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Common Causes for Over-the-Road Truck Breakdowns

Be aware of common causes of breakdowns to catch potential issues before they leave you on the side of the road.

Be aware of common causes of breakdowns to catch potential issues before they leave you on the side of the road.

Any commercial truck driver will tell you breakdowns are inevitable. Unfortunately, part of the job of driving a truck is putting up with breakdowns and their associated down time waiting for a tow truck or repairs, plus the unplanned costs of those repairs. Drivers can’t totally prevent breakdowns, but being informed and watching for warning signs will minimize breakdowns and therefore minimize downtime.

First, preventive maintenance and pre-trip inspections are critical to keeping your truck in top running condition. Don’t skip these important tasks – doing so will only cost you more time and money in the long run. Even with a strong maintenance and inspection program, your truck may breakdown on the road unexpectedly. See below for some of the common causes and what you can do to minimize the risk.


Is your truck taking longer to turn over when you start the engine? Do your cabin and headlights flicker when idling? Often, these are telltale signs of a weak battery or alternator. Ask your mechanic to thoroughly inspect these, as they will completely fail quickly if not replaced.


Brake systems commonly fail on the road because of air leaks, corrosion, or internal water contamination. Make sure you check the entire braking system as part of your pre-trip inspections to look for any corrosion or cracked lines.

Clutch Cable

Older clutch cables corrode and break over time. This will leave you on the side of the highway unable to shift or experiencing gear slipping. Do you know how old your clutch cable is? If not, ask your mechanic to check it out and advise its expected useful life.

Leaking Oil

Do you smell a slight burning smell or see smoke coming out of the hood? Often a small oil leak will drip onto hot engine parts and burn up while driving. This is important to check out immediately. Even a small oil leak through an old gasket means your engine isn’t getting that lubrication for its internal moving parts, and this can result in catastrophic engine failure down the road. Fix the oil leak as soon as you notice it.


Is your engine running hotter than normal, even on flat roads and without pulling a load? Your radiator may be malfunctioning or have a small leak. Get it checked out immediately because a faulty radiator can affect other engine components and become a major (and costly) problem.


Tires most often fail on the road and cause a blowout when they are under-inflated or have too little tread left. Minimize the risk to you and people driving around you caused by a blowout by spending more time inspecting your tires during the pre-trip inspection.

You can minimize the risk of your over-the-road truck unexpectedly breaking down by keeping aware of the key systems and how they are performing. Spending a few extra minutes during your pre-trip inspection and asking the mechanic to do a once over on key systems will catch any issues before they fail and leave you stuck on the side of the road.