What to Do When Your Semi-Truck Breaks Down on the Side of the Road


Semi-truck breakdowns occur more frequently than passenger vehicles. For example, American Trucking Association‘s (ATA) Technology & Maintenance Council’s survey reported breakdowns to occur about every 10,000 miles.

Semi-truck breakdowns for truckers are costly and potentially dangerous events. Drivers must know how to handle them among the many hazardous scenarios they encounter on the road.

Semi-Truck Safety Tips

Because it is critical to manage roadside breakdowns safely, we put together these tips.

  • Stay calm.
  • Stop driving and pull over immediately.
  • Call 911, then roadside assistance, and notify your company.
  • Use flashing lights and other warning equipment to ensure your truck is visible to drivers.
  • Avoid exiting the cab on the driver’s side, and always be extra careful when leaving either side of the truck.
  • Park your vehicle as far off the road as possible.
  • Stay in the semi-truck if there is no present dangerous circumstance, such as explosions.

Stay Calm to Keep Your Cool

Emotions and frustrations can get the better of anyone. We recognize that telling you to keep calm after a breakdown occurs when you’re already running on very tight deadlines is a hard ask. But such scenarios are when you need your wits to keep yourself, passengers, other motorists, and your cargo safe.

If truckers panic or lose their cool during an emergency, they are more likely to make poor choices in the flurry of immediate decisions. Being calm is a signal of strength, and so is taking a minute to slow down and take a few deep breaths to shake off unnecessary anxiety. Moreover, your ability to stay calm and collected may save your life or the lives of others in the worst cases of roadside breakdowns.

Get to Your Safest Spot

If you notice that your semi-truck is having mechanical issues, you must get off the road or highway immediately. Look around to be aware of vehicles moving toward you, especially if your truck is stuck on the road and you can’t exit. Whenever possible, in such situations, it’s helpful to guide traffic to move around instead of having them stop behind you to prevent being hit from behind and to avoid pile-up accidents behind you.

If you can safely make it to the side of the road, you’ll keep traffic moving and reduce the odds of your breakdown causing an accident. Look for the broadest hard road safe location possible; offramps are always better than roadside.

Call for Help

Dial 911 for help as soon as you have steered your truck to a safe spot. Tell the responder what happened. Answer their questions honestly and provide details about your location. Whenever possible, drivers should limp to repair shops, truck stops, or rest stations, which are all better and safer than waiting on the shoulder of the road.

Owner-operator Roadside Assistance

While you never want it to happen, expecting and preparing for the worst situations affects your outcome. Know who you will call before you need to contact them. Owner-operators are responsible for creating their list of repair facilities and safe stopping locations. A reliable guide to emergency resources provides peace of mind that you will get back on the road sooner.

Company Drivers Instructions

After reporting the problem to 911, company drivers should immediately contact their dispatcher or manager. In addition, your support can provide instructions for handling the breakdown, including what tow truck service is responding to and information on the facility that will repair the truck.

Providing your dispatcher with helpful information or indications about the problem is beneficial. Anything you can do or information you provide that can speed up getting you back on the road is worth sharing. Sometimes, a shop supervisor can advise on relatively simple, safe fixes that don’t require assistance or vehicle towing.

Create a Safety Zone Around the Semi-Truck

In all circumstances, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) require drivers immediately turn on their vehicle’s four-way flashing hazard lights when they must stop on the road for any reason. In addition, the 4-way flashers must be left on until the required emergency warning devices are placed according to FMCSR regulations.

Although regulations state emergency warning devices must be placed within 10 minutes of a semi-truck’s emergency stopping, it’s best to set them in place as soon as the unit is safely parked. Drivers should protect their safety by carrying the flashing devices so oncoming traffic can see them. Options for acceptable warning devices include reflective triangles, lighted lamps, and lighted fuses. When experiencing a roadside emergency, drivers must place three warning devices as follows:

  1. Place one on the traffic side of the vehicle, approximately ten feet or four steps apart, facing approaching traffic.
  2. In the center of the traffic lane or the road shoulder behind the truck, place the second device at 100 feet, approximately 40 paces, in the direction of approaching traffic.
  3. The third warning device goes in the traffic lane center or the road’s shoulder. Place them at 100 feet or 40 paces in front of the vehicle facing oncoming traffic.

Carry an Emergency Toolkit

A semi-truck should have the proper tools and supplies to fix it on the spot if it does break down, including a jack, tire iron, spare tire, jumper cables, flares, and a flashlight. Truckers should also carry standard automotive tools such as wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, and sockets. Having spare parts for items known to fail helps get you up and running quickly.

At Western Truck, we help our clients with all their trucking-related insurance needs, including providing best-in-class commercial truck roadside assistance services. Our clients get an array of services to help them get back on the road quickly while saving thousands in out-of-pocket expenses. Learn about our affordable Commercial Truck Roadside Assistance Benefits here.

About Western Truck Insurance Services

Western Truck Insurance Services is a commercial truck insurance agency with roots dating back to 1954. We have evolved into a highly respected, professionally managed truck and transportation insurance brokerage. The hallmark of our organization is our desire to provide unparalleled service. We go way beyond what you expect to receive from an insurance brokerage. Equipped with state-of-the-art automation, Western Truck Insurance can provide you with lightning-fast truck insurance quotes, customer service, Insurance certificates, and coverage changes. Contact us at (800) 937-8785 to talk to our trucking insurance experts!