— by Paul Hartley, special correspondent
When truckers wax nostalgic about the industry’s “good old days,” they’re probably forgetting about the frequent roadside robberies back then, most of them done in the name of emergency repairs.
The trucking industry was once a pretty easy mark for anyone armed with a pickup truck, toolset and ill intent. Stranded along the road somewhere between Hoodwink and Jerkwater, unwitting drivers had little choice but hire any mobile service operator who claimed to be legitimate. Stories of shoddy workmanship and price gouging were commonplace.
Although the potential for such thievery still exists, it’s greatly diminished, thanks to the vast amount of vendor information now available on the Web, over the phone and in printed directories. Today, every truck OEM and most major component manufacturers offer some type of breakdown support to truckers. Several independent outlets do the same.
The price of this assistance varies. Internet resources — and a couple of OEM-sponsored call centers — are free. Other programs come with a price, usually ranging from $27 to $44 per incident. The difference between free and fee typically hinges on something called “case management,” a more extensive level of service that can include detailed vehicle histories, invoice auditing — even repair-payment arrangements.
All of these “sourcing” outlets are helpful for finding an appropriate shop when mechanical misfortune strikes, but none can promise rock-bottom pricing on repairs, particularly those performed in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Most people expect to pay a bit more when they’re outside of their home area.
The best way to limit your exposure to these expenses is, of course, with good preventive maintenance.
According to call center managers, tire repairs account for about 40 percent of roadside breakdowns. Most other problems involve small things like failed belts and hoses, which could easily be spotted in a thorough preventive maintenance program.
When your best efforts fail, though, and some widget has thrown in the proverbial towel unexpectedly, it’s good to know that reputable, qualified help is just a call, or Internet search, away. Below are some of the support networks catering to the trucking industry.
Covered for trouble
Bridgestone/Firestone, 1-866-464-2914: OOIDA members now have several service options through Bridgestone/Firestone, just like the big fleets do. The most basic of these is a tire-buying program that guarantees pricing at any authorized dealer. The company also offers two levels of repair support: referral (free) and full case-management that costs $27 per incident for tires and $37 for repairs. Users benefit from the company’s collective experience, says Dave Kolasinsky, manager of truck tire marketing. “Most of our agents typically know what’s acceptable on breakdowns,” he says, “and they can act as advocates for the truckers.”
To take advantage of the National Preferred program, you must be an OOIDA member.
Caterpillar, 1-800-447-4986: Cat’s call center, opening more than 20 years ago, predates all other such services in the industry. The center is intended for Cat engine owners, but it’s open to all registered callers. Repairs are routed to the nearest of roughly 2,500 authorized Caterpillar facilities across North America. The company doesn’t control vendor pricing, but does investigate accusations of abuse. “Occasionally, we’ll hear about someone charging ‘list plus,’” says Louie Vachon, customer services manager. “That’s when we get involved and start asking questions.”
Fleetnet America, 1-800-438-8961: Fleetnet is a comprehensive breakdown service used by big boys like FedEx Ground, USA Truck and Maverick Transportation. They will extend the same service, however, to one owner with one truck. The company has a database of roughly 60,000 approved vendors, who are constantly monitored for performance and pricing. Abuse is not tolerated, says Oren Summer, Fleetnet’s president. “At the first hint of overcharging, we immediately lower a vendor’s rating, and he’s not used again. I have people here who do nothing but audit repair invoices.” Fleetnet customers pay $44 per incident.
Freightliner, 1-800-FTL-HELP: Freightliner offers two levels of breakdown support. One, a simple referral service, is free. The other, a “managed care program,” costs $35 per incident. The company’s dealer network is the primary repair resource. However, staffers will also direct small problems to nearby TravelCenters of America or independent shops. Bruce Lohse, customer assistance center manager, says vendors aren’t formally rated, but staffers keep notes on each call. “We know who the good ones are and who the bad ones are,” he says.
Goodyear, 1-877-4-TIRES-NOW: Any trucker can use Goodyear’s call center, regardless of the brand of tires they’re running. The company’s dealers — more than 1,800 across North America — are the primary service providers. Goodyear also offers a preferred buying program that guarantees pricing on tires, labor, road service and mileage. “We think this option is especially important to owner-operators who want an idea of what they’ll pay for tires and repairs while away from home,” Says Kris Fettig, Goodyear’s manager of 4-TIRES-NOW.
Kenworth, 1-800-KW-ASSIST: When the unexpected occurs, no matter where KW owners are in the United States or Canada, help is just one phone call away. 1-800-KW-ASSIST connects you to Kenworth’s support specialists, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s part of their Premier Care program. The Kenworth Call Center can dispatch assistance, locate nearby service centers, order required parts, schedule service appointments and keep you up-to-date on the status of your truck.
Mack Trucks, 1-800-866-1177: Mack’s program, OneCall CompleteCare, is different from most other OEMs’. Its call center staff is allowed — and trained — to diagnose problems over the phone. If that’s not enough to get the job done, however, the company promises to arrange for towing within one hour of the initial call. The downed vehicle is sent to the nearest Mack dealer or authorized shop.
Navistar International, 1-888-342-7600: Navistar has several service programs for customers. The prices depend on a truck’s specs and warranty coverage. International dealers are the first choice for repairs, but if none are nearby or available, staffers will direct callers to one of 16,000 approved vendors in the company’s database. Every job is closely monitored, says Mark Vehlewald, director of Diamond Services Marketing for Navistar International. “We have a method of certifying vendors who can deliver the goods in the fashion we like, and we quickly eliminate those who don’t.”
NTTS Breakdown Directory, 1-800-288-0002: Since its founding in 1989, the NTTS Breakdown Directory has become the leading publication for finding truck repair vendors. Now it’s also on the Internet (www.otrrepair.com). Hardcopy versions of the book sell for $49.95, but the Web site is free. NTTS founder Lane Goebel says he monitors vendor behavior and quickly resolves problems. “I get one or two complaints a week and take care of them myself,” he says. “Often, I’ve had repair or towing companies refund money just to stay in the book.”
Peterbilt, 1-800-4-PETERBILT: Pete’s call center is a free service for registered users. Callers are directed to the nearest Peterbilt dealer or a designated independent service vendor in that dealer’s territory. Lori Price, customer center manager, says her staffers handle any malfunction that truckers might encounter, from tires to drivelines to engines. “Our customers want one-stop shopping,” she says, “and we provide it.” The center has no control over pricing, but it does monitor the performance of dealers and their representative vendors.
Truckdown.com, 1-888-683-3379: Truckdown.com, as the name implies, is primarily an Internet-based service. In January, though, the company began offering phone support to truckers without computer access. Callers are assessed a $60 annual fee, but Web users pay nothing. Bob Toews, vice president of operations, is proud of his information’s accuracy. “Our role in life here is to constantly verify everything on the site,” he says. Vendors are added to the database only after they’re deemed legitimate, and they are quickly deleted if proven dishonest or incompetent.