The First Step to Reducing Costly Idling

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that one out of every six (16.5%) of deadly traffic accidents is due to drowsy driving. Drowsy driving can affect any driver at times. What has this to do with idling?

Truck drivers are often more susceptible to sleepiness due in part because of their long work shifts and difficulty in getting enough sleep. So the traditional sleep answer has been to idle the truck’s engine for climate control during rest periods, i.e. heating the cab in cold weather, air conditioning in hot temperatures.

Unfortunately, idling a truck engine for long rest periods and to reset Hours of Service (HOS) when away from home has consequences. And idling the truck engine does not promote good sleep habits for a driver. An idling diesel truck engine is noisy and it rocks and vibrates the cab as a driver tries to sleep.


The Cost of Idling

An idling truck engine burns about 1.25 US gallons of diesel fuel per hour. The average truck idles around 2,000 hours per year. At $2.50 per gallon that’s $6,250 going straight out the exhaust stack of every idling truck every year for the purpose of climate control. It also shortens engine life due to the additional wear and tear. Idling a truck is simply not practical.

And let’s not forget harmful emissions that foul a truck’s Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) causing more maintenance woes. Idling also destroys catalytic converter performance, requiring an expensive replacement. And there are anti-idling laws restricting truck idling in many jurisdictions, with more coming all the time.


Save $5,000 Per Year Per Truck

By contrast, a diesel powered Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) mounted outside the cab will usually come with a small, two cylinder diesel engine, burns about 0.25 gallons per hour, provides climate control, reduces emissions and is quieter than an idling truck. It also provides electricity for powering appliances and charging phones and computers.

Diesel powered APU’s can warm the truck engine’s coolant and pump it through the truck’s heater core to warm the cab. The coolant also circulates through the truck’s cooling system keeping the engine warm so it starts readily in cold weather.

In hot weather the APU runs an air conditioning compressor to cool the truck’s interior and allow the driver to sleep in comfort.


APU Maintenance Requirements

On the downside, diesel APU’s require regular maintenance, including oil changes and annual inspections, checking and changing fluids, examining hoses, clamps, valves, and replacing the fuel filter. So costs add up over the life of the unit, making the payback period longer. But when the price of fuel rises your payback period shortens because your savings increase.


Electric APU’s

Some APU’s are electric powered, having storage batteries that are recharged by the truck’s alternator when the engine is running. They are said to require considerably less costly maintenance than diesel units and run quieter with no harmful emissions and burn no diesel fuel.

One drawback of electric units is shorter run time which is also affected by powering appliances for use in the cab. To date, their batteries are unlikely to last throughout a 34 hour reset period, requiring the truck engine to start and run for one hour sessions at a time to recharge them whenever the unit loses power. If it happens during a driver’s rest period that’s disturbing.

If you’re struggling over which type to choose for your trucks you may want to consider the third option: a diesel-electric hybrid APU. This unit has a small diesel engine that runs periodically to recharge the batteries when necessary.


The Cost to Purchase an APU

According to the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) APU’s can cost anywhere from $8,500 to $13,000 US installed depending largely upon what features and capabilities your trucks require.

If a truck breaks down and the engine won’t run, your driver can be stuck waiting hours for a tow. If it happens in freezing cold or triple digit heat having an APU onboard can save a life.

In times of nuclear verdicts in courts over truck accidents, your trucks may be only one crash away from putting you out of business. Don’t let it happen over a drowsy driver.


Possible Shop Opportunity

APU’s can be purchased and installed aftermarket on an existing truck or ordered as an option on a new build. Aftermarket presents an opportunity for non-dealer shops to enter the APU sales, installation and service business. Fleets can save by training their technicians to install and service the units.

Driver Recruitment and Retention Consideration

More and more drivers are choosing to work for outfits equipped with APU’s. Quiet comfort makes a difference to overall well-being.


The Age of Electric Vehicles

With more and better electric powered trucks on the way, what becomes of diesel powered units? They won’t be going away for a while. For one thing, the infrastructure to support large electric trucks has not been built yet. And storage batteries so far can’t handle the miles necessary. That means electric power to recharge truck batteries is not available at present for long-haul operations.

But zero emissions trucks are the wave of the foreseeable future. And APU’s will be a part of it. Stick with us. We’ll have more insights and opportunities in weeks to come.