State's idling limit, 'clean idle' engine usher in new national standard for major OEMs

By Charlie Morasch
staff writer


Truckers weighing their options for buying new trucks or engines are facing a decision they’ve never before been forced to make: buy a truck certified to idle in California or have the manufacturer activate a device to limit idling to five minutes.

California requires that 2008 manufacturing year engines have a shutoff function activated in the engine’s computer system, unless the trucks meet a new standard of emitting no more than 30 grams of nitrogen oxide per hour while idling. New engines are capable of being programmed to have the function currently, but California’s rule makes the activation mandatory for any truck that enters the state. The rule also prohibits manipulation of the devices at any time by the driver.

The shutoff would prevent drivers from Oklahoma, North Carolina and any other state from ever idling beyond five minutes. Concerns from customers have sent engine manufacturers scrambling to push the limits to begin meeting the new NOx standard.

It appears that most or all truck manufacturers will each have an engine certified to meet California’s clean idle standard, said Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Engine Manufacturer’s Association.

The 40-year-old manufacturer’s association represents Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, International, Paccar and Volvo, among several other truck engine manufacturers, and regularly works with the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.

Suchecki said California’s requirement has pushed engine makers to meet the Golden State’s new clean idle standard of no more than 30 grams of nitrogen oxide per hour.

“Every manufacturer is going to try and have a low-NOx engine available simply because that’s thought to be the option most customers would prefer,” Suchecki said.

Cummins officials announced this fall that their 2008 engine models will meet California’s standard, therefore allowing drivers to idle, although CARB hasn’t yet officially approved it. Cummins decided to pursue meeting CARB’s idling standard rather than force all U.S. customers to consider the option of an automatic shutoff, said Cyndi Nigh, a Cummins spokeswoman.

“For the drivers that continue to idle, including owner-operators that need to idle for cab comfort and hotel accessories and climate control in their cab – this is a real plus because they will be able to continue to idle indefinitely … and still meet the California regulation,” Nigh said. “We think the customers are really going to like this.”

One way or another, they're gonna get you


Truckers base plated in California have an extra incentive to abide by the Golden State’s five-minute idling restriction that went into effect Jan. 1. State officials announced they can reject vehicle registration renewals or transfers for any applicant who has been cited for violating the limit on idling.

California’s requirement is that 2008 model year engines shut off after 15 minutes of idling. The shutoff is preceded by a beeping sound 30 seconds before the engine shuts off, and a CARB official told Land Line that the timer resets if the driver pushes in the clutch and changes gears.

The requirement for 2008 year truck engines has had as monumental an effect on new trucks as it has had on engine makers, Suchecki said.

Engine makers have scrambled to meet environmental edicts approved first by California and mirrored by other states.

“Up until now, the standards and requirements for California and EPA have been pretty much harmonized,” Suchecki told Land Line. “This now, will be the first time, I believe, that there will be actual differences between a California engine and a 49-state engine for the heavy-duty industry.”

Suchecki said CARB’s actions in recent months have indicated the agency is only just beginning to delve into trucking emissions.

The Golden State and its imitators, particularly in the northwest and northeast regions of the U.S., appear poised to keep engine manufacturers and the drivers that depend on them hopping.

Homing in on big rigs

On Jan. 3, the California Air Resources Board announced that it will spend $750 million of the state’s 2006-approved $1 billion Bond 1B money “toward reducing diesel pollution from trucks associated with goods movement around the state.”

“This strategy puts the lion’s share of the dollars where they’re needed most – on trucks traveling from the state’s ports and along our major transportation corridors,” CARB Chairman Mary Nichols announced in a written statement.

“For the last couple of years, California has been taking a stronger stance to implement stronger emissions standards on the industry,” Suchecki said. “We prefer that not to happen. We certainly think it’s much better if we have one set of regulations that can serve the whole nation.”

But California isn’t waiting for national emission measures.

The New Year brought a laundry list of new emission regulations in California – where regulators in the 1,000-employee California Air Resources Board agency are marching toward a goal of cutting statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Long-haulers headed into the Golden State should be aware that California is no longer exempting sleeper time for its five-minute idling limit. The agency has added to its enforcement officer fleet and has tripled idling violation fines from $100 to $300, although the agency says they can fine violators $1,000 per day.

Some exemptions, however, remain in the idling rule.

Trucks may idle while queuing, while hauling temperature-dependent loads, to avoid a health emergency, or to defrost the truck’s engine. Other exemptions include idling to regenerate an engine exhaust system’s diesel particulate filter or when the truck is forced to remain motionless “due to immediate adverse weather conditions affecting the safe operation of the vehicle or due to mechanical difficulties over which the driver has no control.” More information is available at the California Air Resources Board’s Web site at

OOIDA Member Richard Rollins recently told Land Line that the new idling law and other California emission regs won’t bother him.

“I will never have to worry about a ticket there,” Rollins wrote in an e-mail. “I also intend to help them in their smog and pollution problems.

“My truck will no longer go into California.” LL