How to save big bucks on fuel

by Sonia Straface

Spending less on fuel is on every owner-operator’s and fleet owner’s mind. It’s a part of the business no one likes to spend money on, especially when that expense can be controlled with some tricks of the trade and handy technologies readily available on the market today.

So, what are real-life drivers doing today to spend less time and money at the fuel pumps? We asked seasoned owner-operators to share their secrets.

Jamie Hagen

For Jamie Hagen, who’s been driving trucks professionally for more than a quarter century, it’s all about the spec’s.

“That’s the biggest thing for me,” the owner-operator said. “It’s hard to get fuel economy from just any old truck. Of course, there are little tricks you can do here and there to save, but mostly you want a truck that is spec’d right for your application.”

Hagen, who drives a 2016 Mack Pinnacle, said when he purchased his truck he made sure he didn’t add any extras to the exterior which would add drag.

“A lot of guys have hood mirrors and moose guards on the front of their truck, or a bunch of extra lights. But I don’t. I like to keep the wind drag on my truck really low,” he said. “I don’t even have a sun visor on my truck – I ordered mine without one.”

Joel Morrow, a driver and truck and trailer specification manager for Ohio-based Ploger Tranportation agreed that spec’s are important, but that buyers shouldn’t get carried away.

“In my opinion, for general freight, the majority of trucks in the U.S. today have too much horsepower and the engines are too big,” he said. “Most drivers do not need 600 hp.

Typically, you see 13-, or 15-liter engines when 11 will work just fine. Efficiency through the drivetrain is often forgotten when owner-operators and fleet managers go to purchase a truck. As a business owner, you need to ask yourself, what are we out here to do? Win a race or be profitable? If you’re out here to win races, then by all means, buy a 600-hp engine. But if you’re out here to make money, you don’t need that.”

Morrow said he believes the drive to buy the most horsepower is really just for “bragging rights at the truck stop” and in the end, will always ending up costing money you’ll never earn back.

“Horsepower costs you more money to buy, it costs more to maintain, and it costs more to operate,” he said. “Because the faster you go, the more horsepower you use, and the more often you’re broken down.”

The kind of tires you run and your tire pressures can also affect your fuel mileage greatly, the drivers said. Hagen only purchases low rolling resistance tires, and has found that the tires on the market with the lowest rolling resistance today are Michelin Energy tires.

In addition, Hagen pays close attention to his air pressure.

“I do run them a bit high,” he admitted. “At around 120 psi, in my wide-base single tires because I know having them a little overinflated keeps the tires from flexing as much, and keeps the rolling resistance even lower.”

Angelo Diplacido, who has been driving since 1982 and currently works for Lisbon Paving, agreed that tire pressure is important and says he always keeps a tire gauge in his truck.

“I’ve watched tire pressure change 10-15 lbs depending on the season,” he said. “Most drivers will just smack their tires with a hammer and the only thing that will tell you is that there’s air in the tire and nothing else. Tire pressure is so important because if your tire pressure is down 10 lbs, there goes your fuel mileage.”

Speed and attitude
“I drive at 62 mph, whether I’m in Canada or the States,” Hagen said. “Speed is such an important factor some drivers don’t pay attention to. Every time I talk to someone with poor fuel economy, I find out that they’re usually driving a lot faster than they should be or need to be.”

Last year in the summer months, Hagen said he averaged 9.2 miles per gallon. And for all the electronic log fearmongers, Hagen said he achieved those numbers with an ELD.

“I have an e-log, so everything I do is timed and I still find time to drive at 62 mph,” he said. “And I’m 100% compliant as we speak.”

Diplacido agreed.

“If you want to see your fuel mileage change, don’t run with a crowd of traffic,” he advised. “There’s a lot of consistency in running by yourself and letting the traffic just fly by you. You don’t have to brake as often, or accelerate as often. Consistent fuel mileage only comes with consistent behavior.”

Diplacido said years ago, when he drove team, his team driver was annoyed with how slow he drove. So, to prove a point, Diplacido said he conducted an experiment during one of their regular runs.

“He wanted to run 75 mph and I wanted to run 65 mph,” he said. “So, we conducted a test, where I agreed to run 75 mph to Jacksonsonville, Fla., one week and the following week we did it at my speed, 65 mph. And after, he said, ‘See that? We got to Jacksonville two hours faster going 75 mph,’” Diplacido recalled. “It took us 22 hours my way and 20 hours his way. But to me, two hours on a full day’s drive is not that significant because we burned 75 gallons more in diesel. At my speed, we saved that diesel and we weren’t being more risky driving so fast. I always say if you’re running that fast, obviously you can afford to lose that money. Because you’re likely getting 4.5 miles a gallon, and that’s 30% of your fuel mileage gone just to drive a little faster.”

Morrow, who’s driven professionally for more than 30 years and has seen 4.5 million miles pass under his bumper, agreed speed is important but argued that drivers who are the most efficient are also more disciplined.

“From a driver’s perspective, the number one important factor for fuel mileage is patience and attitude,” he said, adding new drivers get frustrated in traffic and get heavy on the throttle – what he calls a rookie mistake.

To keep his fuel costs down, Morrow takes it easy on the pedal with a real-time monitor called PedalCoach.

“It’s such a simple device that gives you instant feedback in the cab when you need to be softer on the pedal,” he said. “I’ve been using it for a few years now and it’s really helped lift my efficiency game to the next level.”

All drivers we spoke to agreed that not one thing will take you from a 5-mpg driver to a 9- or 10-mpg driver, but rather a lot of little changes to your driving behaviors and habits will.

“It’s like a game of pennies,” Hagen said. “You save a penny here, and you save a penny there and the next thing you know, you’ve got a dollar.”

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data