Vehicle Idling: Not-So-Idle Concerns

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Release date: 11/7/2019

NAFA Regular Member George S. Hrichak, Fleet Manager for the City of Chesapeake (Virginia), admits that using telematics to meet idling policies “is not our strong suit.” But he’s not giving up on it.

With 1,500 on-road vehicles and 1,200 off-road and a total of 1 million miles driven per month, the opportunity certainly is there. The way the city’s fleet is structured, it is up to individual departments to monitor what telematics reveals, and that leaves a lot out of Hrichak’s hands.

The city’s motor pool, though, is in his purview, and he can use the installed telematics system to determine if a vehicle from the pool is idling or has been speeding. A breach happens “just about daily.” Having the ability to ask an employee why they were idling despite the city’s policy against it usually puts a stop to the behavior. “They normally won’t do it again because they now know someone is watching.”

Telematics for idling reduction can certainly pay off in many facets but often remains an untapped resource even if fleets have telematics on the vehicle.

Fuel prices: When fuel prices are relatively stable, there may be less pressure to focus on idling, especially given the many other factors facing a fleet. However, an attack on Saudi Arabian oil fields on Sept. 14 prompted pumping slowdowns and temporary gasoline price spikes and reminded many that stability can lapse into volatility quickly in an unpredictable, connected world economy.

NAFA Regular Member Michael Freidel, a longtime fleet professional who has managed fleets as large as 46,000 units, believes “companies are always looking to reduce fuel costs.”

Freidel’s most recent role was at a corporate fleet that had not used its telematics systems for idling. However, the company was beginning to look at ways to do so close to Freidel’s departure.

It was estimated that, with gas at $2.75 a gallon, the company would save $1.6 million in fuel costs in its first year. The system would lower the RPMs of the engine while allowing the air conditioner and heater to function as normal.
Failing to curb idling, though, is like leaving money on the table since fuel spend “consistently ranks as one of the top three costs, challenges, and targets for improvement,” said Marco Della Torre, Chief Technical Officer for Derive Systems.           

Carl Leitz, Senior Director of Inside Sales for NexTraq, notes that idling can cost a fleet a half-gallon of fuel per vehicle per day — something that will add up over the course of a year, no matter how low gas prices are.

Although gas prices have remained under $3 for most of the country for several years now, fleet professionals can’t rely on that occurring forever, Della Torre said.

“Forward-thinking fleet managers are also aware that gas prices will continue to rise in the future. As such, reducing fuel waste is a critical need to address both for the present and future to ensure fleet success. By saving money now on fuel, fleets can reinvest those cost savings back into the business.”

It is no easy task, he said. “Fleets continue to struggle for success in the area because reducing idling means modifying driver behavior. It often means battling convenience, where drivers would prefer to leave a car running to maintain climate control, to keep internal electronics active, or simply for convenience. As a result, wasted fuel continues to be a key concern for all fleets.”

Reducing carbon emissions is a “big selling point,” Freidel said. NexTraq Director of Marketing Ray Peabody notes that excessive idling was a concern expressed by “early adopters” of telematics when gas prices were higher. “For these customers, idling was the first thing that they focused on. ‘We took care of it, and we gained the saving and benefits of that right away.’ For fleet managers pulled in other directions due to safety and other liability concerns, we help them during our 60-day onboarding program to also realize the benefits from better control of idling.”

To drive home the point, NexTraq’s reporting and metrics dashboard includes a dollar sign that increases in brightness the longer the vehicle idles.

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