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How Truckers Can Beat the Heat (Without an APU)

June 21st, 2024

Jeron Rennie

Jeron Rennie

Having grown up around the trucking industry — with his dad and several uncles serving as truck drivers — it’s only natural Jeron found his way into the industry as well. Jeron joined ATS in 2018 as a member of the marketing team, where he grew his knowledge of the trucking industry substantially. Now as the driver recruiting manager, he is responsible for ensuring a smooth recruiting process in order to create a quality driver experience.

Don’t have an auxiliary power unit (APU) in your truck? Have one but it’s not working? Or maybe it’s just so hot out that it’s not cutting it?

With summer in full swing, you’re probably feeling the heat — especially if you’re traveling in the deep south where the heat and humidity can feel thick. Plus, 2024 is set to be one of the hottest summers on record.

When you’re overheated, you can become angry, frustrated, and unable to sleep — all of which make your job much harder to focus on. Not only that, but you can get heat exhaustion, which can put your health at real risk. 

You need a way to stay cool — whether or not an APU is the solution for you. 

These tips, collected from drivers, will help you beat the heat all summer long. Whether or not you have an APU, you can utilize these tips to keep you and your cab cool.

7 Ways to Stay Cool as a Truck Driver 

1. Try a Portable Air Conditioner

Invest in a portable air conditioner designed for semi-trucks. These units can be powered by your truck's battery or a separate power source, like an inverter. Make sure to choose one that fits well in your cab and has good reviews for efficiency.

Some drivers find this solution doesn’t work as well for them as they’d like, so they instead opt for a small air conditioner unit paired with a small generator. 

Either way, these solutions will cost you at least a couple hundred dollars (and maybe even more than a grand if you go with a generator) but they’ll still be cheaper options than buying an APU.

Check out these APU alternatives.

Man sleeping in sleeper berth of semi-truck.

2. Use Battery-Powered Fans

A lot of truck drivers agree that fans are the way to go when you just can’t cool down and need to get some sleep at night. You can choose a battery-operated fan or a fan that can run on your inverter. (Just make sure your inverter can handle the fan’s voltage.)

Fans can provide a steady airflow to help you stay cool, or at least a little cooler than without. Some fans come with clips or mounts that make them easy to position in your truck, or you can get a small oscillating one that moves air across the cab better. 

Some drivers put a big bucket or bowl of ice in front of the fan. The air from the fan will pass over the ice and then circulate cold air. You could also freeze water in a liter plastic bottle and use it much the same way as the bowl of ice.

3. Keep the Sunlight Out

You can’t necessarily avoid the heat, but there are a few things you can do to keep the excess heat out of your cab and sleeper berth to begin with.

Invest in sunshades, reflective covers, and insulated curtains. They’ll block out sunlight and reduce the heat entering your cab. Insulated curtains can keep cool air in and hot air out. 

These tools will work together so that by the time you’re ready to sleep, the cab will have cooled down.

4. Park in the Shade

If at all possible, park in the shade and away from direct sunlight — whether under the cover of trees or a large building. This can make a big difference in how hot your truck gets.

5. Buy Cooling Towels and Sheets

Use cooling towels or bandanas — especially at night when you’re about to go to sleep. These are designed to stay cool for an extended period after being soaked in water. They can provide some relief when placed around your neck or forehead. When you’re in a pinch, you could also soak a t-shirt in icy cold water. 

Cooling sheets and cooling blankets are also made for hot sleepers. They’re made with cooling fibers to absorb body heat and keep you cool all night. Take advantage of these in the summer by switching out your warmer winter sheets.

Be sure you also keep ice packs in your cooler. Utilizing these is a quick, surefire way to cool down and you can even put them on your neck while you drive.

Man attaching cables on semi-truck trailer.

6. Stay Hydrated

It’s always important to drink plenty of water, but you need to make sure you’re drinking more during the summer months when the heat can easily dehydrate you. Drinking plenty of water will not only hydrate you, but it’ll also cool you down. If you’re out tarping and securing freight in the heat, take regular water breaks.

Plus, if you’re dehydrated, you can feel hot, uncomfortable, groggy, and tired — all of which make it more difficult to do your job.

While you’re at it, avoid alcohol (which drivers shouldn’t have in their cabs anyway), coffee, soda, and other caffeinated drinks because they can dehydrate you further. 

Remember: You can reach your water intake goals by eating fresh fruits and veggies too. While you’re at it, avoid consuming large, heavy meals — especially before bed. It can make you uncomfortable and make it difficult to sleep at night. 

7. Take Breaks

Take breaks in air-conditioned places whenever possible. Rest stops, truck stops, and restaurants can offer a respite from the heat. Try a cool shower while you’re at the truck stop. 

If you’re overheating while tarping or securing freight, take a break in the shade and drink water. Make sure you wear sunscreen and light, breezy layers. 

The Dangers of the Summer Heat 

Hot weather can be dangerous, especially to at-risk populations. If you’re an over-the-road (OTR) truck driver, it’s particularly important to pay attention to the heat. Because you’re essentially living out of your truck for a few weeks at a time (or longer), you need to understand vehicle heating dynamics

The sun’s shortwave energy enters your cab through your windows and heats objects it strikes, like your dash, steering wheel, and seats. Subsequently, they heat the surrounding air through conduction and convection. This gives off longwave radiation, which continues to warm the trapped air.

As a result, your cab can get excessively hot. The hotter it is outside, the hotter your cab will be. It can take as little as 30 minutes for your idle cab to go from 80 degrees to well over 100 degrees

That’s why it’s important to take advantage of the tips above (whether or not you have an APU) — especially when it comes to using shades and curtains to keep the sun out. 

Overheating can result in heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke — with heat stroke being the most serious. A surefire sign that you may be experiencing a heat illness is cramps or painful muscle spasms. 

If you’re sweating excessively, nauseous, headachy, feel weak and like you might pass out, or have a weak heart rate, you may be experiencing heat exhaustion. This occurs when you’ve lost a lot of water through sweating. 

The inability to sweat combined with a fever, racing pulse, dizziness, and/or passing out is a sign of a heat stroke. A heat stroke can lead to brain damage if it isn’t treated immediately. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to seek emergency medical attention.

Hot, tired truck driver behind the wheel.

Take Care of Your Body

Summertime trucking can be challenging, especially when temperatures soar and your cab feels more like an oven. Whether you’re without an APU, have a malfunctioning unit, or need extra cooling measures, it’s crucial to stay cool and safe while on the road.

Remember, staying cool isn't just about comfort—it's also about your health and ability to do your job safely. By investing in portable air conditioners, using battery-powered fans, blocking out sunlight, parking in the shade, and using cooling towels and sheets, you can create a more bearable environment in your truck. 

Staying hydrated, eating light, and taking regular breaks in air-conditioned spaces are essential habits that will keep you refreshed and focused.

Heat-related illnesses are a real risk, so always be mindful of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The sooner you recognize the symptoms, the quicker you can take action to protect yourself.

Take these tips to heart and prioritize your well-being this summer. After all, a comfortable driver is a safer driver. Stay cool, stay hydrated, and keep rolling safely down the highway.

Remember, your health and safety come first. These tips will help you focus on your physical health