No-idling solutions for cab comfort

No-idling solutions for cab comfort

No-idling solutions save money and keep drivers comfortable.

No-idling solutions save money and keep drivers comfortable. Cutting fuel costs is the number one reason to consider this solution. Reducing idling also means fewer hours and less drive engine maintenance, too.

A diesel-powered axillary power unit (APU) may use just 20-to-30 percent of the fuel that a truck’s main engine uses while idling. Battery-only solutions use no fuel at all –– charging during on-highway engine operation to supply power while the driver is at rest. Following the lead of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), more states and some municipalities are enacting regulations that limit a truck’s engine idle time to mere minutes. (See an updated list at

Failure to comply with strict idle limits can result in hefty fines.

There’s also a growing demand for larger, “homier” sleeper cabs, and that larger volume places greater demands on cab heating and cooling systems while drivers are at rest. Drivers now have more electrically powered creature comforts onboard, like TVs and microwaves, plus electronic devices like laptop computers, cell phones and MP3 players that need charging. This greater energy demand comes at a time when fuel prices are soaring. To supply this power without using the highway engine, there are numerous no-idle options. Some systems use a small diesel engine to power an air conditioner compressor and drive an alternator to charge batteries, deriving AC-power via a DC-inverter. Others use an all-battery approach to power air conditioning and hotel loads, including a fuel-fired cab heater if the unit is operated in colder climates. Some units are stand-alone solutions; others tie into the existing cab systems. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Which is right for your fleet? Beyond the basic up-front cost to consider is how soon to expect return on investment (ROI) and additional maintenance costs. There are also installation considerations in spec’ing, such as locating the unit for proper operation and ease of maintenance, the possible need for additional in-cab ducting, exhaust routing, fuel supply lines, controls, and electrical circuits, plus accommodating the additional weight. If you want a block heater for your main engine, it complicates the decision process all the more. If you have a 2007 or later power unit, you’ll need to consider the upcoming enforcement of the requirement for a diesel particulate filter (DPF) for that APU engine if it travels in California. If you’re retrofitting pre-2007 tractors, all APUs are compliant. Where does one begin to sort this out?

According to Tom Kampf, APU product manager for ThermoKing (, understanding how and where you’re going to use the product can help you narrow the selection criteria because there are dozens of options available for no-idle solutions. If the vehicle is going to operate primarily in the South and Southwest, air conditioning is the bigger need. In northern states, maintaining cab heating becomes more important.

ThermoKing’s TriPac solution is a traditional APU with a belt-driven air conditioner compressor that operates off of a 2-cylinder diesel engine and an alternator that charges the truck’s existing batteries for hotel power into the cab, via a DC-AC inverter. Unlike a continuously running generator, the TriPac runs only when needed when hotel loads are light, which results in less fuel usage. A fuel-fired heater is added to provide cab warmth. “Pay-back depends on fuel prices, but most systems are seeing payback in 10 to 15 months now,” says Kampf. The fuel savings are immediate, as he sees it, “because you’re still saving more on fuel than you’re paying for the system, so it’s still money in your pocket every month.” Another consideration is compliance with special regulations such as CARB’s requirement for a certified DPF for operation of an APU on tractors equipped with 2007 and newer engines. “Purchasing a product and then discovering you cannot use it nationwide or that it does not meet your specific heating and cooling requirements would be extremely frustrating,” Kampf warns. Spend the time to talk to current owners of no-idle solutions and find out what works for them and what does not. This will be time well spent and perhaps money saved, he adds.

