Controlling Fuel Costs
Your survival depends on minimizing fuel consumption and getting a fair surcharge
Much attention is given to cost control when, in reality, “waste control” is what owner-operators should be watching. This is especially true for fuel, an owner-operator’s number one cost. You can make the wisest business decisions about fuel when you know your fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon, and your fuel cost per mile (CPM).
Calculate your mpg simply by tracking your mileage between fillups and dividing the total by the number of gallons you burned; do this for all trips. Fuel economy constantly changes, affected by weather, loads, routes, traffic, terrain, road surfaces and other factors. Many may be out of your control, but no problem can be remedied if it isn’t noticed.
It’s helpful to know mpg per month, per week and even per load. That occasional haul of steel across the Appalachians may be costing you more in fuel than it’s worth. If your numbers look bad, don’t give up; the worse your fuel economy, the more you have to gain by improving it.
Armed with your mpg, calculating your CPM is easy. Suppose your truck gets 6 mpg, and you ran 6,000 miles in a month, meaning you burned 1,000 gallons (6,000 divided by 6). If diesel averaged $4 per gallon that month, your total cost was 1,000 x $4, or $4,000. Your fuel CPM was $4,000 divided by 6,000, or 67 cents – likely the largest single chunk of your total CPM. It will pay you huge dividends to consider strategies for cutting your fuel bill.
For good fuel economy, your truck has to overcome three things: rolling resistance, air resistance and gravity. Fortunately, your driving technique and other choices you make can address each of these. Let’s look first at two of the biggest areas for cutting fuel costs.
That might not seem like much money, but look at the impact during an entire year. If you drive 130,000 miles per year and average 5.5 mpg vs. 6.5 mpg because you drive faster, you will spend $12,727 more on fuel. In essence, you gave yourself a 10-cent-per-mile pay cut.
Most owner-operators net about 40 cents per mile. If you divide the extra $12,727 fuel expense that driving faster costs by your net per mile of 40 cents, you would have to drive 31,818 miles more per year just to pay for the extra fuel. When you look at it this way, speed actually costs you time. Throughout the year, the hours-of-service limits will mean that on some days you’ll log fewer miles at 55 mph than you would at 65 mph. Even so, you won’t lose anything close to 31,818 miles.
LIMIT IDLE TIME
Idling requires about a gallon of fuel per hour, which can cost you about $160 per week at $4 per gallon if your truck idles eight hours a day. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, line-haul trucks not equipped with auxiliary power units might idle about 20 percent to 40 percent of the time the engine is running to power climate-control devices and sleeper compartment accessories and to prevent startup problems in cold weather.
Just because idling is common doesn’t make it smart. Idling on average costs $3,500 or more in fuel alone per year. This doesn’t include the added engine maintenance expense that results from excessive idling, which is harder on your truck’s engine than highway driving. In addition to operating costs, many governments impose no-idling laws with fines as high as $25,000.