Rolf Lockwood

August 2, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 16

After years and years of cajoling, the anti-idling message just never got through. Like many other observers of this game, I can’t figure out why I still see trucks idling away – on a day that’s neither hot nor cold — while the operator sits in a truckstop munching his ham and eggs for the better part of an hour. What’s the point? He wouldn’t idle his F150 that way, would he?

Even if we’re talking about a company driver with no bonus plan and no reason to save fuel based on self-interest, I still can’t see the point of idling for such short stretches — or long ones — in decent weather. Can’t be laziness, surely, because the effort required to stop and then start a diesel is tiny. If he’s stopped for a while, I guess he might have to wait for the air to come up, but even then it’s not a big deal. I think it’s simple habit.

Or maybe ignorance? A friend posed a question to me the other day that implies as much. Some drivers, she had learned, think it’s more expensive to stop and start a diesel engine than to leave it running over a lunch break. She was asking if I had numbers to prove them wrong. I didn’t have precise figures at the ready, and she got them at the Natural Resources Canada website before I could respond.

The answer? NRCAN says 10 seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. And there’s no significant wear to starter or batteries. There’s just no way that idling for an hour is going to be cheaper or otherwise better than shutting down.

Zack Ellison of Cummins, not incidentally, tells me that re-starting the engine would only need a few ounces of fuel compared to more than 48 ounces when leaving the engine running during a 45- minute lunch.

Now, if we’re talking about staying warm on a winter night in Saskatchewan or cool during an Arizona summer, that’s different. We can’t let drivers freeze or boil, so they idle that big 16-liter diesel that can pull 140,000 lb up a 7% grade without really breaking a sweat. True, it can also run that little AC compressor or an even smaller heater fan with less than 1% of its power potential. But that’s… well, it’s obviously overkill. Not to mention being very, very expensive, and in some corners of the world – an increasing number – it’s illegal.

No wonder then that we’re seeing a veritable avalanche of auxiliary power units and independent HVAC systems enter the market. The only surprise is that the industry hadn’t been demanding them earlier!

I’ve caught a couple of the latest here in this e-newsletter, one of them from a home-grown start-up outfit and the other from one of the oldest companies in the United States.

The Idle-Kleen Hitchhiker is an interesting product from a little company in Cambridge, smack in the middle of southern Ontario trucking country. It’s the brainchild of Kelly Cooper, who’s no stranger to the industry, having sold trucks for the last decade or more. It seems he thought he could build a better mouse trap and a couple of years back set out to do exactly that. The result is a very light APU that includes a Dometic heating and air-conditioning system as well as battery charging and a pair of 110-volt in-cab power outlets, all of it completely independent of other truck systems except for a fuel line.

Challenger Motor Freight has 100 of these units on trial, with a view to equipping more than 10 times that many trucks in the future. Cooper is building Hitchhikers now but full production capacity has yet to come.

And then there’s Kohler Power Systems with a new 5-kilowatt diesel APU, its first. It will be available later this year and will offer truck operators an air-cooled, self-contained engine. The thing is small, weighs less than 350 lb, and has a direct-drive alternator – a direct connection between the engine and alternator instead of belts – which should provide reliability.

Finally, a late comer – this one arrived in my computer as I was finishing this e-newsletter, and I thought it was worth squeezing in. I’m talking about another homegrown innovation, the remote air-brake diagnostic and monitoring solution from Spectra and BSM Technologies. It combines Spectra’s brake-sensor technology with the remote monitoring function of BSM Wireless’ vehicle tracking tool.

“The ability to identify a brake problem remotely, anywhere in North America, will allow maintenance personnel to direct the driver to the nearest repair facility and avoid costly roadside fines, reduce vehicle downtime and mitigate potential accidents”, says Spectra CEO Andrew Malion.

This is no small deal.

As I understand things, it’s not fully ready to market across the board, but the system has been installed on at least one of the spiffy tractor-trailer rigs of exotic car hauler TFX International. I’ll keep my eye on this one.

One last point… you’ll have noticed that I expanded the number of new products covered in the newsletter to 10 from a paltry five. I’ll try to keep it at 10, but don’t hold me to it in a slow week!

This e-newsletter is published every two weeks. It’s a heads-up notice about what you can see at where you’ll find in-detail coverage of nearly everything that’s new. Plus interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months. Subscribe today!

If you have comments of whatever sort, please contact me at

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data