Improving Fuel Mileage

June 1, 2007
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Improving Fuel Mileage

David Kolman  

For many fleets, fuel represents the second highest operating expense. With fuel prices on the rise, now is an opportune time to review practices — and implement new ones — to improve your fleet’s efficiency. Here are some active ways to lower fuel’s impact on your business:
Practice good vehicle maintenance. Staying on top of maintenance is critical to keeping trucks running efficiently. The better vehicles are maintained, the more miles per gallon they will achieve.
Maintain tires. Poor tire condition and improper inflation are major contributors to reduced fuel mileage as they cause tires to not roll as smoothly or as easily as they were designed to, which increases rolling resistance and tire wear. This adversely impacts fuel economy, as well as handling, traction, braking and load carrying capability. Be sure your drivers are checking the condition of their tires and wheels as part of their daily vehicle inspection.
Pay attention to vehicle write-ups. Be alert for vehicle condition reports that relate to a truck’s performance, as these problems may be impacting fuel mileage.
Consider using synthetic lubricants. Synthetic lubricants offer performance advantages over conventional mineral lubricants. Synthetics  have the ability to remain stable at high temperatures (under which conventional oils begin to break down) and remain fluid at low temperatures (under which conventional oils begin to thicken). This improved lubrication reduces wear for a cleaner, more efficient engine.
Repair body damage. Any body damage should be repaired, and any loose fairings or panels tightened, so as not to cause additional drag. Drag, or air resistance, is produced by a moving object as it displaces the air in its path.
Slow down. Vehicle speed has the single largest impact on how much fuel is consumed. The faster a truck runs, the more fuel it burns because more horsepower is needed to overcome air resistance. This aerodynamic drag is a function of the size and shape of the vehicle and goes up exponentially with the vehicle’s speed.
Trucking industry studies have found that going from 60 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour decreases fuel economy by 6.4 percent. Fuel economy decreases 10.9 percent when going 70 miles per hour compared with 60 miles per hour.
Higher speeds also increase engine, vehicle and tire wear, leading to higher maintenance costs and increased downtime.
Consider aerodynamic device add-ons. All vehicles experience aerodynamic drag when moving through air. Fitting aerodynamic devices can help streamline a vehicle, enabling the air to flow around it more smoothly and causing less drag. Thus, less energy is needed to move the vehicle, so fuel consumption is reduced.
Plan routes. Double check routings to make sure they are optimized for productivity, as well as for fuel mileage. It doesn’t make sense to save a few miles if a truck will use more fuel getting from one stop to another.
Buy fuel wisely. There are many fuel card programs available for those fleets that don’t have their own fueling. These typically provide access to a wide network from which to pinpoint low-priced fuel options.
Track fuel mileage. Track your drivers’ fuel mileage and usage, and provide them with feedback on how they are doing. Keeping fuel mileage records allows you to identify drivers who are getting poor mileage, giving you an opportunity to help them improve.
Driver incentives. Most drivers appreciate incentive programs and bonus opportunities. Creating incentive programs that reward drivers for achieving specific fuel economy targets can be an effective way to increase fleet fuel economy.
Equipment specification. The ideal time to start saving fuel is at equipment acquisition. Decide upon the fuel economy expectations and requirements for your vehicles. Then review your current and previous equipment specs to see which have been effective in maximizing miles per gallon.
Knowing how to squeeze more miles from each tank of fuel will help reduce operating costs and improve your profitability.
David Kolman is a veteran truck communicator, keynote speaker and long-haul trucker. Commissioned as an Honorary Colonel on the Kentucky governor’s staff for his work promoting traffic safety, he actively participates in trade associations and reports news and information about the trucking industry for broadcasting and print media.
Driving efficiently
The driver remains the most important factor in cutting fuel consumption. Poor driving habits waste fuel and can offset any gains obtained from investments in fuel-efficient components, aerodynamic add-on devices or programs.
Here are some driving techniques to share with your drivers to help them get more miles from each tank of fuel:
•  Start at the slowest engine speed that will move the load.
•  Use the minimum rpm, minimum power and fewest shifts necessary when accelerating.
•  Run the engine in its peak torque range.
•  Use progressive shifting — shift at low rpms in low gears and at higher rpms in higher gears.
•  Block-shift (for example, going from third to sixth gear) when appropriate.
•  Coast whenever possible.
•  Use the engine brake, if a vehicle is so equipped.
•  Use cruise control whenever possible.
•  Accelerate or decelerate well in advance of the need to speed up or stop.
•  Anticipate traffic flow to avoid frequent slow-downs, stops, starts and speed-ups.
•  Limit unnecessary engine idling. Turn the engine whenever possible, for example when waiting to load/unload, while loading/unloading, stuck in a traffic jam, etc.

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