Editor's Note: This article has been updated! Check out this revised version published in February 2022.
Although fuel prices continue to rise, you can take action to maximize fuel efficiency. Here are 20 suggestions for better fuel economy and best practices from small fleet operators.
1. Avoid Long Idling
The worst mileage a vehicle can get is 0 MPG, which occurs when it idles. Idling for long periods of time, whether at a railroad crossing, stop light, or pulling off the road to make a call, consumes gas that could be saved by simply turning off the engine. Restarting an engine uses about the same amount of gas as idling for 30 seconds. Fleet managers should encourage drivers to shut off their engine when idling for longer periods of time.
However, note that turning off the engine may disable vehicle functions, including safety features like airbags. Drivers should be certain to only utilize this strategy in situations where there is no possibility of collision.
Don't forget to capitalize on your fleet's telematics system by setting alerts to monitor idling.
2. Get a Fleet Fuel Card
A fuel management program controls fuel expense by limiting the grade of fuel purchased and other non fuel-related items. Fuel cards can provide managers with data about fuel purchases and allow 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 refuelings during the weekend and too-frequent refueling that doesn't correspond with a vehicle's MPG.
3. Eliminate Unnecessary Weight
Spring cleaning can happen anytime, folks! Cars and trucks get much better mileage when they're not loaded with unnecessary weight. Every 200 lbs. of additional weight trims 1 mile off fuel efficiency. Most drivers accumulate material in their trunks, some of it non-required. Encourage your drivers to remove all unnecessary items from their vehicle, such as unneeded tools or materials.
4. Keep Tires Inflated to the Correct Pressure
Buy tire gauges for your 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, drive vehicles with one or more underinflated tires. 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 percent 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.
New tire design technology can also help to improve safety, increase sustainability, and lower costs.
5. Use Cruise Control During Highway Driving
Unnecessary changes in speed are wasteful. The use of cruise control helps improve fuel economy.
6. Don't Buy Premium Fuel
Resist the urge to buy higher-octane gas for "premium" performance, unless the car requires it. Octane has nothing to do with gasoline performance; it merely indicates the volatility factor in the combustion chamber. Unless the owner's manual of your vehicle specifically requires it, don't use premium fuel. Fuel costs could be cut as much as 10 cents per gallon by using regular fuel instead of premium.
7. Drive the Posted Speed Limit
This tip may save a life as well as fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a 10% to 15% improvement in fuel economy by driving 55 instead of 65 mph.
8. Monitor Preventive Maintenance Schedules
Proper maintenance increases a vehicle's fuel economy.
- Unaligned wheels that fight each other waste fuel.
- Keep the air filter clean. A dirty filter clogs an engine's air supply, causing a higher fuel-to-air ratio and thereby increasing gasoline consumption.
- Use good-quality, energy conserving (EC) oils with a viscosity grade consistent with the manual. Look for bottles marked with the symbol ECII, which is the American Society of Testing Materials logo for fuel-efficient oils.
9. Make 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.
10. Use A/C Sparingly
Use the air conditioner only when needed. The air conditioner puts extra load on the engine, forcing more fuel to be used. An air conditioner is one of the biggest drains on engine power and fuel economy. It can reduce gas 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, keep it set around 72 degrees. Use the vent setting as much as possible.
11. Park in the Shade
Parking in the shade increases fuel economy since not as much gas will evaporate when the car is out of the sun. Air conditioning won't need to work as hard to cool down the interior.
12. Encourage Carpooling
Encourage carpooling through incentive programs. Possible incentives include reduced cost or free parking, preferred parking, or reward programs such as prize drawings. Employers can help employees form carpools through rideshare organizations, which help potential carpoolers locate others nearby with similar schedules. If you have several employees going to the same work location or job site, ask them take one vehicle instead of driving separately.
13. Make Your Vehicle More Aerodynamic
Wind drag is a key source of reduced fuel mileage, causing an engine to work harder, thereby reducing fuel economy. Minimize wind drag by keeping the windows rolled up. This allows air to flow over the body, rather then drawing it inside the cabin and slowing down the vehicle. A wide-open window, especially at highway speeds, increases aerodynamic drag, which could result in 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. Lowering the tailgate of a pickup creates turbulence, causing wind drag and a less fuel-efficient truck at highway speeds. By leaving the tailgate up, a smooth bubble of air is created in the bed.
14. Purchase a Fuel-Efficient Vehicle
Purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles is a great way to save on gas. Since this article originally ran in 2007, we're now in a world that is increasingly adopting alternative fuels and shifting to EVs. Don't underestimate your environmental and monetary impact by electrifying your fleet.
15. Anticipate Traffic Flow
Anticipate traffic conditions and accelerate and decelerate smoothly-it's safer, uses less gas and reduces brake wear.In stop-and-go commuter traffic, look two or more vehicles ahead as you keep an eye on the driver in front of you. This enables you to accelerate and decelerate more gradually. 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. Like the "jackrabbit start," the "jackrabbit stop" is also a major contributor to inefficient driving.
16. Avoid Aggressive Driving
Time studies show that fast starts, weaving in and out of traffic, and accelerating to and from a stop light don't save much time and wear out components such as brakes and tires faster. Simply limiting quick acceleration and fast braking can increase fuel economy. When accelerating, pretend you have a fresh egg underneath your right foot. A light, steady pressure helps to minimize the amount of fuel consumed and maintain a more moderate and steady speed. By not driving aggressively, drivers can save up to 20% in fuel economy, advises the EPA.
17. Avoid Uphill Speed Increases
When climbing a hill, the engine is already working hard to overcome gravity. Pushing it harder by stepping on the gas is simply a waste of fuel.
18. Check the Web for the Best Fuel Deals
GasBuddy.com is a network of more than 179 city-specific websites with gas price information posted by users. Browse this site on your mobile phone to find cheap gas on-the-go.
19. Fill Up in Mild Weather
Fill up during the coolest time of the day, because during these times gasoline is densest. Gas pumps measure volumes of gasoline, not densities of fuel concentration.
20. Use a Wholesale Club or Grocery Store
Does your company have a business membership to a warehouse chain such as Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale Club? Typically these wholesale clubs offer some of the lowest gas prices in town. The downsides are that you may find lines at the pumps and the cost of membership will offset some of your savings if all you do is buy gas. Yet, if you shop at one of these anyway, or you're a heavy gas user, you may still find the savings worthwhile. Also, discount retailers (Wal-Mart, Kmart) and grocery stores that have pumps often charge less than the competition to get people on their lots, plus there's no membership fee.
This article originally was published as "20 Ways to Save Fuel" on Sept. 1, 2007 and appeared in the September 2007 print issue of Business Fleet. This version has been slightly adapted.
Originally posted on Business Fleet