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Fuel For Thought

A trucker I talked to recently joked that he paid less for his first truck than it costs him today to fill his fuel tanks. While it pays to have a sense of humor in these tough situations, the high price of diesel fuel is no laughing matter. As of this writing, diesel fuel prices averaged $1.73 per gallon, nearly 31 cents higher than the same period last year. Experts say fuel prices will remain volatile for the foreseeable future.

The American Trucking Associations, testifying before a Senate hearing on fuel prices, asked Congress to restore a single national diesel fuel standard to avoid high-priced boutique fuels such as those required in California. It also called for added refinery capacity to prevent supply disruptions.

Both these good recommendations probably won’t be implemented any time soon. Meanwhile, you need solutions today. Here are three ways successful owner-operators stretch their fuel dollars:

OPERATE SMARTER. Nearly half of the owner-operators in a survey said they changed their driving behavior due to high fuel prices. Most reduced idling, slowed down and started accelerating more gradually from stops. Of those who made changes, 78 percent saw fuel economy improve an average 0.6 mpg. If you drive 100,000 miles per year and increase your fuel economy from 6 mpg to 6.6 mpg, you’ll use 1,515 fewer gallons. That’s a savings of $2,621 per year.

CHANGE HOW YOU BUY. High fuel prices have convinced 45 percent of owner-operators surveyed to be more proactive about fuel buying. Many started going online to compare prices. Others obtained a fuel card or joined a fuel buying group with their carrier. Such strategies lowered fuel expenses for 62 percent of respondents, with an average savings of $1,947 annually.

KNOW WHERE TO BUY. “I pretty much have the fuel tax in my head for the states I run through,” says Chris Lewis, a Jackson, Mo., independent who pulls a flatbed. “Just subtract that from the posted price and you’ll know if you’re getting a good deal.” If your memory’s not quite as sharp as Lewis’, you can check daily fuel price and fuel tax listings by clicking on Fuel Prices at www.etrucker.com.

Owner-operators who take control of how they buy and use fuel have a better chance of success in spite of the high prices. And while the approaches outlined above can make a big difference in your bottom line, Overdrive research shows that owner-operators who simply take the time to calculate fuel costs per mile and fuel economy make nearly $3,000 more each year than those who don’t. Now that’s a business practice you can take to the bank.

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