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Fleets test anti-idling devices

February 2008


February 2008

By James Menzies ORLANDO, Fla. –Anti-idling equipment received mixed reviews during a recent panel discussion at the American Trucking Associations annual management conference. Several fleets that have extensively tested anti-idling equipment were on-hand to share their experiences, and while not all fleets enjoyed successful test programs, most still endorsed the use of idle-free cab comfort systems.

Frank Molodecki, vice-president of operations with Montana-based Diversified Transfer and Storage, began testing Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) in 2004. The company’s reefer fleet features mostly condo-style sleepers. The company set out to test the effectiveness of APUs in reducing idle-time and improving the quality of life for its drivers.

Unfortunately, Molodecki said his company’s APUs were plagued with technical snafus. Only three of 22 APUs involved in the test performed as advertised, with the remainder experiencing substantial downtime. When all was said and done, the test fleet experienced a mere 4/100th of a mpg fuel mileage improvement as a result of the technical problems the APUs experienced. Based on that, Molodecki said the APUs tested would require 15 years to deliver a payback. Downtime on some APUs ranged from one week to a month, thanks largely to parts supply issues.

But despite the bad luck with the equipment, Molodecki remained a believer in the technology. Of the three APUs that worked properly, a 0.5 mpg fuel mileage improvement was realized which resulted in a more favourable 16-month payback. The company saved US$6,861 on the three units with properly functioning APUs, it reduced its idle time by 40.6% and extended preventive maintenance intervals by four months as a result of the reduction in idling.

“They key becomes the unit that you’re purchasing,” warned Molodecki. “Know your dealer network. When a unit goes down, the truck can be out for four to five weeks with no network to support you.”

Having found a brand that proved reliable through the test period, Diversified Transfer and Storage is now proceeding with its plan to roll out APUs across its fleet.

“We are proceeding forward with one brand,” Molodecki told delegates at the ATA conference. He added that because of the failures the fleet encountered, the overall test results “paint a very unfair view of the APU industry as a whole.”

Molodecki advised fleets to maximize APU performance by spec’ing premium insulation packages on tractors and to be cognizant of heating and cooling capacity requirements.

Joe Monteleone, vice-president of maintenance with National Freight Inc., experienced similar results during his fleet’s APU test program.

“We’ve had some issues but at the end of that, it has still been worth it,” he told delegates. “I think APUs are something everyone should seriously look at.”

National Freight Inc. has about 300 APUs in its fleet and Monteleone said the company has realized a 5% fuel savings as a result. It has reduced its idle-time from 45% to 23% on trucks equipped with APUs as well as lowering maintenance costs.

Monteleone said the fleet has achieved a payback period of four years on its APUs, but added “We think it should be less – we think it should be two to three years.”

Monteleone said the key to the company’s success with APUs has been to train its drivers and educate them on the benefits of the technology. “The learning curve with new drivers has affected our savings potential,” he said. “They may be a little leery of using the APU.”

Both Diversified and National Freight have found that APUs have had a significant impact on resale value. Molodecki said the trade-in value on trucks with APUs is about US$2,500 higher than trucks without the units. Monteleone said his company has seen the resale value of its APU-equipped trucks surge by at least US$1,750.

“The removal of the APU before resale reduces the resale value,”noted Molodecki, adding the removal of an APU may also result in unsightly ventilation holes.

Schneider National was also represented on the panel. Steve Duley, vice-president of purchasing, countered the recommendations of the previous speakers by saying “The biggest reason fleets idle is because it’s the lowest cost solution.”

Duley said Schneider has yet to discover a heating and cooling antiidling solution that delivers a returnon-investment.

“We can’t get a payback on anything that provides heating and cooling,” he said, blaming his fleet’s already low idle-time of just over 25%. He said the company finds it gets best results through an incentive program that rewards drivers for voluntarily reducing their idling.

Duley did say Schneider does achieve a payback on diesel-fired cab heaters, which are compact, easy-to-use and consume very little fuel. However, he added they require maintenance, draw off the truck’s battery and there’s a risk of jump starts below 10 degrees F. Cab heaters alone have proven to reduce Schneider’s average idle-time from 27.2% to 14%, Duley said.

The company has also tested battery-powered cab cooling systems, which Duley said provide 10 hours cooling at 85 F, are reliable and can potentially displace a truck’s existing air conditioning system. On the down side, he added they are costly, weigh 400 lbs, and require planning ahead as they are designed to maintain cab temperature, not cool it down in the first place.

Thermal storage units? They’re cheap, mobile and require a low power draw from the battery. But Duley said they provide limited cooling in temperatures above 85 degrees F, are not always reliable, require driver training and have received low driver acceptance.

Overall, Duley reminded delegates that a 0% idle-time is not a realistic target. Even the best systems are not adequate in extreme temperatures, he pointed out. He suggested that instead of trying to eliminate idling altogether, government should allow for the idling of lowemission engines and provide grants for mobile solutions.


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