Common Causes of Semi-Truck Breakdowns | Tri-State Truck


Common Causes of Semi-Truck Breakdowns

If preventative maintenance is completed in a consistent manner, you’re already taking the necessary steps to prevent a semi-truck breakdown. However, the more miles you drive, the more at risk you are of breaking down and ending up on the phone with dispatch or calling in a heavy-duty tow. To further prevent this, it’s important to know when and what to look for on your semi truck. The common causes of semi-truck breakdowns include: 

  • Tire issues
  • Overheating
  • Electrical Issues
  • Oil leaks
  • Brake-related issues
  • Age

Tire Issues

Complications involving tires account for more than 50% of overall roadside breakdowns. These statistics make sense considering your tires receive the brunt of whatever is on the road. Tire failure happens for several reasons, including but not limited to:

  • A flat or blowout
  • Misaligned axles
  • Low tread depth
  • And underinflation

While hitting something on the road cannot always be avoided, it’s important to do pre-trip checks for things like air pressure, cracks, excessive wear, or any audible leaks. By checking your tires thoroughly before heading out, you can significantly reduce your chances of ending up on the shoulder due to tire issues.


If your semi-truck is overheating, it’s important to find the cause as quickly as possible as your truck may need servicing. There are four main parts that may be causing your truck to overheat. 

  • Thermostat
  • Radiator hose
  • Head Gasket
  • Loose or Broken Belt

The thermostat on your semi-truck opens and closes based on the heat coming from the engine. If this mechanism does not work properly, coolant will not flow to the engine, and overheating will happen. 

Another possibility is the radiator hose. Radiator hoses are notorious for wearing down quickly and leaking. By replacing these every five or so years, you can limit your chances of overheating due to radiator hose issues. 

A leak or blow in the head gasket may also cause overheating. This is fairly easy to recognize due to the smoke that comes out of the hood. 

The last reason why your semi-truck may be overheating is a loose or broken belt. These are responsible for making sure coolant is flowing through your truck’s system correctly. If they are loose or broken, coolant will not flow, and overheating will occur. 

Electrical Issues

There are many components in the electrical system of a semi-truck that can cause it to break down, such as the starter motor, alternator, and battery. These are three crucial parts of your semi truck's operation and without proper function, your truck will not run. Signs that usually indicate an issue with the electrical system include:

  • Flickering lights
  • Strange odors
  • Clicking noises
  • Corroded battery
  • Dysfunctional meters or gauges

To determine which electrical issue you’re experiencing, check your fuse box. If you cannot identify the source of the issue from there, it’s most likely due to your battery or alternator. You will need to find an experienced technician to diagnose and fix the issue before any extensive repairs are needed.

Oil Leaks

If you’ve seen oil on the asphalt around your truck, there’s a higher risk of engine failure or vehicular fires. Oil leaks can happen anywhere within the engine of a semi-truck. Because oil helps lubricate the moving parts of your truck, a bad or prolonged leak could result in metal-on-metal contact that eventually causes parts to fail. Once a leak is identified, it should be addressed quickly. Check the gaskets of the valve cover and seals of the timing cover. If a leak is found, you can use a stop leak additive to seal it until a more permanent solution is found. If you discover that a leak is coming from a loose bolt, you can utilize a torque wrench to tighten the bolt. 

Brake-related Issues

Brake-related issues account for almost 30% of semi-truck accidents because of the consistent heat and pressure causing them to wear down.  Unlike tires and other common reasons for breakdowns, brake-related issues are almost completely preventable. Common brake-related issues include:

  • General wear and tear
  • Air leaks
  • Corrosion
  • Internal water contamination

Regular maintenance and brake testing should prevent a brake-related breakdown from happening. If you are needing a brake or other part replacement, take a look at our monthly part specials for deals on commonly needed semi-truck parts.


Much like other vehicles, the older your semi-truck is the more likely you are to experience a breakdown. Semi-trucks can typically drive for 750,000 to 1,000,000 miles as long as it is properly maintained. This equals out to around 15 years of drive time assuming a truck goes about 45,000 miles annually. With an aging truck, you are more likely to experience unexpected breakdowns, but there are a few things you can look out for, including:

  • Significant decrease in gas mileage
  • Oil and water leaks
  • Difficulty reaching speed

With an older truck, you may have to do more pre-travel maintenance than with a new truck, especially if you are not fully familiar with the maintenance history. 

Trust Tri-State Truck

Tri-State Truck offers maintenance services that can lessen your risks of breaking down, such as electrical system repairs, engine overhauls, brake inspection, and more. Our experienced technicians can help make sure your truck is 100% ready for the journey ahead. Don’t want to be liable for your own maintenance? Tri-State Truck also leases high-quality trucks for appropriate costs. Since a lessee is not taking ownership of a semi-truck when rented, they are not responsible for the costs associated with a breakdown. Leasing with Tri-State Truck guarantees that whatever truck you drive off our lot has been thoroughly checked for common causes of semi-truck breakdowns. 


Posted by Stephanie Thorne at 10:24