The fuel crisis of 2007 and 2008 has left a question on many fleet managers’ minds. “How can we cut our fuel usage?” Many forums and committees have been formed to share ideas, thoughts and data on this subject. State and local fleets around the nation are setting idle time restrictions, while Police fleets are modifying patrol routes, re-establishing bike patrols and walking beats. Anti-Idling laws are in place to reduce fuel use and carbon emissions. In most states, however, emergency and highway service vehicles are exempt from anti-idling laws. While vehicle engines are used mainly to propel a vehicle in any given direction, they are also used to provide auxiliary power to operate critical on-board electrical components while that vehicle is stopped. As an example, police and highway officials idle their vehicles while parked in order to maintain enough power to operate the warning lights that protect lives. Without the engines idling, warning lights would operate solely on the vehicle’s battery power. Over a short period of time, the warning lights will run down the battery, causing not only the lights to go off, but also requiring a “jump-start” from a second vehicle.
Now imagine for a moment if you could attach a device to your police car that gives the vehicle the ability to be turned off while still having the necessary power to operate these warning lights and never having to worry about the battery going dead. One way would be to install a solar panel to the vehicle. However, the panel would have to be the size of the car to produce enough power to run the lights. Even if the lights were super efficient LED warning lights, the size of the panel and the costs associated with it would be tremendous. Oh, and forget about those long nighttime details. Solar power is not available then. Havis, Inc.
has developed an ingenious new technology that gives that ability. Enter the patent-pending Idleright™ Fuel Management System. The device, which could fit in your coat pocket, attaches to your vehicle’s ignition, battery and warning light systems. When the vehicle arrives on the scene, the officer simply turns the car off, leaving all of the critical warning lights activated. He can walk away for hours to focus on the job at hand and not have to worry about the power being consumed by the warning lights.
Here’s how it works. Without any other input from the officer, the Idleright™ system takes over and begins to monitor the vehicle’s battery condition. When the system detects a low voltage situation, it activates the ignition system, starts the car, and idles the engine for a short period of time. This allows the engine and electrical system to recharge the car’s battery power. When the Idleright™ system determines that the battery level is satisfactory (about 20 minutes for a typical V-8 police cruiser), it simply turns off the ignition, and the whole process starts over. Several safety features are also in place to prevent vehicle theft while under the control of the Idleright™ system. Also, it has the ability to know when it is needed and know when it is not, preventing unwanted vehicle starts.
Three Connecticut agencies have been testing prototype versions of the Idleright™ system for several months. The Glastonbury Police Department, headed by Chief Thomas Sweeney, is one of them. Like many others in his position, he was searching for ways to reduce fuel costs. When presented with the concept, Sweeney offered up a car to assist in the development and testing of the system. He wanted to see for himself if it was something that could prove worthy in real life—not just in theory.
Ford estimates that its 4.6L V-8 uses 1/3 gallon of gas per idle hour with light accessory loads (no A/C) on the engine and light electrical demand on the alternator, which in turn puts a lighter load on the engine. With the A/C on, Ford estimates the use at ½ gallon of gas per idle hour. With both heavy A/C and electrical loads, 3/4 gallons per idle hour is realistic. Idling for 4 hours would consume approximately 3 gallons of gas.
Before installation, initial fuel usage tests were conducted by the Glastonbury Police to provide a baseline for the Idleright™ data. The vehicle was a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria. The warning light package consisted of combination of LED and strobe lights and a headlight wig-wag system. The tests showed that with all of the emergency warning lights activated, 4 hours of idle time consumed slightly less than 3 gallons of fuel, right on par with Ford’s data.
The Idleright™ system was installed in about 2 hours. Initial test results were very positive. In a 4-hour period, with all of the emergency lights activated, the vehicle idled a total of 40 minutes. With this particular setup, the car would be off for about 1 hour 45 minutes before it needed to start. The car would run 20 minutes, turn itself off, and again remain off for 1 hour and 45 minutes. These times remained fairy consistent.
Not far from Glastonbury, Lieutenant Robert Catania in the Rocky Hill Police Department was conducting similar testing. Like the Glastonbury cruiser, the Rocky Hill car is a 2004 Crown Vic. One notable difference is the Rocky Hill cruiser was set up using all highly efficient Whelen LED warning lights and no strobe lights. The difference in the overall system efficiency is significant. The Rocky Hill cruiser could sit with its warning lights active for more than 4 hours on a 20-minute recharge time. Calculate that over a typical 8-hour shift, and you quickly see the value in the device. I received a phone call from Officer Drew O’Connor of the RHPD as he finished a 7-hour construction detail. O’Connor pointed out that this was the first time that he ever did a 7-hour road construction job and did NOT have to top off the fuel tank at the end of the shift. The tank was still nearly full.
Ford publishes in its Crown Victoria Police / Fleet Vehicle Owner’s Manual Supplement that 1 hour of idle time is the equivalent to 33 miles of driving time when calculating oil change intervals. Calculate that out over an 8-hour period, and one shift can put 264 additional wear and tear miles on the car without it ever moving an inch. By the same measure, the Idleright™ controlled engine would have added just 44 miles of wear.
During the initial testing, Havis, Inc. learned that other factors could contribute to the efficiency of the system. For instance, a brand new vehicle with a new battery might be capable of starting and recharging when the voltage drops down to 11 volts or below. Whereas having an older worn-out battery and electrical system might require setting the voltage threshold higher thus starting the engine sooner.
Some vehicles such as diesel trucks and pick-ups may require different starter cranking times or a certain period of time between turning on the ignition and activating the starter to allow for the glow plugs to warm up. Many aspects of the Idleright™ system are programmable by the installer, which allows it to work best for each individual vehicle and condition. Some vehicles may require an additional module to bypass the on-board anti-theft devices. These devices are also available from Havis, Inc as options when the Idleright™ system is purchased.
The Idleright™ system is available for the Ford CVPI, Explorer, Expedition, F-150, Super Duty; the Chevrolet Impala, Tahoe and Silverado; and the Dodge Charger. The Havis, Inc. Idleright™ Fuel Management System, which is now available, has an MSRP of $495. Optional security bypass (interface kits) modules range in price from $65 to $136, depending on vehicle year make and model. For reference, the Ford Crown Victoria does not require the optional bypass module. Scott Potter is an emergency vehicle consultant and district sales manager with Kevin Russell & Associates LLC in Old Saybrook, CT.