Fuel Economy: How to Cut Your Idle Fuel Usage Cost in Half

Idling your engine costs more than just money. It costs in terms of the amount of fuel wasted, the life of the engine, not to mention its contribution to air pollution.

Some of us may remember the good ol’ days when gasoline only cost 50¢ per gallon. Those days are gone and will probably never return. But curbing the amount of fuel you use can save you a bundle. One sure way to save fuel without having to reduce your travel distance is to reduce or eliminate engine idling.

Engine Idling

Drivers employ two types of engine idling: the dead idle and inactive idle.

  • Dead idling is a habit that needs to be broken. It occurs when a driver allows the engine to run when carrying out small, everyday tasks like filling out forms or paperwork, chatting with a neighbour out the car window, or running inside to grab the coffee you forgot.
  • Inactive idling happens when the vehicle is stuck in a traffic jam, or at an intersection, keeping cool during a heat wave, or keeping warm during a blizzard.

Excessive idling damages engine bearings, rings, and pistons, leading to shorter engine life and increased maintenance costs. Unnecessary exhaust emissions also inflict pointless harm on the environment. Keep in mind that most of the northeastern states have, or are considering, vehicle emission limits and laws.

Excess Idling

Idling the engine for five minutes here and there may seem inconsequential, but it all adds up. Engines can use up to one full gallon of fuel per hour while idling. That is equivalent to approximately 25 miles of driving.

Substantial savings are achieved when a truck reduces excess idling. For example, a truck with 50% idle time has an idle cost of $2,325 per year. A truck with 25% idling time would save $1,162 per year. If the savings of lower idle time are $1,162 per unit and there are roughly 4 million heavy-duty trucks across the US, we’re looking at almost $5 billion in savings.

Strategies For Truckers: How to Minimize Idling Time

  1. Warm up the truck for three minutes and no more for a normal start.
  2. If a truck comes in off the road under load, idle the truck for five minutes. If the truck is already cooled down, idle for two minutes before shutdown.
  3. When loading, unloading, waiting in line, or during fuelling, all trucks should be shut down. The only exception is when the Power Take Off (P.T.O.) needs to be engaged.
  4. If a truck is parked for more than three minutes (even if the driver is in the vehicle and even if the truck is to be used again) the unit should be shut off.


During extreme cold weather (temperatures below 30°F), idling exceptions need to be made for the truck and the driver. When the driver is in the truck for a period of over 20 minutes in these temperatures, the truck may be left running. This is an official legal exemption to the 5-minute idle law.

In extreme hot or muggy weather the air conditioning may be operated when the driver is sleeping. Remember, however, that temperatures generally fall at night so the A/C unit may not need to be used

Rick Wadhams

Rick Wadhams

As co-owner of Wadhams Enterprises, Rick has spent his life and career in the freight business, with experience in everything from maintenance to driving to management. Rick takes particular responsibility in overseeing the petroleum and milk divisions of Wadhams. His committment to seamless process, teamwork, integrity and support, coupled with the fabulous family atmosphere at Wadhams has helped grow Wadhams' reputation as the "Carrier of Choice, Employer of Choice."