5 May 20238 minute read

What Are Engine Hours and Why Are They Important?


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If you run a delivery company or manage a team of delivery vehicles, you know how important it is to keep your trucks on the road and minimize downtime. 

Engine maintenance is a key factor in making sure your vehicles stay in top shape. But how can you keep track of maintenance? 

That's where engine hours come in.

Engine hours indicate how long a vehicle’s engine ran even when the vehicle was stationary. 

Tracking engine hours allows delivery team managers to monitor wear and tear on their vehicles and set up preventive maintenance schedules to prevent breakdowns and extend the life of vehicles.

Whether you manage a team of work trucks with diesel engines or are shopping for a used cargo van with advanced telematics, engine hours are crucial to planning vehicle maintenance intervals.

In this article, we'll explore the importance of monitoring engine hours for delivery companies, how to calculate engine hours for your vehicles, and other critical information you need to understand to keep your delivery vehicles in top condition.

So, keep reading to learn more about engine hours and how they can help you stay on top of engine maintenance.

Key takeaways:

  • Engine hours are based on your delivery vehicle’s RPMs, giving you a more accurate picture of engine wear and tear than just clock time.
  • Digital meters in delivery vehicles make it easy to track engine hours.
  • Tracking engine hours can help you identify inefficiencies in your delivery operations, cut fuel and maintenance costs, and scale your business.
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Understanding engine hours

Engine hours measure how long an engine has been running – throughout its lifespan or during a specific operation period – even if the vehicle isn't going anywhere (idling). 

This info is super important for delivery companies to track, so you can manage vehicle wear and tear.

You’ll need an engine hour meter to measure engine hours. Mechanical meters sit in the engine's flywheel, and housing or electronic meters use sensors to track the engine's activity.

Many factors can affect engine hours, like idle time, frequent starts and stops (a delivery driver’s worst nightmare), and heavy loads. 

That's why it's important to track engine hours and prioritize maintenance based on that, not just mileage.

Tracking engine hours can save businesses a ton of cash by preventing breakdowns and extending vehicles’ lifespans. 

Plus, keeping an eye on engine hours can help with warranty coverage, resale value, and compliance in some industries.

It’s important to a) know how to access your engine hour data and b) use it to optimize your team’s performance, saving some cash in the process!

Now that we know what engine hours are and why they matter to delivery companies, let's dip deeper into how to measure them.

How are engine hours measured? 

An engine hour meter typically connects to the engine's ignition system and starts counting hours as soon as the driver turns on the engine.

But how do these meters actually calculate engine hours?

Here’s the thing: When it comes to engine hours, an hour isn't really 60 minutes. 

An engine hour is based on a count of the engine’s crankshaft rotations (known as tach time) rather than a clock measurement (known as Hobbs time).

One engine hour could last much longer or much shorter than a clock hour, depending on the engine’s RPM (revolutions per minute). 

Different types of engine hour meters 

Gone are the days of manually tracking engine hours with a pen and paper. Nowadays, delivery managers can use digital tools to record the time an engine runs. 

Digital methods of tracking engine hours include:

  • GPS management. One popular method is through a GPS management platform that uses hardwired or plug-and-play GPS devices to track when a vehicle is turned on, how long it operates, and its location. This data is available through your desktop computer or mobile device, making it easy to monitor vehicles in real time.
  • Hour meters. Another option is using hour meters, which connect to a vehicle's engine and only measure its usage. In contrast, more advanced vehicle tracking systems have features like real-time tracking and driver behavior monitoring.
  • Electronic logging devices (ELDs). ELDs are another popular method of tracking engine hours, especially for delivery vans. ELDs also track mileage and fuel consumption while monitoring the engine's overall health. However, ELDs typically have a monthly subscription fee.
  • Odometers. You can use a vehicle’s OEM odometer to approximate engine hours if it doesn't have an hour meter or ELD. While this is less accurate than other methods, it can still give a rough estimate of engine usage.

Next, we'll discuss what you can do with your engine hours readings. 

How to calculate engine hours 

Calculating engine hours — for a vehicle’s lifetime and the most recent operation — is a straightforward process with only a few steps:

  1. Find the hour meter. The hour meter is usually on the vehicle's dashboard or instrument panel. If the vehicle has telematics or a GPS management platform, you can access the engine hours through your equipment's software.

For example, let's say you want to calculate the engine hours of a truck engine equipped with a GPS management system. To find the truck’s engine hour information, you would log in to the platform's software and navigate to the engine hour meter readings in your account. 

  1. Record the starting reading. Record the hour meter reading at the beginning of the equipment's most recent operating period. 

For example, let's say the starting reading is 5,273 hours.

  1. Record the ending reading. Record the hour meter reading at the end of the equipment's operating period. 

Suppose the ending reading is 5,286 hours. This is the vehicle’s lifetime number of engine hours.

  1. Calculate engine hours for the last drive. Subtract the starting reading from the ending reading to calculate the total engine hours for the most recent operating period. 

In our example, the calculation would be 5,286 hours - 5,273 hours = 13 engine hours.

