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Truck Topics

Shut That Motor Down!

By Jeff Jensen
Posted Nov 6th 2001 5:00AM

Diesel fuel prices, while enjoying a price slide for a number of weeks, are headed back up again. We've said goodbye to summer and cooler weather will be upon much of the US before long.

During that brief period of the cooler, but still moderate temperatures, the commercial vehicle Owner/Operator will be able to give idling a break and give his wallet a break as well. Then, with the soon-to-follow cold weather, the O/O will be into winter weather idling mode, and, once again, taking that hit in the pocketbook.

The experts who study this kind of thing estimate that US OTR Class 7 and Class 8 trucks typically idle their motors for between 1,800 and 2,600 hours per truck annually. The figures could be even higher for the O/O's in expediting because of the typically extended layover times waiting for a load.

Another group of experts,The Technology & Maintenance Council, says that one hour of a truck's idle time equals seven road miles. Using their formula, that means that if a truck idles eight hours per day for 325 days of the year, it runs the maintenance equivalent of 18,000 miles and burns about 2,340 gallons of diesel (at 1.3 gallons per hour)

It's no secret that idling is dirty and noisy as well. The idling motor that's burning all that fuel(and money) will also be putting tons of pollutants into the air every year including carbon dioxide,carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides. That's bad for the drivers, bad for everyone.

The auditory level of say, a hundred idling big trucks in a parking lot represents substantial noise pollution and is just one of many reasons why communities are fighting the construction of new truckstops and travel plazas. There are 28 states with some version of an anti-idling law with more states expected to enact similar legislation.

It's not just the local folks who have problems with the noise level, but the expediting drivers themselves. The modern sleeper on the typical expediting straight truck is usually sufficiently insulated to keep the outside idling noise down to a bearable level, but for the expediter trying to sleep in a cargo van, it can be a different story.

It's a common story for the cargo van driver parked between two other vans with idling diesel motors having difficulty hearing his TV or radio, and even more difficulty getting to sleep.

Even if the diesel-engined van parked next to you was shut down for the night, when they crank it up the next morning at 0500, it will definitely get your attention!

So, as most will probably agree, idling is a no-win proposition. It costs too much in fuel, engine wear, noise and pollution.

What's the alternative?

Actually, there are a few technologies available. Some have been around for a number of years, others are fairly new. While there are advantages and disadvantages with each of these systems, they all have an edge over idling.


One of the oldest technology alternatives to idling, direct-fired heaters are very fuel-efficient in comparison to idling the truck's motor, often at ratios of 20-1 or better. These devices can be used to heat both the cab/sleeper and the engine or just one or the other.

The downside of this system is it's inability to provide cooling and AC/DC power, which today's driver has come to demand.

"Auxiliary heaters are on 90 percent of the sleeper trucks in Europe, and they are now catching on in North America," Franz Neumeyer, VP/General Manager of Webasto Thermosystems of Lapeer, MI, says.

"In the past, when we explained the benefits our systems provided to potential customers, they believed it or they didn't. Now customers can see the results for themselves. They have hard data, evidence from their own vehicles. As a result, sales in North America have more than doubled."

Webasto offers a variety of cab heaters with different output levels and truck coolant heaters to eliminate cold-engine starts.

Another company offering an anti-idling alternative is Espar Heater Systems. They provide diesel-fired heating systems to provide cab and sleeper heat and they also supply independent coolant systems for quick engine pre-heating.

Espar says that their D1LC compact system provides 7,500 BTU, an adequate level of heat for the average size cab and sleeper. For bigger walk-in sleepers, the company recommends their D3LC compact, which is rated at 12,000 BTU.

The heater cycles though 4 heat levels to maintain the desired comfort set by the operator. The high heat mode allows for rapid cab heating while the low heat mode provides a quiet, comfortable sleeping environment. The company says that it's compact size allows for an easy and simple installation in the tool or luggage compartment in most sleeper cabs.

