Reducing fuel spend has been a necessary quest for fleets since the oil embargo of the '70s and will continue to be relevant — or even more relevant — as we begin to pay for electricity as a power source for vehicles.
This article updates a popular post on our fleet sites from 2007 that still generates traffic today. Many of that article’s fuel-saving strategies are contained here, with revisions reflecting current know-how and contemporary technologies. This article also serves up new ways to crunch data, involve drivers, and use analytics to spur change.
The motivation for fuel conservation will always be to minimize your fleet’s second largest budget item. But the task today takes on new importance, as organizations form their ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) policies. It’s incumbent on fleet managers in this new environment to work with departmental stakeholders, look to greater organizational changes, and have the right data to document improvements.
1. Avoid Idling
The worst fuel economy a vehicle can get is 0 MPG, which occurs when an engine idles. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and emits more CO2 than restarting an engine. With this in mind, drivers can strategize on when it makes sense to turn off the engine, such as pulling off the road to make a sales call, running into a business to drop off a package, or warming up a vehicle’s interior before driving.
And no, today’s engines don’t need to be preheated in the winter for optimal performance — that notion was dispelled with the removal of the carburetor.
2. Get a Fleet Fuel Card
A fuel management program controls fuel expense in many ways: It limits the grade of fuel purchased and other non-fuel-related items, provides fleet managers with data about fuel purchases, and allows the company to set parameters to prevent unauthorized spending.
Further, fuel card exception reports can help to identify purchases of more gallons of fuel than the capacity of the fuel tank, which may indicate that a driver is fueling another vehicle or storing fuel in gas canisters for personal use. They can also monitor multiple and too-frequent refuelings that don’t correspond with a vehicle’s MPG.
3. Eliminate Unnecessary Weight
Spring cleaning can happen any time. Cars and trucks get much better mileage when they’re not loaded with unnecessary weight. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that fuel economy increases by 1% to 2% for every 100 lbs. taken out of a vehicle.
Encourage your drivers to remove all unnecessary items from their vehicles such as unneeded tools or materials. For fleets with a roadside assistance plan, removing your spare tire, jack, and tools, will get you a 35-pound weight reduction.
4. Keep Correct Tire Pressure
One out of four drivers, on average, drive vehicles with one or more underinflated tires. One underinflated tire can cut fuel economy by 2% per pound of pressure below the proper inflation level. When a tire is underinflated by 4 to 5 psi below the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure, for example, vehicle fuel consumption increases by 10% and, over the long haul, will cause a 15% reduction in tire tread life.
Check the vehicle’s doorpost sticker for minimum tire inflation pressure, which is usually 30 to 35 PSI. Reinforce with your drivers to monitor the vehicles’ tire pressure monitoring system, particularly in colder months. Tires gain or lose one PSI for every 10-degree change in temperature, meaning a sudden temperature drop could knock the vehicle out of accepted inflation range.
5. Use Cruise Control on the Highway
Changes in a vehicle’s momentum make the engine work harder and therefore waste fuel. Cruise control can help smooth a driver’s speed ups and slowdowns and is most effective at highway speeds on flatter terrains.
When it comes to hills and curves, however, humans are still better at maintaining an average speed, as cruise control can’t read gradient changes and will keep powering the car to the top of a hill or the edge of a curve.
6. Don’t Buy Premium Fuel
Some still think premium fuel improves fuel economy — it does not. Nor is higher-octane fuel found in premium gas designed to help engines run cleaner or increase horsepower. With premium fuel costing as much as 50 cents more per gallon than regular, there’s no reason to fill up on it unless the manufacturer requires it for that model.
Higher octane gas does not necessarily have more detergents or helpful additives to clean your engine. While the EPA controls minimum additive standards, a consortium of automakers created the Top Tier gasoline and diesel standard, which mandates a higher percentage of detergents. This standard is found across all octane grades at certain fuel retailers. According to the Top Tier standard, fuels with lower-quality additive packages can lead to deposit build ups on fuel injectors and intake valves, which can affect engine performance and increase emissions.