“If you’re running trucks in all regions of North America, you would want to consider a full system like an APU,” says Amy Egerter, marketing and communications manager for RigMaster Power Corp. RigMaster markets a stand-alone APU, not tied into the truck’s coolant system. That way, if something goes wrong with the truck’s coolant lines, the independent APU is able to run to keep the driver comfortable and safe while waiting for a repair or tow. The RigMaster APU comes in two models, one ready for the more stringent California emission standards when a diesel particulate filter is fitted. Both models are available with either Perkins or Caterpillar 2-cylinder diesel engines, and each offers 6,000 watts of 120-VAC power. The three-component design takes about 8-to-10 hours to install, according to Egerter. There’s a main unit with generator, radiator and condenser in-stalled on the frame rail; a heater core and air conditioner evaporator core in a heater box with blower motor installed under the bunk; and a control panel with on-off switch, temperature and status LCD display in the cab. This set of components is typical of many APUs and requires a decision about whether the air vents will use existing or new ducting. The APU charges the truck’s batteries all the time it is running, and it shares the vehicle’s fuel tank (ULSD or B5 biodiesel). If the battery charge falls too low, the APU starts automatically. It can also come on by timer or temperature. The RigMaster (similar to other APUs with a 2-cylinder engine) sips fuel at 0.3 gal./hour average, says Egerter, compared with up to a gal./hour for the truck’s main engine at idle. The RigMaster website ( has a ROI calculator to help determine how quickly an APU can pay for itself with today’s fuel prices.

A recent entry in the aftermarket is the new Fleetrite APU from Navistar that can be retrofitted onto any heavy-duty truck. Powered by a 14-HP, 2-cylinder Caterpillar diesel engine, the unit takes the place of the engine under the hood to provide driver necessities including heat, air conditioning and power for electronics while the truck is idle without using a lot of fuel.

As in similar stand-alone designs, the Fleetrite APU only uses the truck’s battery power and fuel tank to start its engine and power its electronic system. A 60-amp DC alternator charges the truck’s battery while a 6-kW generator powers appliances and engine-block heater. The automotive style heating/cooling system of the Fleetrite APU does not use any of its generator power to run it, and its system is the same as that on the truck, so any truck repair shop would likely have the knowledge to work on the system, the company says.

Luke Summers, project manager, aftermarket products, Navistar parts group, points out that the purchaser should consider the convenience of the dealer network supporting the APU. “Most APUs require a trained technician to perform the installation, and many suppliers offer training for the technicians,” Summers notes. Most OEM dealers have training available to them to install APUs.

According to International, a Class 8 truck burns a little more than a gallon of diesel fuel per hour idling, and a long-haul sleeper idles around 2,400 hours per year. ROI depends on how much the driver normally idles the vehicle; however, at today’s fuel prices ROI is typically around one year. Retail prices on APUs range from $5,000 to $12,000 installed.

International dealers also offer other anti-idling solutions as aftermarket retrofits including NITE battery powered systems, Espar cab heaters, Webasto cab heaters and Webasto C5 truck heating and cooling units, and Autotherm energy-recovery units for day-cab trucks. More details are at

Shawn Wasson, Cummins Inc. APU business leader, suggests finding a technology that is proven and reliable, and finding a company that you trust and that can support the APU wherever is needed. He says of his company’s product, “the Cummins ComfortGuard APU is based on the proven architecture of a Cummins Onan generator, with which we have decades of experience across multiple markets.” On ROI, Wasson says, “Many factors go into payback, yet if the idle time is relatively high, given the price of diesel fuel, it should pay for itself in under two years.” Details at

Stacy Peshkopia, marketing manager, Kohler Power Systems-Mobile Products, is direct in answering what considerations to make before deciding on an APU: “How long can the driver afford not to seek an anti-idling solution with today’s high diesel fuel prices?” On what to get, she says to look at what needs to be powered versus what’s desired. “Is DC and AC power needed? Is there anything else in the cab, other than heating/cooling, that requires power when the truck engine is at idle? This will help determine the APU type and size (kW) the driver needs.”

Kohler offers two APU options to meet different demands. The Kohler 3APU-HC offers 12,000 BTU/hr cooling, 10,000 BTU/hr heating and 55 amps of DC power. It is also compact (15 x 24 x 28 in.), lightweight (240 lbs.) and quiet (operating at 69 dBA under full load), the company says.

