10 Tips For Beating Cold Cabs

Sept. 28, 2010

The inconvenient truth may be that Earth is getting warmer. But the reality is that it still gets cold in many places in North America during the winter. And construction companies must still operate their trucks and other equipment for as long as ground conditions permit.

The inconvenient truth may be that Earth is getting warmer. But the reality is that it still gets cold in many places in North America during the winter. And construction companies must still operate their trucks and other equipment for as long as ground conditions permit.

"With the intense storms and record cold temperatures we had all across North America last year, and with the cost of diesel fuel still high even after a recent drop in oil prices, this year’s winter season could leave construction companies and their operators out in the cold," said Brian Curliss, product manager for Teleflex Power Systems.

It doesn’t have to be that way this winter and for winter seasons to come, Curliss added. Well-chosen auxiliary heaters for on-road equipment, such as sweepers, dump trucks and equipment haulers, as well as off-road equipment, such as dozers, pavers, graders, and back hoes, can provide contractors considerable savings in fuel costs and engine maintenance costs. Properly spec’d heaters can also provide their operators comfortable work environments whenever the mercury falls.

"A recent survey of fleet operators conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute shows that direct-fired heaters are reported to be the least expensive on-board technology to purchase and maintain," Curliss said. Though the survey involves over-the-road fleets, its results still offer contractors a compelling reason to look more closely at auxiliary heaters, he added. That’s because properly chosen models can help contractors control the fuel costs associated with engine idling.

"Global warming notwithstanding, it can still get pretty cold in the evening as late as May or as early as September in many places in the United States and Canada, particularly in the high elevations, along the coasts, in the deserts or on the plains," he said. "That’s why properly chosen auxiliary heaters like the Teleflex Proheat Air can put a serious dent in the amount of money contractors spend on fuel, particularly as oil and fuel prices remain high."

But the amount of savings companies can realize really depends on how well the auxiliary heater is spec’d, Curliss said. That’s why before choosing one, fleet and equipment managers should consider, among other things, how much capacity their operators need based on climate, the size of the cab, the amount of insulation in the cab, and whether automatic or manual starters will work best.

Here are 10 tips Curliss suggests when considering auxiliary heaters:

1: Choose the right tool for the job. With any job, choosing the right tool can make all the difference. Heaters are no different, Curliss said. Fuel-fired auxiliary heaters come in two types: coolant and air.

A diesel-fired coolant heater circulates truck engine coolant through a heat exchanger. Coolant heaters reduce wear and tear on engines and reduce the need for service calls to warm up frozen engine blocks, Curliss said. Coolant heaters can also be used to keep hydraulic systems at operating temperature by circulating warmed coolant through the reservoirs using off-the-shelf submersible heat exchangers. Generally, coolant heaters come in two different capacities, light-duty and heavy-duty. Light-duty coolant heaters can preheat engine blocks or provide supplemental heat, but typically can’t provide enough heating capacity to heat the engine, cab and hydraulic systems.

Since a heavy-duty coolant heater, such as the Proheat X45, can do it all, it’s a good choice for operators who need to heat the cabs of trucks and other equipment that run in extreme cold climates, Curliss added. Generally, a heavy-duty coolant heater burns about a quart and a half per hour, far less fuel than the average gallon per hour that an idling engine burns.

Diesel-fired air heaters draw air over a heat exchanger. They can preheat or provide supplemental heat to the cab, but not the engine block or hydraulic systems. Depending on their capacity, air heaters burn anywhere from a half cup to a full cup of fuel per hour. Air heaters, like the Proheat Air, are excellent choices for operators whose trucks run in cold weather, but not in extreme sub-zero temperatures, Curliss said. Air heaters allow operators to balance heating capacity needs with low fuel consumption.

2: Consider the heater’s capacity or heat output. Once you’ve determined what type of heater you need, consider the heater’s capacity, Curliss said. This is particularly important for contractors who need a heater installed in the cab to provide operators a more comfortable work environment.

As a rule of thumb, Curliss said maintaining a comfortable inside temperature when the outside temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit requires 20 British thermal units, or BTUs, for every cubic foot of space. That means a cab with a volume of 320 cubic feet requires a heater with 6,400 BTUs, he added. A 6,000- to 7,000-BTU air heater should adequately heat most cabs. However, operators whose equipment have large cabs or whose trucks run in extreme cold climates should consider heaters with much higher BTUs.

3: If you’re using the heater in the cab, button it up. Like installing insulation in the roof and walls to winterize your home, installing extra insulation in the cab keeps the heat in and the cold out. It also reduces the amount of time it takes for the heater to warm things up.

