The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

50 Ways to Reduce Fuel Spend

May 2016, by Mike Antich and Kat Sandoval

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Keeping fuel spend low is the No.1 challenge fleet managers face. The fluctuation in gasoline and diesel prices over the past few years has given fleet managers a sobering reality check on how quickly the price of fuel can cause operational budgets to hemorrhage.

With this said it is crucial for fleets — especially during times of lower prices — to closely monitor fuel spend. Following are 50 ways fleet managers can reduce fleet fuel costs.

1. ‘Rightsizing’ to a Smaller Vehicle

Fleet managers need to work with their management team and decide whether their fleet would benefit from smaller, higher mpg vehicles.

For example, pharma fleets could switch from SUVs to crossover utility vehicles.

2. Establishing Minimum MPG Requirements

To add a vehicle to the fleet selector, some fleets require it must have a minimum mpg rating. Currently, many fleets base their selector decisions on EPA ratings.

At a Glance

Reducing fuel spend is a task that all fleet managers encounter throughout their careers in the fleet industry. Fleet managers could cut fuel costs by focusing on various key areas:

  • Reducing selector options.
  • Modifying fleet operations.
  • Addressing driver behavior.
  • Developing fuel management and vehicle maintenance strategies. 

3. Spec’ing Engines

The No. 1 approach to reduce fuel spend is spec’ing four-cylinder engines.

An increasing number of companies are changing their specs to include a greater number of four-cylinder engines in their selector mix. Many of these models come equipped with turbocharged engines, which give fleets the twin benefit of power, approaching a larger displacement engine, but with higher mpg.

4. Greening the Fleet

More fleets are looking to add hybrids to their selectors, especially for urban applications.

5. Increasing Personal-Use Charges

There is a broad-based trend to increase personal-use charges to drivers.

Many fleets are re-examining chargeback systems to determine whether personal-use expenses are adequately recouped. Many fleets have increased personal-use charges in reaction to higher fuel prices. The average personal-use charge to employees in 2005 was $70-$90 per month. In 2015, personal-use charges averaged $128 per month.

6. Eliminating Personal-Use

Conversely, some companies are also considering the outright elimination of personal-use privileges to reduce fuel spend.

7. Monitoring Unauthorized Company Vehicle Usage

As fuel prices fluctuate, companies often miss or ignore unauthorized use of company vehicles, such as when an employee takes a vacation.

8. Implementing Idle Reduction Programs

The worst mileage a vehicle can get is 0 miles per gallon, which occurs when it idles. Idling for long periods of time, whether at a railroad crossing or pulling off the road to make a phone call, consumes gasoline that could be saved by simply turning off the engine.

Restarting an engine uses the same amount of gasoline as idling for 30 seconds. When idling for longer periods of time, shut off the engine.

Prolonged idling creates excess emissions and wastes fuel. However, as a caution, turning off the engine may disable safety features such as airbags. Drivers should be certain to utilize this strategy only in situations where there is no possibility of collision.

On the plus side, the increasing prevalence of stop-start technology is helping fleets with newer vehicles combat idling. This technology shuts off the engine when the vehicle comes to a complete stop, such as at a stop light, and restarts it when the driver re-engages the accelerator.

9. Developing More Efficient Routing Plans

If you are running a delivery fleet or have vehicles that follow a set daily pattern, efficient routing offers an effective way for fleets to manage fuel expenses.

Not only does a routing plan make trips more fuel efficient, but it also increases time efficiency as well. Plan and consolidate trips to bypass congested routes and avoid stop-and-go traffic.

Fleets are also reducing fuel spend by optimizing trip routing to avoid unnecessary travel and backtracking.
Routing software, such as GPS and telematics, are common ways fleets are increasing routing efficiency and saving fuel at the same time.

Other fleets require strict adherence to routing plans.

10. Doubling Up

If you have several employees going to the same work location or job site, have them take one vehicle instead of driving separately.

11. Optimizing Fleet Utilization

Fleets are closely examining vehicle mileage records and eliminating marginal, low-mileage vehicles that do not fully contribute to fulfilling the fleet application.

