There’s no denying that fuel prices are a concern these days for all drivers, especially those who drive large tractor trailer trucks. While the per-gallon cost for fuel fluctuates, on average a gallon of diesel fuel hovers around $4 a gallon. For the driver of a tractor trailer, that means an average bill of over $1,000 to fill the tank —and considering that a fully loaded truck only gets about two to three miles per gallon, the costs add up.
Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has enacted new fuel efficiency standards for trucks that are going into effect in 2014, trucking companies are looking for new ways to reduce fuel consumption and their vehicles’ emissions. And some of the easiest changes are actually the most effective.
Choosing smaller, lighter trailers to haul your cargo can reduce your fuel consumption — for every 2,000 pounds, you lose a tenth of your fuel efficiency. Do you need a 53-foot trailer for every load or can you get by with smaller trailers? Keeping weight under control also means monitoring your load weights. Getting caught with an overweight truck not only costs you in fines and sanctions, but also eats up your fuel efficiency. Equip your drivers with portable weight scales and weigh loads before hitting the road to save both time and money.
Plan Routes Effectively
In a passenger car, sitting idle in a traffic jam means reduced fuel efficiency, a problem that only compounds in a large truck. Planning routes to avoid known congested areas, construction projects and other traffic hold-ups can reduce fuel usage. If your fleet regularly travels through busy urban areas and can’t avoid traffic jams, consider investing in hybrid trucks. Studies show such trucks pay for themselves in just over 10 years due to the fuel savings; federal incentives to encourage hybrid truck use can reduce the upfront costs.
Any vehicle is going to lose efficiency when it’s not well-maintained. Scheduling regular engine inspections and tune-ups will identify problems before they start and ensure that everything works the way it should. Keep belts tight, replace fuel filters regularly, monitor tire pressure and alignment, and keep up with oil and oil filter changes. They are small things, but they make a big difference when it comes to keeping your trucks in working order.
Aerodynamic drag, the force of air moving around the truck and trailer, can have a major impact on fuel efficiency. For example, the air moving over the top of the trailer can actually pull the truck back, forcing the engine to work harder and use more fuel to maintain forward momentum. Installing aerodynamic aids such as skirts — panels that cover the gap between the front and rear tires of the trailer — and tails, panels that redirect the air at the rear of the trailer, can improve fuel efficiency as much as 12 percent by simply redirecting air. These add-ons generally cost less than $5,000 and quickly pay for themselves.
In a time when raising the cost of a gallon of fuel by a single penny can lead to more than $390 million in increased fuel costs — which are then passed on to consumers — trucking companies must do everything possible to keep their costs down, and simple changes lead to major results.