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How to Reduce Idle Time for Your Fleet

Jeff Hale
Jeff Hale
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 25, 2022

Idle time for commercial fleets can cut into profit margins and raise costs. Fleet managers can use GPS tracking tools to reduce vehicles' idle time.


Idle time can apply to any asset – such as machinery, employees or vehicles – that should be engaged in productive work, but is instead forced to wait for various reasons. Idle time is a valuable measure of the time a company pays for work that isn’t getting done. Ensuring that idle time remains as low as possible is an easy way for your business to improve productivity and profitability. 

For commercial fleets, many idle-reducing technologies can ensure that drivers and vehicles are operating as efficiently as possible to reduce costs. One of the most effective options for fleets of all types and sizes is implementing GPS tracking tools that monitor fuel efficiency, engine idle time, driver behavior and each vehicle’s exact location. 

Other solutions include fuel-operated heaters, auxiliary power units, automatic engine start and stop systems, electronic engine idle parameters, battery HVAC systems, and, perhaps most importantly, adjustments to driver behavior. 

We’ll explore idle time, its impact on a business’s bottom line, and how GPS tracking tools help monitor and reduce idle time, and in the end save your business money.

FYIFYI: While idle time can apply to any asset, it most often refers to a vehicle’s engine that’s in operation but not moving.

What is idle time?

Idle time is the enemy of productivity and profitability. As a general business term, “idle time” refers to every second that machinery, vehicles, employees, or other assets are ready to perform a task but can’t because of outside circumstances. 

For example, office employees experience idle time when the business broadband or Wi-Fi network they rely on goes down, and they have to wait for a restored connection before they can work again. 

Editor’s note: Looking for the right GPS fleet tracking service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

For companies that operate a fleet of commercial vehicles, idle time most commonly means the amount of time an engine is running while a vehicle is standing still. In these instances, a driver is often being paid to wait while resources are being used to keep the motor running – a situation that negatively impacts your company’s bottom line. 

While some situations – such as waiting in stop-and-go traffic – can be avoided by optimizing schedules and routes, other idling situations are necessary under certain circumstances. For instance, idling makes restarting a diesel engine in cold temperatures much easier by lowering the oil’s viscosity and ensuring the fuel doesn’t gel. 

Idling may also be necessary to keep the vehicle’s batteries adequately charged or ensure the sleeper cab is warm enough during required breaks on long-distance hauls. 

Regardless of the reason for a fleet’s idle time, there are several idle-reducing technologies available – primarily GPS tracking – to help your business cut expenses while maximizing your equipment’s useful life.

Bottom LineBottom line: In the past, idle time in stop-and-go traffic was unavoidable. However, today’s technology can find routes around traffic, and it’s in every fleet manager’s best interest to employ this technology as effectively as possible.

What is the impact of excessive idle time? 

Excessive idle time ultimately impacts profitability in many ways: wasting fuel is the most obvious. Other idle time repercussions can affect your company’s overall success in the competitive marketplace. The impact of idle time on companies operating large fleets is particularly significant, but idle time fallout can affect companies operating fleets of any size.

According to the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, fleets can lower their idle time to less than 20% by investing in appropriate technologies and practices. The NACFE report on idle reduction found that the best solutions for fleets involve a mix of complementary technologies used together. However, the findings highlight the fact that drivers will always play a “very important part” in successfully managing a fleet’s idle times.

Did you know?Did you know? Many trucking companies use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to ensure drivers comply with hours of service (HoS) regulations.

Why should you use GPS tracking software to combat idle time?

When your business mitigates the negative impacts of idle time using GPS tracking software, these are some benefits you’ll likely see:

  • Lower insurance costs
  • Increased fuel efficiency
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Reduced environmental effects

We’ll explore the details of these advantages below.

Lower insurance costs 

Companies that choose not to use GPS tracking software for their assets are often burdened with higher insurance costs than those who implement the technology. In fact, many insurance companies offer discounts of up to 25% for businesses that opt to install GPS tracking software in their fleet vehicles. [Related article: 14 Ways to Save Money on Business Insurance]

When an insurance company can’t verify or accurately quantify a driver’s actions while on the road, it’s likely to charge higher rates. Additionally, transporting valuable assets without the ability to monitor and track their journey poses a significant financial threat, as it exposes companies to a higher risk of theft. Going without a GPS system also jeopardizes the security of the employees, the vehicles and the products in transit. 

Did you know?Did you know? Most insurance companies that provide commercial auto insurance offer lower monthly premiums for vehicles with active GPS tracking technology.