Another strategy employed by some fleets is to realign vehicle assignments to be closer to the dealer repair network to minimize fuel expenditures in traveling to and fro.

12. Minimize Truck Overloading

Not only does overloading consume additional fuel, it poses a safety risk and unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle.

13. Modifying Truck Specs

One way to reduce fuel expenditures is by modifying truck specs to increase fuel economy. For example, fleets in certain industries are making changes to their truck, upfit, and tractor specifications to help improve fuel economy.

14. Modifying Tire Specifications

One cost reduction strategy is altering tire specifications, such as switching to low rolling resistance tires.

15. Optimizing Drivetrain Configurations

By gearing a truck so the engine is running at a slower RPM at a given speed, less fuel is burned. This must be balanced with meeting “startability and gradeability” requirements.

16. Integrating Multi-torque or Multi-Horsepower Engines

These engines run at a lower rating when the driver is operating the throttle.

When cruise control is engaged, the engine rating is increased to its higher rating. This encourages a driver to use cruise control, which can save fuel over a driver-controlled throttle.

17. Making Your Vehicle More Aerodynamic

Wind drag is a key source of reduced fuel mileage, causing an engine to work harder, thereby reducing fuel economy. The faster you push a vehicle, the more air it must push out of the way. Even with all the talk about the aerodynamics of today’s vehicles, some trucks, vans, and SUVs have the aerodynamics of a proverbial brick.

Another way to minimize wind drag is to keep the windows rolled up. This allows air to flow over the body, rather than drawing it inside the cabin and slowing down the vehicle. Wide-open windows, especially at highway speeds, increases aerodynamic drag, and the result is up to a 10% decrease in fuel economy.
If you want fresh air, run the climate system on “outside air” and “vent,” and crack the window for additional ventilation.

If you drive a pickup, lowering the tailgate creates turbulence, which makes for more wind drag, and that makes the truck less fuel-efficient at highway speeds. By leaving the tailgate up and including a tonneau cover, a smooth bubble of air in the bed is created. Air that comes over the truck’s cab passes over it, thus improving fuel efficiency.

Other truck specifications to decrease fuel expenditures include specifying aerodynamic mirrors, moving air filters under the hood, and dropping fender-mounted mirrors.

18. Removing Bug Deflector Shields

An increasing number of fleets are removing extraneous devices from vehicle exteriors, in particular trucks.

19. In-Cab Monitoring of Fuel Economy

Some fleets are installing in-cab electronics for drivers to monitor fuel economy performance while driving. Some vehicle models include this capability as standard.

20. Changing Driving Habits

An easy way to reduce fuel spend is to change drivers’ habits that unnecessarily consume fuel.

Changing driver attitude is easier said than done.

Fleet managers can use e-mail newsletters to communicate these tips to drivers.

Similarly, other companies have developed a DVD on fuel economy tips to distribute to drivers.

Oftentimes, small increases in mpg can result in substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet.

21. Have Drivers Ensure Tires are Inflated to the Correct Pressure

This is the cheapest and easiest way to control fuel expenses and the one most often overlooked.

It is worth the expense to buy tire gauges for drivers so they can ensure that tires are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended level. One underinflated tire can cut fuel economy by 2% per pound of pressure below the proper inflation level. One out of four drivers, on average, operates vehicles with one or more underinflated tires.

When a tire is underinflated, by 4 to 5 psi below the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure, vehicle fuel consumption increases by 10% and, over time, causes a 15% reduction in tire tread life. Check the vehicle’s doorpost sticker for minimum cold tire inflation pressure.

22. Making Drivers Energy Conscious

Similar to turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms at home, drivers should practice energy conservation habits in their vehicles as well.

If a vehicle has a trip computer, encourage drivers to use the “instant fuel economy” display to refine driving habits.

23. Implementing Driver Training Course on How to Improve Fuel Economy

Some fleets are evaluating the use of online training modules that teaches fuel conservation techniques for drivers.

