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Market Trends

10 Strategies to Curb Medium-Duty Truck Operating Costs

March 18, 2013, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

By Mike Antich

There is ongoing upward pressure on operating costs for medium-duty truck fleets. Most medium-duty trucks are used in regional and local applications.

“Increased urbanization, stop-and-go traffic, and worsening road conditions have necessitated more frequent component replacements, particularly brakes and tires,” said Steven Spivey, program leader, North America, Automotive & Transportation for Frost & Sullivan. “Moreover, the introduction of new truck technologies, particularly after-treatment, has brought on additional costs of maintenance.”

Other factors putting upward pressure on operating costs are volatile diesel prices, and escalating tire costs, along with higher parts prices and labor rates. Here are strategies fleets are employing to mitigate these cost increases:

1. Increased use of engine governors in medium-duty trucks. Long a mainstay in heavy-duty trucks, engine governors are increasingly being used in medium-duty trucks.

“Installing a maximum speed limiter on fleet vehicles is an effective solution for eliminating speed-related incidents, such as speeding tickets, aggressive driving, accidents, and complaints from the public,” said Jeff Robley, truck sales manager, railroad markets for ARI. “It also increases a fleet’s fuel economy, makes a fleet run cleaner, and reduces a company’s carbon footprint. With roller coaster fuel prices, budget cutbacks/restraints, and increased pressure to lower operating costs, maximum speed limiters are an alternative to replacing a fleet with expensive hybrid or alternative-fuel technology.”

2. Rightsizing. A growing number of fleets are spec’ing a smaller vehicle more tailored to a driver’s needs while still meeting cargo-carrying needs.

“This results in greater fuel efficiency, lower maintenance cost, and smaller tires. When assessing rightsizing opportunities, your analysis should include hybrid technology, diesel vs. gas analysis, cargo weight, and driver ergonomics,” said Chad Christensen, strategic consultant for GE Capital Fleet Services.

3. Growing acceptance of using remanufactured components. “Faced with budget constraints, fleet managers are looking at cost-effective alternatives for component servicing and replacement, particularly for older trucks,” Spivey said. “While some fleets are opting for inexpensive offshore components, maintenance managers are increasingly looking at remanufactured products to save costs without compromising quality and safety.”

4. Greater specification of disc brakes instead of drum brakes. “There has been a migration from drum brakes to disc brakes in recent years in response to the stopping distance requirements of the federal motor vehicle safety standard — FMVSS 121,” Robley said. “One benefit is that disc brakes are lighter. Also, drum brakes allow heat to build up inside the drum during heavy braking, and the rotor used in disc brakes is fully exposed to outside air. This exposure constantly cools the rotor, greatly reducing its tendency to overheat or cause fading.”

5. Extended-service contracts. The adoption rates for extended-service contracts are increasing due to concerns regarding complex electronics systems, Spivey said.

6. Mitigating higher tire expense. “More fleets are re-looking at the cost benefit of retread tires, with some even looking at retreads for tires smaller than 19.5 inches,” Christensen said. “Other fleets are looking at OEM and aftermarket installation of tire pressure monitoring systems as a means to reduce tire wear and enhance fuel efficiency and are linking this to telematics reporting visibility.”

7. Decrease in average truck age. “Economic softness and improved truck quality has led to fleets retaining their trucks for a longer period, leading to an increase in the average age of medium-duty trucks,” Spivey said. “Aging trucks require more frequent repairs, thus creating upward pressure on the cost of maintenance.”

As fleets return to traditional replacement cycles, it will put downward pressure on maintenance costs and replacement of wear items.

8. Increased use of synthetic and re-refined motor oil. There is a transition to lighter weight synthetic oils to increase drain intervals, enhance fuel mileage, and reduce engine sludge, said Christensen. Another trend is increased use of re-refined and “recycled” lubricants to reduce costs and enhance the fleet’s “green” image, Spivey noted.

9. Shift to LED lighting. LED lighting offers a less electrical current draw on the electrical components and longer life lights, Christensen said.

10. Multipronged approach. Other strategies to reduce operating expenses include revising vehicle specs, modifying driver behavior, implementing in-vehicle telematics, using of lighter-weight upfit materials to improve fuel efficiency, and acquisition of more fuel-efficient models.

Let me know of other strategies you are employing.


  1. 1. Brian Tabel [ March 19, 2013 @ 11:39AM ]

    Mike –

    Just read your article on operating costs for medium duty trucks. It was very good and had a lot of the things we are hearing also.

    Hope all is well!

    Brian Tabel
    Director of Marketing
    Isuzu Commercial Truck of America

  2. 2. Don Thomson [ March 27, 2013 @ 08:11AM ]

    Mike --- Just to reinforce what you said about extended life with LED lighting: Wherever we've adopted LED's we've virtually eliminated bulb changes. We get a substantive savings in both the associated labor and equipment downtime. A true win-win.
    ---Don Thomson CAFM, City of Salem, Oregon

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Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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