Smart Driving

11 ways to save

Tips to help reduce fuel consumption and save money

The key to achieving better mileage usually isn’t found in changing one driving habit, buying a single additive or spec’ing one component. Instead, improving fuel economy results from little steps along the way — saving a 10th of a mile here, another 10th there.

Reducing speed can produce significant fuel savings and reduce engine wear.

Incorporating the following practices daily will make a difference in every tankful. If you don’t do it already, start tracking your fuel economy from fill-up to fill-up. As you practice these, other saving ideas will come to mind. Good habits are sure to follow.

1. Reduce your speed. It’s the easiest and least expensive way to lift your fuel economy. Each single mph increase means about 2 percent lower mpg. Driving 62 mph instead of 67 will increase your mpg by 10 percent. Lower speeds also reduce engine wear. Set your engine RPM to enhance fuel efficiency, not speed. Independent contractor Brian Kufahl sets his speed control to 60 mph. “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.”

Reducing idling is a key to enhancing fuel economy. Idling typically burns a gallon an hour.

2. Reduce unnecessary weight. Take a look at your equipment and what you carry on your truck. Clean out your cab and carry only essential tools and extra components to do your job. Consider aluminum wheels and other ways to reduce truck weight. Save 1,000 pounds and improve fuel efficiency by 0.4 percent. An added benefit is you can carry a bigger payload. If you’re paid on a percentage of revenue or by weight, that adds to your gross pay.

3. Idle less. Every hour you idle burns a gallon of fuel. Invest in an auxiliary power unit, which burns less than 0.2-gallon an hour, or seek out truckstop electrification facilities, which charge $1-$2 an hour to heat or cool your cab. Instead of idling, owner-operator Bryan Richardson bought a $200 generator for when he needs cab heat and puts a $100 portable air conditioner in his truck window when he wants cooling. He says the generator holds four gallons of diesel, costing him about $16 to run overnight, compared with $40 of diesel when idling. “I got tired of waking up in the morning and seeing my fuel gauge was down from idling,” he says.

Frequent tire pressure checks to maintain appropriate pressure levels will help increase fuel economy, as well as extend tire life.

4. Maintain proper tire air pressure. If your tires are underinflated by 6 psi, you could lose up to 5 percent in fuel economy. Plus, tread life is reduced as rolling resistance and heat build up faster. Owner-operator Kevin Koorenny checks his inflation pressure weekly. “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.”

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5. Increase your aerodynamic profile. If you’re shopping for a different truck, choose an aerodynamic model. It will reduce air drag and improve fuel efficiency. The sleeker profile could reduce your annual fuel consumption by thousands of dollars compared with a long-nose tractor. Owner-operator Keith Hollon swapped a Kenworth W900 for a used T600 and calculated his mpg rose from the 4-5 range to 6-7. “When I head west, I get around 6 [due to winds and heavier loads], but coming back it varies from 6 to 7.5,” he says.

Super single tires can reduce on-highway rolling resistance, increase fuel efficiency and reduce weight compared with duals.

6. Low rolling resistance tires. Wide single tires in place of dual drive and trailer pairs can reduce resistance, increase fuel efficiency by 3-4 percent and weigh as much as 800 pounds less than duals on a five-axle rig.

7. Go aero. A growing number of aerodynamic devices are available for both truck and trailer. These include trailer skirts and rear-end tail add-ons and a front-of-trailer deflector. More aerodynamic side skirts, mirrors, cab deflectors and bumpers are available for trucks. Kufahl outfitted trailers with Freight Wing skirts from in front of the landing gear to the trailer end and an ATDynamics trailer tail. “When I skirted my trailer, I pulled a full mile to the gallon better,” he says. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport program ( details fuel savings for various products.

Brian Kufahl has attached fairings to his tractor and trailer, as well as trailer skirts, to minimize fuel-draining wind resistance.

8. Where you park matters. Owner-operator Henry Albert pays attention to where he stops to avoid places that will cause him to burn more fuel. “I don’t stop at rest areas or truckstops that are in valleys,” he says. “I only stop at the top of hills or level ground if I can help it. If you have to go up a big grade coming out of a truckstop, it can cost $10 (in fuel) to get up to speed.”

9. Smart shifting. Employ progressive shifting as early and often as possible to keep the engine and transmission running at the lowest RPM and maximizing torque. By operating at peak torque, you can reach cruising speed faster and more economically. Stay in the highest gear as possible to avoid strain on the engine and burning extra fuel. Owner-operator Gary Adams keeps his rpm between 1,200 and 1,500 when shifting, boosting his mileage.

10. Reduce the gap. At least 50 percent of a truck’s power goes to overcome wind resistance at highway speeds. An effective way to reduce wind resistance and improve fuel economy is to minimize the gap between your truck and trailer. You can adjust the fifth wheel placement to minimize the distance but you also have to be mindful of weight distribution on the axles. To reduce wind resistance, Koorenny moved his 48-foot van about 18 inches closer to his cab. That positioning also helps in weight distribution to achieve maximum loads. Gap fairings also can push wind around the truck and trailer, enhancing fuel economy. Adams says, “Keep as low a profile as you can. Don’t allow much space between the back of your cab and your trailer or load. That makes a big difference for me.”

Kevin Koorenny moved his trailer 18 inches closer to his truck to reduce wind drag and boost fuel economy.

11. Plan your route. Before you pick up your next haul or make your next delivery closely map out your route to minimize out-of-route miles and elevation changes. Smartphone apps, online sites and GPS technology make it easier to reduce wasted miles. Map out your fuel stops to correspond with your route. The Federal Highway Administration maintains a website ( that links to national traffic and road closure information.