Green Truckers: Smith's way

| November 17, 2008

“Anything you can do to cut down on friction you’re putting money in your pocket.”
– Owner-operator Dave Smith

Kansas City-based owner-operator Dave Smith has been in the trucking business since 1958, when he started riding along with his father and uncle. “Back then, guys used to have a saying about my father: ‘There’s three ways of driving a truck – there’s your way, the right way and there’s Smith’s way,'” he says. “And Smith’s way was always better than the right way.” Also a diesel engineer with Cummins and Detroit, the elder Smith instilled in Dave a healthy respect for the wizardry involved in mechanical design.

Today, the third-generation trucker is an EPA SmartWay partner. Though he’s got an Idlebuster APU on a lease-purchase payment plan hooked to the frame rail – and truly believes that the “biggest part of fuel economy in a diesel engine is in your right foot,” he says – the majority of Smith’s green operational choices can be found in or around the major truck component, the engine. He’s taken a decidedly proactive approach to fuel economy that is multifaceted and, ultimately, about as comprehensive as you can get without spec’ing an aero hood.

The lynchpin of the engine mods he’s taken for the Caterpillar 3406E running his 1998 Peterbilt 379 are efficiency-boosting practices that remove soot and moisture from oil and fuel and extend life, such as the use of fuel filters and bypass oil filters made by Gulf Coast Filters of Gulfport, Miss. The filters remove contaminants from oil and fuel systems down to a level that, ultimately, keeps the oil from needing to be changed at all. As the Gulf Coast website notes, “except under very unusual circumstances, oil does not ‘wear out,’ ‘break down’ or otherwise deteriorate to such an extent that it needs to be replaced.”

Gulf Coast has been singing the mantra of motor oil conservation in one way or another for 30 years, and it’s one Smith has taken to heart. On the road, he’s now a sales rep for the company, and before some recent scheduled major engine maintenance, hadn’t changed the 15W40 oil in the crankcase of his CAT 3406E in, he says, “700,000 miles. Oil doesn’t break down; oil gets dirty. The Gulf Coast filter extracts contaminants down to one micron. You can tell the difference in the weight of the old filter versus the new filter.”

An upgraded fuel filter helps keep soot down, too, and on top of that Smith’s invested in what he calls a “fuel-polishing system” by Gulf Coast. Intended for marine and other applications where fuel is likely to be stored for long periods of time and contaminated with moisture and other items, fuel-polishing systems clear fuel before it’s burned to help result in cleaner combustion.

Smith’s also installed an EngineMaxx system to optimize fuel pressure and flow rate, resulting in better economy. When he can find it, Smith fills the tank with B20 blended biodiesel, a hotter, cleaner-burning fuel that also has lubricity properties well above standard ULSD. “Anything you can do to cut down on friction you’re putting money in your pocket,” Smith says. He guards against the gelling sometimes seen in higher biodiesel blends in extreme wintry temps with tank heaters.

Finally, Smith keeps the entire system tuned, taking the Pete every 250,000 miles to Kenny Jones of Performance Diesel in Stratford, Mo., designer of the EngineMaxx system – and who, with the exception of an on-road emergency, Smith says, is “the only guy who touches my motor.”

In the end, Smith says, after all the add-ons, “with a 379 Pete I’m getting over 6 miles a gallon, and these 379s have the aerodynamics of a brick.” He’s looking to take his operation further into the green arena with fuel- and materials-saving wide-single tires. “If you get two-tenths here and three-tenths there, it all adds up,” he says. “If I can get this thing to 7 miles a gallon I’d think I’d really accomplished something.”

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