This system typically runs for about 21 - 23 hours on a gallon of diesel fuel and comes with a 3 year warranty. It is activated by a thermostat or rheostat switch which cycles the heater through it's various heat levels called for by the operator, the switch is usually mounted in the bunk compartment.


There is a distinct difference between generators and auxiliary power units although the terms are often used interchangeably.

One of the chief benefits of generators and APUs is their portability. Because the units are truck-mounted, they can be used virtually anywhere, including at loading docks.


Generators produce 110- to 220-volt electricity to run AC-powered devices, from air conditioners to microwaves. It charges the batteries and runs the heater/AC system.

One example of the generator technology of today is the Proheat/Teleflex I.C.E. system. Powered by a 13.9hp 2 cylinder Kubota engine, this unit powers a heating/air conditioning unit that produces 10,000 BTU/hr. It also provides 4000 watts of 115v AC power which is enough power to run computers, refrigerators, TV's, etc.

"It's the greatest thing since soft margarine!" says George McDonald, veteran expediter and Proheat/Teleflex user and endorser. "I used a Research and Development model generator from Proheat for four years. I estimate that by using the generator and eliminating idling, I saved $12,000 in fuel costs and $4,000 in oil changes."

George tells us that when Hurricane Floyd passed through his area, he pulled his truck next to his house and using the generator, powered his home's refrigerator/freezer, microwave, coffee pot, and TV, but he was careful to watch the current draw.

"In four years," George continues, "I had 6000 hours on the original generator and only 227 hours of idling the truck engine."

"I have the latest model of the Proheat I.C.E. generator installed in my Western Star and it has over 1500 hours on it so far. It's even better than the first model I had, it's very quiet. I can't imagine running without this unit, it's keeping me profitable."

Brad Bisaillon is the North American sales representative of Rigmaster Power, Ltd. of Toronto, ON. He tells us, "Rigmaster Power is the only genset manufacturer that has a major company(Transam Trucking) using our product in their entire fleet, in this case, 700 units."

"Rigmaster Power has been around for 7 years now, and we have over 3000 units on the road today. Our system is fully independent in that it doesn't tie into any of the truck's systems. Because of this, our system will not void any manufacturer's warranties."

The Rigmaster Power system utilizes a 2-cylinder, water cooled diesel engine rated at 10hp. The heater is rated at 12,000 BTU, while the air conditioning unit provides 20,000 BTU. The unit offers 110 volts AC, and comes with a 25 amp alternator. Total weight of the package is 393 lbs.

When spec'ing a genset, Brad says, "Make sure you have the space for the components of the system; room on the frame rail, room under the bunk. An advantage of the Rigmaster Power unit is, because of it's smaller dimensions, it's easier to install. And because it's an independent system, installation on a Class 7 or Class 8 truck only takes between 8-10 hours."

Specific Climate Systems(SCS)recently introduced an engine-off truck sleeper climate control system - the Frigette Truck Climate system. This system is offered with either a 3.5 or a 5.5 KW ultra-compact diesel generator. The system provides 9,000 Btu's of air conditioning and 1,500 watts of electric heat. The system also produces enough electricity to power a block heater, television, VCR, microwave oven, and coffee pot.

The company says that the 3.5KW version weighs only 232 pounds and that the 5.5KW system is around 300 pounds. Fuel consumption is around .01 to .02 gallons of diesel fuel per hour of operation.

Auxiliary Power Units

Auxiliary power units (APUs) are small, truck-mounted systems, typically including an internal combustion engine, compressor and alternator. Today, APUs are generally diesel-powered, although other sources of power, such as fuel cells, could be used for APUs in the future.

The units are integrated into the truck's operating systems meaning that the APU's engine provides power to the truck's own air conditioning, heating, battery charging and other systems at factory levels while eliminating the idling of a 350hp-600hp motor. The addition of an inverter/charger allows APUs to work as a source of AC power, as well.

