Plus 2

By Max Kvidera | November 01, 2009

Plus-2Want to wring an extra 2 miles or more from every gallon of diesel? Here’s how smart operators mix strategies to meet that goal.

Many owner-operators spend years chasing the holy grail of better fuel economy, but never find it. It’s not for lack of trying. They say they’ve tried one thing or another, only to find limited success.

Many of those who succeed discover the key to achieving better mileage usually isn’t found in changing one driving practice, buying a single additive or spec’ing one component.

“There isn’t a silver bullet that will get you a mile per gallon,” says Henry Albert, Overdrive’s 2007 Trucker of the Year and an operator who consistently gets 7.5 mpg or more. “You have to look around for a tenth here and a tenth there.”

The first place to look is in the mirror. Your driving habits, such as speed and handling of grades, as well as the choices you make, such as buying a truck or spec’ing the engine, ultimately determine how much fuel you burn.

Here are profiles of owner-operators who have successfully improved mileage by at least 2 mpg. Their approaches are different, but they all end up keeping more money in their pockets.

Fuel mileage disciple

Independent Brian Kufahl has been tracking his fuel economy for close to 15 years, with enviable results. In contrast with his early days driving on his own, when he’d get 5 to 5.5 mpg, Kufahl says, he’s consistently scoring in the upper range of 8 to 9 mpg today. He says his best is 9.1, not counting the 9.5 he achieved hauling a light load one way and empty on the return.

“My goal is 10,” says Kufahl, who owns Kufahl Transport in Marathon, Wis. “I don’t see why I can’t get it.”

Kufahl runs four trucks and three 48-foot Great Dane reefers; he leases other trailers. Two of the tractors are 2009 Freightliner Cascadias he spec’d and two are Freightliner Columbias he bought used – one a daycab and the other with a 50-inch sleeper. All get good mileage despite transporting heavy loads of beer and paper to St. Louis and Chicago.

After trucking with his father, Kufahl in 1994 bought his first truck, a 1994 International 9200, and obtained his authority. Even that first truck had aerodynamic features, such as an air shield on the roof, chassis skirts, a short wheelbase to reduce the tractor-trailer gap and a low-horsepower Caterpillar C10. Kufahl says he averaged 7.8 mpg.

He would always fill his tanks completely so he could calculate his fuel mileage. He even tracked weather conditions, so he could measure the impact of wind and rain.

Kufahl’s fleet grew to 13 trucks, but fortunes reversed and he downsized to four trucks. He switched to Freightliners with Cat C12s and averaged fuel mileage in the 8s by 2000. His fuel mileage strategy broadened in 2004 to adding wide-base tires, which are on all of his drives and trailers. He says wide singles also will be installed on future trailers.