Idle No More?

April 11, 2013

Pull into any given truck stop at any hour, day or night, and you will be greeted by the low, steady rumbling of dozens of idling trucks. Although some carriers have adopted anti-idling strategies, the vast majority of over-the-road big rigs rely on idling to heat and cool the cab and operate hotel loads. But idling trucks will soon become a thing of the past. And the reason may not be what you think.

Many states and local jurisdictions are instituting laws to restrict truck idling and issuing stiff penalties to violators. More than 40 states and local government jurisdictions currently limit truck idling. Fines for non-compliance can range from $50 to $2,500 and more per incident. California, New Jersey, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York have passed legislation limiting the idle times of on-highway and off-highway commercial & industrial vehicles to no more than 5 minutes. Similar legislation pending in other states. But it's another federal mandate that will bring an end to idling sooner than many truckers are aware. For the first time, heavy and medium-duty trucks will have to reach government-specified fuel economy standards beginning in 2014. By 2018, the standards will become even more stringent. Vehicles will be required to achieve from 9 to 23% improvement in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018, saving up to 4 gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled. While most truck OEMs haven't said exactly what they will do to meet the upcoming fuel economy standards, they all say they will meet the mark using "existing technologies." In order to meet the first round of fuel mileage standards, one existing technology that will be installed on most over-the-road tractors is automatic engine shutdown to limit idling.

There's good reason engine shutdown is the focus of fuel economy standards. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a typical commercial truck can waste a half-gallon of diesel fuel per hour while idling. Unnecessary idling just two hours per day squanders at least $1,040 per year per truck, based on a diesel price of $4 a gallon. What are the best solutions to keep cabs cool in the heat and warm in the cold? The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), in partnership with the Dept. of Energy's Clean Cities Program and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, conducted a national survey in 2006 to gather information on the use of idle reduction technologies among trucking fleets. The most extensive study ever on the topic, survey participants provided data on more than 55,000 trucks, allowing researchers to compile a comprehensive profile of idling and the use of idle reduction technologies. The study found:

  • About 36% of respondents with sleeper cabs used onboard idle reduction technologies, which provide power for heaters, air conditioners, and/or in-cab appliances while eliminating main engine idling.
  • The most prevalent onboard technology was direct-fired heaters, which were used by 32% of respondents with sleeper cabs.
  • Battery-powered air conditioners were used by 24% of respondents with sleeper cabs, while auxiliary power units/ generator sets were used by 12% of respondents with sleeper cabs.
  • Direct-fired heaters were reported to be the least expensive onboard technology to purchase and to maintain.
  • Battery-powered air conditioners were the next least expensive technology to purchase and maintain, followed by auxiliary power units/generator sets.

According to ATRI direct-fired heaters cost about $888 to purchase and approximately $110 annually maintain. Battery-powered air conditioners were the cost about 4,300 to purchase and $200 to annually maintain. Auxiliary power units/generator sets were the most expensive at about $7,750 to purchase. Annual maintenance costs for auxiliary power units/generator sets were not adequately reported, ATRI said. Truck OEMs are already preparing for auto engine shutdown by offering their own integrated cab cooling and heating solutions. At the Mid-America Trucking Show this March, Paccar's two brands Kenworth and Peterbilt both introduced factory-installed engine-off cooling and heating solutions. Kenworth announced an integrated engine-off heating and cooling idle management system for its long-haul T680 with a 76-inch sleeper. The new battery-based APU system for air conditioning is tied directly into the truck's ducting system. An optional fuel-fired heater provides full engine-off heating capability. The system features full on-board controls in the sleeper. Once the truck is shut down, the driver simply uses the control panel in the sleeper to maintain temperature control. An LCD display gives drivers full system information, plus allows the driver to monitor remaining battery power. Peterbilt also announced availability of its SmartAir anti-idle cooling system that has a 7,500 BTU/Hour cooling capacity and can operate up to 10 hours on a single charge. The system features on-board diagnostics, fully automatic temperature control, and digital LCD display battery monitoring. The SmartAir system is available in Peterbilt Models 384, 386, 388, 389, 587 and new 579. The benefit of these systems over aftermarket APUs is that since they are integrated they take up a very small amount valuable real estate in truck cabs, allowing for more storage space, while also minimizing weight impacts. One thing is clear, truckers who don't already have anti-idling solutions for heating and cooling onboard their trucks now will need them for vehicles they purchase in the future. It's time to start researching the best options.

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