Everybody today buys or drives trucks with air suspension, comfortable seats, nice stereos, and other amenities that improve the driving experience while the truck’s going down the road. But comfort while parked is getting just as important.

If nothing else, the new hours-of service-regulations give drivers more time to rest each day, and that means more time in and around the truck’s sleeper. Extended
time in the sleeper means it has to stay at a reasonable temperature, and that usually means some external source of heat or cooling.

The traditional way to warm or cool the sleeper is idling of the engine to run the heater or air conditioner. That’s how most truckers do it now and it likely won’t
change until some external influence forces a change. The equipment’s already
there, and all it does is burn some fuel. If it smokes up the air, well, that can’t be avoided. Besides, electronically controlled engines burn pretty cleanly. Sound right?

Those external influences are getting harder to ignore.

The price of fuel has driven the cost of a night’s idling dangerously close to the
price of a cheap motel room. At three Canadian bucks a gallon, and at a rate of a
gallon or so an hour over 10 hours, that’s $30 bucks a night. Then there’s the cost
of wear and tear on the engine. If that isn’t enough, anti-idling laws are growing
more pervasive every month, with penalties in some jurisdictions providing $1000
fines, or much more, and even up to a year in the klink.

With all that on the table, John Dennehy of Espar Heater Systems says he simply can’t understand why cab heaters aren’t just flying off the shelves. His products, and others like them, are cost-effective alternatives to idling. The math doesn’t lie,
he says. Running a bunk heater instead of idling will save money.

Improved driver comfort, lower operating costs, cleaner air – so, what’s the

There are lots of old wives’ tales about idling, and plenty of excuses for not doing something about it. Lets look at a few of them…

Running a heater will kill my battery. Most low-output heaters draw less than 2 amps on the high fan setting, less than 1 amp during normal operation. If batteries are well maintained, that draw will do no harm over 10 hours.

What good is a cab heater? I need an engine heater so I’ll be able to start in the
morning. Electronic diesel engines will start easily at temperatures down to -10°C
or -20°C, making it largely unnecessary to keep them warm overnight. In extreme
climates, engine heaters can certainly be useful.

I can’t afford a cab heater; it’s easier on my cash flow to burn a little extra fuel at night then to shell out thousands for a heater. Most heater systems don’t cost
thousands. Some do, of course, but they offer the year-round benefit of auxiliary AC power, heating, air conditioning, etc. The return on investment for these products is still pretty compelling. Coolant heaters cost more than cab heaters, but in some regions they may be necessary, and will prove equally cost-effective over the life of the product if they’re used frequently.

A basic forced-air cab heater will run about $1500 to $2000, depending on the brand and features. A typical tractor engine uses about a gallon per hour at an idle, but a typical forced-air bunk heater uses less than half a gallon over an eight-hour period.

Power Management
Of the common arguments against supplemental heating systems, perhaps the most compelling is the morning restart. Sure, these products draw a small amount of current from the batteries, but most are thermostatically controlled, meaning they don’t run constantly. They shut off when a pre-set temperature is reached, and
restart as needed. Some heaters also have a low-battery shut-off feature, turning the unit off if the system voltage drops below about 10.5 V. That should still leave enough to start the engine.

Other battery draws, like leaving the marker lights on, and creature comforts such
as TV’s, refrigerators, microwaves, interior lights and radios, put you at greater risk. If power draw is such a concern, there are ways of overcoming that too, and at a reasonable cost.

One solution, borrowed from the RV world, is to isolate at least one battery from
the rest of the pack. This setup keeps one or more batteries dedicated to ‘house’ power, using 12-volt DC lights and accessories, and the others strictly for engine cranking and chassis power. All batteries are charged by the engine-driven alternator as the truck goes down the road, but the alternator must be sized so it’s strong enough for all the work it must do. A kit for an isolated battery circuit costs a few hundred dollars.

Another solution might be to add a couple of deep-cycle batteries to run a power
inverter and the heater, thus preserving the main battery pack for cranking. A typical setup might cost as little as $500.

Shore-power connections are available now as options from several truck builders. The driver plugs into an outside 110/120-volt AC power source, which runs all on-board accessories and charges the truck’s batteries. Shore power usually includes an inverter that can be used when no plug-in is available – and that’s most of the time.

Total cost might be $2500 to $3000, and not among the
most practical alternatives unless you have easy access to an external source of
120V AC power.

And of course there are some decidedly low-tech options, too: extra blankets, a down sleeping bag, and extra insulation in the cab/sleeper of the truck.

Still not convinced it’s doable? All product suppliers provide payback charts that
you can use to calculate your return on investment. Run your own numbers through
the suppliers’ spreadsheets to see how attainable increased driver comfort and
lower operating costs can be. Idle-reduction technology isn’t new, but this stuff just doesn’t have the sex appeal of Texas bumpers, shiny wheels, and colossal stereo systems. Maybe if the heaters came with chrome trim?

FleetSmart Rebate Program
Want to save a buck on a cab heater or auxiliary power unit? It’s easy.

Ottawa’s Commercial Transportation Energy Efficiency Rebate program is still available (as of January 2006). It offers a rebate of 20% (up to $350) on select idle-reduction technology outfitted on diesel-powered class 6,7, and 8 trucks and buses registered and licensed for on-road commercial service in Canada. It was originally announced by the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) Office of Energy Efficiency in August 2003.

The equipment must be new and unused, and purchased or leased on or after August 12, 2003. Equipment installed as aftermarket equipment must be
purchased (or leased) in Canada and installed in Canada. Equipment installed by original vehicle manufacturers is also eligible when the vehicle is licensed in Canada.

There were some bugs in the program when first launched, but NRCan says they’ve all been worked out. And while the rebate process remains cumbersome and confusing, your dealer can help you work through it.

Some dealers are offering additional incentives to those who agree to report their results to NRCan after 12 to 18 months of service.

To learn more about the rebate program, and to determine which products qualify, see the FleetSmart website (see below) or contact the office by telephone at 613-995-7436.

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