These 12 add-ons can grow into big savings through reduced operating expenses and improved fuel economy.
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.
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.
PrePass MONTHLY RETURN
Assuming 12 bypasses, $2.50/gallon diesel, $1.50/mile revenue
Time saved: 60 minutes $90
Fuel saved: 4.8 gallons +$12
SAVINGS = $86
PrePass, Overdrive 2009 Owner-Operator Market Behavior Report
Oil bypass filtration
Though oil bypass filters are standard equipment in some engines – Volvo’s D11 and D13 and the Cummins ISX, for instance – manufacturers continue to impose an upper limit for oil changes. Aftermarket bypass system makers and their users, however, make it possible to extend drain intervals indefinitely by routing engine oil through an extra high-density filter or set of filters and focusing service efforts on filter changes, oil analysis and adding a few gallons of makeup oil.
Owner-operator Salmon, for instance, runs the Gulf Coast Filters bypass system (gulfcoastfilters.com) and typically drains the pan oil from his 1999 Kenworth W900 once every 100,000 miles. Instead of draining the system, he changes his full-flow and bypass filters and adds three gallons of makeup oil every 12,000-15,000 miles, getting an oil analysis from Titan Laboratories each time. It all amounts to around “$70 every 12,000 miles versus $200 for an oil change,” he says.
Others have extended their oil changes indefinitely, particularly when combining bypass filtration with synthetic oil use and oil analysis. Texas owner-operator David Leal runs an Amsoil synthetic combined with a bypass filtration system from Amsoil dealer Jim Fleschner (thegreatestoil.com). Leal’s on a 25,000-mile filter change interval in a 2000 Western Star with nearly a million miles. He hasn’t drained his oil in more than 360,000 miles. Since he began using bypass filtration with synthetics in 2006, he’s upped his fuel mileage from 4.5 to 6.75 in the same operation, hauling van freight for Minneapolis-based BJ Transport, partly attributable, he says, to the new oil program. Like Salmon, he attributes the longevity of his Cat 3406E engine in part to bypass filtration and its ability to keep ever finer particles of soot out of the power-producing parts.
Payback time for bypass filtration will vary according to the drain extension you’re able to achieve, but with Salmon and Leal, it was under a year. If your engine is under warranty, consult the manufacturer before extending drain intervals.
Bypass first-year payback
Yearly oil changes ($200 per change) – $2,000
Cost of changes w/bypass – $200
Cost four filter changes w/ makeup oil – $400
Total start-up cost of bypass system – $800
SAVINGS = $600
Tire pressure systems
PressurePro’s tire pressure monitoring system (advantagepressurepro.com) combines “smart” pressure sensors ($50 each) on a tractor’s tires that communicate with a central monitor ($195, 34-wheel-capable) in the cab to keep track of real-time pressure in each monitored tire. The full 18-wheel system installed would amount to a $1,145 investment, says Duane Sprague, CEO of PressurePro’s North American distributor L&S Safety Solutions.
The system can pay for itself by avoiding just one road call where the tire must be replaced. It gives the driver a warning when a tire is 12 percent down on air.
“The tire’s not traumatized at 12 percent down,” Sprague says. “You get alerted and the driver now watches it, watches it. If he gets out with his onboard air source and gets it back up to recommended pressure, he can finish a normal delivery schedule and get it back to the yard or shop and get it fixed.”
SmarTire by Bendix (smartire.com) has similar benefits, and takes temperature into account to avoid alerts triggered by the pressure increase that can come from driving. “If you start with 100 psi cold pressure, you can get to as high as 125 psi by running over the road,” says Greg Tooke, Bendix product manager. SmarTire kits cost an average of $1,000, Tooke says.
Going one step further for trailer tires is the Meritor Tire Inflation System by Pressure Systems International (psi-atis.com). The MTIS taps the trailer air system, routing air through the hollow trailer axles and into the trailer tires to keep them properly inflated. “In the drives and steers it’s a lot more complicated because there’s no place to route the air,” says company rep Al Cohn.
Cohn calls pressure monitoring systems “great, but they still require human intervention to get air. For owner-operators, the guys that own their own trailers, adding air on the fly has many advantages – your mileage and fuel economy will be good, but you’re not going to have any trailer tire-related service call.”
A warning light mounted on the trailer and visible in the side mirror will come on when the system is engaged and actively inflating a tire. “If it comes on and stays on, the driver knows he’s got a problem,” adds Cohn.
As with pressure monitoring systems, the best way to view ROI is in avoided tire-related road calls, which “totally disappear with the system” except with a rare sidewall blowout, Cohn says. He estimates the total cost at well under $1,000.
Auxiliary power unit
While a diesel- or battery-based auxiliary power unit used to eliminate expensive engine idling is one of the most costly add-ons, with attentive maintenance it can also be among the longest lasting. And the payback time for most units is under two years, far less when fuel is very expensive. Generally, the return comes from fuel and engine-maintenance savings – idling your truck’s engine consumes just under a gallon an hour, versus a diesel-powered APU’s consumption of about a tenth of a gallon.
Some APUs eliminate engines entirely. Makers of battery-powered APUs like Arctic Breeze and Dometic, in addition to similar products by some truck makers, have leveraged new absorbed-glass-mat battery technology to “hold a larger charge and more amp-hours,” says Chris Smisek of Big Rig Truck Accessories (bigrigtruck.net) in New Braunfels, Texas, a dealer for the Arctic Breeze unit. These power in-sleeper climate control devices without additional diesel-engine cranking.
Many of these systems come equipped with a diesel-fired cab heater, like those made by Espar and Webasto, a potential affordable option for owner-operators running in northern states or Canada on its own. Among the full diesel units, some, like the Pony Pack, Willis and ThermoKing TriPac APUs, integrate in various degrees with the truck’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Others, like the Carrier ComfortPro and the Rigmaster, function mainly like generator sets running auxiliary HVACs.
