Don't get stuck at idle
The reasons for idle-reduction equipment are as important as ever. Protect your truck engine. Reduce operating expenses. Keep yourself safe and comfortable.

By Land Line staff

Just a decade ago, the country was consumed by a wildfire-like spread of anti-idle ordinances. Although it was safe to idle your truck while waiting at the dock or on your 10-hour break one day, it seemed the next an ordinance was in place demanding you turn your truck engine off or face stiff fines.

That alone was enough to get the collective attention of the industry.

But then fuel prices spiked, hovering around $5 per gallon. A recession followed. Running smarter – meaning running the engine only when necessary to move the truck – became a strategic business move, cutting fuel consumption during the downtimes exponentially.

For most truckers who opt for key-off power solutions, the core reason for investing in such technology is driver comfort.

The commonsense reasons for finding idling alternatives will never change. They save wear and tear on the truck that makes the money. They keep law enforcement off your back. And most importantly, they give you a safe and comfortable means to staying cool when temperatures sky rocket and to staying warm in the bitter cold.

It’s easy to hit cruise control on anti-idle concerns, given that not a lot has changed in recent years. But if the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have their collective way, that could all be changing again.

The agencies propose that at some point, APUs and other key-off technologies will have to meet certain standards – as they already do in California.

The agencies’ Phase 2 proposal to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, which was unveiled in June, looks ahead while also asking for stakeholder comments from long-haul truckers and others who use these technologies.

The EPA acknowledges in its proposal that auxiliary power units, APUs, are a good way to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. However, EPA says that APUs emit particulate matter, known as PM, which California already regulates.

In the document, EPA asks stakeholders to weigh in on whether there’s a need or “appropriateness” to target particulate matter from APUs nationwide through the use of diesel particulate filters. That’s right: a DPF for your APU.

According to the proposal: “EPA requests comments on the technical feasibility of diesel particulate filters ability to reduce PM emissions by 85 percent from non-road engines used to power APUs. EPA also requests comments on whether the technology costs outlined above are accurate, and if so, if projected reductions are appropriate taking into account cost, noise, safety and energy factors.”

EPA estimates that a DPF for an APU would add $580 to the cost of 150 horsepower engines but then says the cost of retrofitting a diesel-powered APU with a PM trap is about $2,000.

“(EPA) welcomes comments on cost estimates associated with DPF systems for APUs.”

If you’re a long-hauler, the EPA is looking at requiring automatic engine shutoff technology, or AES, on future models of your vehicle. But before they make it mandatory, they want to hear from stakeholders on whether the emissions reductions are worth the tradeoffs in the real world.

As the EPA states in the Phase 2 proposal: “We propose an overall 90 percent adoption rate for this technology for Class 8 sleeper cabs. The agencies are unaware of reasons why AES with extended idle-reduction technologies could not be applied to this high fraction of tractors with a sleeper cab, except those deemed a vocational tractor, in the available lead time.”

Many options currently on the market could sidestep future regulatory crackdown being cooked up by the agencies.

Most likely think of APUs first. With the reduction in cost and improvement in dependability since their infancy, these units remain the go-to solution for most truckers who opt for an alternative power source from their truck engine.

Just a little more than 33 percent of owner-operators who participated in a non-scientific Land Line poll said they used APUs. Company drivers responding to a similar poll specific to employee drivers said that nearly 47 percent of them had APUs.

That still leaves a lot of drivers out there either with no key-off power options, or opting for other technologies.

One trend of battery-bank power systems is really growing in popularity. With hard-wired inverters, these battery banks can provide quiet, emission free comfort in most scenarios.

Bryan “Boss Man” Martin, of 4 State Trucks, Home of the Chrome Shop Mafia, says these battery-based systems aren’t being chosen with the same frequency as auxiliary power units by his customers, but he is a fan because “they work.”

If you are looking for cheaper, power-specific solutions or are a company driver who doesn’t have the overarching power solutions like an APU or battery-bank system, there are still a wide variety of power-specific need solutions on the market. And don’t forget independent systems like IdleAir and Shorepower who are working to expand their networks to offer you even more options for key-off power solutions. (See our directory of providers on Page 80.)

Staying ahead of the regulatory curve is certainly one big reason to be ever mindful of key-off solutions available to you. The crystal ball of things to come and what technologies will and won’t make the cut is likely California. The EPA is certainly borrowing more than just a page from what is rapidly becoming the least-trucking-friendly state in the Union. (See more on Page 73.)

So while the status quo has been in place in the recent era, now is certainly not the time to get stuck in idle when it comes to your approach to key-off power solutions. LL

(Editor’s note: This is Land Line’s annual look at key-off power solutions in the trucking industry. Contributing to the package are Editor-In-Chief Sandi Soendker, Managing Editor Jami Jones, Senior Editor David Tanner, Staff Writer Greg Grisolano, News Clerk Tyson Fisher, News Clerk Kerry Evans-Spillman, Copy Editor Elizabeth Andersen, Contributing Writer Charlie Morasch, Production Manager Kim Borron and Art Director Debbie Johnson.)