As the cost of fuel is rising at an alarming rate (in many cases faster than the uptick in revenue generated), we as owner operators are left scratching our heads, trying to figure out ways to conserve fuel.
So I thought I would share a few methods I use to conserve fuel and money spent on fuel. Note that nothing to follow is scientific or proven; however, I’ve noticed a difference in the rate of fuel consumption, at the pumps as I’m refueling, and in my monthly fuel bill statement.
1. Keep Your RPMs at Zero
A long time mechanic at my preferred repair facility told me many years ago that you get the best fuel economy when the engine RPMs were at zero. At face value, that comment left me puzzled, wondering what the heck he was talking about. After mulling it over for a while, I realized that the less I could idle my truck, and the more time I could leave the truck shut off when it wasn’t moving, was going to be one of the easiest ways to use less fuel. I started to shut the truck off when I wasn’t in it: those times when you’re just running into a shipper’s office for a minute, which ends up being 10 minutes, or the minute you are taking a bathroom break and grabbing a coffee at the truck stop.
Another super simple way to keep the RPMs at zero is to shut the truck off when you’re sleeping. For those without an APU, this can be a challenge in the summer time, but something such as a cool box can be purchased at places such as Camping World. I can sleep comfortably with the truck off in temps upwards of +32C, and it doesn’t have to be an exercise in hydration management. By sleeping during the day in the winter, or using a 12v heated mattress pad, I find I can sleep comfortably in the winter down to temps of -20C.
By just taking the easy step to shut the truck off at short breaks and quick stops it will decrease your idle time and in turn reduce wear and tear on the engine, and other components.
2. Cardlock Fluctuations
Another easy way to conserve money on fuel expenses is to find where it’s cheapest. Every fuel supplier knows what the ‘CardLock’ price is going to be; some make the prices available from the corporate level at different intervals, but by contacting the company you have your truck leased to, they should be able to give you a list of fuel suppliers you are authorized to use and the prices they will be charging per liter.
If you don’t know already, you may be quite surprised at the price fluctuations at the cardlock level and the places that fuel is less expensive. High volumes, easy access cardlocks with lots of amenities feel no shame in charging you for those services at the pump. The smaller, two pump cardlocks in the same city often charge a few pennies less per liter. Two cents less per liter, at a rate of 10,000 liters per month can add up over the course of a year. Who couldn’t use an extra $200 bucks per month?
3. Staying at a Constant Speed
Sounds simple, but let’s explore that a little closer. By leaving larger following distances to traffic we don’t have to speed up and slow down as much. This goes a long way to increase the almighty MPG numbers.
4. Belly-Button Gazing and Going with the Traffic Flow
By cruising through sections of roads with multiple traffic lights and taking it easy, rolling along, we can figure out how the traffic patterns flow, and won’t need to stop at every single light starting off from a stop again. If you can keep the speed at 50 km/h in a 70 zone and not have to wait at every light, you WILL get through the area quicker, use less fuel, and as an added bonus, it will reduce accelerating and decelerating wear and tear on the brakes, tires, drive line, further reducing long term operating costs. Also, with a little inward focus I like to call belly button gazing, this little trick of traffic planning will reduce the instances you will need to shift, and save wear and tear on clutch assemblies, and transmission.
5. Make Fun of Bad Drivers
Using cruise control in good weather conditions will also assist us at highway speeds to keep a steady road speed, helping us to keep our speed down, easily without getting overly frustrated. A game I like to play while driving on the highway or in the city is to pick out a couple of other motorists around me, and monitor how their poor driving habits and speeding get them no further ahead. I enjoy knowing that they are using more fuel and not getting there any faster than I am.
6. Killing Mileage with Brakes
Another fuel mileage killer is braking. Under normal driving there is really no reason why we can’t drive our trucks without brake usage. It takes fuel to get you up to the speed you are travelling at, and braking unnecessarily is a plain and simple waste of fuel. In many cases we are somewhat familiarized with the roads we drive on — that 50 km corner does not move closer or further away from week to week. So by adjusting our speed with the throttle and engine brake, we can travel most anywhere, if we try, without having to use the service brakes to adjust road speed. Going downhill at a slightly slower speed will also reduce the instances in which foot brake applications will be necessary, and you can still get up to speed by the bottom of the hill and roll along. This will conserve fuel, and in turn save you money at the pump, plus increase the service life of the brake components, a further cost savings.
7. Talk to Your Manufacturer
Every truck engine manufacturer has parameters they are aware of that increase performance and/or decrease fuel consumption. Talk with your engine manufacturer or mechanic and know what they have set out for performance and conservation. There will be ways they can help you to conserve fuel and money. You will be able to supply your customers with on time service, with reduced fuel consumption expenses, also reducing the wear and tear on your equipment, with an overall increase in profit.
