It ain't pretty being easy... (soopageek) wrote,
It ain't pretty being easy...


aybe you've seen it from the highway in your home town or while traveling: long yellow tubes suspended from elaborate framework. It almost looks like the mothership has arrived to abduct our nation's truckers.

It's actually a service provided by a company called IdleAire. In this day of rising fuel costs and ever increasing numbers of anti-idling laws being passed, IdleAire is one solution. If you don't know what I mean by idling, it's the practice of running the truck's engine while parked for reasons of comfort. In the summer the driver wants air conditioning. In the winter, the driver needs heat. Additionally, the running motor provides current for power inverters and DC plugs, which allow for the trucks creature comforts: TVs, microwaves, electric coolers, or in my case - keeping a laptop powered. An idling truck uses a gallon of diesel per hour. Additionally, the increased maintenance cost - the "wear and tear" factor - is in the neighborhood of $2 per hour. With diesel regularly over $4 these days, idling a truck can cost an owner operator $6-$7 per hour. At ten hours per day (the length of a legal break), that's approaching $500 per week in unnecessary costs if a driver idles his truck all the time.

What IdleAire has done is to try and bridge the gap between comfort and cost. For a fee of about $2.50 per hour, you can hook up to their service at one of their locations and enjoy a climate controlled environment, have access to AC current in the cab of your truck, and basic cable service via a coaxial plug. You can also pay to have additional services such as premium cable, pay-per-view programming, video games, ethernet access, and telephone services. What follows is a brief pictorial of how it works.

The first step is the window frame.

It's a square piece of plastic with a hole in the center. The driver pays $10 for it when they join and IdleAire will replace it for free should it ever become damaged. The frame is inserted into the passenger-side window, then the window is raised beneath it to lock it in place.

The yellow tube, which has a bulbous pod on the end, is lifted and inserted into the hole. The pod has two spring-loaded latches which secure it in the frame.

Finally there is a door on the pod, which opens to reveal a touch screen with a card reader, an air vent, and the various outlets. You can swipe any major credit card or use your membership card which can be prepaid with cash at an on-site kiosk.

Unfortunately, the future of IdleAire is uncertain, due in particular to the increasing prevalence of auxiliary power units (APUs); small diesel engines mounted to the frame of a truck which provide HVAC and electricity to the cab at about a quarter of the cost of idling. These contraptions are expensive ($7,000-$10,000) but allow for greater portability: a driver doesn't have to park his truck at a particular place to enjoy cost-effective comfort. While expensive, with the potential savings in fuel, an APU can pay for itself in less than a year. A lot of the large trucking companies have already begun outfitting them on their company trucks as standard equipment. To wit, my former employer Werner already has.
Tags: truckgeek
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