24. Communicating Fuel Saving Tips to Drivers

Fleet managers can couple safety tips with fuel saving tips in their internal e-mail newsletters.

Depending on the type of fuel management system the fleet has (e.g., telematics, fuel card, or both), the fleet manager can gather data on the typical fueling habits of drivers. And, from there, the fleet manager can develop tips that target areas of inefficiency.

25. Incorporating Fuel Economy Suggestions in Driver Communiques

Whether it is in e-mails or in the work place, fleet managers can work with their fleet safety program coordinators or providers and provide suggestions such as changing driver habits, maintaining posted highway speeds, and maintaining proper tire inflation.

26. Eliminating Unnecessary Weight

Cars, like cargo trucks, get much better mileage when they’re not loaded with unnecessary weight.

Most drivers accumulate material in their trunks, much of it unnecessary.

Instruct drivers to remove all unnecessary items from the trunk, such as unneeded tools or materials.

27. Encouraging Carpooling When Appropriate

Encourage drivers to carpool when they know that they will be in the office all day for meetings or catching up with paperwork.

28. Drive the Posted Speed Limit

Driving fast wastes gasoline. Traveling at 65 miles per hour uses 10-15% more fuel than driving at 55 mph.
By adhering to speed limits, a driver will conserve fuel.

29. Using Cruise Control During Highway Driving

Unnecessary changes in speed are wasteful, and the use of cruise control helps improve fuel economy.

30. Avoiding Jackrabbit Starts

A car consumes extra fuel when accelerating. To maximize fuel economy, drivers need to examine their driving habits. Simply limiting acceleration and fast braking can increase fuel economy. When accelerating, suggest drivers pretend they have a fresh egg underneath their right foot. A light, steady pressure helps to minimize the amount of fuel consumed and maintain a more moderate and steady speed.

31. Anticipating Traffic Flow

Anticipate traffic conditions, and accelerate and decelerate smoothly — it’s safer, uses less gasoline, and reduces brake wear. In commuter traffic, which usually involves stop-and-go movement, drivers should look two or more vehicles ahead rather than watching the driver directly in front of them. This enables more gradual acceleration and deceleration.

By anticipating a traffic light change, an upcoming stop sign, or the need to slow down for a curve, drivers can avoid or reduce brake use and save gasoline in the process.

Like the “jackrabbit start,” the “jackrabbit stop” is a major contributor to inefficient driving. When coming upon a “merge ahead” sign, drivers should automatically check their speed, traffic spacing, and length of the acceleration lane to merge smoothly without interrupting momentum any more than necessary.

32. Avoiding Aggressive Driving

The largest fuel waste occurs with aggressive driving. Time studies show that fast starts, weaving in and out of traffic, accelerating to and from a stop light doesn’t save much time, wastes fuel, and wears out components such as brakes and tires faster.

By not driving aggressively, drivers can save up to 20% in fuel economy, advises the EPA.

33. Using A/C Sparingly

Use the air conditioner only when needed. An air conditioner is one of the biggest drains on engine power and fuel economy. It can reduce gasoline consumption by 5 to 20%, depending on the type of vehicle and the way it is driven. Don’t use it as a fan to simply circulate air.

If it’s just too hot to bear without A/C, try to keep it set at around 72 degrees. Minimize use of air conditioning. Use the vent setting as much as possible.

34. Developing Fuel Policies for Drivers

What are your fuel management policies? Are those policies understood by both drivers and management? Too often, fleets have no written fuel management policy in place. This policy would serve as a blueprint to reduce fuel spend and as an enforcement tool to ensure compliance with internal fueling policies.

35. Increasing Overall Average Fleet MPG

Fleet managers can set goals for their fleets to increase the overall fleet average mpg.

36. Adding a Fleet Fuel Card

A fuel management program helps avoid unauthorized purchases by allowing fleet managers to control exactly what drivers’ purchase.

Limiting the type of fuel purchased is an easy way to control costs. A fuel card can restrict driver purchases to only regular unleaded gasoline, not more expensive premium and super-unleaded grades of gasoline.