8. Loading Your Kids Properly
Load your trailer properly. Try and keep weight forward; a trailer with all the weight to the rear forces the truck to work harder; grossly, improperly loaded trailers will reduce fuel consumption as well as reduce the stopping ability of the truck. The truck is designed for the weight. A simple way to test this theory out? Put your kids in their wagon, put them at the back of the wagon and pull them round the block. Then put them at the front of the wagon and pull them around the block again. You will notice a tremendous reduction in effort to get the wagon moving and keep it moving. (This will also make the spouse happy, because after a long week of dealing with them alone, they will really enjoy the break from the rugrats. The kids will love it as well, some fun time with the absent parent or the favorite uncle/aunt will be something they remember years down the road. You don’t have to tell them it’s a little test to save money.) And a properly loaded trailer will also further reduce wear and tear on the power unit.
Tire choice and rates of tire inflation are also important when it comes to fuel savings. Low rolling resistance tires can reduce fuel consumption and while winter driving conditions don’t always permit the use of low rolling resistance tires, by taking the softer compound ‘winter’ tires off when the winter is over and putting on harder fuel saving tires, we can reduce fuel consumption for the rest of the year. It may be a good idea to purchase a set of steel wheels and have the winter tires mounted on them so the switchover to the summers can be quick and efficient, with a lower cost to you.
Monitoring your tire pressure and wear on the tires will also help you to reduce costs associated with tire failures, and, yup, improve fuel economy. Tires that are cupping or improperly inflated increase the effective rolling resistance of tires, will cost you more for fuel, and will decrease tire replacement intervals. The poorly maintained tire will also cause extra wear and tear on bushings, shocks and springs, reducing their service lives.
10. Grease: Nobody Likes to Do It, Nobody Wants to Do It.
BUT, regular lubrication intervals year round will keep the moving parts moving smoothly. A well-lubricated truck will use less fuel, under normal circumstances. The simple task (or burden) of chassis lubrication reduces parts failures and increases economy. Fifth wheel lubrication can be another simple way to help out with fuel economy. A dry fifth wheel forces the truck to work harder to turn corners and also reduces the electrical grounding between the truck and trailer, causing light issues.
Proper oil change intervals and keeping the engine fluids at optimum operating levels will also reduce fuel consumption. Well-maintained oil viscosity levels allows the engine to run cooler and makes the parts move smoothly. If you can keep a well-maintained engine, along with all the components such as transmission, drive train, rear ends, and hub oil levels, you will be able to save fuel and repair costs over the service life of your truck. You probably need your truck to last; most of us are not in a position to replace our equipment every few years and, also for most of us, the minimum service life of our truck needs to be greater than six years. Finding ways to achieve this, with the fewest out of pocket repair costs, is a must.
Another added benefit to a well-maintained truck is when you go to sell or trade it off, you will have an encyclopedia of maintenance that will increase the value to the dealership or private purchaser of you truck. It will show them you don’t take shortcuts to looking after and maintaining the centerpiece of you business.
11. The Hype in Hyper-Mileing
While many view hyper-mileing as an effective way to save fuel, it’s not. Hyper-mileing, or the practice of several trucks tail-gating one another, is not only unsafe, it’s illegal. Inability to see the road ahead, and the reduced reaction time in the event of an incident ahead of the lead truck can result in major problems, and multiple vehicle collisions. It also screws up the flow of traffic by not allowing cars to maneuver around trucks safely.
Remember the Payoff: Happy Wife, Happy Life
All of these things have the ability to save you a small amount of fuel and reduce your overall operating costs. If, over time, you are able to incorporate several of these practices you will notice large fuel cost reductions. The less fuel we use, the bigger the paycheck, the happier the spouse will be. The happier your spouse is, the more pleasant your home time will be. The kid’s college fund won’t be getting any cheaper over time, so a couple of hundred bucks a month will certainly help in that regard.
For those of you who are single, you can’t tell me the extra money wouldn’t look nice in the bank account for the parts you’ve been eyeing up at the chrome shop, or the Harley shop, or the season’s tickets to the local pro sports team, or a nice trip to wherever.
(Oil companies won’t notice if you keep that extra money in your pocket, they’ve got lots.)
Keep fuel saving interesting, make a game out of it, make it a contest, and talk to your trucking friends about things they do to conserve fuel and how much they actually use. The more we discuss the costs associated with fuel consumption, and the ways we can reduce it, the more money we can put in our bank accounts. Operating as an owner operator does not need to be a non-profit endeavor; paying attention to the associated costs will greatly improve your bottom line.