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.
I-Truck Assist is an enrollment-based service for owner-operators and small
fleets, designed to help mitigate the costs and hassles associated with an
away-from-home breakdown. Under the Emergency Roadside Assist Gold program, I-Truck Assist covers roadside emergencies such as tire changes or repairs, tows, jump-starts, and even lockouts. If I-Truck Assist can’t fix the problem at the side of the road, a tow can be immediately arranged with the option of requesting a dispatch for a Ryder rental truck at a discounted rate. The 24-hour, 365-day-a-year emergency roadside assistance service is available anywhere in Canada or the continental United States. The phone support and emergency
roadside assistance is provided by Norassist/Road America.
Emergency road service: 800-972-8872
Business phone: 800-438-8961
Covering the U.S. and Canada, FleetNet America is owned by Arkansas Best Corporation but not affiliated with any manufacturer, vendor, or supplier. President and founder Oren Summer was director of maintenance of the now defunct Carolina Freight Carriers when he devised a road breakdown service network to serve the fleet. It worked so well that senior management told him to market the business to outside customers back in 1993. When that fleet later merged with Arkansas Best, many Carolina Freight mechanics became FleetNet
co-ordinators. They handle about 8000 calls a month.
The company has 60,000 vendors in its computer system. Most are independent
vendors, although OE dealers are used when a customer requests it and/or when
warranty work or electronics diagnostics are involved.
The toll-free number is manned 24/7 by experienced professionals who in some
cases are able to provide solutions by phone, thus avoiding a road call. Average
downtime from initial call to being repaired and running again is 1.8 hours.
There’s no membership requirement or monthly fee. The charge is $50 per call for customers without an existing account, payable through nearly any payment option used on the road, from credit cards to Comcheks. If the service co-ordinator can
advise you on how to fix the problem yourself, there’s no charge.
FleetNet America will handle all vendor bills, paying the vendor involved so that you don’t have to worry about taking care of it while you’re on the road. Its service charge will be added to the bill. Setting up an account demands that you complete a service agreement, credit application, and customer profile.
Freightliner Customer Assistance Center
Freightliner’s Customer Assistance Center will – free of charge – pinpoint the
truck’s location and locate the nearest service facility. It will then connect the caller and the dealer or other repair service on the phone to figure out the best way to get the truck moving again, and stay with the call until the disabled truck gets help.
“We’ll try to assess what the difficulty is, and we’ll send a mobile unit out – which is less expensive – if we can,” says Bruce Lohse, manager of customer assistance. “If we can’t figure it out or it’s something a mobile unit can’t handle, we’ll get a tow truck out to the nearest Freightliner dealership or into an independent if there’s not a dealer in the area. Our whole focus is trying to get that vehicle running again. We’ve even gone to competitive dealers.”
The CAC also helps with parts availability issues. “Even if our parts distribution
centers are closed, we have cell phone numbers for key personnel who can get a
part and ship it for us,” Lohse says.
And note, the Freightliner Customer Assistance Center number works with Western Star and Sterling trucks as well.
International Emergency Breakdown Service
International’s Emergency Breakdown Service handles all makes of vehicles, including trailers, through a repair network of 16,000 locations throughout North America. It’s available to owner-operators and small fleets enrolled in the Diamond Advantage credit card program. There’s a $35-per-call administrative fee.
Clearly, one of the benefits of this service is the truck-maker’s extensive dealer
network. With more dealers than anyone else, the company says, there’s probably a better chance you can turn a breakdown repair into a warranty claim rather than
an ordinary out-of-pocket fix.
EBS repairs done at International dealerships are added to the Diamond
Advantage billing statement, so you don’t have to worry about setting up open
accounts along your routes, credit clearances or payment problems. Published
International parts pricing is consistent and guaranteed at participating locations.
If the International dealer is not available or backlogged, they’ll try to find the nearest repair facility.
Kenworth offers no-charge emergency roadside assistance for all makes of trucks. Registering is necessary, but free and simple to do by calling the 1-800 number above, and then all you need to do in the event of a breakdown is supply the location of the truck, its VIN number, and the nature of the problem.
“The customer doesn’t have to start calling around in the middle of the night,” says
Kenworth’s Parietti. “It’s not like you’ve got your local Yellow Pages. So you call 1-800-KW-assist and they do all that legwork for you. And they’ll call you back and
keep you informed.”
