Dynamic Dozen

| September 02, 2009

Independent Howard Salmon has been in the same Kenworth W900 since he bought it new in 1999. There are many reasons for that, but a key one has to do with his attention to detail. “I’ve put things on this truck that work to save me money,” he says. “Many of these little gizmos add up.”

Salmon and many others have proven the advantages of installing the right add-ons. These equipment modifications or operational enhancements offer a return on the initial investment in less than a year in some cases and continue saving money.

Your return on investment will vary from these estimates depending on your application, operating habits and the price of fuel. “Numbers are great,” says FedEx White Glove Services owner-operator Phil Madsen, “but if you torture them long enough, you can make them say anything you want to.”

Still, what these numbers are saying bears listening to. It’s often easier not to question the way you’ve always done something than to crunch the numbers and make an investment that pays off.

Onboard scales
Right Weigh Load Scales marketing rep Scott McCulloch thinks he’s pinned down the biggest waste of fuel, time and money in the truckload sector: miles out of route spent running from shipping sites to public or private scales.

The payback time for an onboard scale for your tractor’s tandem axle is almost immediate, says McCulloch. The average owner-operator would need only to eliminate 79 out-of-route miles (at $1.20/mile operating cost) to earn back the $95 cost of the tractor-only system, not including installation. (If you’re running with your own trailer, the cost for outfitting both tractor and trailer approaches $300.) That doesn’t include other savings, such as time not spent at scales and scale fees.

“Our scales are intended to be easy enough for the average owner-operator who knows something about his equipment to install,” McCulloch says.

That’s just what Idaho-based owner-operator Jim Getten did. He discovered onboard scales in the 1980s when hauling bulk commodities, loading at farms and other remote locations. “I’d have to go up to 150 miles to get to a scale,” he recalls. Back then, he says, systems were little more than pressure gauges tied to your air system from which you could take the loaded reading, do a little math and get within a couple thousand pounds of your actual weight.

Today, a good onboard scale will give you an accurate reading of the weight on your drives and trailer axles, within a few pounds if calibrated correctly. Getten, leased to Seneca Foods Corp., pulls company trailers in the West. Many are outfitted with the Right Weigh system, but some are not. “I don’t worry about the trailer too much if they load it how I want it loaded. If my tractor axles are at 32,000 to 33,000 pounds once fully loaded,” he says, he’s assured of his overall weight.

PrePass (prepass.com) officials estimate that by not having to stop at a weigh station, a Class 8 truck driver will save a half-gallon of fuel and about five minutes. There is no up-front cost for the PrePass transponder, which communicates basic information about your truck and load details to weigh-station staff. Participants in the program pay $16 a month. If you’re crossing state lines multiple times daily, you’ll cover that fee in a matter of days.

“There’s no advantage to a truck driver to stop at a scale,” says owner-operator Phil Madsen. “I wouldn’t be without PrePass in terms of time savings. If you’re driving past a scale, it reduces your chance of being inspected, a huge time saver.”

The BestPass service (bestpass.com), furthermore, is like PrePass’s “Plus” service, which combines two functions in a single, dual-node transponder – weigh-station-bypassing and toll-collection. In addition to discounts on the cash toll price, BestPass offers discounts on EZ-Pass tolls in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. As a single service point for toll collection, it can take the aggravation out of negotiating bills from multiple toll authorities, and as more facilities implement open-road tolling, it can save on-road time and fuel as well.

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