For more power, the Kohler 7APU produces 120 VAC power and 45 amps of DC power offered as either a single, self-contained version or with a separate space-saving remote unit HVAC. Both offer 14,000 BTU/hr cooling and 2.5 kW heating. Financing programs, such as state and federal grants, may be available to off-set the APU purchase cost. With today’s diesel fuel prices, purchasers of the Kohler 3APU-HC can expect to recoup the costs within 8–11 months; with the larger Kohler 7APU, the payback is about 15 months, according to Peshkopia. A payback calculator is at

Teleflex’s APU, marketed exclusively as the Carrier ComfortPro APU, provides the operator with air conditioning, heating, 110-VAC, engine preheat and truck battery charging –– all controlled from a single touch panel mounted inside the cab.

Irfan Rehmanji, product manager – idle reduction, Teleflex Power Systems, says, “If the operator requires household power (110-VAC), then a complete APU genset system should be considered. If not, then they can limit themselves to just a fuel-fired heater or smaller air conditioner systems.” For the heater application, Teleflex offers the Proheat Air diesel-powered air heater for in-cab driver comfort during cold weather. It’s available in two different power options: the 2-kW unit, the Proheat Air A2, offers 6,800 BTUs of capacity and the 4-kW unit, the Proheat Air A4, offers 13,600 BTUs of capacity. It takes an authorized technician about four hours to install. It’s mounted inside the cabin and connected to the truck’s fuel tank and batteries. In trucks with sleepers, the unit is mounted underneath the bed or lower bunk. The A2 consumes .03 gal. or about a 1/2 cup of fuel per hour; the A4 consumes twice that amount.

Teleflex Power Systems offers an online savings calculator at Teleflex also manufactures the Proheat X45 and Proheat M-series auxiliary heaters. Carrier Transicold also distributes the Proheat Air and Proheat X45 through its Replacement Components Group:

Bill Gordon, director of sales/new business for Bergstrom Inc. says, “If the truck will be parked for extended periods of time with no shore power available, an APU system may be a better choice than others. If shore power is available, the battery system with optional battery charger and inverter will provide heating, cooling and hotel-load power to the sleeper for as long as needed.” Gordon continues, “The battery powered and thermal storage systems provide the heating and cooling without the noise of an engine running or the associated maintenance or pollution of another engine on the truck.”

“Compared to APUs, the No-Idle Thermal Environment (NITE) system offered by Bergstrom eliminates fuel usage, as well as reduces noise, air pollution and maintenance associated with another engine running on the truck,” says Gordon. The NITE no-idle system is an engine on/engine off climate control system designed to keep the sleeper compartment cool in hot weather and warm when it’s cold outside, without idling. With the engine off, the sleeper air conditioning system operates on deep cycle batteries, and with the engine running, it switches over to belt-driven power supplied by the truck’s engine. It consists of a rechargeable, deep-cycle battery system that supplies electricity to a hermetically sealed air-conditioning unit and an auxiliary heater. The NITE system also includes a smart control system, featuring electronic variable functions for comfort and power management. The NITE system is charged during regular operation of the truck; it charges in 4-6 hours of run time and requires a 30 amp upgrade to the stock alternator with a minimum of 100 amps at idle. For heating there’s the option of an Espar fuel-fired heater.

With the optional battery charger on the NITE system, one can plug into shore power and run indefinitely. It does not use an internal combustion engine for power and has been on the market for six years, notes Gordon.

Using recent fuel prices, a savings calculator at shows a ROI of well under six months. Leasing options are available through SmartWay and other programs.

Kyle Houston, ClimaCab product manager, observes that maintenance costs are often overlooked when considering no-idle options. “Although everyone knows how expensive it is to maintain a diesel engine, few consider that APUs essentially add an additional engine to the truck,” he says. “Electric solutions, on the other hand, have zero operating costs, zero emissions and zero maintenance.” He adds, “Ultimately, though, it really comes down to performance and operating costs. Often, fleets get into the pitfall of basing purchasing decisions on sticker price alone. If a no-idle solution cannot provide the comfort a driver expects, chances are the driver will be unhappy and find opportunities to idle the engine. Then, you not only lose those upfront savings, but also it is more than likely the entire purchase was a waste of money.”

