Truck stops are very interesting places. It is a good place to take a break and watch trucks come and go. Some people enjoy photographing the diesel pumps. Truck stops also have repair shops and truck washes (although the truck washes are often operated by a separate company). Real truck stops have more pumps for trucks than for 4 wheelers.
Truck stops range in size from gas stations with a few parking spaces for big rigs to places with several hundred parking spots. Due to mergers and acquisitions there are three major truck stop chains in the US. They are Pilot/Flying J, TA/Petro, and Love’s. Some smaller companies such as Road Ranger have locations that are affiliated with Pilot. There are some Pilots and Flying Js in Canada.
Truck stops are sometimes part of bus travel. In some small towns, the bus station is a truck stop. An example of this is the Pilot in Effingham, Illinois. Greyhound buses sometimes stop at truck stops for meal breaks.
Truck stops can also prove to be very useful spots for hitchhiking trips, especially if you take a rather “active” approach to the hitchhiking, such as asking around directly at the drivers, who are likely to provide fairly long-haul rides.
A truck stop, known as a service station in the United Kingdom, and a travel center by major chains in the United States, is a commercial facility which provides refuelling, rest (parking), and often ready-made food and other services to motorists and truck drivers. Truck stops are usually located on or near a busy road.
Truck stop services
Smaller truck stops might consist of only a parking area, a fueling station, and perhaps a diner restaurant. Larger truck stops might have convenience stores of various sizes, showers, a small video arcade, and a TV/movie theater (usually just a projector with an attached DVD player). The largest truck stops, like Iowa 80 (the largest in the world), might have several independent businesses operating under one roof, catering to a wide range of travelers’ needs, and might have several major and minor fast-food chains operating a small food court. Larger truck stops also tend to have full-service maintenance facilities for heavy trucks, as well as vehicle wash services that can handle anything from passenger vehicles to large trucks. Some truck stops operate motels or have them adjacent. Most truck stops now offer separate fueling areas, often with dedicated entrances, for standard-sized passenger vehicles. The truck refueling area almost always offers dual pumps, one on each side, so large trucks can fill both tanks at once. (The second pump is referred to as the “slave pump” or “satellite pump.”)
The fuel islands at many truck stops can get very crowded. Most trucking companies have accounts with one or two truck stop chains and, after negotiating a specific price for diesel, require their drivers to fuel exclusively at supported locations. Truck stops near a large city, or on the east or west coasts, suffer from the most congestion at their fuel islands.
The retail stores in large truck stops offer a large selection of 12-volt DC products, such as coffee makers, combo television units, toaster ovens, and frying pans primarily targeted towards truck drivers, who often spend extended periods of time on the road. Such shops generally offer a wide selection of maps, road atlases, truck stop and freeway exit guides, truck accessories (such as CB radio equipment and hazmat placards), plus entertainment media such as movies, video games, music, and audiobooks. Increasingly, as interstate truck drivers have become a large market for satellite radio, these retail stores also sell various satellite radio receivers for both XM and Sirius as well as subscriptions to those services. Kiosks run by cellular phone providers are also common.
Most long-haul tractors have sleeping berths, and many truck drivers keep their diesel engines running for heating or cooling for the sake of comfort. Because idling diesel engines make considerable noise (and are a source of pollution) they are often banned from such use near residential areas. Truck stops (along with public rest stops) are the main places where truck drivers may rest peacefully, as required by regulations. Modern innovations, such as truck heaters and auxiliary power units, are becoming more common, and some truck stops now provide power, air conditioning, and communications through systems such as IdleAir. Many truck stops used to have load board monitors for truck drivers to find real time information on loads, jobs, weather and news. However, DAT Solutions, the largest provider of load boards, removed its monitors from thousands of truck stops and moved all its services online and to its load board mobile apps. Most chain truck stops also have WLAN Internet access in their parking areas. Idle reduction—reducing the amount of fuel consumed by truck fleets during idling—is an ongoing economical and environmental effort.
