Truck News


Saving the planet?

I used to be a full-time trucking writer. Sometimes it would be a struggle to come up with something new to write about. After the news items and technical stuff had been taken care of, it was a challenge to come up with something original for...

I used to be a full-time trucking writer. Sometimes it would be a struggle to come up with something new to write about.
After the news items and technical stuff had been taken care of, it was a challenge to come up with something original for opinion pieces. But there’s no such problem now; this column is writing itself. In fact I often have to self edit or I could fill the magazine from cover to cover.

As it says at the bottom of my column, I still make my living from driving truck. I keep in touch with new developments, especially on the technical side of things.

I’m still a kid at heart and big machines still excite me. I also stay abreast of other developments in the industry, but my little piece of the magazine is about the day-to-day stuff that affects us all.

Driving around as I do, I’m perfectly located to talk about life in the trenches.

This month’s piece came about while I sat in a back-up on Hwy. 401. I was stationary for some time, then we’d do a 200-yard shuffle and stop again.

During the 15 minutes that I sat like this, I was alongside another big truck, but this was no ordinary big truck. It was one of those ‘Saving the Planet’ trucks – well, that was what it said on the side anyway.

It made the rest of my journey pass by in a jiffy. I was chuckling away to myself; here was a tractor-trailer that announced itself to the world as the answer to all our problems. Quite a bold statement, especially when its only contribution to world peace and harmony were a set of big mud flaps nailed onto its side rails.

Now I come from the land of the $10 gallon of fuel; over there they have some really advanced ideas about fuel mileage and aerodynamic efficiency.

Designs are tested in wind tunnels and they have many contours; some are for appearance, but even those have a positive effect on the aerodynamics. Over here, we have an extra thick mud flap masquerading as an aerodynamic side skirt.

There are no requirements for any performance levels on these skirts, they just have to be there. Buy a new trailer and as long as it has skirts, it qualifies for the SmartWay program.

It’s a California thing again, isn’t it always?

Now, back to the 401. The tractor unit was an 06 model, its EGR valve was doing its thing as it sounded like a giant vacuum cleaner. I say doing its thing, it wasn’t doing what it was designed to do, which, according to the claim on its side was ‘saving the planet,’ as it was belching clouds of black smoke.

It also had recapped tires and the trailer axles, at least, were way out of alignment if the condition of the treads were any indication.

The fact that the trailer went down the zipper line while the tractor was a foot to the right reinforces that.

So the answer to all our problems was in fact no such thing. Let’s for a moment forget that a 25-ft. strip of plastic is not aerodynamic alchemy, even if it were, the savings could be equaled by fitting tires with low rolling resistance and aligning the truck and trailer.

Those recaps were also likely to go bad long before a first life tire and the manufacture of a tire is not the most environmentally-friendly process, so this again takes away any planet saving provided by the big mud flap.

The whole saving the planet thing is just plain old-fashioned smoke and mirrors; there are many more ways to do that on a big truck, things like using oil bypass systems and extending drain intervals by up to 10 times, using synthetic lubes, ensuring that your engine is performing at its optimum levels, spec’ing direct drive transmissions, the aforementioned low rolling resistance tires…in fact, there are about 60 things you can do to a big truck to reduce fuel consumption and ‘save the planet’ in the process.

Sure, aerodynamics play a big part in that, but look at motorsports and aircraft.

Aerodynamics play a huge part in both, but not since the days of the Wright Brothers has a loosely mounted flat surface been featured on any plane.

The same applies to motorsports; the only flat surface on any race car is underneath.

However none of that actually matters.

Let’s be honest, if you can reduce your fuel costs you’re not doing it because you’re a tree hugger, you’re doing it because you’ll earn more money.

So even if you do follow all 60 fuel saving ideas, you’ll still make me smile when I see your ‘Saving the Planet’ truck, because we both know the truth, it’s not about ‘carbon footprints,’ it’s about the ‘dollar bill.’

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