The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

How to Maximize Fuel Economy For Your Light-Duty Truck Fleet

September 2007, by Lauren Colin

Reducing fuel expenditures is a key focus for today’s fleet managers. Trucks just aren’t as fuel-efficient as cars. This simple fact makes the impact of rising fuel prices all the more painful for truck fleets, and makes managing fuel costs an urgent issue.

Managers of light-duty truck fleets employ different methods of keeping fuel costs down, such as modifying vehicle replacement cycling, idle time reduction or adoption of a fuel card program to control driver’s purchases.

Some fleet managers say fuel costs can be contained simply by using basic maintenance practices, such as ensuring that tires are properly inflated.

Lifecycle Policy Helps Optimize Miles Per Gallon Sometimes reducing fuel expenses requires more complex methods. Since MPG is reduced the longer a vehicle is in service, it’s a good idea to consider revised replacement cycling based on lifecycle analysis by type of vehicle being operated. Perhaps there is a more optimal replacement cycle that not only reduces fuel but increases resale value.

Fuel cards can restrict the type of fuel purchased and will curb the use of the card for buying extraneous items, such as food, beverages, and cigarettes.

Limiting the type of fuel purchased is another way of controlling costs for light-duty trucks. Have drivers use regular unleaded gasoline rather than premium fuel. Many trucks operate efficiently on 87 octane, unless specified otherwise in the vehicle owner’s manual. However, since Jan. 1, the cost of diesel fuel has increased as a result of the mandated sales of ultra-low sulfur diesel, which is more expensive to refine.

Modify Truck Specs to Improve Fuel Economy
Fleet managers are exploring the modification of truck specs to increase miles-per-gallon fuel economy and are adopting key performance indicators to monitor drivers in an effort to curb wasteful fuel consumption.

Fleets are also investigating the acquisition of more aerodynamic trucks and different driveline components.

Another fleet initiative is the adoption of anti-idling programs with drivers. Fleet managers are ordering trucks with idle cutoffs after five to 15 minutes. They are also installing telematics systems to monitor fuel usage and employing geo-fencing products.

There has also been an ongoing trend to spec automatic transmissions to the detriment of fuel economy. In the medium-duty truck market, approximately 70 percent of the trucks are spec’ed with automatic transmissions. Automatic transmissions are being spec’ed for driver retention.

Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t find an automatic transmission in a medium truck. Many times it was driver pride, and these drivers didn’t want an automatic. However, as the number of new drivers who could operate a manual transmission dwindled, the shift toward automatic transmissions started. Automatic transmissions allow fleets to increase their candidate pool.

Another reason for the shift was improvements in automatic transmission technology. Fifteen years ago, automatic transmissions were very expensive. Also, the automatic transmissions back then were not reliable.

As with light-duty trucks, there has been a trend to add extra options to medium- duty trucks. The reason was to increase driver retention, but it has affected operating expenses. Today, there isn’t a truck without air conditioning, but air conditioning uses horsepower and fuel.

Optimizing Cargo Handling
What vehicles carry and how heavy the cargo is significantly affects fuel consumption. Total weight is the critical factor, and this often changes during the journey as cargo is picked up and dropped off. Every additional axle increases weight and fuel consumption.

Strategic loading decisions improve efficiency, for example, weight distribution. If a driver organizes cargo correctly, the engine works less, and thus conserves fuel.

Weight is not a new issue in fuel consumption, but taking the time to sit down and crunch the numbers can put a tangible dollar amount on the decision between overloading and reorganizing.

Check Air Pressure
Underinflated tires can decrease fuel economy significantly. Studies have shown that 10-percent underinflation would result in at least a 6-percent loss in fuel economy.

Tire pressure should be checked when a tire is “cold” — before the driver starts the vehicle ignition or drives less than one mile. Once a vehicle is driven, tires warm up and experience an increase in air pressure, resulting in an inaccurate reading. A “hot” tire can take 3-4 hours to cool down once a vehicle is parked.

Tire pressure should be checked regularly, at least once a week with a properly calibrated tire gauge. Even well-maintained tires lose air pressure, on average about one to two lbs. per month. This loss occurs naturally as air permeates the rubber. Temperature changes affect the rate of air loss, with more air lost in hot weather.

Since air is a gas, it expands when heated and contracts when cooled. Valve caps should be installed on all valve stems and kept tight. Metal valve caps are best, as they contain a rubber gasket to provide an airtight seal. Most plastic caps do not.

Frequent tire washing and cleaning is also a good idea. Tires can easily pick up contaminants from the road, such as grease, oil, road salt, etc., which can deteriorate tire rubber.

Improved Routing Adds Up to Fuel Cost Savings
Routing is another way fleets manage fuel expenses. Routes, traffic, and road conditions are all important factors to consider in calculating fuel consumption. Some companies are using routing plans to reduce the incidence of drivers crossing paths while en route to separate destinations.

Slow routes through hilly terrain decrease fuel economy in even the most efficient vehicles. A busy urban environment also impacts fuel consumption due to the amount of stopping and starting.

This can represent big-time fuel savings because they’re more logistical routes versus reactive routes. Teaching drivers to plan their runs and map out their trips is not only fuel-efficient, but time-efficient as well.

Telematics Track Costs
Truck fleet managers already know several factors affecting fuel efficiency — idling time, road speed, terrain, and application — that they’ve been working to mitigate. Some of these factors are simply uncontrollable.

Telematics are helping fleets reduce fuel expenses by eliminating unauthorized use, reducing idle time, decreasing miles driven through better routing, and lowering speeds..

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