7. Drive Sensibly over 50 Miles Per Hour
Each vehicle reaches optimal fuel economy at different speeds, yet MPG generally decreases rapidly when traveling above 50 mph.
A digital tool on the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov website calculates additional fuel spend over 50 mph by vehicle model year, make and model, and fuel cost. Show this to your drivers to reinforce the impact of their driving habits.
8. Tighten Up Preventive Maintenance
Improper maintenance will decrease vehicle performance and thus fuel economy. Keep an eye on failing oxygen sensors, dirty or clogged air filters, bad spark plugs, bad fuel injectors, and defective coolant sensors or engine thermostats. Unaligned wheels that fight each other will also waste fuel. Putting fleet vehicles on tighter lube, oil, and filter replacement schedules allows technicians to spot these issues before they mushroom.
Though fleet drivers might neglect an oil change in favor of squeezing in another appointment, impress on them that elongating these intervals allows sludge, dirt, particulates, and acids to degrade engine parts and increase engine stress.
Synthetic oils also improve fuel economy as they have lower viscosity than organic oils. This allows an easier flow through the engine and reduced resistance to moving engine parts. Improved flow also helps during cold weather starts.
9. Use Vehicle AC Sparingly
Running the air conditioner is the biggest drain of any auxiliary feature in a passenger vehicle. Using it can increase fuel consumption by 5% to 20%, depending on the type of vehicle and the way it is driven. Don't use AC as a fan to simply circulate air. Instead, use the vent setting as much as possible.
If it's just too hot to bear without AC, keep it set around 72 degrees. Park in the shade or use a sunshade so to keep the cab cooler for when you get in. Coach your drivers to avoid "cooling up" the vehicle in park, as AC systems work faster while driving. Turn the AC on after you begin to drive or after airing out the cabin briefly.
Running the heat reduces MPG but to a much lesser extent. A vehicle’s defroster will ding MPG even more, as it uses both the heating and AC at the same time.
10. Improve Vehicle Aerodynamics
A wide-open window — especially at highway speeds — increases aerodynamic drag, which could result in a 10% decrease in fuel economy. But open windows are still better than using AC, even at highway speeds. If you want fresh air, run the climate system on "outside air" and "vent" and crack the window for additional ventilation.
For pickups, lowering the tailgate doesn’t improve drag but instead creates turbulence, particularly at highway speeds. By leaving the tailgate up, a smooth bubble of air is created in the bed. Soft tonneau covers over the bed will help aerodynamics. Replacing the tailgate with an aftermarket net won’t —it’s worse on drag than no tailgate at all.
Hauling cargo on a roof rack or with a cargo box increases aerodynamic drag too, with greater reductions in fuel economy at highway speeds than in the city. If you need a cargo box sporadically, remove it when not in use. Rear-mounted cargo boxes, if they work on your vehicles, have a much smaller effect on drag and thus MPG.
11. Minimize Aggressive Driving
Jackrabbit starts, hard cornering and braking, and weaving in and out of traffic don't shave much time off trips and wear out components such as brakes and tires faster. Aggressive driving can lower fuel economy by 15% to 30% at highway speeds and 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic, according to the EPA.
Advise drivers to follow hypermiling techniques by limiting quick acceleration and fast braking. When accelerating, pretend you have an egg underneath your right foot to maintain a more moderate and steady speed. In stop-and-go traffic, look two or more vehicles ahead as you keep an eye on the driver in front of you, which also enables more gradual speed changes. When climbing a hill, avoid making the engine work extra hard by stepping on the gas.
By anticipating a traffic light change, an upcoming stop sign, or the need to slow down for a curve, you can avoid or reduce brake use and save gasoline in the process.
12. Make Drivers Energy Conscious
This is where drivers can take part in organization wide ESG mandates. Make fuel consumption a regular part of your communication with drivers and continually reinforce the message:
- Encourage drivers to use the "instant fuel economy" display in their vehicles’ instrument clusters. This immediate feedback will impress on them that changes in driving behavior produce immediate benefits.
- Use telematics reporting to establish a baseline on fuel consumption for each driver and then update them monthly with their progress.
- In your driver meetings, work in some messaging around environmental consciousness.
