Your drivers are the first and best gateways to reducing fuel spend. Find ways to make them aware of their behaviors and then gamify fuel reductions using customizable driver scorecards. - Photo:...

Your drivers are the first and best gateways to reducing fuel spend. Find ways to make them aware of their behaviors and then gamify fuel reductions using customizable driver scorecards.

Photo: Cox Automotive

When it comes to improving fuel efficiency, fleets have numerous options. Many fleets invest in telematics, fuel management software, or routing solutions that help them reduce fuel-wasting behaviors, stay on top of maintenance, and reduce miles driven. These have proven to be highly effective strategies.

But smaller changes can add up too, leading to better fuel economy and reduced fuel spend — with little, and sometimes no investment required. We call them micro changes.

  1. Increase Driver and Operator Awareness

Arnie Braun, senior director, operations management for FleetNet America by Cox Automotive runs a team that manages an internal fleet of 15,000 vehicles and 5,000 assets. Braun says the first micro change fleets can make is simply to make drivers and operators aware of how their actions affect fuel economy.

Braun cites idling as an example. “If one hour of idling equals, conservatively, 25 miles of driving, drivers need to understand what idling means in terms of wasting fuel, wear and tear on the engine, and how it drives additional maintenance costs,” he said.

One way to increase drivers’ awareness is to dispel common idling myths — idling is good for the vehicle, the need for long warm-up times, and restarting the engine wastes fuel and wears out starters.

Another way is through data reporting. “Drivers need to see the data. The more you can build reporting mechanisms, the more they will see the proof that their behaviors matter,” he said.

“We give access to all of the supervisors so every week they can see by region, by teams, and by driver how everyone is doing on idling, utilization, fuel usage, and carbon creation.”

Robert Bales, director of product management for Samsara, also said data can help fleet managers understand and address driver behaviors.

“To further reduce fuel spend related to idling, fleet managers should leverage as many data points as possible to better understand this behavior at scale,” he said. “For example, which type of vehicle is involved? What’s the average idle time or idle location?” 

Giving drivers immediate access to fuel data through fuel cards and telematics reporting invests them in the overall goal of reducing fuel spend. - Photo: Samsara

Giving drivers immediate access to fuel data through fuel cards and telematics reporting invests them in the overall goal of reducing fuel spend.

Photo: Samsara

  1. Monitor Gas Station Behaviors

Fleets not ready to invest in telematics can also use fuel card data to monitor the type of fuel drivers choose, how much they purchase, and how often they stop to fill up. Each of these gas station behaviors can affect fuel budgets but require minimal effort to address.

  • Fuel type: Braun said most of his fleet vehicles don’t require premium fuel, but some drivers still choose it. “We roll reports up to the supervisors so they can have conversations with those drivers about not putting premium fuel in their vehicles,” he said.  
  • Fuel amount: Tracking the number of gallons per fill-up and comparing it to the fuel tank’s capacity can reveal fuel “slippage” — when drivers fill up others’ tanks.
  • Number of stops: Identifying and coaching drivers who fuel up more often than necessary can reduce miles driven to and from the station while also reducing downtime and improving productivity.
  1. Incentivize Drivers to Stop Passive Idling and Fuel-Wasting Behaviors

Reducing passive idling, like waiting in a running car to pick someone up, completing paperwork, or having lunch with the engine running can add up quickly across the fleet.

Braun said giving out rewards based on how much drivers can reduce idling has motivated his fleet drivers to take action.

Each week, Braun tracks idling by driver; if drivers meet a certain target, they can earn points that can be redeemed for rewards. Braun said the savings on fuel can easily offset the cost of the rewards program especially if idle is high in a fleet.

“If we can move the needle on idling, we can drive significant savings,” Braun explained. “However, we never want to force idle shutdowns to the detriment of safety. If you're in Las Vegas and it's 140 degrees in your cab, I would much rather you be safe than worry about the five minutes of idle.”

Beyond idling, other fuel-wasting driver behaviors include rapid starts and speeding. Drivers can also save fuel by driving at the most efficient RPM — also known as the green band — and using cruise control on highways.

“Several factors contribute to fuel spend, and many are directly in the hands of drivers,” Bales said.

“Tracking these insights and gamifying the experience through driver scoring can effectively incentivize and encourage more fuel-efficient driving. Within the Samsara platform, Driver Efficiency Scores can also be weighted and customized to best suit the needs and goals of your organization, resulting in an individualized approach.” 

Bales underscores that making these micro changes can do more than reduce fuel use. 

Arnie Braun, Cox Automotive

Arnie Braun of FleetNet America by Cox Automotive runs a team that manages a fleet of 15,000 vehicles and 5,000 assets.

Photo: Cox Automotive

“Encouraging these micro changes in driver behavior isn’t just about saving money; the rapidly evolving reporting regulations on emissions means this data is important for compliance, too,” he said. “Advanced fleets use both behavioral data and aggregated emissions data to understand where they excel and where there’s room for improvement.”

  1. Employ Active Anti-Idling

Where reducing passive idling is in the hands of fleet drivers, active anti-idling uses devices to automatically shut down an engine once it’s idled for a specified amount of time. The devices can be factory spec’d.

Once installed, the benefit of active idling devices is they don’t require coaching, Braun said. Vocational fleets are prime targets, as are passenger vehicle fleets. Others are not. I can't have idle shutdown on a bucket truck where somebody's working on a pole; that's not going to work,” he said.

While automatic engine shutoff isn’t ideal for applications that use their vehicles to power tools and equipment, Braun said battery protection is an active anti-idling option.

“Battery protection allows operators to use auxiliary power to run their inverters without having concerns about draining the battery and not having enough battery to cycle the vehicle on,” he said. “With battery protection on the vehicle, when the battery hits a low point, it disconnects.”

Compared to the cost of fuel required to idle vehicles, battery protection solutions are relatively inexpensive.

  1. Purchase Low-Cost Accessories for Drivers

In some cases, an even smaller investment can empower drivers to increase fuel efficiency.

For instance, tire pressure gauges don’t cost much, but keeping tires properly inflated can improve gas mileage by up to 3%. Conversely, under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2% for every 1 PSI drop pressure.

About five years ago, Braun purchased gauges in bulk for his fleet drivers for just a couple of dollars each. Drivers are asked to check tire pressure consistently and stop into a Cox shop or depot to fill up when pressure is low.

Braun also purchased sunshades to help keep vehicles cool while drivers make service calls, which in turn helps to reduce idling to run the air conditioning.

  1. Don’t Disable Auto Start/Stop

Auto start/stop helps reduce idling but unfortunately, some drivers disable this fuel-saving setting out of convenience or concern for wearing out the starter. Braun said that’s a myth that needs to be dispelled.

“I had that concern as a fleet manager at first,” Braun said. “For the first couple of years we were watching that like a hawk, but we didn't see any change in the number of starters we replaced.”

About the author
Shelley Mika

Shelley Mika

Freelance Writer

Shelley Mika is a freelance writer for Bobit Business Media. She writes regularly for Government Fleet and Work Truck magazines.

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