MIAMI – To cool off inside his cab, Ken Kafer hooks up his rig to a contraption that looks like a giant exhaust pipe for a clothes dryer.
Besides air conditioning, the yellow hose funnels TV and even Internet connections through a window into his cab at a truck stop. The best part, Kafer says, is that he doesn't need to keep his diesel engine on.
So-called "electrified truck stops," along with on-board tools such as auxiliary power units, have drawn interest from some truckers in part to reduce pollution and engine grind from idling and abide by a growing number of anti-idling guidelines nationwide. But lately, drivers like Kafer have increasingly turned to them to also save money with fuel prices at record highs.
"I'm saving fuel, engine wear, and I'm getting all the comforts that I need," said Kafer, 42, of Hubert, N.C., during a break at a truck stop in the central Pennsylvania town of Milton on a recent Iowa-to-New York run.
Jim Runk, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association, said many truckers are using such options now because fuel prices are at a point where "they just can't put up with it."
Environmentalists have long been critical of the pollution emitted by diesel engines, with tractor-trailers among the most common and plentiful source of soot.
A report from the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group, estimated in 2005 that 21,000 Americans' lives were shortened by particle emissions from diesel engines.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 established new rules, including the introduction of cleaner highway diesel fuel in 2006 and requirements for manufacturing truck engines starting in 2007.
Once fully enacted, the rules could lead to a reduction in 2.6 million tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and prevent 8,300 premature deaths, the EPA has said.
After initial resistance from the industry, most truckers are on board with the changes. There's additional impetus these days, with diesel prices pushing $4.70 per gallon.
Many companies have turned to installing auxiliary power units, which allow drivers to have heat or air conditioning inside the cab during rest breaks without having to run the engine — using just a fraction of the fuel used otherwise.
Trucker Marlin Burkholder, 45, of Richfield, said he doesn't go on overnight runs for his company, H.F. Campbell & Son Inc., in Millerstown. He will, though, use the auxiliary power unit to keep the cab comfortable while reading or napping if he has to wait for a load.
"We just switch that on, it keeps the truck comfortable and it keeps idling time down," Burkholder said during a recent stop while transporting bananas between Harrisburg and Wilmington, Del.
But the units can be costly. Burkholder's boss, company president Frank Campbell, had each of his 50-plus trucks outfitted with the roughly $8,000 power units within the last two years, hoping in part to save on gas.
"With the price of fuel going out of this world, it affects what you do," Campbell said. "If you're not staying even, you're losing ground."
The electrified truck stops, such as the one operated by IdleAire Technologies Corp. in Milton, allow drivers to connect to the odd-looking power hookups while keeping their engines off.
Driver Chris D'Ambrosio, 30, of Dallas paid about $2 an hour for heating, air conditioning and Internet service while on a break with his wife during a recent run. D'Ambrosio said the service helps with his fuel bill hovering around $6,000 a month — and it has an added health benefit.
"I've gotten to the point were I can't be around idling trucks because it affects my sleep patterns," he said.
IdleAire has more than 8,500 spaces in 34 states. It estimates that it has eliminated more than 722 million pounds of diesel emissions since its inception in 2000.
"It's freedom of choice for America's professional drivers who want to improve their lives, their health and their performance behind the wheel," said John Airhart, an IdleAire supervisor in Milton.
Still, there are questions about the company's future after Tennessee-based IdleAire filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May.
The company has said it has no current plans to close locations, though spokesman John Doty said IdleAire could be sold, with the next owners making the ultimate decisions.
The EPA has mandated that tractor-trailer rigs and other heavy-duty trucks and buses built starting in 2007 run on less-polluting diesel engines. Guidelines, though, don't cover engines built before then, and some engines can run for a million miles.
That means it may take decades for the entire on-road diesel fleet to be overhauled to the cleaner standards, said Conrad Schneider the Clean Air Task Force. He has called for more funding to help truckers retrofit their engines with pollution-reducing filters, or requirements that call for filters to be installed during engine overhauls.
Eric Cheung, a senior attorney with the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, tries to spread the retrofitting message to area trucking companies as part of the "Philadelphia Diesel Difference" campaign, coordinated by the council and the city.
That message, though, doesn't resonate with truckers as much as talk about idle-reducing strategies, he said.
"The problem is, with the actual straightforward technology to reduce emissions ... that doesn't help in fuel savings."