Semi-Truck Repairs: Can I Do Them Myself?
As a driver, you take great pride in your equipment. You know it inside and out, like the back of your hand. You know when it’s making a sound it shouldn’t be or if it’s running slightly off. So it only makes sense that you’d also want to repair it, shine it up and show it off.
So, can you fix your semi-truck yourself?
A lot of drivers, just like you, are wondering about this, but the answer isn’t black and white. There are several key factors that will determine if you can or cannot fix your semi-truck as a truck driver — including whether you own your truck and the policies of your trucking company.
Do you own your truck? Are you leasing it? Are you a company driver? How large is the company you work for? Is the truck still under warranty? Each of these answers will help determine if you can fix your truck.
As the road service manager here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), I speak to drivers all day about whether or not they can fix their truck and, if they can, what they can fix.
I’m here to help you understand if you can fix your truck and if you can’t, why not.
By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have an understanding of what you can and can’t do to your truck so that you aren’t in violation of any company policies or truck warranties.
Can I Fix My Semi-Truck Myself?
The answer is, it depends. Let’s break it down depending on what type of driver you are: owner-operators or company drivers and independent contractors/lease operators.
As an owner-operator with title in hand and full ownership of the truck, you can do as you please and make your own truck repairs as you see fit.
However, that by no means suggests that you should. Consider what you’re doing and understand your limits. If you’re just fixing something minor, like your headlight, that’s one thing. If you’re attempting to fix something on your engine with little to no experience, that’s another.
Trucks have evolved; they’re no longer just a truck with hard components. There’s an engine and the after-treatment system and they’re both controlled by different computers.
There are numerous sensors that read and monitor how the parts are functioning together. That means troubleshooting an issue is done through technology. If you’re educated in that area, have the software to troubleshoot the issue and are comfortable enough to fix it, then that’s your choice to fix it. Or, you can leave it to the trained professionals.
Keep in mind that if you do repair your truck yourself, your warranty may be considered null and void. Truck parts under warranty need to be fixed by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or a certified dealer.
If you were to bring your truck into the shop and the part is under warranty, the repair would be covered. If you fix it yourself, you won’t be reimbursed. And because you fixed it yourself and broke the warranty, if that part fails or causes damage to other parts of the system, it’s money straight out of your pocket.
Company Drivers and Lease Operators
As a company driver or an independent contractor, truck repairs are a totally different story. At most trucking companies, you won’t be allowed to repair your truck yourself. For example, ATS company drivers and lease drivers aren’t able to fix their trucks.
Every trucking company is different. Some smaller trucking companies with a few trucks in the fleet may allow you to fix your truck — especially if you have mechanic experience. If you’re confused about how this applies to you, you should always call your company before fixing anything on your truck. You could be in violation of your contract if you alter something that you're not supposed to.
Why Shouldn’t I Fix My Semi-Truck Myself? [Three Reasons]
When it comes down to why you shouldn’t fix your truck as a company driver or a lease operator, there are three primary reasons: warranties, safety and liability.
1. You’ll Void the Warranty
One of the primary reasons you shouldn’t attempt to fix your truck yourself is because you’ll void the warranty. Trucks come with manufacturer warranties and many companies will purchase extended warranty coverage to protect their assets.
When a truck is under warranty, a certified dealer or technician needs to work on that truck. If you work on it while it’s under warranty, you’ll void the warranty. You can’t be reimbursed for the repair and you can’t expect coverage if that part fails again in the future.
Additionally, if that part fails and causes progressive damage on other parts of the truck, you void the warranty on those parts as well. You’ll pay for these repairs out-of-pocket — company driver or independent contractor.
That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that you have your truck fixed by the appropriate mechanic or shop. You shouldn’t just go to your friend down the street that’s a mechanic — unless they’re a certified dealer that can perform warranty work. Take it to the OEM dealer or a shop that is certified. Ideally, your trucking company will be certified to do warranty repair, but don’t just assume this; some trucking companies aren’t.
2. Your Safety is at Risk
Repairing your truck yourself poses a major safety risk and the reason is twofold: You can hurt yourself while fixing the truck and you can repair the truck incorrectly and cause an accident if the part malfunctions.
