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Tips to Reduce Your Fleet's Idle Time

David Gargaro
David Gargaro
Web Development / Project Management at VerdaWorks

GPS fleet tracking software can be used to cut down on your fleet's idling time, which can save you money and have a positive impact on the environment.

  • There are various reasons why trucks may idle, such as the driver being stopped in traffic, sleeping while on a long haul, and unloading the vehicle.
  • Excessive idling not only wastes money in fuel and maintenance costs, but is also bad for the environment.
  • GPS fleet tracking software offers numerous ways to reduce your fleet's idle time.
  • This article is for fleet managers and business owners with a fleet of company vehicles who want to reduce their drivers' idle time.

Idling commercial vehicles are a drain on a company's financial resources, particularly since fuel costs make up 60% of most fleet budgets. This will continue to be an issue as fuel costs rise and environmental concerns about air pollution and global warming become more prevalent. Fleet managers must find ways to reduce their company vehicles' idle time to address these issues. One solution is to use telematics and fleet tracking software. Before you can determine how to cut down on idling, though, you should understand exactly what idle time is and what its downsides are.

What is idle time?

Idling is when a vehicle is on but not moving. All drivers have some have idle time, such as when they reach stop signs or stoplights. However, different types of fleets face many other instances of idling. For example, long-haul fleet drivers will have higher idle times than truck and delivery drivers who work local routes.

For example, idling occurs when drivers are:

  • At toll booths
  • Stuck in traffic
  • Loading and unloading the truck
  • Preparing and processing documents
  • Warming up the engine and cab before departure
  • Stopping the truck to use the phone
  • At a rest stop

Did you know?Did you know? The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) reports that 34% of vehicles idle for less than one hour per day, 39% idle for three to four hours, and 14% idle for more than four hours per day.

As the business owner or fleet manager, you must accommodate the health and well-being of your drivers, which is why some idling is hard to avoid. Drivers must make rest stops along the way to support their comfort and to meet hours of service (HOS) rules. Some drivers spend nights in their vehicles on long-haul deliveries and need to keep their trucks running to stay warm. During their downtime, drivers will go online, watch TV, listen to the radio, and call their families. These aspects of downtime are essential for long-haul drivers' physical, mental and emotional health.

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What is the impact of excessive idle time?

In the EERE study we cited above, more than half of the fleet vehicles idled at least three hours per day, with some idling up to eight hours per day. Excessive idling can cost approximately $12,000 per fleet truck per year. Every 10% of idle time can result in a 1% decline in the truck's fuel economy.

Excessive idle time can have other costs in addition to wasted fuel:

Running costs

Commercial trucks cost about $70,000 in annual fuel costs. Idling the truck for 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the engine. In fact, idling uses about 8% of the truck's fuel. Across an entire fleet, fuel costs related to idling add up to a significant expense for a business.

Additional maintenance costs

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that excessive idling can increase a company's annual maintenance costs by approximately $2,000 per truck. With more frequent maintenance, trucks are out of service more often and for longer periods. Idling is twice as damaging to the truck's internal components as turning the engine on and off. Idling also decreases the time required between oil changes.

Environmental and health costs

Idling trucks are a source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which hurts the environment. According to the EPA, the transportation industry is responsible for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2) in the United States. The EPA recognizes greenhouse gas emissions as responsible for warming Earth's atmosphere, leading to widespread climate change.

Idling trucks also lower the air quality for drivers and the general public. Studies from the University of Michigan's Lifestage Environmental Exposures and Disease Center have linked the increase in cancer, asthma, and birth defects to vehicle fumes and idling.

Did you know?Did you know? To date, 18 states have instituted anti-idling legislation to help protect public health. Fines for idling can reach $25,000.

Using GPS tracking to monitor and reduce idle time

The best GPS fleet tracking software and telematics software have multiple features to help fleet managers monitor and manage their vehicles' idle time.

Driver behavior reports

Telematics software records a lot of data about fleet trucks. This data includes drivers' actions to operate the vehicles, such as idling, aggressive driving, speeding, braking and cornering. These behaviors affect the vehicles' performance, fuel consumption, and durability, potentially increasing operational and maintenance costs. For example, speeding and aggressive driving can cause additional wear and tear on vehicle components, reduce fuel efficiency, increase the likelihood of accidents, and affect insurance premiums.

The information from telematics software can help you identify your "problem" drivers. Armed with this information, you could create training programs to address certain behaviors, customizing the training for specific drivers. The software's reports can also show you which drivers are idling longer than others, so you can notify these drivers or implement an "idle shutdown" program.

TipTip: You can use GPS fleet tracking software to monitor your drivers' behavior on the road, which can help you train your team to cut down on fuel and maintenance costs.

Idle time tracking

Telematics software monitors engine diagnostics and tracks idling at the same time. It can alert both you and the driver when a vehicle idles beyond a set time. This should spur the driver to stop the engine, while showing you which drivers are idling longer than others. Ultimately, this should reduce your fleet's overall idle time and, therefore, fuel waste.

GPS idle time reports

Telematics software can track not only how long a truck idles, but also where it is when it idles. It then produces reports to help you determine the cause of the idling problems and what you or the driver can do to reduce them. For example, you might install an auxiliary unit in company vehicles or implement new idling rules (e.g., drivers must turn off the engine after a certain amount of idling time). You can then continue monitoring driver behavior with the telematics software to ensure that drivers follow the new rules.

Optimized delivery routes

Traffic congestion is another main cause of idle time. You can use telematics software to optimize your drivers' travel routes in order to avoid heavy traffic where possible. GPS systems use algorithms to evaluate all possible routes between two points. The telematics software assesses multiple variables when determining the best routes, including current traffic, accidents, and ongoing and pending construction. Drivers can adjust their routes in progress or before they start their trip based on the telematics' analysis. Reducing drivers' time in traffic and optimizing their routes will reduce their idle time.

Geofencing

Geofencing involves setting a virtual perimeter around a geographic area in the real world. The technology has numerous applications in many different industries. For example, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, used geofencing to reduce maintenance of a local bridge. Overweight trucks were constantly crossing this bridge, which resulted in the need for ongoing maintenance. City fleet managers used geofencing to tag all overweight vehicles so that they would receive alerts when those vehicles crossed the bridge. As a result, the number of overweight vehicles using the bridge decreased by 90%.

You can use geofencing to reduce your trucks' idle time by putting a geofence around common idling areas. When one of your vehicles enters the geofenced area, the telematics software will send you an alert to show how long the vehicle remains in the area.

Image Credit: ysuel / Getty Images
David Gargaro
David Gargaro
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
David Gargaro is a content writer and copy editor with more than 20 years of experience in multiple industries, including publishing, advertising, marketing, finance, and small business. He has written on B2B-focused topics covering business technology, sales, marketing, and insurance. David has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Actuarial Science from the University of Toronto. He served as the managing editor of a small publishing company, and self-published a book called How to Run Your Company… Into the Ground.