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What Does Idling Mean (and How Does It Impact Costs)?

They say that idle hands are the devil’s playthings—but what do they say about idle trucks? A recent report from the Office of Energy Efficiency revealed that 39 percent of the study's participant fleet vehicles idled three to four hours every day, and 14 percent idle for more than four hours daily. Only 34 percent of the subjects' fleet vehicles idled for less than an hour per day.

What does idling mean?

Considering the size of the margins that you typically see in the trucking business—and considering the high cost of fuel—it’s easy to see how idling can become a significant source of costs for fleet operators. Luckily, but understanding how and why idling impacts costs in the modern last mile, you can begin to take steps to address it. 

What Does Idling Mean?

Vehicle idling is when the driver lets the engine run while the vehicle isn’t moving. Drivers may be unable to avoid keeping the vehicles' engines running if they're stuck in traffic or stopped at a red light—but like we saw above, there’s often a lot more idling going on than red lights and traffic stops can really account for. 

Idle times might occur in various situations:

  • When loading and unloading goods
  • When the driver is processing paperwork
  • When the driver is on the phone talking to someone
  • When the driver is eating or taking a rest
  • When the driver is warming up or cooling down the insides of the truck during summer or winter

How Much Gas Is Used While Idling?

Idling can be quite costly for the average fleet operator—fuel costs take up 60 percent of a fleet's budget, and idling burns through fuel quite quickly.  

According to a fact sheet from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, vehicle idling consumes up to half-gallon of fuel per hour, depending on the size and type of engine.

To provide an overview of the financial cost of idling for truckers: a regular truck that idles for about 25 percent of the working day could consume $2500 worth of fuel every year. Of course, many trucks idle for longer periods than this. In point of fact, excessive idling of trucks can cost fleet operators roughly $12,000 per truck per year. Wouldn’t it be nice to save a large chunk of that sum by reducing idle time? 

What's the Real Cost of Truck Idling?

Aside from consuming fuel, idling also comes with a number of other costs:

Additional maintenance costs: The Environmental Protection Agency says that excessive idling also pushes truck maintenance costs up by around $2000 per vehicle per year. This is because idling damages the engine much more than when engines are turned off and on. Plus, idling also reduces the time needed in between for oil changes. Frequent vehicle maintenance also increases vehicle downtime, which can impact the fleet's operations.

Environmental and health costs: The transportation industry contributes around 30 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions. Aside from contributing to the CO2 emissions, there are other concerns regarding the impact of vehicle idling on drivers' health.

Increased idling time results in deteriorated air quality for truck drivers and the community as a whole. As such, many states are now taking additional measures to regulate idling—e.g. implementing anti-idling laws with fines around $25,000.

The trucking industry can't eliminate emissions over night, but it can reduce idle time to help the environment and protect its drivers. The question is: how can fleet operators actually address this issue?

How Technological Solutions Help with Idling 

Fleet operators can take a few different tacks when it comes to minimizing their vehicles' idling time. Leveraging the right technology can provide real benefits when it comes to reducing vehicle idling and costs.

Driver Behavior Tracking

Telematics can provide deep insights into how drivers behave on the road. In this way, fleet managers can gain complete visibility on drivers speeding, braking, cornering, aggressive maneuvers, and idling behavior. Fleet managers can use the information provided by the telematics systems to correct bad driving practices, e.g. by creating training programs targeted at idle time reduction. 

Additionally, fleet managers can set alerts for drivers' behavior so they can warn drivers when they are idling as soon as possible. Telematics also tracks engine diagnostics--which means that fleet operators can more easily get a handle on the maintenance implications of idling without grappling with excessive unplanned downtime. 

Idle Time Reports

Telematics technology also gives fleet managers visibility on how long their trucks idle and where. Managers can use the data to find ways of reducing idling for each vehicle, such as having auxiliary units for vehicles. These reports can also be used to implement idling rules—making drivers turn off the truck's engine after a few minutes of idling, for instances. Telematics can then be used in ensuring that drivers follow the new idling rules.

Route Optimization

Every fleet deals with traffic. But advanced route planning software can help find the best routes for all delivery vehicles so drivers will face less traffic. The right software should use advanced algorithms in calculating each possible route for each destination, taking into consideration different variables affecting shipping times—such as road closures, weather conditions, traffic, and accidents, among others. The route planning solution can also adjust a driver's route or assignment quickly if needed. By avoiding the kinds of slowdowns associated with heavy traffic, you can also avoid unnecessary idling. 


Geofencing can also be useful in reducing fleet idling time. Setting geofences around idling hot spots goes a long way in avoiding excessive idling. In this situation, fleet managers would receive alerts once the truck enters the perimeter, and they can then contact the driver and get their route back on track. 

Idling may be unavoidable in many cases. But fleets can still find ways of minimizing idling time with the help of the right solutions. Tracking driver behavior, generating reports, geofencing, and optimizing routes all help reduce the fleets' idling time, resulting in more cost savings for the business.

DispatchTrack offers the most powerful end-to-end suite of tools for last mile logistics operators. Dispatchers, drivers, customers and clients can access our app on any device to schedule, track, modify and verify your deliveries.

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