Sometimes the customer rep can identify what’s wrong and give you the advice needed to get your truck back up and running. If not, he’ll contact the nearest
participating Kenworth dealer or designated PremierCare provider to dispatch
assistance or get the truck to the shop. He has access to 50,000 service vendors
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Mack OneCall CompleteCare
Mack says its OneCall Complete Care service offers something many services
don’t: trained technicians on the phone who will try to walk you through a repair on
the side of the road. They’re also Mack employees, not third-party call centre
workers. Most of them are former technicians at Mack dealerships, carefully
screened for people skills and the ability to keep a cool head as well as for their mechanical know-how.
They’ll direct you to one of 500 Mack locations or 5000 approved independent
service facilities if they can’t get you rolling with on-the-spot advice.
When a driver calls the hotline, a Mack expert will identify the problem,
troubleshoot, and arrange for roadside repairs or towing if necessary. Mack promises that this will be done within an hour. Trucks equipped with GPS technology can be instantly located by OneCall technicians. If follow-up contact is needed, you’ll be connected to the same technician you originally spoke to.
The service is free, though it’s aimed at Mack owners only. In a trial call, we spoke to a very friendly ‘Dennis’ who said mechanics often use the service as well. He added that they’ve answered technicians’ questions on models going back as far as 1972.
Peterbilt TruckCare Services
Peterbilt’s breakdown service, part of its TruckCare Services, is free not only to its own customers but to anyone running any brand of truck. It will locate the nearest dealer and call to set up an appointment, or dispatch roadside assistance or a tow truck. If it’s an after-hours situation and it’s not a 24-hour dealer, the system provides information on an alternative service provider.
One of the first things the call center will do is get your phone number so they can
call back and keep you posted. Conversations are digitally recorded and can be
sent via e-mail to the dealer, so the dealer can actually hear you describe the problem.
Registration is free, and you can do it by phone (using the 1-800 number above) or on-line at www.peterbilt.com.
TTS (Truck Tire Service Corp.)
TTS was established in 1972 to help truckers with flat tires, but this emergency
road service has been expanded to include mechanical repairs, towing, onsite facility repairs, fleet maintenance, and inspection programs. Members dial a toll-free number, explain the situation, and help is dispatched, usually reaching the driver within an hour.
Based in Massachusetts, the company says it maintains an average “call to roll” time of less than two hours. There are no registration, membership or dispatch fees; members pay only for the service they use.
Volvo Action Service
800-528-6586 or 336-393-4989
Volvo Action Service (VAS) handles all makes of trucks. The service can get you
rolling again with the help of more than 50,000 service facilities throughout the
U.S. and Canada. Once the repair is finished, the repair facility bills VAS, which pays the bill, then invoices the customer.
The VAS database lists all OEM dealers (not just Volvo) as well as small
independent facilities. All the vendors are rated and reviewed quarterly.
In addition to routine technical service, VAS can also handle credit card
clearance, arrange hotel accommodations, arrange rental equipment, forward
loads, forward cash if extensive repairs are required, and audit repair bills.
The basic service is $99 per year per truck and includes emergency service, case
tracking via the Internet, a pre-approved credit program and rental assistance.
Customers also save money on purchases such as tires because the VAS call
center passes national account savings on to the truck owner.
Caterpillar Truck Engine Call Center
Cat’s Call Center will help make the necessary arrangements for emergency
assistance if you have a problem on the road. If repairs are needed, they’ll follow up with a call to the dealership or service facility to make sure the repair is being made and parts were received.
The toll-free number also offers a truck dealer and Cat dealer locator service, lets
you order literature on Cat engines, and answers non-emergency questions from
customers and dealers.
Call Cummins’ customer support line, and they can give you the phone number of
the nearest Cummins shop that’s open, for free.
You can get a higher level of service by signing up for Cummins UpTime. When you call in, your information is accessed in the computer. UpTime arranges for work to be done by the nearest Cummins distributorship or dealer with Cummins-certified mechanics, including arranging a tow if necessary. There’s a per-incident fee charged.
Detroit Diesel’s 800 number (printed on your engine’s rocker cover) connects
customers to a tech centre, not just a call centre, says Tom Freiwald, senior vice
president of marketing.
“You actually talk to a technician when you dial the number,” he says. “If they’re
unable to talk you through the issue you’re dealing with, we can dispatch someone
to help you, or if the truck’s still driveable, we can direct you to the nearest repair facility.”
Detroit has been offering its free service to customers since the late 1980s.