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Picking the right power
Following these simple tips will lead you to making a well-informed decision in picking the right APU for your operation

Special to Land Line

Maybe you use a refrigerator and a microwave to save money on meals. Perhaps you have a really hard time getting good rest when your sleeper feels like an ice chest or a sauna. So, you idle your truck engine to keep it comfortable. Or, maybe you installed a portable toilet so you don’t have to stop at those creepy rest area bathrooms late at night.

And, what about storage space for your personal belongings, logbook, papers and other equipment? That’s probably as important to you as good-paying freight from a company that pays quickly.

“We talk to quite a few owner-operators out there who want to get an auxiliary power unit to reduce their idling,” said Will Watson, vice president of sales and marketing for Auxiliary Power Dynamics, manufacturers of the Willis APU.

“But they don’t want to give up valuable storage space or the electrical capacity for hotel loads or the cooling or heating comfort they can get while idling their truck engines.”

That’s why it’s not surprising, Watson said, that a recent survey of Land Line Magazine readers conducted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation found that 76 percent of those who responded don’t use an alternative to idling their truck engines, even though more than 30 states and countless counties and municipalities have adopted anti-idling regulations. Many of those regulations exact heavy fines against drivers and their companies for violations.

“But with the correctly specified auxiliary power unit, there’s no reason why an owner-operator should live like a Spartan while he’s out on the road,” Watson added.

Based on the experience of Willis APU customers, Watson offered these 10 tips for choosing an APU:

Tip No. 1: Determine your needs.
First and foremost, think about when, where, why and for how long you idle your truck engine. Look carefully at maintenance receipts and engine logs. Time spent doing some research now means you won’t regret your choice down the road.

Tip No. 2: Keep ‘r cool.
If you routinely idle your truck to stay cool during rest periods or during loading or unloading, consider an integrated unit that offers capacity similar to what your truck HVAC offers – usually around 30,000 Btu.

Tip No. 3: stay warm.
APUs with more than one vent will offer you more even and comfortable heating throughout the sleeper and cab. Look for APUs that keep the truck engine warm for easier starting through heat exchangers. A microprocessor control, with an adjustable engine rpm setting, on an APU can provide you more heat for extreme cold conditions.

Tip No. 4: integration, not segregation.
Choose an APU that’s integrated into the truck’s HVAC system and you won’t have to give up valuable storage space, a refrigerator or other appliances in order to accommodate it. Non-integrated APUs require space inside the sleeper in order to fit their ductwork, A/C systems or other components.

The more cylinders the APU engine has, the quieter it runs. That’s a major advantage when you must stop at crowded rest stops or other locations where a noisy APU would be too disruptive to operate. An APU with more cylinders also performs better and runs longer without major issues. That’s because the cylinders fire more evenly and the APU engine operates at a lower rpm.

Tip No. 6: Get a charge out of your apu.
Take inventory of potentially battery-draining devices. Then determine how many and how frequently you use them. If you find that you’re using many electrical devices plus the truck’s HVAC system during rest periods, you should consider three things:

  • Electrical systems that use deep-cycle batteries may not offer enough electricity to power their cooling systems plus your hotel loads during an entire rest period. The systems may also offer insufficient Btu to actually cool your sleeper. See Tip No. 2 for more details.
  • Some diesel-powered APUs can be integrated with optional 110-volt AC inverters to help you better manage electrical loads. This feature extends the operating life of your APU and lowers its operating costs.
  • An APU with a heavy-duty alternator can better handle the higher hotel loads associated with personal devices, refrigerators and other appliances common in a larger sleeper. It will recharge the truck batteries faster, extending their lives, and protect the truck’s electrical components. Should the truck’s alternator ever fail, you can count on the APU’s heavy-duty alternator to serve as a backup, avoiding you costly towing and service fees and the heartburn of dealing with a late delivery.

Tip No. 7: RAIL SPACE.
If you don’t have 24 to 35 inches of clear rail space for installation, some manufacturers offer alternatives such as stair step kits.

Tip No. 8: serviceability.
Diesel-fired units require an oil change and a fuel, oil, and air filter change every 500 hours. The APU’s design should provide you or your mechanic easy access to critical components for servicing. Also consider where service and installation facilities are located for the APU you choose.

Tip No. 9: sharpen your pencil.
Some manufacturers can offer you financing, directly or through third-party lenders, to help you get the device you need, particularly if you don’t have a lot of cash. In some cases, the money you save in fuel and maintenance costs for the truck engine may be more than your monthly payment. Plus, you may be able to take advantage of some tax benefits.

Tip No.10: let’s clear the air.
The new air quality standards adopted by the state of California establish restrictions on the use of APUs for 2007 model trucks or newer. If you want to equip 2007 model or newer trucks with APUs, optional diesel particulate filters can be added to the APUs so that they can meet the new California Air Resources Board standards. See the APU manufacturer for details.