Truck News


Idle minds:

TORONTO, Ont. With worldwide oil prices reaching record levels and the Kyoto Protocol looking to resuscitate our rapidly depleting ozone, you would think you'd be hard-pressed to find a trucker carele...

TORONTO, Ont. With worldwide oil prices reaching record levels and the Kyoto Protocol looking to resuscitate our rapidly depleting ozone, you would think you’d be hard-pressed to find a trucker carelessly idling his or her engine for the sake of a cool cab.

But in fact, it’s not that hard at all.

Take a trip to any truck stop across North America and no doubt you’ll hear the deafening roar of countless trucks idling – often needlessly and while unattended.

So if they know about fuel prices and harmful emissions, why are they still doing it?

“That’s the $4-million question,” said Alasdair McNellan, general manager at Cummins. “It’s just trying to get people to understand why not to do it and what it costs. We’ve done a lot of work on it and we try and explain to the public, but the owner/operators don’t seem to care. They’ll just get out of their cabs and let it run. They’re spoiled. They want to get in a cold cab or a hot cab.”

If a driver must idle, there are some things to be aware of as well as some products available to help promote efficiency.

First, there is the question of idle speed. Most engines come standard with a default idle speed, usually about 600-650 RPMs. When it comes to efficiency when choosing an idle speed, most manufacturers will tell you low is the way to go.

“You should be idling your engine as low as you can,” McNellan said. “The slower you idle your truck, the less fumes you let off and the less fuel you burn.”

But the temperature outside the cab is also a factor when it comes to selecting an idle speed.

“The most common occurrence of engine idling is when a driver is at a truck stop on downtime,” said Jim Fancher, marketing product manager at Volvo Trucks in Greensboro, N.C. “For example, if he’s in Minnesota or New York and they want to go to sleep but don’t want to freeze, they will idle the truck so that the engine will still produce sufficient heat to allow them to sleep in the cab.”

The ways to adjust the idle speed are dependent on the individual engine manufacturer though the most common way of adjusting idle speed is by using an in-cab switch, usually coupled with the cruise control.

“With the parking brake enabled a driver can activate a “fast idle” by depressing the cruise control set switch,” said Chuck Blake, manager of special projects at Detroit Diesel. “Then engine speed will automatically increase to a pre-determined value, typically 1000 RPM. The driver can then use the SET/DECEL or RESUME/ACCEL switches to adjust the fast idle speed to the desired point.”

But Steve Desuta, powertrain sales manager at Mack Trucks in Mississauga, Ont., says that unless you’re warming up the truck, you shouldn’t touch the idle speed at all.

“You should leave it at the default idle speed,” he said. “Unless you’re warming it up, you shouldn’t even touch the idle speed.”

But for those drivers who must idle, there are parameters you can program into the engine to allow for the most efficient idling time.

Detroit Diesel offers two electronic features to assist with minimizing engine idling. “The first is called Idle Shutdown Timer,” Blake said. “With this feature the engine controller (DDEC) shuts down the engine if it remains idling for a specific period of time. This feature will take into account various conditions such as ambient temperature and engine oil temperature before activating engine shutdown. The second feature is called Optimized Idle, which reduces idle time by running the engine only when required. Optimized Idle automatically stops and restarts the engine in order to maintain engine oil temperature range, maintain a minimum battery charge and keep the cab/sleeper or passenger area at the desired temperature.”

According to McNellan, part of the reason so many drivers leave their engines idling is because they don’t understand how idling works and what components they’re actually heating up. “When you start the engine up from dead cold, yes, you’ll want to let it run for a minute or two, but you’re actually warming up the rest of the components, not just the engine,” he said. “Sitting and idling your engine for 20 minutes makes no sense whatsoever when you’ve got a cold transmission.”

He also said Cummins has a program that encourages fleets to limit idling time.

“There are fleets out there like Yanke and Bison that do an excellent job of controlling their idle,” he said. “They’re able to keep their idle down to 15 to 20 per cent, but if you look at the North American average, it’s more like 45 to 50 per cent.”

That’s why programs like Fleet Challenge are being undertaken by people like Eddie Oldfield, fleet project manager of New Brunswick Lung Association Fleet Challenge.

The Fleet Challenge is a national program run by National Resources Canada looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants attributed to road freight.

“We are here to engage and support fleet operators and provide them with the tools and training materials to help reduce fuel consumption and save them money in that process,” Oldfield said. “The end goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but for the fleet manager, it’s to reduce fuel costs. There are also health benefits and opportunities for better driving techniques and vehicle maintenance.”

The Fleet Challenge has a list of interventions they wish to promote which include speed reduction, tire inflation, and anti-idling policy and technology.

“Anti-idling is one of the cheapest, most cost-effective ways to reduce fuel consumption,” he said. “In the trucking sector, of all the interventions available, anti-idling is considered to have some of the least cost and greatest impact.”

Oldfield estimates that the annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the anti-idling policy would fall in the area of 20,000 tons.

He also agrees with the engine manufacturers on how needless and damaging engine idling can be, especially when heavy-duty vehicles burn four litres of fuel per hour when idling.

“If the driver’s going to be out of the cab for half an hour (in cold weather), it’s not going to cool down enough for it to be a big issue and the engine parts themselves only warm up when the truck is in motion. So really there’s no benefit to leaving the engine idling.”

While drivers have a responsibility for safety on the road, they, like all Canadians, have a responsibility to reduce environmental and health risks as well.

“Canada has to reduce its greenhouse emissions under the Kyoto Protocol by at least 240 megatons. Transportation and energy are the largest contributors and with long haul transport as one of the foremost contributors.”

Oldfield hopes the interventions initiated by the Fleet Challenge will have a positive and significant change in both the transportation industry and all of Canada. “We are here to inform, educate and train vehicle operators and fleet managers. Everyone can do their part.”

For more information on the Fleet Challenge program, visit www.

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