Add-ons: Dynamic Dozen

By Todd Dills | September 01, 2009

As with pressure monitoring systems, the best way to view ROI is in avoided tire-related road calls, which “totally disappear with the system” except with a rare sidewall blowout, Cohn says. He estimates the total cost at well under $1,000.


Auxiliary power unit

While a diesel- or battery-based auxiliary power unit used to eliminate expensive engine idling is one of the most costly add-ons, with attentive maintenance it can also be among the longest lasting. And the payback time for most units is under two years, far less when fuel is very expensive. Generally, the return comes from fuel and engine-maintenance savings – idling your truck’s engine consumes just under a gallon an hour, versus a diesel-powered APU’s consumption of about a tenth of a gallon.

Some APUs eliminate engines entirely. Makers of battery-powered APUs like Arctic Breeze and Dometic, in addition to similar products by some truck makers, have leveraged new absorbed-glass-mat battery technology to “hold a larger charge and more amp-hours,” says Chris Smisek of Big Rig Truck Accessories ( in New Braunfels, Texas, a dealer for the Arctic Breeze unit. These power in-sleeper climate control devices without additional diesel-engine cranking.

Many of these systems come equipped with a diesel-fired cab heater, like those made by Espar and Webasto, a potential affordable option for owner-operators running in northern states or Canada on its own. Among the full diesel units, some, like the Pony Pack, Willis and ThermoKing TriPac APUs, integrate in various degrees with the truck’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Others, like the Carrier ComfortPro and the Rigmaster, function mainly like generator sets running auxiliary HVACs.



Price Fuel savings Payback/year* time

Cab heater $800- $2,031 0.4 – 1

$2,000 year

Diesel APU $7,000+ $4,062 2.0 – 3.5 $12,000 years

Battery APU

W/cab heater $5,000- $4,062 1.2 – 2.7 $11,000 years

*Savings based on reduction from average 5 hours of idling per working day, or 1,850 yearly hours, with fuel at $2.50/gal.


GPS navigation device

Running a good real-time GPS navigator – one that is specifically designed for a trucking business – wasn’t a possibility until recently. With the introduction of Teletype’s WorldNav product ( and ALK Technologies’ PC Miler Navigator in 2008, though, owner-operators finally could choose among stand-alone navigators suited to trucking. ALK – – also offers CoPilot software for GPS-functional Windows-based smartphones, representing a trucking-specific option among a slew of lower-cost GPS alternatives available in the new smartphone market.

These two new devices and others have options for real-time routing that takes into account your vehicle’s dimensions, including weight, number of axles and in some cases hazmat restrictions. The payoff for any such product is largely in saved time and operating expenses from avoiding out-of-route miles. With trucking-specific GPS units ranging in price between $300 and $700, an operator whose variable costs add up to a dollar a mile could get a payback by eliminating only 300 to 700 out-of-route miles.

Recent developments included introductions of the Intelliroute TND unit by Rand-McNally and the Nuvi 465T by GPS stalwart Garmin and a partnership among Truckdown, ProMiles and Cobra Electronics to deliver trucking-specific information to a new Cobra 7700 Pro navigation unit.


Other devices

• An in-cab refrigerator from will cost about $500 plus shipping and handling. With it you can keep fresh a loaf of high-quality bread ($3.50), premium cold cuts ($4.50), a small block of good cheddar ($3.50), and a bag of spinach for crisp greenery ($3) that will provide 10 sandwiches. With chips ($4), you’ve got a side to skip 10 $10 restaurant meals over a week and you’ll save $81.50. Do this for six weeks and you’ve paid for the fridge.

Once you’ve done that, add a small microwave ($120) and expand your culinary options further. Though DC microwaves are out there, you might want to invest in an inverter as you start adding appliances.

• Wide-single tires like Michelin’s X One ( and Bridgestone’s Greatec ( have been designed for the cost-conscious over-the-road hauler. Continental Tire North America ( recently joined the wide-single arena, offering a trailer single.

Upgrading your tractor’s drive duals to singles can pay off in both better fuel mileage and the potential to increase payloads and reduce ongoing maintenance and retreading costs. A retrofit of wide singles on your tractor’s drives will cost an estimated $4,400, though, with four new wheels required at $350 or more each and tires that run around $750 apiece. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.