Price Fuel savings Payback/year* time
Cab heater $800- $2,031 0.4 – 1
Diesel APU $7,000+ $4,062 2.0 – 3.5 $12,000 years
W/cab heater $5,000- $4,062 1.2 – 2.7 $11,000 years
*Savings based on reduction from average 5 hours of idling per working day, or 1,850 yearly hours, with fuel at $2.50/gal.
GPS navigation device
Running a good real-time GPS navigator – one that is specifically designed for a trucking business – wasn’t a possibility until recently. With the introduction of Teletype’s WorldNav product (teletype.com) and ALK Technologies’ PC Miler Navigator in 2008, though, owner-operators finally could choose among stand-alone navigators suited to trucking. ALK – alk.com – also offers CoPilot software for GPS-functional Windows-based smartphones, representing a trucking-specific option among a slew of lower-cost GPS alternatives available in the new smartphone market.
These two new devices and others have options for real-time routing that takes into account your vehicle’s dimensions, including weight, number of axles and in some cases hazmat restrictions. The payoff for any such product is largely in saved time and operating expenses from avoiding out-of-route miles. With trucking-specific GPS units ranging in price between $300 and $700, an operator whose variable costs add up to a dollar a mile could get a payback by eliminating only 300 to 700 out-of-route miles.
Recent developments included introductions of the Intelliroute TND unit by Rand-McNally and the Nuvi 465T by GPS stalwart Garmin and a partnership among Truckdown, ProMiles and Cobra Electronics to deliver trucking-specific information to a new Cobra 7700 Pro navigation unit.
• An in-cab refrigerator from TruckFridge.com will cost about $500 plus shipping and handling. With it you can keep fresh a loaf of high-quality bread ($3.50), premium cold cuts ($4.50), a small block of good cheddar ($3.50), and a bag of spinach for crisp greenery ($3) that will provide 10 sandwiches. With chips ($4), you’ve got a side to skip 10 $10 restaurant meals over a week and you’ll save $81.50. Do this for six weeks and you’ve paid for the fridge.
Once you’ve done that, add a small microwave ($120) and expand your culinary options further. Though DC microwaves are out there, you might want to invest in an inverter as you start adding appliances.
• Wide-single tires like Michelin’s X One (michelintruck.com) and Bridgestone’s Greatec (bridgestonetrucktires.com) have been designed for the cost-conscious over-the-road hauler. Continental Tire North America (continental-truck.com) recently joined the wide-single arena, offering a trailer single.
Upgrading your tractor’s drive duals to singles can pay off in both better fuel mileage and the potential to increase payloads and reduce ongoing maintenance and retreading costs. A retrofit of wide singles on your tractor’s drives will cost an estimated $4,400, though, with four new wheels required at $350 or more each and tires that run around $750 apiece.
Using Michelin’s online fuel and weight savings calculator (michelintruck.com) to estimate payback, with a fuel-efficiency gain of close to 4 percent due to the reduced rolling resistance singles offer, the $1,800 yearly fuel savings will pay for the new wheels and tires in just under two and a half years. If you’re in a payload-sensitive application, that time period could dwindle dramatically.
An independent test measuring real-world efficiency gains, with Michelin’s X One as the test tire, found between 6 percent and 10 percent fuel-efficiency improvements. The study was conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy.
• If you own a dry van or reefer trailer, gap fairings and trailer side skirts may improve your fuel efficiency by 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership. Using default prices of around $900per trailer for gap fairings and $1,800 for side skirts, the EPA estimates a payback of about a year for each device in fuel savings alone. n
The Air-Weigh scale
Air-Weigh makes an onboard scale with the potential to integrate seamlessly into a fleet’s drop-and-hook operation if the trailers are outfitted with the system. Per tractor, the drop-and-hook-capable system costs $925 for the tractor, and the in-dash monitor digitally displays steer, drive and trailer axle weights. For the owner-operator running his own dedicated trailer, units range between $625 and $1,040. “At the higher end, you can connect a printer through the data BUS,” says Product Manager Jim Morton.
Use the return on investment calculator at Air-WeighScales.com to run the numbers for your operation. With a single check-weigh and avoiding six out-of-route miles a week and one $200 fine per year, the average owner-operator will be in the black in just under a year.
Guaranteeing the system
Cleantechnics’ President and CEO Bruce Thomas says he’ll offer a refund to owner-operators who don’t see a full payback on the cost of his company’s bypass system within a year. The Cleantechnics (ctifilters.com) system utilizes what Thomas calls a “true one-micron bypass filter” in a rugged “cold-rolled, hot-dipped galvanized steel housing” that he guarantees for 10 years. Start-up costs run below $750 with self-installation.
Oil Purification Systems (oilpursys.com) offers its Eco-Pur update of its previous-generation OPS-1 system on a $126 monthly no-interest payment plan that company CEO Greg Slawson says pays for itself in savings on oil changes. “The $126 a month is going to be less than what they would do in an oil change,” he says. “In five months you pay for the system, with no out-of-pocket costs.” Total startup costs: $630.
Rigmaster back in action
When Rigmaster Power Corp. (rigmasterpower.com), one of the pioneers in the truck APU industry, began to go under late last year, Mike Dolmaya, then head of two of Rigmaster’s primary supplier companies, saw opportunity. Today, Dolmaya also heads a reconstituted Rigmaster Power, which maintained its dealer network, introduced a new emissions-compliant unit and kept its price stable at around $7,500 installed. “We are not an assembly plant,” Dolmaya says. “We can customize to the specific fleet or operator.”