Let’s consider that you want to replace your windshield wipers — which is a minor fix that is typically allowed by many companies. However, to do so, you’ll have to open your hood and climb on your tire. Conversely, you may use a ladder to reach the windshield. What if you were to slip and fall and hurt yourself?
Depending on whether you’re a company driver or an independent contractor, the company may or may not cover you. If you’re in the course and scope of your employment as a company driver, you may be covered under worker’s compensation. If not, your case could be denied. As an independent contractor, if you’re under a load, you may be covered under the Occupational Accident Policy if you’ve purchased it.
If you’re not covered and you badly injure yourself, you could be left with costly hospital bills. In this case, it may be worth it to instead take your truck to a local truck stop to have the wipers put on by a technician.
If you inadvertently make a mistake repairing something on your truck, you have the potential to not only harm the asset (the truck and yourself), but you can harm the motoring public. It’s best to leave repairs to the professionals.
At most companies, you’ll be required to have a maintenance account to help cover repair costs. However, if you fix the truck and that part fails and causes progressive damage to other parts of the truck, the cost of the repairs may be taken out of your settlement — not your maintenance account — due to driver error. On the other hand, if a vendor or the company incorrectly fixes the truck, they’ll be responsible for the costs to repair the damage.
Let’s consider another scenario in which you put on a set of tires. Let’s say that you don’t torque the tires properly and when you’re going down the road doing 65, you have a wheel fall off. Hypothetically, let’s say the wheel hits a car and that car gets into a bad accident. That accident could have been prevented had you not completed the repair yourself.
This leads to the next issue with repairing something yourself: liability.
In the scenario above, where your wheel hits another vehicle, your trucking company is responsible for any damages, injuries or deaths since you’re running under the company’s Department of Transportation (DOT) number. If an accident of this magnitude occurs when you’re running under your own authority as an owner-operator, you would be liable.
The driver that was injured can also bring punitive damages against ATS for “negligent entrustment,” meaning the company put its trust in the driver to repair the truck, despite not being a certified repair facility or an authorized technician. These charges can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages depending on the severity of the damage.
This is important to remember, whether you’re a company driver, independent contractor or owner-operator. You shouldn’t be fixing your truck unless you are certified to do so.
It can be frustrating when you can’t fix your truck yourself, but you must consider that if you’re a lease driver (or even a company driver), there’s a likelihood that a driver will be in that same truck after you.
For example, if you’re in a one-year lease and the driver who had the truck before you made a repair three months ago and that part fails when you get in it, you’re responsible for that repair. It will come out of your maintenance account.
Now consider that you’re the one who did the repairs and you turned your truck in once the truck lease terms were up. You could be the reason a driver is broken down because you inadvertently made a mistake while repairing the truck or that part failed.
What Can I Fix Myself?
There are minor fixes you can typically do yourself. Again, be sure you check with your company.
Minor fixes like replacing a headlight or taillight are fine. You can change the mudflaps or taillights on your trailer too. Keep in mind that you can also go to a truck stop, buy the light and have them replace it for you easily.
You can also change your windshield wipers, but you should be careful when doing this so that you don’t slip and injure yourself.
You can also top off your fluids — in fact, it’s always recommended that you do this during your pre-trip inspections. Failure to do so can lead to a costly tow or callout.
For instance, if your truck is low on coolant or oil, trucks can detect it and they won’t run. A mobile fix bill has gotten even costlier following the pandemic. You’ll pay dollars per mile, a set callout fee and an hourly rate port-to-port.
That means that the moment you call someone to help you, you’ll be charged for their time until they go back to the shop and tell their supervisor the job was completed. You’ll be paying on average a $200 callout fee, about $150 to $250 per hour and as high as $10 dollars per mile on every mile. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, that can add up quickly.
Schedule Regular Preventative Maintenance
Every company is different and makes its own individual decisions regarding whether or not drivers can repair their trucks themselves. It goes back to the size of the fleet and the company’s philosophy. However, you can count on most larger carriers to disallow drivers to repair their own trucks.
You might be frustrated that you can’t complete a minor fix yourself, but it’s important to think of yourself, the truck and the motoring public — and the safety of all involved. Leave it to the professionals.
One way you can help avoid costly repairs is by going into the shop for regular preventative maintenance. Not only is it important to maintain your vehicle, but regular shop visits can increase the likelihood that technicians will spot an issue and repair it before it becomes a major problem.