One company offering an APU system is Pony Pack, Inc. of Albuquerque, NM. Heating, cooling, engine warming, and battery charging are provided by this unit which consists of a 2 cylinder Kubota diesel engine with a 105 Amp Delphi alternator and Sanden compressor.

According to Pony Pack, theirs is the original auxiliary power unit, being introduced back in 1984.

Regarding engine warming for example, Pony Pack says that their unit can take a cold engine from 0 degrees F to 150 degrees F in just two hours.

When asked how to spec out a power source, Bryan Shank, of sales and marketing for Pony Pack, Inc. tells us, "Make sure that sufficient 12 volt power is available for battery recharging and that it's sufficient to operate the truck systems alone."

"If 110AC power is desired, it's a simple matter to install an inverter with the Pony Pack system. In many cases a 1500 watt inverter will suffice."

"A real benefit of our system is that it uses a 105 amp alternator", Bryan continues. "Our alternator is the closest to OEM specifications of any APU or Genset available."

"In addition, a Pony Pack is a true back up in the event of failure of the truck alternator; we've had customers who actually ran over a week on just the Pony Pack alternator itself, which meant no down time and no tow charge."

Bryan tells of customers who have experienced failure of the truck's a/c compressor and condenser, but that they "simply turned on the Pony Pack and they were back on line. Interestingly enough, the truck was still within DOT standards with batteries fully charged."

"That's the beauty of the ponypack system; the way it integrates with the truck's own system, providing a backup alternative without duplication."


There are aftermarket companies already utilizing the shore power facilities which many predict will be widely available soon.

Cab Comfort, a division of the Dometic Corp., produces the Duo-Therm heating/cooling system which is compressor-driven and operates independently of the truck's engine. Whether installed as a rooftop or internal floor-mounted unit, it can be powered by a battery/inverter system, an on-board generator, or externally from any standard 115-volt AC outlet.


Inverters, many of which have battery chargers built in, convert the DC electrical power coming from the truck's batteries to ordinary 120-volt alternating current. Depending on the model you choose, you can run just about any appliance from a simple cell-phone charger to a combination of toasters, computers and refrigerators at the same time. Many of these things can be had in DC form, but for price and selection, AC needs to be considered.

The smallest inverters, and thus the least capable, can be plugged into the truck's cigarette lighter. These are the type found at truckstops for $75.00 or so, but they'll do little more than run a laptop computer. And if the wiring behind the dash is too light to carry the big surge of power at start-up, they may have trouble doing even that.

The bigger and better power inverters are hard-wired into the truck's electrical system and incorporate a charger that provides the truck's batteries with a fast, accurate and complete recharge when the inverter/charger is connected to 120-volt 'shore power'. They also know when the batteries are running low and will simply cut out at some point to save them.

Led by Western Star and then Volvo, Freightliner, Sterling and International, with other OEMs soon to follow, power inverters are now being offered as factory options in the $800.00 range. That's the easiest way to choose the right one, but retrofit is straightforward - at something like $1200.00 and up plus installation for the kind worth having.

Do-it-yourselfers can handle the installation with just basic mechanical skills, but that handyman should keep in mind that he's dealing with household-level wiring and 110 volts AC.

The first step is to decide what is to powered. A good-quality 1100-watt model, for example, can handle the big surge when appliances are first turned on, and simultaneously run a 900-watt microwave oven, an 800-watt toaster, and a 900-watt coffee maker long enough to make breakfast (about five minutes) without fear of running batteries down.

At the other extreme, with that same 1100-watt inverter, low-wattage things like a 75-watt laptop computer or a 100-watt TV would run for 48 and 24 hours respectively. The inverter would give four hours with a halogen worklight, six hours with an electric drill. Combine a shaver, TV, and 1500-watt hair dryer, and it's down to 20 minutes.

