With the winter season starting, the amount of idle time can dramatically increase to keep comfortable cab temperatures and to prevent start-up problems in the cold weather. But just because idling is common, doesn’t make it smart.
Idling on average costs $3,500 or more in fuel alone per year. This doesn’t include the added engine maintenance expense that results from excessive idling, which is harder on your truck’s engine than highway driving. In addition to operating costs, many governments impose no-idling laws with fines as high as $25,000.
Instead of idling, it is time to choose an alternative. The solution could be as simple as an extra blanket for moderately cold temperatures. For about $80, you can buy a remote starter with a temperature sensor that will start the truck at a specified temperature. Throughout the past year many truck stop electrification (TSE) installations came online for the first time.
There are bigger components, such as auxiliary power units (APU), that can pay for themselves in a reasonable amount of time. A mobile generator costing as little as $200 will burn less fuel and provide heating and cooling. Not idling is even a point of pride for many truckers who have long realized the benefits of shutting down the engine.
Which idle reduction technology should you choose? This can be a difficult decision. Systems and costs vary widely. If you go shopping for the cheapest system on the market, you may be disappointed with the features or overall quality. Buying an APU that doesn’t match your needs is a poor investment.
A study by the American Transportation Research Institute put diesel-fired heaters at the bottom of the cost range for purchase ($888) and annual maintenance ($110). Full-function diesel APU/gensets are at the top, up to $8,000 or more.
Search with two main goals:

  1. A system that fits your application.
  2. A system that gives a healthy return on investment.

No one has cornered the market with a one-size-fits-all system. When deciding whether to go all electric, diesel-powered or hybrid, the decision comes down to practical power-supply needs and personal preference.
Evaluate your idle-reduction need by keeping a detailed idle log. Write down every time you idle and why. Keep track of hours idled and sort them by reason, such as air-conditioning, heat, AC power, warming the engine, etc. Try this for a year, accounting for all seasons. That may not be practical, but if you keep this log for three months and are disciplined in your records, you will be able to make good estimates for the other seasons.
If you skip this first step, you will drastically underestimate the amount of time you idle; you’ll also fail to understand the reasons you idle. Idling solutions have pros and cons and most revolve around the reason for idling; if you idle only because you need heat, then a full-blown APU is overkill. A better solution is a small diesel-fired heater, which is easy and inexpensive to use.
Once you have a clear understanding of how often you idle and why, research the options in today’s market. Then calculate the break-even point and return on investment for each solution. This methodical approach will reward you with an idle-reduction technology that fits your operation and budget.

Comments (5)

Chris Harrington

I have been in the trucking Industry for more than two decades. I have experience as a truck driver and in addition, have also been employed as a Freight Broker and have experience managing a fleet of trucks. I have been with ATBS since September 2001 and was one of the first employees of the company, watching it grow from just a few clients to the thousands we assist today. In my free time, I enjoy motorcycle riding, skiing and spending time with friends and family.

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Thanks for the advice! The approach of tracking and calculating different scenarios is key.

May 28, 2015 22:48:32 PM

Great article, wish everyone could just realize the cost of idling. I'm a big fan of the ParkSmart system and highly recommend it. In years past I've used Wabastos, Espars and ProHeat systems, which addressed heating concerns in the winter, but this now gives me cab cooling during summer months. My current idle time is running a 4% which is a big drop form some of our guys that are showing 30-40% idle time.

July 20, 2014 12:51:28 PM

Thanks for this article. We use a bunk heater and an APU so we do not have to idle.
Not only do we save money in fuel consumption by not idling but it also decreases the ash build up in the DPF filter, which in turn saves you more money.

October 20, 2013 9:26:00 AM

Great insight Jeff! Once Owner Operators start to recognize the cost of idling and even the cost of running an APU, they begin to think like a Business Owner. As a company driver, we've all learned bad habits that need changed once we are responsible for the operational cost of the truck. As for the Park Smart system Freightliner developed, I cannot say enough positive things about it. It truly is revolutionary.

October 18, 2013 16:50:40 PM

I have used a diesel fire heater, an APU, and now the park smart system. They have all worked well for me. Running the upper Midwest-my Espar heater worked great for me-until I had to park my truck where there was no plug-ins. I was able to find a used APU that cost me about $3500 installed. But, they did cost money to use and while the heater was great I tried not to run the APU at night. The park smart system works off of a separate set of batteries.

October 13, 2013 6:03:30 AM