioned earlier, you can also find a host of other services like secure storage and warehousing, legal services, hazmat cleanup, and local cartage services in case you can’t finish the trip yourself on time due to a breakdown. The idea is you’ll benefit from the experience of other users, which include many of the country’s biggest and best fleets who have added and/or recommended service providers they trust. And then you can add your own suggestions, of course.
The TruckDown service is entirely free to the trucker, and you can even use most of its functions without registering, though there are some benefits to going through the simple registration routine even if you only use it once or twice a year.
Cork, incidentally, tells us that most of the other breakdown services regularly use TruckDown when they’re searching for shops to help their own customers. One of them has racked up 22,000 searches to date, he says.
A much revised TruckDown web site includes an advanced suite of features for ‘power users’ – including a Qualcomm/Cancom interface and the ability to locate a truck by longtitude and latitude.