California Jump Start

Max Kvidera | October 01, 2011

State’s new regs, along with nationwide fuel prices, are driving sales of trailer aero devices.


For van trailer owners who run in California, the big one is coming Jan. 1, 2013. No, it’s not a forecast for the next major earthquake. It’s the date when all 53-foot or longer van trailers must outfit with aerodynamic equipment certified by the federal SmartWay Transport Partnership to improve fuel economy by at least 4 percent.

Brett Tobin says he’s increased his loaded mpg by at least 0.9 by adding a tail device and side skirts. He estimates he gets close to 12 mpg when deadheading.

Lavel Larson, leased to Valley Express of Fargo, N.D., couldn’t wait. He paid $44,000 on trade-in for a 2011 Great Dane reefer equipped with Freight Wing side skirts and wide single tires. He’d recently bought an aerodynamic 2011 Kenworth T700.

“I bought the trailer with the intention of putting on side skirts,” says Larson, of Battle Lake, Minn. “I needed the skirts to run in California, which is pretty much my regular run,” hauling grain products west and produce east.

The California Air Resources Board compliance date for 2011 dry van and reefer trailers was Jan. 1, 2010. “I still had another year on my old trailer (2005), but the CARB regulation was the other reason to update the reefer,” Larson says.

For owner-operators who work in California, the purchase of aerodynamic enhancements such as side skirts, trailer tails and front-end deflectors is a regulatory requirement. Beyond the 2013 date for dry vans, a series of compliance dates looms for reefer owners. Compliance is driving many owners to retrofit their trailers.

“What’s going to happen Jan. 1, 2013, when trailers can’t come into the state without skirts and low rolling resistance tires?” asks owner-operator Rob Fleig, who had a Nose Cone device installed on the front of his trailer. “It could be a line of trucks at the California state line stretching back to Oklahoma.”

“The California regulations originally drove a lot more attention to be paid to trailer aerodynamics,” says Andrew Smith, president of manufacturer ATDynamics, “but now the majority of our trucking company customers are all adopting the equipment well ahead of the California regulations.”

Big fleets have become major customers, says Brandon Pugh of Thermo King Northwest, which sells the Strehl Trailer Blade side skirt. “But when you get to the fleets of 25 to 30 trailers and down, there’s generally not as much knowledge about what the regs are.”

Freight Wing President Sean Graham says the appearance of more aerodynamic devices on trailers is persuading small fleets and owner-operators to inquire about them.

Fuel savings

Dealing with high fuel costs is the prime reason for owner-operators buying the Nose Cone, says Kathy Rose, Nose Cone vice president of sales and marketing. The device attaches to the front of the trailer and above the cab roof in mid-roof sleeper tractors.

Rob Fleig returned his investment in a trailer Nose Cone at 35,000 miles, estimates the Nose Cone maker.

“I don’t see the California regulations driving as much of that,” she says. “Fuel costs are driving it.”

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  • John McGuire

    I also recently purchased a TrailerTail from ATDynamics. I have already noticed an improvement in my fuel mileage, great solution for me, and a great product.

  • Gordon A

    For me it would be a moot point to install this stuff. When my engine was overhauled the Federal regulations made the dealership ( not their choice) install in the ECM EPA and CARB programing that cost me 2 miles to a gallon . Instead of getting the usual 8+ mpg I now get 6.50 on a good day. Same loads, same highways.
    I simply refuse to bend over backwards for California. Rates will not get better, roads will not get be smoother, the truck speed limit will not increase. Profits will stay the same and the investment more than likely won’t improve the bottom line enough to off set the cost over a five year period.

    How will they know your fuel mileage is increased by the 4 percent? Will they soon require you to send them your fuel tickets with speedometer readings from the year before to present?
    Just wondering as California is so wired to start with.