Beyond idling

| April 02, 2008

Cummins says its ComfortGuard APU has a 1,000-hour oil-change interval, a 12,000-btu air conditioner and a 4,000/8,000-btu two-stage heater. It promises an average ROI of just more than a year.

Not idling is a point of pride for many truckers who long have realized the benefits of shutting down the engine. “The educated owner-operators, the true owner-operators, idle their trucks very little,” says independent owner-operator Gil Johnson of Bristol, Va., a 40-year industry veteran.

Idling has been a viable option during extreme weather, but much idling occurs at far milder temperatures. A recent survey showed the average owner-operator idles more than five hours a day, in all weather.

That’s the equivalent of an extra 18,000 yearly miles on your engine, according to Argonne National Laboratory. Cutting that idling to zero eliminates 18,000 miles of wear and tear while enabling you to extend your oil-drain interval and saving you more than $5,000 a year in fuel costs.

The choice to cut idling may not even be yours to make, as anti-idling laws and regulations proliferate in states, cities and counties nationwide. It’s possible that a nationwide no-idle law isn’t too far into the future.

There is equipment out there to help, but in-cab devices for engine-off air-conditioning and electricity require a significant capital investment, as well as fuel to power them in some cases and maintenance to keep them running. Are they worth it?

Following are return-on-investment analyses for each type of anti-idling device on the market. The ROI numbers are based on average stats culled from different sources, among them the annual Overdrive Owner-Operator Market Behavior Report, and assume an owner-operator who:

  • Drives 120,000 miles a year.

  • Idles on average 1,850 hours yearly.
  • Changes his oil every 15,000 miles at a cost of $150.
  • Buys fuel at $3.40 a gallon.
  • Gets 6 miles per gallon.
  • Overhauls his engine every 500,000 miles at a cost of $10,000.

The numbers also reflect an ROI based on complete elimination of idling. Where systems don’t quite achieve that goal, the numbers take into account the cost of supplementary options, such as IdleAire.

Your operation is unique, so it’s a good idea to run your own numbers. Online calculators can make this task very simple and, in some cases, quite thorough. (See “Measuring idle-reduction payback,” Page 46.)

Estimated price: $6,000-$11,000

ROI: 1.5 to 2.8 years

Advantages: They function independently from the truck’s HVAC and engine systems, with exceptions. Some even use built-in fuel tanks, rather than siphoning diesel from the main truck tanks. Most charge the truck’s batteries and electrically heat the truck’s block, ensuring easy cold cranking.

Disadvantages: Some drivers grouse about aux engines adding to noise or vibrations in the sleeper cab. Some units weigh as much as 500 pounds, and only a few states grant the federally recommended 400-lb. weight variance for APUs. They use slightly more fuel than other options.

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