Truck idling negatively impacts the environment, as idling burns fuel while contributing air and noise pollution. But you may not have a clear view of the true cost of that idle time. Fleet vehicles may be idling a lot longer than you know. This article explains idle time, examines its costs, and discusses ways to reduce idle time.

What is truck idling?

So what is idle time? Idling means the engine is running but the wheels aren’t, determined by a speed of less than 1 km/h. 

When a commercial vehicle is stationary, it’s unproductive whether the engine is running or not. Breakdowns and unscheduled maintenance are valid reasons for a vehicle to be idle with the engine switched off. However, productive time is wasted when the engine is running and the vehicle is idling.

Main reasons why trucks idle 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), an idling vehicle can burn 0.8 gallons of fuel per hour. The DoE reports, “Typically, a long-haul truck idles about 1,800 hours per year using about 1,500 gallons of diesel.” This means unnecessary fuel expenditure, costly wear and tear on engines, and air and noise pollution.

Truck idling time may happen:

  • When vehicles encounter traffic or toll booths.
  • During loading and unloading at suppliers’ or customers’ premises.
  • While paperwork needs to be processed.
  • If the driver is talking on the phone.
  • During downtime when the driver eats or sleeps.
  • If the interior of the vehicle needs warming or cooling.

What costs are involved with an idling truck?

All idling time is costly to a business. Fuel and oil waste increases running costs. Excess run-time increases vehicle maintenance frequency. Idling also has a social and environmental cost, polluting the atmosphere with carbon emissions and creating excessive noise.

Running costs

For a truck that consumes an estimated $70,000 worth of fuel on an annual basis, up to 8% ($5,600) of the fuel is wasted on idling. If you have a fleet with hundreds of trucks, that cost can quickly jump up to tens of thousands of dollars and more every month. Fleets can achieve substantial fuel efficiency and cost savings by tracking and monitoring excessive idling.

Maintenance costs

Idling accelerates engine wear and tear creating a need for more regular maintenance and an increase in the number of oil changes. This means more unproductive downtime and potentially costly repairs, both of which increase operational costs.

Environmental costs

The Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne), under the auspices of the DoE, estimates that rest-period idling results in “the emission of about 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, 55,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 400 tons of particulate matter annually in the U.S.”

Idling emissions contribute to climate change and diminish local air quality, which can affect health in the community and of the drivers themselves. With the transportation sector responsible for 26% of the total annual energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020, fleets can have a positive impact by reducing idling.

How much gas is used idling?

The amount of gas a vehicle consumes while idling will vary depend on vehicle weight, engine size, and fuel type. However, truck idling consumes more fuel than a consumer vehicle. Even without a load, idling semi-trucks use 0.64 gallons of diesel fuel per hour. Add a load, and the amount of fuel consumed will increase. 

Argonne states that rest-period truck idling in the U.S. consumes up to 1 billion gallons of fuel annually and costs $3 billion. Argonne offers an idling fuel consumption calculator so anyone can work out the costs for avoidable idling and idling reduction. 

Learn how to use truck tracking to reduce fuel costs.

Is idling bad for engines?

Yes, idling time does more engine damage than starting and stopping. Truck idling also causes twice the wear on internal parts as driving at regular speeds. The American Trucking Association estimates that idling can increase maintenance costs by $2,000 per vehicle per year while also shortening the lifespan of an engine.

Because the engine isn’t operating at its optimal temperature, fuel is only partially combusted, leading to carbon residue buildup. This buildup can further damage spark plugs and exhaust systems, which increases maintenance costs and shortens engine life.

What are idle laws and regulations?

Idle laws vary by state. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), these states impose fines of up to $25,000 for breaking anti-idling laws:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Stay compliant by downloading the ATRI’s Idling Regulations Cab Card or the regulations compendium available on ATRI.

How drivers can help reduce idle time

Driver training can have a major influence on fuel savings and reduced maintenance costs. Many drivers remain in their trucks at rest stops and keep the engine running. However, they may not be aware of the financial and environmental costs of excessive idling. The DOE says that “idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 than restarting the engine.”

Educate drivers to:

  • Turn off trucks if waiting to load or unload.
  • Turn off equipment during breaks.
  • Restrict vehicle warm-up and cool-down periods.

Tracking idling time in detail can also help you and your drivers identify when it’s possible to control and limit idling. That’s where telematics and Motive’s fleet management software can help.

How telematics can help reduce idle time

Reducing idling time saves money on fuel costs, reduces harmful emissions, and cuts down on engine wear and tear.

Idling time can be significantly reduced with telematics, which provides fleet managers with tracking data about vehicle location and engine status. Data processed from idling events can provide insights into patterns from which decisions can be made to reduce the frequency and length of idle time.

Fleet management solutions can track idling time using an online time-tracking facility. Tracking software can detect when the engine is switched on and the vehicle isn’t moving, which gives accurate readings of idle time. The resulting data creates a view of individual truck productivity that can be summarized in various ways, e.g., per route, terminal, and driver, or rolled up to show trend information for the entire fleet.

GPS fleet tracking software can also help decrease time spent idling. By giving fleet managers the data they need to understand what vehicles and drivers are doing, the software can help decrease idle time per truck, day, and trip.

Motive’s dashboard-based reporting gives you summarized and detailed reports on idle time in a visual format. These results allow direct focus on specific drivers who idle for too long or too frequently.

Automating paperwork and making IFTA compliance reporting easier also helps cut idling time while freeing up your drivers to focus on the road.

The potential is there to gain substantial savings on fuel and maintenance and contribute to a cleaner environment.

Motive offers an end-to-end fleet management platform. Tracking vehicle utilization and idle time are just a few of the many Motive features that can help you manage your fleet more efficiently and reduce operational expenditures.

Call 844-325-9230 anytime to talk to our Customer Support team about how Motive can help your fleet.