Look for an inverter/charger that's rated on continuous output power, not a five-minute rating. You want to know about its surge power too. A good 1100-watt unit might have a surge rating of 3000 watts, and be able to hold it for 10 minutes to get difficult loads started, for example. Not all inverters have safety code ratings such as 'UL', the main American testing lab, or 'CSA', the Canadian equivalent.

Lesser, consumer-grade inverters might actually soak up 30 watts or so when not actually working, enough to drain the batteries in a weekend. Look for a 'sleep' feature that drops the power consumption way down - to maybe one watt - if no AC is needed.

Look as well for low-voltage cutout protection in which the AC draw is shut off if the batteries are sinking fast. That's essential to avoid deep discharge.

If there is access to AC power appliances can be operated indefinitely. With the inverter/charger connected to shore AC power the unit passes AC to the appliances and automatically starts charging the batteries.

There are things a power inverter won't do. If it's necessary to operate high-power loads like a rooftop air conditioner for extended periods of time, it's time to consider an onboard generator.

Keith Pritchard, a 10-year driving veteran for Gordon Trucking of Pacific, WA, was one of the first in his company's fleet to test a Trace inverter/charger in his Freightliner Classic. "I'm running a toaster oven, a small heater, TV and VCR, and various other appliances on AC power," said Pritchard.

"I really like the fact that I can cook in the truck. I'm saving $30 a week now and plan to eventually lower my overall food bill in half -- that will be about $240 a month.

In the morning, I used to fire up the engine and heat the cab before climbing out of bed. Now, I just turn on my portable heater and it does a good job of getting the truck warm. I'd have a hard time going back to a truck that didn't have an inverter."

Todd and Karen Humphreys were the subject of an article in the April 2000 issue of Roadking Magazine. In this piece, they described how they spec'd out their 1998 Peterbilt with Ultra sleeper, particularly in the power department.

Their most- desired "creature comfort" was an entertainment system with satellite dish, 13-inch television and VCR. How to power it was the next question. "A dish and quality equipment run on AC power, and that meant looking into power inverters," said Todd.

"I wanted a quality inverter that wouldn't have any problems; one with enough wattage to handle heavy loads and one that I can plug in and charge my batteries while supplying power. Finally, I wanted it professionally installed."

The Humphreys selected a Series 1 inverter/charger, manufactured by Arlington, WA-based Trace Engineering. The unit provides 1,100 continuous watts of power with 3,000 watts of AC for several minutes of surge (surge represents the initial high electricity draw to power a device). "It gives us plenty of power to operate a combination of our AC goodies," reports Todd.

"We can shut down the truck and run all our equipment for eight to 10 hours, thanks to extra batteries which give us the added time. It sure is nice to be self-contained. When we run low on battery power, we just idle our truck or plug into shore power."

According to Todd, he and Karen also 'plug in' as often as possible. "When we do have a weekend off, we'll often plug the truck in at one of our kids' homes, or at an airport where we just made a delivery -- they're nice about supplying power," he said.

"This way, we power all our equipment while re-charging our batteries. But, I'll tell you what - I can't wait for the day when truck stops all offer power. The exhaust from all those idling trucks gives me headaches."

Now that he has AC power, Todd says he can't imagine going back to a DC world. "You start to wonder how you ever got by without AC power," he concluded.

One trucking fleet manager believes the biggest benefit of installing inverters in his fleet is providing drivers a more "home-like" environment. "Ten years ago, when there was a driver surplus, the industry expected drivers to stay out on the road longer in a cramped COE or a sleeper that you couldn't stand up in," he reflected.

"Today, with the demand for top drivers, carriers have pushed OEMs to develop tractors with cabin-like living quarters. Every carrier in the nation is in need of experienced drivers. If the inverter and AC power gives a competitive edge by retaining drivers, and it's cost effective, then I think it has to be considered. And the reduction in idling will ultimately pay for the inverters themselves."


Truckstops and travel centers have been the last ones on the block to offer AC electricity, also known as shore power. RV campgrounds have provided power to their customers for many years, as have marinas for use by docked watercraft.

