Although the news is unfortunate, the current average price of diesel gas is $4 per gallon, and that number won’t be dropping anytime soon. Because of this, it’s important that fleet managers take advantage of every opportunity to cut down on fuel consumption. After all, every drop counts — especially considering that the difference between 6 and 7 miles per gallon on a semi-trailer operating 120,000 miles per year equals close to $12,000 in savings! When you multiply that amount across a 100-truck fleet, you’re looking at about $1.2 million saved annually.
The problem is, of course, figuring out how to implement a program that enables your fleet to actually achieve this level of savings. First, it’s important to understand that every aspect of a fleet’s organization plays a role in fuel economy — not just the driver. Bearing this in mind, here are 6 tips to cut fuel costs that, when followed by fleet managers, purchasers, and drivers, can make a significant difference in your bottom line.
1. Plan Ahead
By taking the time to plan ahead, fleet managers can create strategies that enable company drivers to operate their vehicles as efficiently as possible. For example, if your drivers make certain stops regularly, it’s wise to assess fuel consumption by route. Setting up test runs to determine if a longer interstate route or a shorter route with more stop-and-go traffic consumes more or less gas enables you to lock down the route that maximizes savings. It is also wise to teach your drivers to plan ahead, using their GPS units. Many in-cab navigation systems anticipate traffic, offering re-routes to an itinerary that consumes less time and fuel. Additionally, a GPS system with a “point of interest” feature helps fleet drivers pinpoint the nearest fuel locations with the cheapest prices.
2. Stay Current with Maintenance
Generally, if a truck’s fuel economy drops by more than .5%, it’s a maintenance-related issue. Staying on top of oil and filter changes, monitoring tire pressure, regularly adjusting wheel alignment, and keeping belts at their proper tension make a huge difference in the amount of fuel consumed by a truck.
3. Make Smarter Purchases
Equipment purchasers should take care to make buying decisions that help cut fuel costs, too. A truck may burn as much as 1 gallon of diesel per hour if idling, but a diesel auxiliary power unit (APU) will use only about one-fifth of a gallon. If your fleet’s drivers are required to run their trucks for air or heat while resting, you would be smart to invest in a full-function diesel APU, or a more climate-specific diesel-powered heater or DC air conditioner. You may also want to consider installing automatic engine start-stop systems. These systems can be programmed to shut down the engine after a specified period of idle time or when the cab goes above or below a pre-set temperature. Reducing drag also decreases fuel usage. Tests show that a roof fairing, when paired with side shields/extenders, improves fuel economy by as much as 15%.
4. Keep Tabs on Your Team
Fleet managers should keep an eye on their drivers through fleet tracking systems. Not only does this alert you to a truck going off-route or exceeding speed limits, but it also helps you to discover patterns regarding a driver’s fuel consumption. By monitoring trends, you can find ways to improve driver techniques and cut costs.
5. Teach Eco-Driving Tactics
Train your drivers regularly about how their driving techniques impact fuel economy. Discuss the importance of adhering to the posted speed limit, maintaining consistent speed, anticipating stops, and shifting up early. These behaviors play a significant role in scaling back the costs associated with fueling up your fleet. Create and enforce policies regarding the amount of warm-up time permitted when starting the truck, and encourage drivers to utilize shoreline power when it’s available. Also train so that drivers know how to keep the truck running in its engine’s “sweet spot.” Operating in the peak torque zone at cruising speed optimizes horsepower. Typically, it takes only 200 hp to maintain 65 mph. And don’t forget to remind your drivers about the importance of maintaining a reasonable following distance to prevent unnecessary braking and acceleration.
6. Make it a Game
A growing number of fleets are encouraging their teams to drive economically by “keeping score.” Since onboard computers, trackers, and GPS devices capture a range of driver information, you can easily determine which drivers are operating their trucks most efficiently. Cash or bonus incentive programs that are based around mpg, idle time and other metrics can help your business save big time — keeping you and your drivers happy.
Saving money is easier than you think. By following these 6 tips for cutting fuel costs, you’ll notice a big difference in your business bank account.
Robert J. Hall is president of Track Your Truck, a leader in GPS vehicle tracking systems and software for small and midsized companies.