California Jump Start

Max Kvidera | October 01, 2011

Smith says that even operators who don’t own trailers are influencing the decision to add fuel-saving equipment. “We’ve seen that owner-operators will choose to pick up a load in an aerodynamic trailer as opposed to one that isn’t,” he says.

That’s the case with Jay Olmstead, who’s leased to LaValle Transportation of Potsdam, N.Y. The only trailer among the half-dozen in the LaValle fleet he will pull is one outfitted with an ATDynamics’ TrailerTail and side skirt.

“I told Randy [LaValle, company owner] I’m holding the trailer hostage. I used to drop and hook with other trailers, but this trailer has benefited me so much I don’t let anybody else touch it.”

Lavel Larson estimates he’s improved his fuel economy by at least 0.5 mpg by using side skirts to reduce wind drag beneath the trailer.

Olmstead says he regularly records mpg of 7.75 and above pulling the trailer behind his high-mileage 1998 Freightliner Classic. He also attached Air Tab deflectors to the cab and shortened the gap between the cab and trailer. “I went from high 6s and low 7s to often above 8,” he says.

Olmstead estimates he saves $10,000 to $15,000 a year with the modifications.

Rate of payback

To qualify for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay-certified list of approved aerodynamic devices, a product must complete the SAE/TMC J1321 testing.

Though SmartWay lists minimum fuel savings, manufacturer testing can yield higher numbers, and a user’s actual fuel efficiency gain depends on wind, load weight and other factors. Those elements and your miles will determine how quickly you recoup your investment. For AeroFlex side skirts, Graham estimates: “At 100,000 miles a year and $4 a gallon fuel at 7 percent fuel efficiency, the payback is a little under four months.”

Buzz Lovelace says reducing his speed and installing a Nose Cone has raised his fuel economy by at least 0.5 mpg.

Smith says the ATD TrailerTail tested at a fuel efficiency gain of 6.6 percent, while the Trailer Skirts’ posted gains in the 4-6 percent range. Each can deliver fuel savings of 0.3 to 0.4 mpg, he estimates.

Brett Tobin, an independent contractor from Medford, Ore., who runs under his own authority, estimates he returned the cost of the TrailerTail and side skirts in less than five months. He estimates a 0.9 mpg improvement. When he’s fully loaded hauling produce from California to Florida, he averages 6.75 mpg. When he deadheads, which is often, he gets 9.5 mpg or better.

Jay Olmstead says if he has to give up his carrier’s only trailer equipped with an aero tail and under-trailer skirts, he’ll buy his own and outfit it with the fuel-saving attachments.

“I do my own dispatch and look for high-mileage loads,” says Tobin, who usually runs at 55 mph. “It’s a good business decision. If I can save $600 to $900 on fuel a month, that’s a pretty good investment.”

Buzz Lovelace, leased to Landstar, paid $948 to have a Nose Cone with lights installed on his 2008 Stoughton 53-foot van in May. He estimates that reducing his average speed to 62 mph from 67 and adding the device, which includes side panels attached to the front of his trailer, has helped improve his fuel economy to 6.3 mpg from 5.5-5.8. He figures he saved $300 in fuel in the first month and a half. Rose, of Nose Cone, calculates Lovelace’s return on investment at just 17,000 miles.

Lovelace and Fleig didn’t consider side skirts because they each have a belly box carrying wrapping pads and a ramp rack for unloading trade show equipment and other special loads. “I did this for my own benefit,” says Pinson, Tenn.-based operator Lovelace, who is unfamiliar with the CARB regulations.

After procrastinating about adding a Nose Cone for years, Fleig finally paid $1,600 to install the product in May. After his initial fill-up and run with the new equipment, he logged 6.5 mpg.

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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. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.