"For the longest time, truckstop electrification has been a chicken and egg problem," says George Strickland, director of engineering and construction for TravelCenters of America. "Truckstops have been reluctant to offer power because they haven't had demand from fleets; fleets haven't made the demand because truckstops didn't offer power and OEMs, until recently, haven't offered shore power."

"Within five years, I definitely see a big upward curve toward electrification."

"It's been like a line of dominoes," confirms Brian Lawrence, market segment manager for Xantrex Technology. "Each group has been waiting for the other to make the first move. Trucking is the last mobile group to move toward AC power. It makes so much sense from an idling and emission reduction standpoint."

Dan Flanagan, director of maintenance for MS Carriers says his company plans to start purchasing Freightliner Century Classes with inverter/chargers and shore power connections. "With the last terminal we built (MS Carriers has nine), we laid conduit so we could run any wire we'd want. We're looking at running TV, phone and power."

"Just eliminating idling at our yards will save a substantial amount of money. Then, when trucks are undergoing maintenance at our shops, we'll plug them in so we can recharge our batteries (Xantrex's inverter/charger has a three-stage battery charger)."

"We then plan to invite truckstops out to our facility to show them what we're doing and to tell them what we want. We also need to see what they need to do to make electricity work at their truckstops – how they can receive payment for power as an example. Our feeling is that truckstops can make extra money by supplying us with power, and we'll save money in idling costs."

"It's really a triple-win situation,” Strickland added. “The drivers and fleets, travel plaza and utilities all benefit. Trucks today are becoming homes away from home.

It would be a great benefit for drivers to come in, turn off the truck and enjoy the life of home without having the truck idle all night long. And or course it's a benefit to us – we'd have a quieter location and less atmospheric pollution. In addition, it would allow us to locate future truck stops closer to populated areas.”

Dave McClure, marketing director for Petro, says his company has always had an open ear to driver and fleet needs and is willing to explore truckstop electrification, if asked.

"We have a partnership with fleets, so if they come to us with a request, we'll listen," McClure says. "If they say, ‘We're going to have shore power on 20 percent of our fleet and we're looking to you to provide plug-ins,' then we'll respond. But we need economic incentive before we move forward. It's been a Catch 22 situation. We've been waiting for the demand and they've been waiting for the infrastructure."

Rick Tempchin, director, energy efficiency policy of the Edison Electric Institute, says, "Truckstop electrification is just a new application of a proven service. The challenge is to economically and safely get the power out to the parking spaces and determine a mechanism to recover costs. Will truckstops charge a flat fee per night, or hourly?"

"Electric power is the cheapest form of energy for running on-board systems. A trucker would use pennies per night,"says Tempchin.

"Remember, most of the power would be used during off-peak hours which is usually significantly less than during the day. The bigger cost is putting in service equipment – but that one-time cost can be amortized over several years."

As a trucking company owner who is a supporter of shore power said recently, "Many truck stops offer cable TV and phone lines. Why not electricity as well so we can stop having to idle?"

At the end of August, New York State Thruway successfully demonstrated the first of 44 stand-alone Truck Stop Electrification (TSE) units, manufactured by IdleAir Technologies Corp. of Knoxville, Tenn., at the DeWitt Travel Plaza near Syracuse.

By simply swiping a credit card through a service module that fits easily into their windows, truckers will have ready access to electrical power, local television, basic cable, telephone service, and basic internet service. The Thruway Authority, NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Niagara Mohawk are sharing the cost of the $500,000, two-year pilot project.

In addition to the DeWitt location, TSE units will be placed at the Chittenango Travel Plaza between Thruway Exits 34 and 34A westbound as part of the pilot program. The two demonstration sites alone could reduce diesel fuel usage by as much as 470,000 gallons a year.

If the pilot program proves successful, it would be expanded to Thruway Travel Plazas throughout the State, which could eliminate millions of pounds of potentially harmful air emissions and save truckers millions of dollars annually in unnecessary fuel costs.