It's important to note that engine hours may differ from the number of miles driven. For example, if a vehicle is idling or working at a low RPM for an extended period of time, the engine may accumulate more engine hours than miles.

Factors that affect engine hours

Let’s explore the several factors that can impact engine hours to help you understand how to optimize your delivery team’s performance:

  • Usage. This one's pretty straightforward: The more you run an engine, the more RPMs and engine hours you rack up. Remember, driving and idling both generate RPMs, so they both count as engine run time. Another thing to note is that various add-ons or plug-in devices can also increase your overall engine hours, like Power Take-Off (PTO) units that transfer power from the engine to an auxiliary component.
  • Load. Your cargo’s weight can affect how hard your engine works, how fast that crankshaft is rotating, and how quickly you rack up engine hours. Keep this in mind when planning your routes and scheduling deliveries.
  • Maintenance. Maintenance (or lack thereof) is another critical factor that can affect engine hours. Proper maintenance practices, such as air filter, fuel filter, and oil changes, tune-ups, and inspections, can help your engine run better and keep RPMs and engine hours in check.
  • Environment. Extreme temperatures, dust, and other factors can all affect how hard your engine works and how quickly engine hours add up.
  • Age. Like anything else, engines wear out and become less efficient over time. The engine may have to work harder to perform the same tasks as it ages, which can contribute to increased engine hours. Tracking engine hours can help you better understand when it's time to replace an engine or retire a vehicle. 

Why engine hours matter to your business

Here, we break down the benefits of keeping an eye on engine hours.

Cost savings 

cost savings

You wanna avoid pricey breakdowns and keep your delivery vehicles running like champs? Regular maintenance based on engine hours is the way to go! 

And if you track your engine hours accurately, you can spot any inefficiencies or overuse that might be burning through your fuel and maintenance budget.

With Circuit for Teams delivery management software, you can take things up a notch and optimize your delivery routes to cut down on inefficiencies like slow routes, traffic, and other annoying delivery obstacles. 

It's a big money-saver. Circuit for Teams can save you loads of cash in fuel and maintenance costs and speed up your deliveries like nobody's business.

Maintenance scheduling 

Monitoring engine hours is like having a crystal ball for scheduling maintenance and repairs. 

You'll know exactly when to bring your ride in for some TLC, and you'll prevent those dreaded breakdowns that always seem to happen at the worst possible moment. 

Plus, your vehicles will live longer, healthier lives!

Warranty coverage 

Don't you hate when your warranty expires just as you're starting to rely on it? Well, accurately tracking engine hours can help you avoid that headache. 

Many equipment warranties are based on engine hours. Keep an eye on those hours to make sure you're within warranty limits and avoid paying out-of-pocket for costly repairs.

Resale value 

increased resale value

You want to get the most bang for your buck when it's time to say goodbye to your beloved ride, right? 

Prospective buyers of used delivery vehicles often look at engine hours to determine how well the vehicle was maintained and gauge its overall condition. 

Accurately tracking engine hours means you can show off your vehicle's maintenance history and condition, potentially increasing its resale value. Cha-ching!


Some industries, like transportation and aviation, have to stay on top of engine hour tracking to comply with regulations. 

Even if you're not in those industries, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Accurately tracking engine hours can help you avoid fines or penalties and keep your business running smoothly.

Engine hours FAQs

If you're new to the concept of engine hours, these frequently asked questions and answers are here to help you learn more.

How many engine hours should an engine last? 

The lifespan of an engine depends on several factors, including the vehicle’s make and model, the type of engine, and how the vehicle has been used and maintained.

However, as a general rule, most well-maintained delivery-type vehicles, such as semi-trucks and cargo vans, have engines that last 15,000 to 30,000 engine hours before needing a major overhaul or replacement.

Operating vehicles with high engine hours (40,000+) can put you at a higher risk for significant problems.

What is the difference between engine hours and idle hours? 

Engine hours refer to the total time an engine has been running (whether the vehicle is moving or not), while idle hours refer only to the number of hours an engine has been running while the vehicle is stationary. 

Both metrics are measured in tach time — according to RPMs, rather than the time on a clock.

Businesses typically track idle hours separately from engine hours because excessive idling can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the engine and decrease fuel efficiency.

So, measuring idling time on top of measuring engine hours is useful.

Final thoughts on engine hours

Tracking engine hours is essential for any business that relies on delivery vehicles. 

Regular maintenance based on engine hours can prevent costly breakdowns and extend a vehicle’s life, leading to significant cost savings over time. 

These cost savings can help you scale and grow your operations.

Consider using Circuit for Teams for a simple and efficient way to optimize your delivery routes and reduce your overall engine hours. 

Our route optimization software can help you bring efficiency to your delivery operations and drastically reduce those RPMs.

Sign up today and start scaling your delivery business with confidence!

About the author

Heather Reinblatt
Heather ReinblattContributor

Heather Reinblatt is a managing editor currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. She spends her free time reading, trying new recipes, and cuddling her cat Paisley. You can find Heather on LinkedIn.


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