Just a call away

by Harry Rudolfs

So it’s good to know that there are lifelines available. Just about every North American truck manufacturer and engine builder offers toll-free 800 numbers for support.

Humans that field calls from stranded drivers across North America man these 24-hour, seven-day-a-week switchboards. “If you call us on Christmas day, we’ll say ‘Merry Christmas'” says Rick Reynolds, a customer service representative for Freightliner in Portland, Ore., referring to the never-close services.

From there, such services are able to gather information for a diagnosis, find the closest repair centre, and arrange for towing.

Reynolds estimates that his office fields from 30-50 breakdown calls a day, not just from Freightliner or Sterling operators, but from owners of all types of trucks. “I think they’re pretty happy to have the service,” he says. “We have drivers call us and tell us their truck is dead. We’ll try to walk them through it over the phone and get them going again. If that doesn’t work, I have access to an extensive database we can try to get some help for them in the nearest town.”

Volvo service technician Dave Langlois agrees. “The important thing is to get them going again in the most cost-effective manner,” he says. “If it’s a turbo failure problem, it’s no use in sending a service truck. Even if they get started again, they’ll be picking metal parts out of the engine.”

Volvo is unique in that it has bilingual technicians available in Toronto who deal almost exclusively with Canadian drivers. Langlois thinks this is important service for a French-speaking trucker that breaks down in California or Texas. So too will the service link with its European counterparts to direct a call in another language.

Steve Langdon, a supervisor at Volvo Action Service, thinks the Canadian connection is important to drivers. “Canadian and Americans have a different understanding of service. Canadians expect 110 per cent,” he says.

Satellite tracking allows telephone technicians to talk to drivers through satellite receivers in areas that cell phones won’t reach.

Joe Johnson of the Paccar service center in Renton, Wash. says he is fully set up to service Canadian customers. If there is a language barrier, he can patch into an AT&T interpreter.

Paccar, which handles customer enquiries separately on its Kenworth and Peterbilt lines, also has a service that allows truck owners and fleet managers to check the status of the downed truck on line, what the corporation calls “real-time repair estimates via the Internet.” But Johnson thinks it is reassuring for a driver with a breakdown to be able to talk directly to another person. “Most important, of course, is finding the quickest method of getting the truck back on the road,” he says.

Mack is one of the newest entrants into the realm of toll-free service. A call to the Mack hotline goes into its One Call Center in Allentown, Pa., making a direct link to a human operator. Service representative Mike Berger estimates he gets about a dozen calls per shift from around the continent. “It’s definitely valuable that the driver only has to make one phone call,” he says.

The Mack service deals with Mack trucks only. Plugging in the operators’ VINs allows a service technician access to data on a particular truck, as well as warranty information.

Lyle Rattray, a sales representative at Toronto Mack, sees the 800 numbers as an important aspect of after-sales service

“It’s for anything, not just breakdowns – technical support, vendor complaints. I think they’re important to give a guy confidence after buying a $100,000 truck,” he says.

Katie works for the International Help Line in Chicago, Ill. and gets about 50 calls a week from drivers with mechanical problems. Technical support is available on the phone during the day, but she will find you the closest dealer or outside vendor. n

Here’s how to keep in touch:

Caterpillar – 1-800-447-4986

Cummins – 1-800-DIESELS

Detroit Diesel – 1-800-332-4410 (Detroit Diesel serial number is


Freightliner – 1-800-FTL-HELP

International – 1-800-44TRUCK

Kenworth – 1-800-KWASSIST

Mack – 1-800-866-1177 (exclusive to Mack products)

Peterbilt – 1-800-4PETERBILT

Sterling – 1-800-STL-HELP

Volvo – 1-800-528-6586

Western Star – 1-877-846-4044

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