37. Eliminating SUVs, When Possible

Depending on the vehicle’s use, fleets would benefit from downsizing to crossovers. Crossovers generally have the same features as SUVs, but in a smaller package. Crossovers would provide equal performance, at a lower price.

38. Shifting from Minivans to Sedans, When Possible

Again, depending on the fleet type, fleet managers can make the move from minivans to mid-size sedans. Sedans have better mpg ratings.

Apart from cutting fuel costs, the fleet manager would also be saving money that is typically spent on upfitting vans.

39. Eliminating Pickups When Possible

Some companies are eliminating trucks and shifting to crossovers if they are able to fulfill the fleet application.

By eliminating the number of pickup trucks in their fleet, fleet managers can also extend the replacement mileage of the trucks.

40. Tightening Driver Eligibility

The rule of thumb is that an employee must drive a minimum of 12,000 business miles a year to be eligible for a company-provided vehicle. Some companies are increasing this to a minimum of 15,000 business miles to eliminate marginal drivers and to reassign responsibilities to other drivers.

41. Investigating Fuel Hedging

Generally speaking, fuel hedging allows larger, multinational fleets to establish a fixed cost on fuel so they avoid dealing with the fluctuations in gasoline and diesel prices.

42. Using Tier 2 & 3 Fuel Suppliers

With some research and price comparison, fleet managers can transition their fleets from only Tier 1 fuel suppliers, to Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers while maintaining their fuel purchasing volume.

43. Avoiding Premium Fuel

Use a high-quality fuel with the lowest appropriate octane rating. Check the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.

There is no benefit to using premium gas in a vehicle calibrated for regular unleaded. Resist the urge to buy higher-octane gasoline for “premium” performance, unless the vehicle requires it. Octane has nothing to do with gasoline performance.

Fuel costs could go down as much as 10 cents per gallon by buying regular fuel instead of premium.

44. Buying Fuel in the Morning

To maximize fuel economy, Kelley Blue Book consistently suggests buying gasoline when the temperature is cold and gasoline is at its densest.

Consumers are charged based on volume, not density. Buy gasoline during the coolest time of the day or first thing in the morning. Conversely, heat causes fuel to expand and overflow. Don’t completely fill the gas tank in hot weather.

45. Maintaining Constant Awareness of Market Prices for Fuel

Fleet managers and drivers alike can keep track of fuel prices at local gasoline stations by using mobile apps. In some cases, fuel card providers and telematics providers offer a comparable feature where drivers and fleet managers can look to see what prices are like around them.

46. Ensuring Vehicles are in Peak Condition

Whether in-house or outsourced, vehicle maintenance providers can run their routine checks of fleet vehicles.
Additionally, fleet drivers should be doing pre- and post-trip inspections to ensure there is no severe damage or necessary maintenance the vehicle needs before they set out for their next trip.

47. Monitoring Preventive Maintenance Schedules

Proper maintenance increases a vehicle’s fuel economy. For example, keeping the wheels aligned. Wheels that “fight” each other waste fuel. Keep the air filter clean.

Replace the air filter as recommended — always consult the owner’s manual.

48. Benchmarking Fuel Reduction Programs

Fleets are beginning to gauge the effectiveness of their fuel reduction programs by benchmarking against fleets to determine best practices.

49. Implementing a Telematics Solution

With the current advances in technology, fleets can look forward to adding a telematics solution that can generate customizable reports and metrics.

The integration of online support platforms and mobile apps, fleet managers don’t need to go through pages of reports.

Transaction data is available in real-time. And, if any fraudulent behavior occurs, the fleet manager will receive an e-mail or text message letting them know.

50. Developing an In-House Team to Reduce Fuel Costs

This team would already be familiar with the fleet’s daily operations and they would have a better understanding of areas for improvement.

Additionally, the fleet manager can appoint this team to review fueling transactions and assess excess vehicles that could be turned in or swapped out for more fuel-efficient models. 

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