Many different types of expenses factor into the operation costs for trucking, including driver salaries, fuel, insurance and vehicle maintenance as well as the purchase price of the fleet and related equipment. Other costs factor in, too, such as office supplies, drug/alcohol screens and taxes. The estimated annual cost for operating a single commercial truck approximates $200,000, and the lion’s share of this investment is made up of fuel costs.
“For every one-penny increase in the price of diesel, it costs our industry $391 million,” says Tiffany Wlazlowski, a spokeswoman for the American Trucking Associations. With the price of diesel fuel hovering around $4 per gallon, the cost to fill the tank of an 18-wheeler is now well over $1,000. Over the course of a year, a commercial truck can easily consume more than $70,000 worth of fuel, according to The Truckers Report. Finding ways to reduce fuel expenses is a matter of survival for fleet managers, self-employed drivers and others in the trucking industry.
Here are four ways to reduce the use and expense of fuel:
Install Fleet Management Equipment
Trucking companies and businesses that rely on commercial transportation of materials are finding enormous value in GPS-enabled fleet management tools that provide location information for company equipment as well as real-time data from the field, including driving and rest times, mileage, fuel consumption, maintenance activity and so forth. GPS-based fleet-tracking systems are made up of an electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) on each vehicle that’s outfitted with purpose-designed software.
A fleet tracking system can identify optimal routes — in terms of distance and ways to avoid heavy traffic and an abundance of hills — and thereby reduce fuel consumption. By reducing waste, minimizing avoidable mechanical problems and improving fuel efficiency, this technology can make a big difference in the bottom line for trucking companies and drivers. Just make sure your system can generate reports with relevant analytical data that makes it easy to make good decisions about fuel management.
Use Adaptive Cruise Control
Drivers incur more fuel costs by going just a few miles per hour faster than their highway-recommended amount of 55 mph, which wrecks fuel efficiency. But moving too slow can be dangerous for truckers and other drivers on the road.
Adaptive cruise control can help drivers manage their speed based on the driving conditions around them. Just be aware that this is different from standard cruise control; adaptive cruise control senses traffic patterns and responds accordingly to improve highway safety while helping truckers save fuel.
Switch to Natural Gas
Given the reduced cost of natural gas and emerging access to a domestic supply, fleet managers and truckers are taking a closer look at this alternative to diesel. And that’s encouraging many commercial trucking manufacturers and infrastructure planning groups to respond with vehicles and fueling stations to meet the increased interest.
The Commercial Appeal reports that “while infrastructure development has been slow for consumer-oriented natural gas refueling stations, Clean Energy Fuels Corp. plans to cover major trucking routes with a network of 150 stations by the end of 2013. Shell and Travel Centers of America announced this year they plan to offer natural gas pumps at 100 truck stops nationwide.”
“Replacing diesel with natural gas can save truckers about $1.50 per gallon, and experts say a truck that runs at least 80,000 miles a year could see a payback in two years,” reports Reuters. But after factoring in the higher price of natural-gas vehicles (which cost as much as $40,000 to $75,000 more than a diesel truck) and addressing the infrastructure issues of refueling stations and the uncertainty regarding the resell value of used natural gas trucks, the jury remains out on the economic wisdom of making this switch.
Modify your Truck with Aerodynamic Upgrades
Drivers and fleet managers can improve the fuel efficiency of older trucks by as much as 15 percent just by adding aerodynamic technologies such as better tires, trailer skirts and other attachments. Newer trucks, which already have improved aerodynamics, can gain anywhere from 3-11 percent efficiency by increasing aerodynamics.
Trailer skirts cover the gaps between the front and rear tires on the sides of the truck. And fortunately, this improvement doesn’t necessarily require major investment; some panels (or skirts) cost as little as $300.
Similarly, rolling resistance, a fancy way to reference how difficult it is to move a tire, is responsible for up to 25 percent of the fuel used to keep a truck in motion. Using better-designed tires can dramatically reduce rolling resistance and overall fuel consumption.