Plus 2

By Max Kvidera | November 01, 2009

Same brand, different truck

Keith Hollon has been an owner-operator for a majority of his 39 years as a truck driver. When he was driving a 2005Kenworth W900 with a 500-hp Caterpillar engine, he says, he got as low as 3.6 mpg pulling loads up to 80,000 pounds, and as high as 5.7 mpg with a small load and little weight. “Most of the time I was getting 4.4,” says Hollon, who’s leased to Universal Am-Can.

Dissatisfied with that fuel economy, about a year ago he swapped the truck for a used 2007 Kenworth T600. “When I head west, I get around 6, but coming back it varies from 6 to 7.5,” he says, due to the winds and heavier loads he has when headed west. “On a recent load, I got 7.6 from California to Schenectady, N.Y.”

The T600 has a 450-hp Cummins with an Eaton 10-speed automatic. His previous truck had a 13-speed manual.

Hollon pulls a 48-foot Utility stepdeck trailer and has fairly similar routes, going cross-country from California to upstate New York, Ohio and Connecticut and returning to California and Washington State. Loads such as vinyl fencing going west weigh 30,000 to 35,000 pounds, while the eastbound freight is 11,000 to 18,000 pounds.

His other efforts at improving fuel economy haven’t worked out well.

While prevailing wisdom is that reducing top speeds saves fuel, Hollon drives 65 to 70 mph. “I tried to cut speeds but it didn’t seem to do any good, so I just quit doing it,” says the Glenford, Ill., resident.

He once paid $200 for a device that screwed into the fuel line and was supposed to improve fuel economy 0.5 to 1 mpg. “It didn’t, and they put on another one and it didn’t work either,” he says.

Hollon tried adjustments to the Cat engine, such as a fuel filter attachment that ended up costing about $2,000. “The first trip out, it went from 4.4 to 4.6,” he says. “After that it went back to 4.4.”

Change in ECM,driving habits

Kevin Koorenny of Redlands, Calif., has owned his 1996 Freightliner Classic since becoming an operator under his own authority almost six years ago. Since he’s owned it, he’s increased his fuel mileage from 4.5 to 6.5 mpg, even getting as high as 7 on occasion. He credits changing engine settings and how he drives.

The Freightliner was a former company truck that had a blown engine set to 435 hp when Koorenny bought it. The engine was rebuilt and set to run at 525 hp. After running it for three months, Koorenny had further adjustments made, including resetting the engine computer. “It was like a new truck,” he says. “I instantly gained fuel mileage. It cost $300.”

By boosting horsepower and making the other changes, Koorenny learned he didn’t have to push the pedal as much. “Everywhere I went, I had my foot buried in the throttle,” he recalls. “Young and stupid. I’ve learned. Let the motor do the work.”

Koorenny uses cruise control to hold his speeds to 3 to 4 mph below the speed limit. He says the bigger horsepower rating on the rebuilt engine seems to help him pull loads easier west of Texas, where he operates.

“I keep my tires inflated at the level the manufacturer recommends,” he says. “I don’t run with 95 pounds of air in my tires like a lot of people do. I check inflation every week.”