The economics of truck stops have driven most of the small, post-war operations out of business and they have been replaced with large corporate chains or franchises. Truck drivers are a captive market, because the trucks’ size and local regulations place severe restrictions on where a truck driver can park. The initial investment in land, permits, equipment and maintenance requirements are large and growing: accordingly, some large truck stop chains have begun to cater to a wider range of the traveling public by combining trucks stops and traditional gas stations.
The truck stop originated in the United States in the 1940s as a reliable source of diesel fuel not commonly available at filling stations. This, coupled with the growth of the Interstate Highway System, led to the creation of the professional haulage and truck stop industries. They generally consist of, at the very least, a diesel grade fueling station with bays wide and tall enough for modern tractor/trailer rigs, plus a large enough parking area to accommodate from five to over a hundred trucks and other heavy vehicles. Truck stops should not be confused with rest areas or motorway service areas which cater mostly to cars and are often run by or leased from a government or tollway corporation.
In the United States in the late 1990s, Truckstops of America (T/A) changed its name to TravelCenters of America to reflect this marketing strategy. There is no exact distinction between “truck stop” and the newer term “travel center”, but some differences are size, proximity to interstate highways and major roads, the number of services, accessibility to automotive and RV travelers, and a certain extra emphasis on facility appearance. Many truck stops chains such as Love’s, Flying J and T/A also serve the recreational vehicle market. All the national chains have established customer loyalty programs to promote repeated patronage.
In Louisiana, truck stops that meet certain criteria are allowed to have on-site casinos that can operate up to fifty (50) video draw poker gaming devices. These truck stops are regulated by the Louisiana Gaming Enforcement Division and must maintain certain amenities to be eligible to keep the lucrative gaming devices operating. Some of the amenities required are: having a certain number of acres of land, having a certain number of 18-wheeler parking spaces, having an on-site restaurant, and having trucker’s supplies, showers, telephones, television lounge, scales, laundry services, fuel.
Truck stops were often depicted in films and novels as being somewhat seedy places, frequented by aggressive bikers, petty criminals, and prostitutes (e.g. the “lot lizards” in the JT LeRoy novel Sarah). This may be an outdated stereotype, as most modern truck stops are generally clean and safe, becoming a “home away from home” for many truck drivers. However, most truck stops reflect the social environment of their local area; consequently, one occasionally finds seedy truck stops in seedy areas. According to John McPhee’s book Uncommon Carriers, truck stops in rural areas are typically very safe and wholesome. However, as the distance to major cities decrease the incidence of prostitution, drug peddling etc. increases dramatically. The Vince Lombardi service area on the New Jersey Turnpike near New York City has the most rampant prostitution.
Many truck stops have national fast food outlets. These outlets sometimes have a limited menu and are usually more expensive. While the truck stop may be open 24/7, this is not necessarily the case with the restaurants. An authentic truck stop has a sit down restaurant. The Petro in New Paris, Ohio, is a good example. There are no fast food outlets, but there is an Iron Skillet. It also has 12 diesel lanes and only 8 pumps for 4 wheelers. In fact, the fuel island has its own store that is in a separate building from the restaurant and everything else. What also makes this truck stop unique is that to access it from I-70, you have to use the last exit in Indiana.
You can take your RV to the truck stop. If your RV uses diesel, you can fill up at the pumps for trucks or 4 wheelers. Many Flying Js have separate pumps (gas and diesel) for RVs. These locations also offer dump sites and propane.
If you purchase enough diesel fuel (50 gallons – although independent truck stops may require 75 gallons or more) you will get a free shower. If you ask for a team shower, you will get a second shower stall. At Pilot/Flying J and TA/Petro the showers are accessed by entering a PIN. While a small bar of soap and towels are provided, you have to provide your own shampoo. While the showers are cleaned after each use, it is still a good idea to wear flip flops.
