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Simple Ways to Improve Truck Fuel Mileage

That driver on the CB said his truck gets 8mpg - Is that even possible?

You can make that statement ring true for your rig by making small changes in your driving habits and how you maintain your equipment.
There are many factors, technical and general that contribute to how large commercial trucks perform in the area of fuel efficiency, but this short article covers just some of the basic things you can do to improve fuel mileage.

  • Reduce or Stop Engine Idling When Parked

    This is perhaps the easiest way to cut back on using too much fuel. Opportunities to turn off your truck are almost endless. Some places where you can start practicing and getting used to turning your truck off are:

    • At shipper/receiver locations when waiting to load/unload
    • At the fuel pump when fueling
    • At the rest areas when you stop for a quiet rest -other commercial drivers will appreciate this as well.
    • At the truck-wash when waiting your turn to enter the wash-bay
    • On the ramp when snoozing for that afternoon nap or when waiting for the city traffic to ease up before you keep rollin' -:)
    • At the company truck terminal when you get in to "talk" to dispatch
    • At the truck-stop during dinner-time or when you shut down for the night
  • Slow Down to the Posted Speed Limits

    There are many recommendations and studies that show that excessive speeding burns more fuel, but there are also many conditions that determine what an optimum speed is.

    My experience shows that when I stayed within the speed limit, or about 1 to 2 miles below the limit, I did not have to constantly brake or speed up to stay with the flow of traffic. This technique also helped reduce the stress-level when driving through heavy traffic areas like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas and even St Louis.

  • Perform Regular Preventive Maintenance

    A very smart move! This not only lowers your total cost of operation by lowering your overall maintenance bill, but also keeps you off the side of the road waiting for a tow-truck, not to mention helping you play your part in caring for the environment. Regular preventive maintenance helps your truck in a big way to run more efficiently and burn less fuel. Combined with the other tips and suggestions discussed here, you might even improve fuel mileage by about a mile or two per gallon.

  • Maintain Proper Tire Pressure on all 18 wheels

    Vehicle and tire manufacturers recommend that as part of your regular vehicle maintenance, you should especially check tire pressure to keep it within the recommended measurements. This is especially true for large, heavy commercial vehicles due to the extreme conditions under which they are operated. For example, you may haul a load starting out in Chesapeake, Virginia on a cold rainy morning and by late afternoon the next day you're rolling through 90 degree temperatures in Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Check tire pressure as part of your daily pre-trip and post-trip inspection routine using a good quality tire pressure gauge, -and no, using a tire thumper or baseball bat doesn't cut it.

  • Scale and Balance out the cargo-weight on the trailer

    This strategy has a big safety advantage as well. A poorly balanced load even in a van (or box) trailer can cause a rollover, and many drivers have reported additional fatigue caused by the increased difficulty in steering, reduced braking power, and general instability from a wobbly load.

    Balancing out the load on the trailer allows the truck to operate at optimum efficiency and not using any more fuel than is necessary. This is a good practice to maintain, not to mention keeping you out of the "chicken house" (DOT Weigh Station) for being overweight on a set of axles.

  • Practice Smooth, Progressive Shifting of Gears (avoid sudden starts and stops)

    Rough driving not only causes excessive wear and tear on the truck, but also uses more fuel. One of the hall marks of a professional driver is the smooth shifting of gears and starting out in the correct gear. Just because you can start out in the fourth, fifth, sixth or whichever gear doesn't mean you should. Use the correct gear for the conditions and also practice down-shifting as smoothly as you up-shift. This technique, along with others discussed here certainly helps to improve fuel efficiency.

  • Time your transit through major cities and heavy traffic zones

    Whenever possible, time your travel through heavy traffic areas when you are more likely to roll through without being caught in stop and go traffic. It takes more fuel, time and energy for a large, heavy commercial truck to weed through heavy traffic. It also adds significantly to driver fatigue and increased chances for accidents from aggressive drivers cutting in and out of your lane in rush hours. You can certainly save yourself the hussle and bustle of a busy city by delaying or timing your entry/exit. Some of the busiest traffic areas are Austin -Texas, Los Angeles CA, Long Island -NY and Chicago Illinois. There are too many other heavy traffic areas to mention.

  • Use the Truck's Cruise-Control and Avoid the Speeding Truck Convoys

    Out on the open road I found that using my truck's cruise control feature was more fuel efficient than gunning the pedal to the floor, even when the truck is governed with maximum speed rating.

    There are now many options to regulate truck speed and engine power to maximize fuel efficiency. Speed/engine power ratio is probably the biggest factor affecting fuel consumption. You could easily have your truck engine calibrated to operate at 435HP on cruise control and 475HP on manual control. This configuration is very common with large company fleets and becoming more common among owner-operators. If you have your truck configured this way, you could save more fuel by using the cruise control feature more often. Commercial trucks put in a lot of miles, so this is easy to achieve on almost any long haul.

  • Install an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU)

    If you don't already have this on your truck, go out and have it installed. An APU allows you to turn off your truck and provides the electrical, heating or air-conditioning that your truck would normally provide when running. It helps you save on wear and tear, and uses far less fuel than idling the engine all night long.

    That said, you have to consider how much it costs versus how much you will save, or how long it will take to recover that cost (the ROI so to speak). If you have an older truck that is about 5, 6 or more years old, you may not want to invest in the 3 - $7,000 it costs to install an APU. Also, if you do not typically idle your truck engine about 10 hours a day then the return on investment will probably never come. So, I recommend this option for truckers shopping for a truck to look for one that already has an APU installed, or need to comply with changing environment and emissions laws such as those in California.

  • Use fuel additives

    This option is highly subjective as far as whether it actually works, My opinion is that it has more to do with the general state of your truck's engine and the quality of fuel you generally use. -Yes, fuel quality is a big topic that has been discussed by many groups. I do not recommend one type of fuel over another (i.e ULSD vs LSD, or a particular truck stop's fuel vs another..), but I have seen performance differences. I will save this topic for another day when more research is available.

  • Use the correct type of fluids

    This is another area where there is continuing discussion over whether the type of motor oil you use in your truck plays a role in how it (the truck engine) performs. Engine manufactures however do recommend particular types of motor oils for their engines and have the research to back their claims of better performance. -So I suggest using the recommended type and grade of motor oil and other fluids to eke out the best fuel performance for your truck.

Editors Note:

The tips presented in this article are not the result of any scientific study. They have however, been shown to contribute significantly to good fuel performance. These tips may also contribute to lowering your equipment costs of operation, reduced driver fatigue and general good practice.

Keywords: Fuel Efficiency, Trucking Operations, Fleet Maintenance, Business Best Practices, Going Green