Beyond Anti-Idling

James Jaillet | May 01, 2012

Save thousands of dollars a year on fuel by careful use of your right foot — and your head. Don’t ignore driving habits and other strategies to supplement the benefits of minimal idling.


Thanks to higher fuel prices in recent years, notably the 2008 spike that drove diesel above $5 a gallon in California, owner-operators are more attuned than ever to the high costs of wasteful idling, and use of auxiliary power units is higher than ever.

Checking traffic conditions online on sites such as can help you plan your trip most efficiently.

Still, an owner-operator can cut fuel costs even further through strategic approaches to driving, and unlike an APU, they don’t cost anything.

An owner-operator averaging 6 mpg will use 20,000 gallons of fuel if he runs 120,000 miles in a year. The number drops to just more than 17,000 gallons at a 7 mpg average and with $4 per gallon diesel, is almost $12,000 in savings.

“For the average owner-operator, that’s two months of work,” says Mike Bethea, director of independent contractors at Schneider National. “And it’s income that basically goes straight into your pocket.”

If your pocket could use some filling up, consider these fuel-saving tips.

Drive slower

“Owner-operators need to overcome the myth that if you run faster, you’re more productive and make more money,” says Don Lacy, director of safety for Prime Inc. “With today’s fuel prices, that’s just not true.”

He says some of Prime’s owner-operators don’t run faster than 52 mph, and their net earnings are much better than those running faster. “We have a saying – go slow, make dough,” he says. “It’s not unsafe and you won’t get ridiculed. If you plan it right, you can run slow and still deliver on time.”

Bethea says Schneider tells its owner-operators the same thing. For every mile per hour faster than 55, the truck loses one-tenth of a mile per gallon, he adds.

Independent owner-operator Henry Albert, of Mooresville, N.C., says he bases his speed on what’s needed to make his delivery on time and never goes faster than 65 mph. “I don’t run faster than I have to get where I need to be,” he says. “If I’m going to get there an hour and a half early, what’s the rush?”

Control RPM

“It’s all about minimizing excessive rpm,” Bethea says. Excessive rpm requires more fuel, “and more than you’d think,” he says.

Other than minimizing speed, “minimizing excessive rpm is probably the most important” consideration, he notes, advising drivers to be conscious of their rpm level and not punch the throttle.

Jerod Ray, an independent owner-operator and former small fleet owner from Darlington, Wis., hauls feed products regionally and averages 7.5 mpg. He tries to minimize excessive rpm by babying the throttle.

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  • Cliff Downing

    Too bad gearing isn’t discussed. Just slowing down without the proper gearing may not have the desired results. It could result in constant downshifting / upshifting on anything more than an overpass. No doubt, pure physics says that slowing down will improve mpg, but when we enter the real world and don’t deal with sweet spots on engines and match them up to the proper gearing to run at those slower speeds, then general comments like saving .1 mpg for every 1 mpg slow down don’t work out as planned. And the average used truck is not spec’d properly. It almost takes spec’ing out a new truck, matched perfectly, to the speed one is wanting to operate, over the terrain they operate, with the loads they pull. Most used trucks that are spec’d right, are not on the sale lot. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.