Fueling Up a Freight Transport Truck

Wadhams Drive for Five: How to Measure and Improve Fuel Economy

Though it may have fallen to 11th place on ATRI’s list of concerns for the industry, fuel economy remains a top concern for the trucking industry (in fact, its drop in rank is likely a greater reflection of the rising significance of other concerns rather than a decline in its own priority status). Given our dependence on fuel for all aspects of our operations, fluctuations in fuel prices affect us perhaps more than any other industry. That’s why it is critically important for all hauling companies to pay close attention to their usage rates and fuel economy.

Why It Matters

Improving fuel economy is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s one of the cost-of-service determinants that we can more easily control. On average (at highway speeds), higher speeds translate to lower fuel economy, with each increase of one mile-per-hour translating to approximately 0.14mpg penalty in fuel consumption.This amounts to a 27% decrease in efficiency if the driver increases his or her speed from 65mph to 75mph, for example. Along with limiting idling times, reducing speed is an easy way to lessen the fuel expense without sacrificing service or driver comfort. This makes it a no-brainer, since any improvements in this area directly translate into cost savings for transport companies and, ultimately, customers.

Second, emphasizing our need to be mindful of fuel economy promotes good habits and considerate choices. For example, a typical truck burns approximately one quart of fuel for every 15 minutes of time spent idling (or one gallon per hour). At an average price of $1.25/gal, that expense quickly adds up for a fleet of 300+ trucks, operating 365 days a year, like ours. It also leads to higher maintenance expenses, as unnecessary idling causes excessive engine wear.

Finally, improving fuel economy also helps minimize the environmental impact of work in our industry – a respectable goal in its own right.

The Challenges

Fuel economy is a bit of a moving target in this industry; it can vary for many different reasons, so establishing baselines is not only difficult, it’s also not always helpful. Fuel consumption varies quite significantly from one type of vehicle to the next depending on engine characteristics, exhaust-system, the season, and the type of fuel (winterized fuel, for example, yields lower fuel economy than regular fuel, accounting for big differences in this expense between summer and winter driving).

Analysis & Diagnoses

When we analyzed our operations and examined our trucks’ performance records, we determined that reducing idling time and improving driver habits would be two of the biggest ways to improve fuel economy, and also areas in which progress is easiest to track. Most trucks have on-board diagnostic information and/or E-Logs that record idling time and driving habits, making it possible to track fuel mileage by vehicle and driver.

Concrete Steps

To engage our drivers (and to instill a healthy level of competition), we began posting their performance metrics on bulletin boards in common spaces where they could compare their results to those of their peers. This incentivizes strong performance, and also gives underperforming drivers a sense of who can give them the best advice to get them back on-track. We also provided training programs to address the issues with long idle time, and to explain why it is a problem that we need to address together.

Focusing on concrete steps that can make a difference encourages drivers to be aware of the impact of their behaviors on their performance (and on ours, as a company). Though we’re constantly re-examining our procedures and programming to see if there are more effective ways to make an impact, our results so far give us reason to be optimistic about the management of our fuel economy. And, as we enter the colder winter months, the impact of this progress will be all the more meaningful.