AC power will be provided to about 34 individual tractor-trailer parking spaces at the two demonstration plazas. In a separate project, the Thruway is independently installing another 14 units.

All sites will offer IdleAire''s new multi-service consoles, which are designed to fit into a side window of the truck and provide access to duct-delivered heat and air conditioning, 110-volt current, telephone, cable television and the Internet.

"Our system is actually fairly simple,” says Tom Badgett, Chief Operating Officer of IdleAire Technologies Corp., based in Knoxville, TN. “An external, thermostatically controlled, high-capacity heat and air-conditioning unit is installed at each parking space on an overhead truss.

"Operators using the IdleAire service carry an insert that slips into a side window. No additional equipment is required. The insert, which will cost about $10, allows all truck windows to accept the console," he explains. "An LCD screen and keypad — also on the console — handle driver I.D., odometer readings and other account information, while providing thermostat control, messaging and more."

Badgett informs us that the "umbilical" which carries the heat, a/c and power from the overhead truss currently fits some 30 different models of trucks when used with the proper window template, and is the key to this system. He says that no problems are foreseen in using this system with expediting straight trucks or cargo vans.

According to Badgett, IdleAire is focusing on making the service a "win-win" opportunity for truck owners, drivers and even truck stops, and is currently in active negotiations with owners of 128,000 commercial parking spaces.

Badgett tells us, "We now have contractural agreements with some of the major travel centers and truck stops. We also have immediate plans for three locations in California." "We do the construction and we bring in our own power," he says."All the truck stop has to contribute is the space, and in exchange for that, we share revenues from the service with them."

The cost to use the new AC power spaces will be about $1.40 per hour, according to John Platt, executive director of the Thruway Authority.

"Our estimate is that an idling diesel engine typically burns about one gallon of fuel per hour. So at $1.65 per gallon for diesel, it is more economical to use the AC power hookup based on the cost of fuel alone," he notes.

"On an average business day, we have about 150,000 trucks that travel some portion of the Thruway. If fully utilized, these two sites alone could reduce diesel fuel usage by as much as 470,000 gallons per year. This program also delivers an added safety benefit by encouraging drivers to take a break, reducing the likelihood of drowsy driving accidents."

All of the alternatives to engine idling are available now, with only widespread shore power availability lagging behind. If the growing demand for accessible AC power continues to expand, look for the "wired" truck stop to be the next "big thing" in travel centers.

Possibly in ten years or so, a veteran driver will be discussing the "old days" with a new graduate of a truck driving school, and will tell the rookie, "Ya know, back when I started driving, ya couldn't pull up to the truck stop and plug in for the night. No sir, we had to leave them motors running all night......"

Rigmaster Power, Toronto, ON Canada ( Truck mounted gensets Proheat/Teleflex Thermal Technology, Richmond, BC Canada ( Diesel powered Gensets Cab Comfort, a division of Dometic Corp., Elkhart, IN ( No-idle HV/AC systems Espar Heating Systems, Livonia, MI ( Diesel-fired heating systems for cab and sleeper, independent coolant systems for engine preheating Frigette Truck Climate Systems Inc., Fort Worth, TX ( Self-contained AC-powered HV/AC systems for truck sleepers IdleAire Technologies, Knoxville, TN ( Truckstop-based system to provide access to HV/AC and 110-volt power plus phone, cable and Internet TruckGen, Jacksonville, FL ( Diesel generators Pony Pack, Albuquerque, NM ( Auxiliary power units that integrate with the truck''s existing water, fuel, electrical and HV/AC systems Webasto Thermosystems, Lapeer, MI ( Air and coolant auxiliary heater systems, air conditioning systems, and engine and sleeper preheaters Xantrex Technology Inc., Burnaby, B.C., Canada ( Inverter/charger systems that convert DC to AC power, transfer AC shore power and recharge batteries. 


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