Increased fuel efficiency

GPS tracking software’s sophistication has helped countless businesses save money on travel and transportation costs. If you don’t take advantage of the valuable information GPS technology provides, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to improve your drivers’ behavior and identify routes with less required idling and traffic stops. 

Idling is a problem because engines can use up to a half gallon of gas each hour. Without GPS software, you may needlessly waste fuel because of numerous inefficiencies across your operation. 

While fleets without GPS technology may only be using a few more gallons per vehicle than they would with the right technology, those gallons add up and can aggregate significantly higher fuel emissions and expenses over the course of a year. 

Lower maintenance costs 

Fleets that travel without the assistance of GPS software will inevitably encounter more frequent maintenance issues. For heavy machinery – including many fleet vehicles – preventative maintenance schedules are based on hours of operation instead of miles traveled. 

GPS technology allows businesses to track a fleet’s routine maintenance beyond simple mileage requirements. For example, the system will recognize when a truck is using an abnormal amount of fuel or oil, or shows wear and tear because of the total hours the motor has been running. 

Avoidable maintenance costs can add up quickly and negatively impact operational expenses, especially when competitors are using GPS technology to help keep their vehicles on the road longer. According to Fleet Equipment Magazine, idling-induced wear and tear can increase maintenance costs by as much as $2,000 per year, significantly reducing the engine’s useful life.

Reduced environmental effects 

All businesses, especially those that use a lot of fuel, must take responsibility for their contribution to environmental harm and climate change. When businesses are operating fleets with significant amounts of idle time, they are inevitably causing more damage to the environment. 

According to the Alaska Department of Transportation, an 8-cubic-yard truck idles an average of 70,000 hours per year, burning $280,000 worth of fuel that contributes to 1.57 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. If you attempted to fill a round balloon with that gas, its diameter would stretch 15 yards across and take years to be absorbed from the atmosphere into our ocean and trees. 

GPS tracking software helps limit idle time in various ways, reducing the carbon footprint of businesses worldwide. 

FYIFYI: Other ways GPS tracking tools can boost your business include finding stolen vehicles, monitoring sales territories and verifying working hours.

How GPS tracking helps monitor and reduce idle times

The saying that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” is often attributed to the famous management consultant Peter Drucker. To effectively measure key performance indicators (KPIs) like idle time for commercial vehicles, choosing a GPS fleet tracking solution is ideal.

At the core, GPS fleet  tracking tools allow your company to monitor the location and performance of the vehicles in real time. However, these robust tracking tools can provide a wealth of information regarding fuel economy, engine idle time, and useful details about each driver’s behavior on the road. 

Here’s what GPS fleet tracking tools can help you do:

  1. Compare idle time between drivers. GPS tracking systems let you effectively compare the idle time between drivers on different routes or times of the day, gaining knowledge about productivity and identifying the fastest routes. 
  2. Utilize more efficient routes. After fleet managers use GPS tracking data to identify optimal routes, they can direct drivers to use those routes, resulting in lower idle time and less waiting in traffic. 
  3. Encourage better driver behavior. When drivers know they’re being monitored, they are less likely to stray from their designated path and more likely to drive safely.
  4. Cut down on fuel and maintenance expenses. A GPS tracking system also cuts down on fuel and maintenance expenses. GPS software can alert drivers when routine maintenance is due, including oil changes and tire rotations. When a driver has a maintenance issue on the road, GPS software can quickly locate the vehicle and deliver assistance to the driver in need. This preventative protection helps businesses increase productivity while decreasing transportation costs and downtime in the case of a breakdown. 
  5. Lower the risk of theft. There’s a perpetual and significant risk of theft when transporting goods on roads and highways. GPS tracking systems mitigate this risk by empowering businesses to identify the exact location of their products, vehicles and equipment at all times. When you risk losing track of an item in transit, you are essentially throwing caution to the wind every time you transport goods. The ability to locate assets at all times is a key function for both your business and customers. 

When you choose one of the best GPS fleet tracking services for your company, you can reduce idle time and enjoy a host of other productivity benefits, no matter your fleet’s size. In addition to saving money and boosting productivity, GPS tracking systems can help you improve the customer experience, ensure driver safety, decrease insurance and maintenance costs, and remain competitive in your market. 

 

Image Credit:

Buntiam / Getty Images

Jeff Hale
Jeff Hale
business.com Contributing Writer
Jeff Hale is a writer and editor based in San Diego with a background in business development and marketing. He has identified new market opportunities for Fortune 500 companies and developed communications strategies and digital branding for tech startups and small businesses. Jeff covers emerging technologies and business solutions with a focus on efficiency and growth. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, and an MBA from Chapman University.