The trucking industry is enormous, employing up to 8.9 million people across the US, with 3.5 million truck drivers running an estimated 2 million semi-trucks and 5.6 million semi-trailers.
Are you one of the 3.5 million semi-truck drivers on America’s highways?
If so, you know the importance of safety. You’ve seen enough accidents and break downs to know you need to take precautions that go beyond obeying the laws and checking your load.
Safety also includes having a toolbox full of essential tools to help you out of a jam. In other words, you need to prepare for the worst (while hoping for the best).
In this guide, we highlight some of these essential items and tools every semi-truck driver needs.
Whether you’re self-employed or you’re the fleet manager, make sure you—and everyone on your team—have these supplies handy for every drive, no matter the distance.
1. A Stocked Toolbox
Well, this one is kind of a no brainer. Even if you’re no mechanic, you owe it to yourself to have a few essential tools handy.
What should be inside your semi-truck toolbox?
That might depend on several factors, such as the make and model of your vehicle, how far your runs are, etc. But in general, most trucks should have at least the following:
- Screwdrivers in a variety of sizes (Phillips, slotted, Torx, and Hex). Bonus points for ratcheting screwdrivers, which will save you time and wrist strain. If space is tight, opt for a single driver with interchangeable heads.
- A full socket set. A 1” ratchet strap or bungee cord will help keep the kit closed when the plastic clips inevitably break.
- A utility knife, such as an Olfa, pocket knife or multi-tool. Best to keep more than one, and have a small one handy on your belt or visor, even if it’s just for opening chips.
- Vice grips and pony clamps.
- A work lamp with extra batteries. Keep a few carabiners and a sling with it so that you can mount or hang it.
- A pair of work gloves. If your runs take you through cold climates, add an insulated pair as well. The last thing you need is cold hands AND a breakdown.
- Pliers. A good pair of slip joints can accommodate several different sizes. Linesman pliers are a classic toolbox staple, as well. If you’ve got space in the toolbox, needle nose pliers are great for tight spaces and tiny objects.
- Crescent wrenches in a few different sizes. 8” is “standard,” but a small adjustable C wrench can be surprisingly handy, and excellent for getting in hard to reach places.
- A “dogbone” or speed wrench in your most commonly used sizes. Just like a ratcheting screwdriver, this will save you time and wrist strain.
- Band-Aids. Feel like you end up skinning your knuckles every time you spin a wrench? Keep a few of these in your toolbox, as well as your first aid kid.
You can add other items to this list as needed (a 3lb sledgehammer comes in handy a lot, even if it doesn’t always fit nicely in a toolbox). You may not need to use these tools for a long time, if ever—but when it comes to driving, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
2. Vice Grips
Yes, we just mentioned these above, but they’re so useful they deserve a second mention.
Vice grips are a real ‘jack of all trades’ tool that’s always coming in handy in new ways.
More than just a tight grip, they can also bend wire, act as a lever, or keep things together and locked into place. They’re great for grabbing the release arm on tandems, and In a pinch, you can use vise grips to cinch a leaky tube until you can get to Kelly’s.
Vice grips make our list because they’re also a great “stand-in” when you don’t have the right tool or size of wrench handy. You can use them to loosen frozen nuts, remove a broken screw, get leverage on a seized nut, or temporarily clamp just about anything.
It’s worth noting that because of their strength, you’ll need to apply them to something that can withstand their toughness; a big pair of vice grips will tear upholstery or otherwise break weaker materials if not careful.
For best results, stock vice grips in a few different sizes for different uses. You’ll never regret having an extra pair in the toolbox.
3. Electrical Tape
Electrical tape can be a cheap, quick solution that works well in several situations. It may be able to keep you on the road just long enough before you can make it to Kelly’s, especially if your problem is wiring-related.
Once stretched, electrical tape bonds to itself rather than relying on an adhesive. Over time, this insulating wrap can completely bond with itself, forming a sturdy seal that protects things like tubes and wires.
If you’re having electrical issues, this is the only tape you’ll want to use to insulate or connect wires.
Beware, though, the adhesive can get gummy and sticky in hot weather, so you may want to keep a roll in the cab where it’s cooler.
Since we’re on the topic of tape – an extra roll of duct tape never hurt anybody, either.
There are so many times a flashlight will come in handy. Whether it’s checking under the hood, doing a circle check at night, or just navigating a rest stop with lousy lighting, a flashlight (or two) is always a necessity.
While the flashlight on your phone is probably your go-to, keep a few extras stored for when your phone isn’t practical, available, or charged.
A small LED light on your keyring is great for navigating locks in dimly lit parking lots. A mini Mag-lite in a belt holster is useful to have on you for taking a peek under the hood. If you need to get down and dirty, a headlamp will keep your hands free while you work.
Finally, a large flashlight is great if you need to check around your truck, or if your stop takes you into a place with bad or nonexistent lighting. In an emergency, you can use this to alert first responders to your location as well.
No matter what flashlight you choose, always carry extra batteries. Keep them out of extreme heat to prevent corrosion. Write the year you purchased the batteries on the package, and toss alkaline batteries after 5-10 years (10 if you’ve kept them cool, 5 or less if they’ve been exposed to the elements or temperature changes).
The bottom line – no one has ever said, “Jeez, if only I didn’t have so many flashlights.”
5. Air Pressure Gauge
Tire pressure gauges are an incredibly useful tool for any vehicle, including semi-trucks.
They’re small, easy to store in a toolbox and the best tool for checking your tire pressure.
You’re not going to check every single tire with a gauge. But if a sledgehammer tap reveals a tire that sounds different from the other 17, you’ve got some investigating to do, and this is the tool to do it.
For a tool that doesn’t take up more space than a pencil, the usefulness and peace of mind an air pressure gauge provides is well worth it.
6. Ratchet Straps
Regardless of what you’re transporting, and where, ratchet straps are fantastic semi-truck tool to have on hand.
These straps can help you secure almost anything—from an extra strap on your load, keeping dunnage organized, or just holding a milk crate full of straps in place, you’ll never regret having a few extras.
Straps can always help as an added measure of security, especially if you tend to get odd-sized loads, or have to ship awkward items like furniture or AV gear.
Make sure to keep your straps free from knots, and inspect them regularly for signs of wear and tear.
Straps that have been exposed to chemical spills or have UV damage from being in the sun need to be replaced, even if they don’t look frayed. Metal levers, clasps, and ratcheting mechanisms also need to be checked for rust or damage. When in doubt, just replace them.
7. Jumper Cables & Extra Fuses
Jumper cables are a must for those who spend most of their time on the road. You can jumpstart your car in the event of a dead battery, and you can help others in a pinch, too. Just make sure you know how to use them.
If you blow a fuse, extra fuses are a fantastic emergency tool to have on hand. They’re so cheap that there’s no good reason not to stock a few. Their benefits far outweigh their cost.
These Semi-Truck Tools Are Safety Essentials
Every semi-truck driver needs these items. Is your truck toolbox missing a few?
Are we missing a few items? See one of your must-have semi truck tools not listed here? Let us know here, and we’ll add it to the list!
At Kelly’s Truck Repair, we can keep your truck safe and up-to-date, whether that’s handling repairs, bodywork, or getting you the parts you need.
Click here to request a part, or contact us if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.