ClimaCab, manufactured by Glacier Bay, comes with a base unit that includes a patent-pending power management module to extend battery life and a high-efficiency air conditioner. To add heating to this configuration, there are two options: fuel-fired heat or ClimaCab’s all-electric radiant heat panels. Four deep-cycle AGM batteries complete the package. ClimaCab also offers Start Assist, which helps eliminate jump-starts by recharging depleted truck starter batteries.

All of these options have a lower total cost than diesel-powered APUs, says Houston. “Even with the most conservative calculations,” he says, “you will see a complete return on investment in well under one year.” See details at

Webasto Product North America Inc.’s Josh Lupu advises when choosing idle-reduction technologies, “Make sure you know up front what is required to keep the idle reduction solution functioning properly. A low-priced device might not look so attractive once you have to replace belts, pulleys, change the oil, etc. This adds to the cost and length of time that you see a return on investment.”

Webasto’s BlueCool Truck solution uses no fuel and creates zero emissions when cooling the bunk with its 17,000 BTU thermal storage, runs for up to 10 hours on one charge without idling and requires no additional batteries. It needs little maintenance, Lupu notes, “but if something unforeseen happens and you need service or a repair, Webasto has over 1,000 sales and service partners in North America.” Adding an Air Top 2000 ST (C5 Truck) heater brings 7,000 BTU/hr for the use of only one gal. of fuel in a 20-hour period. Monthly financing is available to help with the BlueCool Truck’s roughly $5,000-$7,000 cost. BlueCool Truck’s source of cooling is a cold storage unit of water/ice in a high-tech graphite matrix that is frozen while the truck is running. During driver rest, the system circulates super-chilled coolant between the cold storage unit and a heat exchanger installed in the truck sleeper, while four small distribution fans push the air.

“Via fuel cost savings, operators and truck owners can pay back their investment in BlueCool Truck in around half the time it would take with an APU, especially when you consider the additional maintenance costs that are necessary to keep an APU running,” Lupu notes. The website is

Dometic also offers battery-powered 7,000 BTU capacity cooling and heating units with a shore power option kit. More information may be found at

Espar, a partner with Bergstrom on the NITE system (the heater component), itself offers diesel-fired heating systems to provide cab comfort as well as independent coolant systems for engine pre-heating. Videos and a ROI calculator are at

Need another reason to consider a no-idle solution? According to ThermoKing’s Kampf, “With the drive toward being a good steward of the environment, anti-idle devices are less damaging than a large tractor engine in terms of the carbon footprint.”


Daimler (Freightliner, Sterling, Western Star)
Freightliner offers the battery-powered NITE anti-idling system for model-year 2007 or newer Cascadia, Columbia and Century Class S/T and is introducing the factory-installed RestSmart APU system.

The Idle Free Hybrid System option uses a bank of five high-efficiency absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries to provide stored electrical power for heating, air conditioning and amenities. The batteries can run the Dometic cab AC unit; a Webasto diesel-fired heater can be spec’d also.

Volvo Trucks
Volvo offers a number of no-idle solutions for its tractors, including the Dometic air conditioning system, plus Cummins ComfortGuard APU, inverters and shore power options.

Kenworth Truck Co.
The Kenworth Clean Power no-idling cooling and heating system is currently available as a factory installed option on the Kenworth T660, plus new W900s and T800s equipped with 72-in. AeroCab sleepers. The system uses dedicated, advanced deep-cycle batteries that power a thermal storage cooler with 21,000 BTUs of cooling capacity and provide accessory power for up to 10 hours.

Peterbilt Motors Co.
The Peterbilt ComfortClass system, a combination of four batteries and a thermal storage cooler, provides a temperature-controlled environment and the capacity to run electronic devices in the sleeper. It provides heating, cooling and 110-volt electrical power for up to 10 hours without the engine running. It is available in Models 365, 367, 384, 386, 388 and 389 equipped with a 63-in. or 70-in. Unibilt sleeper.

International Trucks (Navistar)
A new version of Bergstrom’s No-Idle Thermal Environment (NITE) climate control system is a factory-installed option for the International ProStar and LoneStar models beginning the fourth quarter of 2008. Navistar also is to offer a factory-installed MaxxPower APU as an option later this year.

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