4: Consider how long it takes for the heater to warm up the engine or the cab. The heater’s capacity and the outside temperature determine how long it will take the heater to warm things up, Curliss said. If you need a heater that can heat things up quickly, you should consider a unit with a high BTU rating. But keep in mind the higher the rating, the more fuel the heater will burn.

5: Know where the heater will be mounted. Since heavy-duty coolant heaters require open frame rail space, they can’t be mounted under the hood. Light-duty coolant heaters can. Air heaters and their ductwork are mounted inside the cab to heat and circulate air for operator comfort. Optional mounting hardware makes it easier to attach the heater to the floor of some truck cabs.

6: Determine who’ll be in control and how. Generally, heaters have three types of controls: manual, automatic (a timer), or full-temperature. With a manual controller, the operator must start and stop the heater and control the power of the heater. With a timer, the operator can set the heater to start and stop automatically. This allows for the cab to be warmed up and the windows to be defrosted or the engine to be warmed up before the operator even opens the door or turns the key at the start of the shift.

Full-temperature control is exclusive to air heaters and gives the operator the greatest degree of control over the cab’s environment. The operator can control the heater manually or set it to start automatically. Full-temperature control also allows the operator to control the heater’s fan speed and regulate the temperature more accurately.

7: Establish how much use your company’s operations will get from the heaters. Before selecting a heater, determine how often and how long your operators idle their equipment to heat the cabs or hydraulic systems. And remember that even for those drivers or equipment operators who operate in extreme cold, an auxiliary heater could improve their working environment since OEM heaters may not offer enough heat.

Protecting Mobile Service Technicians And 
Cold-Sensitive Cargo From The Big Chill

Auxiliary heaters are not just for heating truck and equipment cabs. Construction companies can also use auxiliary heaters to heat mobile service vans or to protect temperature-sensitive cargo from cold damage.

Brian Curliss, product manager for Teleflex Power Systems, said a heavy-duty coolant heater with 30,000 BTUs or more of heating capacity, such as the Proheat X45, should adequately heat a 48-foot dry van trailer with 3,500 cubic feet of space as long as the trailer is well-insulated. Construction companies using trucks with 24-foot van bodies or smaller can also use air heaters with 13,000 to 14,000 BTUs of capacity, such as the Proheat Air A4, to keep mobile service technicians and their tools warm or to protect cold-sensitive cargo, Curliss added.

8: Calculate your return on investment. Capacity, length of time in use, and cost of fuel determines how much money your company can save on fuel costs with an auxiliary heater. For example, the Proheat Air A2, with a capacity of 6,800 BTUs, more than adequately heats most cabs. It burns about a half cup of fuel per hour, a 97-percent savings over the average gallon of fuel an idling truck engine burns. If your driver or equipment operator uses the heater eight hours each day for five months each year, and your fuel costs are $4.25 per gallon, your company will save about $3,200 annually.

9: Consider installation and maintenance. It takes an authorized technician about four hours to install air heaters and about six hours to install coolant heaters. Since air and coolant heaters are connected to the fuel tank and batteries – and in the case of coolant heaters, to the coolant systems – Curliss recommends that only authorized technicians install them in order to avoid warranty issues. Most heaters, such as the Proheat Air and Proheat X45, require a simple annual system inspection to check connections and to ensure the units and their components are clean and free of buildups. Proheat Air offers an optional Windows-based diagnostic software kit to help technicians maintain performance, Curliss added. Technicians can monitor the heater via an interface cable, which connects to any USB port.

10: Know the pertinent local, state, provincial, and federal regulations. Anti-idling regulations vary in the United States and Canada. In many places, idling engines can carry huge fines and penalties. The American Transportation Research Institute publishes a list of idling regulations in the United States on its website: www.atri-online.org. For more information about idling restrictions in Canada, visit the Natural Resources Canada FleetSmart website: https://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/fleetsmart.cfm?text=N&printview=N.

About Teleflex Power Systems

Teleflex Power Systems (www.teleflexpower.com) designs, manufactures and distributes quality-engineered products and services including auxiliary power systems, alternative fuel components and systems for engines, and advanced auxiliary heaters — including the Proheat Air, which was recently introduced to the trucking industry in North America. Its customers include aftermarket vehicle dealers and service organizations, as well as manufacturers of transport trucks, locomotives, buses, automobiles, forklifts, off-highway, and military vehicles  

Author Information
Gregory Van Tighem is a technical writer at SiefkesPetit Communications.