One of the largest variable costs for a commercial trucking fleet is fuel. Second only to labor costs, the amount of a fleet’s annual spending that goes towards keeping gas tanks full will often determine whether that fleet is a profitable or losing money.
While the cost of fuel is a factor fleet managers have no control over, there are a number of best practices that can be implemented across your fleet’s vehicles and drivers. When followed properly, the procedures can increase your overall fuel efficiency, and therefore improve your bottom line.
Naturally, the largest determinants of fuel efficiency are found within each truck itself. As with any piece of machinery, a well-tuned, optimized truck is going to perform far better than one that has become a bit road-worn. Specifically, there are three areas where simple, quick improvements can go a long way toward improving a vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
- Vehicle Aerodynamics
The shape of your truck is a huge factor to consider. The trailer, unfortunately, is likely to be box. That’s a great choice when it comes to efficiency in loading cargo, but not the best shape for aerodynamic considerations. Where you can make a difference is in the profile of your cab. Roof deflectors, rounded bumpers, aero headlights, air dams and even recessed door hinges can reduce wind resistance noticeably – and as a rule of thumb, for every 2% reduction in aerodynamic drag, you gain 1% improvement in fuel economy.
- Tire Maintenance
A tire’s fuel efficiency improves with wear, so the longer you can keep your tires on the road, the more they will repay you in fuel savings. A tire in its last 20% of tread life can realize a 6.5% fuel savings over a new tire. Keeping your tires balanced and wearing evenly results in longer life (and lower equipment costs) – and allows you to take advantage of all the tread life your tires can offer.
In addition, according to TMC RP111B, tire balancing across 18 tires on a tractor-trailer combination has been documented to increase fuel economy up to 2%.
Make sure your tires are inflated properly, too. For every 10 psi that a tire is underinflated, fuel economy is reduced by 1%. Guarding against leaks is vital. Products like FLEXX and STS Tire Sealant are simple-to-use solutions that can extend the life of your tires, increase fuel economy, and guard against unmonitored air loss.
- Reducing Truck Weight
An empty truck generally weighs about a third of the total weight of a fully loaded one. That ratio can be lowered dramatically by moving to lighter weight component options. Cast aluminum alloy wheels, aluminum axle hubs, and smaller, lighter weight engines can drop the scale’s needle considerably, and each 10% reduction in truck weight can mean as much as 5% – 10% increase in fuel efficiency.
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Even a thoroughly optimized vehicle can only perform as well as its operator’s skill allows. How your drivers use their trucks makes a huge difference in fuel efficiency as well.
- Driving Training
Your drivers can affect fuel consumption by regularly employing good driving habits to reduce wear on the engine and achieve maximum performance. Using cruise control or, where possible, coasting, helps to keep fuel usage down; upshifting at the lowest possible rpm and making sure to brake or accelerate smoothly reduces engine wear as well as improving efficiency.
- Speed Reduction
While hours out on the open highway may induce drivers to consider pushing the upper limits of the speedometer, it is actually far more economic from a fuel efficiency perspective to slow down a bit. A truck going 75 mph consumes nearly 30% more fuel than one going 65 mph; in fact, each mph above 55 causes a decrease in fuel efficiency (there is a reason 55 was chosen as the speed limit during the energy crisis of the 1970s!)
An idling truck is certainly detrimental to fuel economy, yet drivers often will idle their engines during rest stops to maintain heat or cooling while sleeping, or to help power equipment. Argonne Nation Laboratory estimates that long-haul trucks idling overnight consume more than 800 million gallons of fuel each year. Limiting that excessive idling by providing alternate power sources for climate control or other uses can make a huge difference in your bottom line.
WILL IT REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Implementing such approaches as these across your fleet will make a noticeable change in your bottom line by meeting the challenge of one of your largest expenses: fuel economy. How much can it help? A study released by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency showed that in 2014, fleet improvements enacted by a sample group of 14 fleets saved $9,000 per year per truck – that adds up fast!