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Idling and your wallet: Easy ways to reduce fuel costs and improve sustainability within your fleet

Fleet management · Mar 12, 2024

Many Canadian fleet operators have begun implementing idling policies to reduce emissions and costs, but why is that important? The transportation sector makes up 22 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for approximately 150 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted – the second largest sector nationwide. 

Idling refers to the engine of a vehicle running while stopped. This includes a variety of behaviours like stopping at a red light, getting stuck in a drive-through or even letting the heater run while parked to keep you warm in the winter. When it comes to your business, the fuel consumed adds up quickly. Excessive idling can have a negative impact on your bottom line.

According to the Federal Natural Resources division (NRCan), if light-duty vehicles reduced idling by merely three minutes each day, over the course of the year, Canadians could save 630 million litres of fuel – which at today’s fuel costs exceeds 850 million dollars (assuming fuel costs of $1.35/L*). 

In addition to optimizing your environmental footprint, monitoring and reducing the amount of idling time in your fleet can help you improve your fuel consumption and with rising gas prices – there’s never been a better time to start.

Is idling good for your engine?

While we’re not sure where this one comes from, it’s long been known that idling can cause potential damage to the vehicle. Engine components including cylinders and spark plugs are impacted by prolonged idling. Vehicle manufacturers themselves recommend avoiding idling for periods greater than 30 seconds.

While some have argued that turning your vehicle on and off is more costly than the time spent idling, this isn’t the case. For regular drivers there should be little to no impact on your vehicle for turning the ignition a few times a day, but idling for more than 10 seconds will start to cost you. NRCan recommends turning off your engine when stopped for more than 60 seconds, unless in traffic. 

Should you warm up your vehicle?

This myth stems from old technology – with today’s technology, it’s actually the opposite. Modern fuel injection systems regulate the air-fuel mixture in real-time, regardless of the temperature, and only need about 30 seconds to warm up. Despite the cab being a bit warmer for the driver, your fuel spend will certainly be unnecessarily high.

How much fuel does idling consume?

While an accurate measurement would depend on vehicle size, fuel type and other factors, an idling engine burns about 3 litres of fuel per hour. Although a few dollars may not feel substantial, with many hours spent behind the wheel over time and across multiple vehicles, it starts to add up. 

In fact, idling the average vehicle (with a 3-litre engine) for roughly 10 minutes costs 300 millilitres of wasted fuel – more than one cup. A 5-litre engine would almost double that at 500 millilitres of wasted fuel–more than two cups. For the average long-haul truck, which idles approximately 1,800 hours per year, that’s 5,600 litres of wasted fuel.

What about diesel vehicles?

Although it is true that diesel-powered engines are more fuel-efficient, compared to gasoline-powered vehicles, the usage of these types of fleets typically results in longer idle times. Not only do diesel engines produce higher levels of particulates, carbon dioxide (CO₂) and nitrogen oxides (NOₓ), longer idle times result in a higher amount of wasted fuel. 

Four ways to reduce idling and fuel consumption

While running a business requires that you keep costs under control, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to do so for fleets as fuel and other prices have been soaring over the past few years. Here are a few methods to tighten up fuel costs and reduce idling with your fleet:  

  1. See the numbers for yourself: Calculate your idling fuel usage using the same calculations NRCan has adopted

  2. Implement an anti-idling policy: Create an ‘engine off while parked’ policy into your operations. Ensure that employees understand that idling is unwelcome. Remove the expectation that a vehicle should be warm and cozy before it’s driven. In winter months, take your idling policy a little further. Let drivers know that they don’t need to warm the vehicle up for any more than 30 seconds before heading out for the day.

  3. Driver training program: While idling is one component of fuel consumption, poor driving habits like rapid acceleration and harsh braking are another big waste factor. While onboarding new employees, establish a driver training program to encourage better driving behaviours. 

  4. Invest in a video telematics solution: While policies and procedures can be helpful, you can’t really monitor driving behaviours on word alone. Telematics systems provide many benefits to fleet operations, and they also allow you to implement and monitor policies like those mentioned above. Even though traditional telematics systems can monitor idling, the addition of video provides greater depth around an event. You will get the information you need to set up your own parameters for idling. For example, you may find it acceptable for an employee to stay in the vehicle to complete paperwork for 10 minutes in freezing cold temperatures, but you may not allow them to leave the engine running for over an hour while they complete a delivery. Clarity around events enables management to take better action for their fleets, and protect their drivers if a not-at-fault accident were to occur.

Video Telematics systems, such as Raven Connected, are a cost-effective means to gain visibility over your remote field operations. These solutions provide real-time idling alerts and preview images as well as access to historical footage from in-cab and road-facing cameras. Additionally, stop reports break down idling durations and details for each vehicle over a set period of time, allowing you to compare averages across your drivers. 

Whether you're a small business looking to add vehicle diagnostics, live video streaming and in-vehicle Wi-Fi to stay connected while on-the-go – or you're a large commercial fleet in need of real-time monitoring, advanced reporting and ELD capabilities – TELUS Business has a solution that's ideal for your needs.

Connect with a TELUS specialist to learn more about how TELUS Business Fleet Management solutions and Raven can help you navigate toward a smarter, safer, more sustainable future.

*This calculation is based on the formula provided by NRCan – 1L = $1.00. The per litre gasoline price in this instance uses current gasoline prices in Calgary, Alberta as of February 22, 2024.