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1:40 am EST        43°F (6°C) in Somerset, PA

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I don't have a ton to say here, but after eight days the last update was getting a bit stale. I've stopped for the night on my way to New Jersey again, this time a bit closer to New York City than my last trip there last weekend.

My truck forced me to spend Monday and Tuesday nights in motels, and all day Wednesday in the shop, for what turned out to be a light bulb. I shit you not. This truck is equipped with a technology called Optimized Idle, a feature Detroit Diesel can add to its engines; it cycles the engine on and off as needed, based upon oil temperature, coolant temperature, battery voltage, and the setting of an interior cab thermostat. The system lets you know Optimized Idle is active through a tiny light bulb in one of the holes in the dashboard. Apparently a constant current connection (i.e., a bulb that isn't burned out) is required to complete the circuit that allows Optimized Idle to run. It must have burned out Monday night; my "Check Engine" light came on late that evening, and didn't go out until the new bulb was installed in the Optimized Idle bulb hole Wednesday. Since the truck wouldn't idle for more than five minutes, I had to have the company get me motel rooms for the two nights until I could get it fixed. I just wish somebody in the maintenance department would have information like that written down to be able to say, "well, if it's blinking this particular set of codes at you, it's nothing but a light bulb." It seems to me that would be cheaper than putting a driver in motels for two nights and then losing a day of productivity for a $1 (at best) part. (Yes, the company loses money too; they, like I, only make money when the wheels are rolling.)

On the topic of idling, I think I'll say a few words. Given the current state of infrastructure, the idling of trucks is a necessary evil. That's not to say that I take the attitude that I'm gonna idle no matter who it annoys; I'm whole-heartedly in favor of idle-reduction technologies, as long as the truck owner is the one footing the bill for their use. Optimized Idle (and its Cummins and Caterpillar engine equivalents) simply reduce the duration of idling, which in itself is a start. Systems such as IdleAire allow you to completely shut down, providing as basic services both climate control and electrical power — the two most common reasons drivers give for idling. The problem with IdleAire is that it costs $1.25 per hour for the basic services, and I'm not aware of any large fleets that cover that expense. (It's cheaper than idling, actually — figure a gallon burned per hour of idle time and diesel prices around $1.60 per gallon.) If I were in charge, I would institute a 15-cent-per-gallon increase in the federal diesel tax, all revenue from which would fund the installation and free usage of IdleAire or similar systems at all truck stops nationwide. Do the math, and the roughly 10% fuel price increase I propose is more than offset by an immediate 15% or higher reduction in fuel usage. (Long-term data from my own truck indicates about one-seventh of my fuel goes to idling.) Once these systems are in place, it probably won't cost $7 billion a year (the amount I figure the government would take in from this tax) to keep them running, so that can be spent on other infrastructure improvements that primarily benefit trucks, such as more truck stops and better highway maintenance.

Well, it's nighty-night time for me.