You should get a loyalty card. This will allow you to save up shower credits (depending on the chain they will last for up to a week). You also get a point for each gallon of diesel fuel. Each point is like a (knock knock knock) penny of store credit. Sadly, it cannot be used on good stuff such as booze (not that the beer sold at truck stops is anything special). You may be able to get half shower credits if you buy 15 or more gallons of diesel. The loyalty card will also help you save money on other things such as pizza and CB radios.
Many truck stops charge for wifi. You can use points from your loyalty card to pay for it.
While the repair shops cater to big rigs, they may be able to perform services on your RV such as oil changes and replacing tires. You can also receive points (and possibly shower credits) when you use your loyalty card.
In the UK the term “truck stop” is not in common use and the equivalent stops are motorway services. There are relatively few areas on motorways just for trucks to stop at. Most designated rest areas are used by every sort of motor vehicle.
On A roads (longer routes with lower speed limits, which generally avoid motorways), a truck stop may have no refuelling facilities but simply offer a place for tired drivers to rest and/or get food and drink in a transport cafe. They may not be signposted well, if at all.
Canadian truck stops are mostly similar to their American counterparts. However, there are some differences besides the obvious fact that fuel is sold by the litre and is more expensive. For example, Canadian truck stops are less likely to have major fast food outlets. Do not expect to find beer in all provinces as Canada’s alcohol laws are generally more restrictive. (Québec sells beer in corner stores, Ontario does not.) Chain truck stops in Canada tend to be affiliated with an oil company (such as Husky).
In Australia a roadhouse is a filling station (service station) on a major intercity route. A roadhouse sells fuel and provides maintenance and repairs for cars, but it also has an attached restaurant (usually a café or diner) to sell and serve hot food to travelers. Roadhouses usually also serve as truck stops, providing space for parking of semi-trailer trucks and buses, as well as catering to travelers in private cars. In remote areas such as the Nullarbor Plain, a roadhouse also offers motel-style accommodation and camping facilities.
Approximately two thirds of truck stops are independently owned with the remainder being owned and run by ‘big oil’ brands such as Caltex, BP and Shell.
Most Australian truck stops are located in small towns along the main intercity highways, and are often operated by one of the oil companies or large supermarket chains. Australian truck stops generally feature a small convenience store which sells snacks and ice cream, and also hot food which is usually comprised of roast chicken and hot chips (US: French fries). In really remote areas, such as the Nullarbor plain on the main route between Perth and the big three eastern cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, truck stops are known as roadhouses, and often have basic accommodation facilities. Rooms usually consist of a bed, shower, small television and essentially nothing else.
Germany and Austria
In Germany and some parts of Austria there were newer official developments to the existing highway service station. The often state owned service stations at the highway were insufficient to deal with the growing number of lorries and the necessary stops for lorry drivers to rest. Since 2001, the traffic regulations of Germany Straßenverkehrsordnung include a road sign, Autohof, literally car yard or automobile court.
An Autohof is run by a private company, but the government provides the road signs at the highway, indicating an Autohof, if the facility:
is no more remote from the highway than one kilometre
can be approached by lorries
provides at least 50 places for lorries, or at least 100 at higher frequented roads, those places must be apart from the places for other cars
is open 24 hours a day, all the year through
offers gasoline service 24 hours a day
offers meals from 11.00 to 22.00; other food at the rest of the day
includes sanitary facilities for handicapped people and for the proper needs of lorry drivers
If you park your RV overnight at a truck stop you should be considerate. This means not taking up 2 extra parking spaces when your rooms pop out.
It is worth noting that there are a few truck stops that charge for overnight parking. Most of these are located in the northeast United States. This charge is waived if you buy 50 gallons of diesel or spend some money ($15 to $20) in the store.
If you plan on using truck stops you may want to get a guidebook. The major chains have free location guides. These booklets include information about amenities such as parking spaces, fast food, and other services. This information can also be found on their websites. The major chains have Facebook pages which provide additional information. If you have an RV, you may want to spend some money on a truck stop book. These list all the truck stops by exit (including gas stations with a few spaces for parking). You can save some money when you buy the previous year’s edition.