How Many BTUh Should My HD Truck AC Unit Have?

How Many BTUh Should My HD Truck AC Unit Have?

Mar 15th 2023

Your working environment should always be at a temperature that allows you to do your job well. Even if your office is in the cab of a truck, tractor, or construction vehicle. Some vehicles don’t come equipped with an AC unit from the factory. Others have underpowered heating and cooling units that don’t work properly.

PartDeal specializes in sourcing hard-to-find parts for many industries. This includes HVAC units that fit all types of trucks and construction vehicles. Knowing which unit is right for your operator and crew can be tricky, though.

In this article, we investigate all the factors that influence this decision.  

What Does BTUh Mean?

BTU explained

Image Credit: NorthSlopeChillers

BTU is an acronym for British Thermal Unit. It is a unit of energy used to measure the cooling capacity of air conditioning systems. It is also used to measure the heating capacity in heating systems.

In technical terms, 1 BTU is the unit of energy required to lower one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. For heaters, it is the amount of heating required to raise one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

BTUh is simply the amount of cooling power produced by the AC unit in one hour. 

How Much BTUh Do You Need?

Exactly how much BTUh you need depends on several factors. Having a system that is too powerful will result in inefficient cooling. A system that can’t cope with the load required will result in ineffective cooling.

For reference, an average car will have an AC with a 12,000 BTUh rating. Large SUVs can go up to 36,000 BTUh. A large motorhome may have three to four 15,000 BTUh air conditioners on top. An average HD Truck with space for an operator and one crew will need at least 20,000 BTUh to cool its cab effectively during the daytime. In hotter climates, many truckers install units with cooling capacity of 35k BTUh or more.

Truck cabs, agricultural vehicles and tractors vary in size, shape and design. So, there is no hard rule about how much cooling capacity is needed. But, there are several factors to consider to determine how many BTUh your AC will need to produce.

Factors Affecting BTU Requirements:

  • Climate In Your Area - It stands to reason that you’ll need less cooling in Montana than in Miami. That said, even cold States can get heat waves, so make sure your AC unit has the capacity to cope. The same applies to your heating capacity. Many States with warm climates can get cold spells during winter.
  • Size Of The Cab - the area that needs to be cooled will have a big impact on how much BTUh your AC unit needs to deliver. A small cab for a single operator will need far less cooling power than a large truck cab with a sleeper. Adding extra insulation can help.
  • Glass - The more glass you have, the higher capacity AC you will need. 
  • Auxiliary Power Available - Every vehicle has its own electrical system that was designed to take a specific load. Adding a HVAC unit will increase the load on the alternator. The capacity of the electrical system may restrict the size of HVAC unit you can add.
  • Space Available - Heavy-duty units need to be mounted outside the vehicle. Lighter-duty units can be placed under the hood or in more restricted spaces. Some older engines may not have the mounting points for an AC compressor. It is best to check with your manufacturer to make sure.
  • Load Requirements - If you work in a hot climate, the AC unit will need to work longer and harder. Does the operator need to climb in and out of the cab all the time? Then the AC unit will need to stay on longer to keep the temperatures at the required levels. The same applies to heating in a cold environment.
  • Legal Requirements - Keep in mind that each State has its own idling regulations. This can limit how long you can run the truck when stationary. If the truck can't idle, you have to know how much battery capacity you have in order to use a battery powered HVAC unit. 
  • Budget Size - If you have a limited budget available, a lower BTU unit may have to do. Aside from the upfront cost of the AC unit, if you use an engine driven unit, your running costs will also be higher. Constant use can increase engine wear. And fuel consumption can go up between 10-20%.

Let PartDeal Find The Perfect AC Unit For You

Red Dot Ac Unit

PartDeal has been in business since 1949. We specialize in stocking and sourcing hard-to-find parts. We supply owners, OEMs, fleets, resellers, installers, and dealerships.

Call us at (503) 802-1370 or email In-stock items are shipped the same or the next business day. Our team has extensive knowledge in the parts industry. Let us find the perfect AC Unit for your vehicle today!