Two routes to cheap money for fuel-saving hardware

Auxiliary power units, such as the Carrier ComfortPro, qualify for low-interest loans through programs offered by EPA and OOIDA.

Dennis Burris hasn’t got the numbers to prove it yet, but “just the fact that I haven’t run my truck overnight” tells him his new Cummins ComfortGuard is saving him big bucks.

Owner of the one-truck Burris Trucking in La Vergne, Tenn., Burris says he put the auxiliary power unit on his 2001 International 9400i Sept. 19. He borrowed $9,600 to pay for the unit and installation through Superior Financial Group, one of the lenders in the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program.

“I probably get five to six calls a day from truckers wanting to know about the program,” says Mike Ermi of Superior Financial.

Indeed, SmartWay has some clear benefits over borrowing in the marketplace. Mitch Greenberg, program manager, notes two:

ELIGIBILITY. Because the U.S. Small Business Administration guarantees the loans, borrowers who otherwise would be denied a loan or pay premium rates can qualify on reasonable terms, Greenberg says.

RATES. “The SBA program is typically prime plus 4 to 5 percent, so in many cases it can be around 12 percent,” he says. Market rates can go far higher.

APUs are not the only qualifying equipment. “Really it’s anything that saves fuel for which an owner-operator may need some financial assistance to acquire that technology, whether it’s automatic tire inflation, idling control devices, improved aerodynamics or low-rolling-resistance tires,” Greenberg says. Cab heaters and aluminum wheels for wide singles also are eligible.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has a similar program for its members, but only for APUs and related equipment, such as cab heaters, says program head Margo Fries. The program started in late October and is drawing applications in the $8,000 to $10,000 range.

For November, “the lowest interest rate on a two-year APU loan is 7.96 percent,” Fries says. “The highest rate is 10.22 percent.” Rates, adjusted monthly, vary by credit rating, trucking experience and loan term. Down payments usually are not required.

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“Simple interest, no prepayment penalties, low interest rates – our members are not going to find that anywhere else,” Fries says.

Equipment that pays its way
A great feature of buying fuel-saving technology is that the monthly fuel savings can exceed the monthly loan note.

Check it yourself. An online calculator provided through SmartWay (click “Basic information” on the home page to find the link) is one of the best I’ve seen.

You can work with the EPA’s average figures or plug in your own. You can run the numbers for buying one system or any combination of the six things listed. The final number is the most interesting: what the equipment purchase does for your monthly budget, based on fuel savings vs. your loan note.

As nice as this feature is, take it with a grain of salt, especially if using EPA’s “typical values.” Will buying an APU and aerodynamic trailer add-ons really cut your fuel bill 14 percent? Crunch your numbers the smart way – with your own research and your operational figures, such as idling habits – before you sign on that dotted line.

SmartWay’s typical values for APU financing
APU cost $8,500
Loan period 48 months
Loan rate 9%
Monthly fuel use 1,389 gallons
Fuel price $2.75
Monthly fuel cost $3,820
Monthly idling 200 hours

Monthly fuel savings (9%) $330
Monthly APU note -$212
Net monthly savings $118

Crank it up
Start online or by phone to buy fuel-saving equipment through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. You can shop around first to see what you need and check costs, or you can get qualified first and then do some shopping.

SmartWay lists lenders nationwide that participate in the program. OOIDA’s loans are made through a Kansas City, Kan., bank.

EPA SmartWay: (734) 214-4767,

OOIDA: (816) 229-5791,