13. Employ Carpool Tactics in Fleet Use
Traditional car and vanpool programs reduce commuting miles driven and could be incentivized through free or preferred parking and reward programs. Rideshare organizations help potential carpoolers locate others nearby with similar schedules.
The same carpool mentality could be used to lessen fleet vehicle miles as well. Looks for ways to combine workers in a carpool to get to a job site instead of using their personal vehicles. Use ride hailing to minimize back-and-forth trips and “deadhead” runs.
Could workers take a truck or van home on occasion, allowing them to drive straight to a job site the next day instead of having to drive to the depot or office to pick the vehicle?
14. Switch to an EV — or Spec a More Fuel-Efficient Vehicle
The era of electric vehicles has dawned, yet internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will still be doing most of the work in fleets for many years to come. With the torrent of EV activity, keep in mind that considerable MPG improvements can be realized by spec’ing more efficient vehicles.
Successive model years generally produce more efficient and better performing vehicles. This especially comes into play for pickup and van fleets. For each fleet refresh, reevaluate your truck specs based on newer models’ performance, payload, and capacity improvements. In some cases, those improvements might allow you to spec a smaller vehicle with better fuel economy to get the same job done.
If drivers are allowed to choose vehicles from a selector, consider incentivizing them for the more fuel-efficient choice. These incremental improvements matter when measuring emissions for ESG goals — so remember to calculate the MPG gains when cycling fleet.
15. Use Apps to Find Cheap Fuel
The original article pointed out websites such as GasBuddy.com to source a network of city-specific websites to find cheap gas crowdsourced by users. That site is still going strong, with a web-optimized browser for your phone.
In our mobile-centric world today, apps such as Google Maps and Waze (owned by Google) have functionality to search for gas stations nearby or along your route and compare pump prices. Users can filter it by distance, price, or brand. Other apps with fuel finders include GetUpside, AAA Mobile, and MapQuest, which has undergone a makeover for the new age.
16. Optimize Routes
Route optimization is not just for last-mile delivery anymore. Route optimization software can help sales, service, and other fleets plan routes by choosing the straightest paths, avoiding traffic lights, anticipating traffic conditions, minimizing left hand turns (which create idling), and even picking routes with less elevation change.
17. Assign an MPG Czar
Fleet safety starts in the C-suite and flows to other stakeholders throughout an organization. Why not treat energy savings similarly? Get senior management involved in driver discussions on the subject.
Just like many fleets do for safety, identify a senior, trusted driver to help implement your fuel conservation efforts on the ground. Let that person be the conduit to disseminate tips, information, and attaboys for improvements.
18. Use Digital Keys
Many more new models are coming out with an option to turn a smartphone into a digital key. Because these smart keys can be transferred without the handoff of a bladed key, they’re used in carsharing, but other operational efficiencies are coming to light.
They can allow, for instance, various technicians to access the vehicle in various locations or refrain from heading back to the warehouse for a part. A salesperson could have supplies delivered directly to her trunk. These efficiencies lead to better routing, fewer miles traveled, and thus fuel saved.
19. Identify More Telematics Tools
Telematics is an enabler of many of the strategies discussed. In addition to using breadcrumb reports to analyze the efficiency of regular routes, telematics is used for idle reporting, recognizing aggressive driving, and identifying faulty systems.
But your telematics system may have functions you’re not using fully: Consider drawing geofences around unauthorized gas stations to help ensure that drivers fuel up only at preapproved locations. Your system may have a traffic map layer that would help your drivers avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic. Many telematics systems now have a driver coaching modules, which can alert drivers in real-time to fuel-wasting (and unsafe) behaviors.
20. Gamify Fuel Savings
Telematics data can also help in another way — to foster healthy competition between drivers to attain a set of productivity goals.
Driver behaviors such as speeding, idling, or harsh braking are captured and quantified as scores in driver profiles. Both the fleet manager and drivers, via an app, can log in to see their performance over time. They can then drill down to see what behaviors impacted their scores to make improvements. The highest scores are eligible for prizes.
Remember, how your drivers behave on the road is the biggest factor under your control when it comes to fuel savings. There are many ways cost effective ways to enable this change.