Smart Driving

Max Kvidera | August 01, 2010

More Miles, Fewer Gallons

Attention to your driving habits, maintenance diligence and your truck’s aerodynamics will help you maximize fuel economy


Brian Kufahl and his son have installed factory-built and homemade aerodynamic devices on Kufahl Transport tractors and trailers.

If you don’t mind burning hundreds of dollars in fuel needlessly each week, don’t read any further. But if you want to squeeze the most out of every gallon you buy, here are money-saving tips from some of the best in the business.


Driving

The person behind the wheel is the biggest factor in reducing wasted fuel. How you drive will help determine your fuel savings. As a plus, many of the best practices for increasing fuel economy do double duty in prolonging equipment life.

Driving too fast is the biggest cause of reduced fuel mileage. Every mph increase above 50 mph reduces fuel mileage by 0.1 mpg. Increasing speed from 60 to 70 mph cuts fuel economy by 1 mpg.

Owner-operator Leonard “Lennie” Bower has limited his highway speed to 63-64 mph for years, keeping fuel costs low and extending component life. He practices slow starts and stops. He gets 6.4 mpg. Last year, when he pulled the wheels off his back axle to inspect the brakes, he still had 50 percent of his brakes left after 600,000 miles.

Independent Brian Kufahl runs four Freightliner trucks and three 48-foot trailers in his Marathon, Wis., fleet. His loaded trucks consistently hit close to 9 mpg, with a best of 9.1. Most of the time, Kufahl and his drivers set cruise control at 60 mph. Beyond that, drivers are allowed one hour a day at 65 mph for passing slow traffic, Kufahl says. He also has his engines’ rpm set to enhance fuel efficiency, not speed.

“Some people will say they can’t make good time,” he says of slower speeds. “But if they would keep the left door shut, they can make time. I’ll see some of the same owner-operators pass me three or four times” in a day.

Owner-operator Gary Adams of Garland, Texas, keeps his rpm between 1,200 and 1,500 when shifting. He typically runs the speed limit but would drive slower if he didn’t have as many time-sensitive loads. He regularly gets 6.7 to 6.9 mpg, and once hit 8.5.

Owner-operator Henry Albert of Statesville, N.C., pays attention to geography in his driving. He doesn’t stop at rest areas or truckstops that are in valleys. “I only stop at the top of hills or level ground if I can help it,” he says. “If you have to go up a big grade coming out of a truckstop, it can cost $10 to get up to speed.”

Albert runs the speed he needs to meet his deadlines. “If I’m running light and I’m not in a hurry and there’s a heavier truck ahead of me, I don’t step out to pass him. I use less fuel, and he’s breaking the air for me,” he says.

Adams recommends knowing your route options well enough to make choices that can enhance fuel economy. For example, “Cement gives you better mileage than asphalt, which seems to roll under your tires a bit,” he says.


Equipment maintenance

How you take care of your equipment can make a difference in fuel mileage. Improvements from maintenance practices such as monitoring tire pressure and changing filters add up.

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