Driving Skills for a Smaller Fuel Bill

iStock_000008984856XSmallCarlos Cruz, a struggling lease-operator, was ready to turn in his keys after a few months on the road. But as a last-ditch effort, he decided that on this final trip to the terminal, he’d follow all the advice about fuel efficiency he’d been hearing from trucking business gurus and see if it allowed him to recoup expenses and increase his take-home pay.

The experiment was a success, so much so that he decided to give his business another month. After 30 days his fuel mileage went from the 6.2 to 7.8 miles per gallon, a 1.6 mpg improvement that more than quadrupled his net revenue.

That was three years ago. Today Carlos continues his lease deal and can afford to live well on his income.

Details of his story are in Jim Park’s column on TruckingInfo.com, but the three habits he says make the biggest difference are:

  • Slowing down from 65 to 55 mph
  • Never idling
  • Becoming a “progressive shifting machine.”

He also says he’s forgotten where the cruise control switch is, although other fuel efficiency experts say cruise control has its place.

For example, Detroit Diesel application engineer Chuck Blake points out in this article that cruise control gives drivers a break from active driving and may be a tad more efficient on flat roads. “A really good driver can always out-perform cruise control,” he says, “but it’s tough and it’s tiring because you’re always working.”

On the other hand, the electronic control module (ECM) is not as good at telling the difference between a hill and a headwind, Blake says. All it knows is that some external force is slowing the truck down, and it’s going to feed as much fuel to the engine as it needs to maintain the set roadspeed.

A fuel-efficient driver lightens up on the gas pedal when full power isn’t needed, like when cresting a hill. “He can see the top of the hill, and backs off the throttle as he goes over the top”, Blake says. “Sure, he gives up a few miles per hour, but the fuel savings is phenomenal.”

Running full throttle to the top of a hill means wasted fuel when you’ll only need to apply the brakes as you descend the other side. “Kick it out of cruise as you near the top, and let gravity help you,” he says. “You’ll make up the lost road speed quickly enough on the way down.”

On Land Line magazine’s website, an article on lead foot rehab says fuel efficiency starts with a visit to a reputable shop where they can check the ECM for valuable stats that help you most effectively modify your driving technique. Look for data about engine RPM, time in gear, idle time, percent fuel use, fuel used idling, load factors, PTO time, PTO fuel used, speed vs. rpm, and engine load vs. rpm. The stats may also point to programming tweaks that will help reduce fuel consumption.

Overdrive.com’s 67 Fuel Tips to Boost Fuel Economy recommends more good driving habits:

  • Avoid revving the engine between shifts. Ease into each new gear, and don’t be in a hurry to climb through them.
  • Adjust shifting patterns. Download engine data to compare your shifting behaviors – RPMs at shift point – to the optimal RPM “torque bands” for your engine. Adjusting your shifting to fit the make and model of engine can make a big difference. Every 1,000-RPM reduction in engine speed delivers a 1 percent gain in fuel economy.
  • Run in your engine’s “sweet spot.” Once you reach cruising speed, operating in the peak torque zone gives you optimum horsepower, so the engine runs most efficiently. It takes only about 200 horsepower to maintain 65 mph.
  • Lower your average highway speed. Every MPH over 55 equals a 0.1-MPG drop in fuel economy.
  • Anticipate traffic signals. If you can approach slowly and avoid a complete stop, it saves fuel and reduces equipment wear.
  • Minimize AC use. Running the air conditioner delivers a 2⁄10 to 4⁄10-MPG hit. (However, some efficiency experts say that, over 55 MPH, the drag created by open windows hurts mileage more than the AC.)
  • Use truckstops atop hills. Driving uphill toward the truckstop allows natural deceleration, and going downhill to re-enter the highway requires less fuel.

Besides driving habits, dozens of other factors impact mileage. Overdrive’s 67 tips article will give you many more ideas. Also see Caterpillar’s Tractor-Trailer Performance Guide for an even more thorough guide to troubleshooting aerodynamic issues, route selection, tires, gearing, transmission, engine cooling requirements and more.

Get More Exercise on the Road

iStock_000001117145XSmallMaking time for regular physical activity is hard for anyone, but for those of us who travel a lot – especially truckers – it’s especially tricky.

It’s Not Just About Weight Loss

But if you can get motivated and find a way to make it happen, you can look forward to sleeping better, enjoying a happier mood and staying awake more easily, either behind the wheel or behind a desk. Exercise reduces blood pressure, decreases cholesterol and helps you live longer too.

Fitness Ideas For Truckers, Drivers and Desk Jockeys 

Whether it’s driving, answering phones or using a computer that keeps you on your butt all day, there are ways to get moving. Every little bit helps. Force a little extra walking by parking farther from the restaurant, take the stairs wherever you can, stretch your arms and pick up your feet at the stoplight. Here are some other ideas we found on the web:

Make a plan. On BodyBuilding.com, you can choose from a variety of fitness plans tailored to all kinds of lifestyles. Read tips for stretching and how to work each of your muscle groups, find dozens of articles to help get you motivated, and search the thousands of threads on their forums for comments from others have dealt with your exercise issue. TruckersReport.com features an exercise forum and this thread offers ideas for getting exercise on the road, including karate ricks to get your heart rate up.

Get a workout in the parking lot. Trucker Burnie Miller spends only eight minutes a day doing Russian kettle bell swings. It’s all he needs to stay strong, toned and to burn enough calories to keep his gut size in check (in conjunction with his Hunger Free Trucker diet, which you can read about here). And Team Run Smart spells out a cardio and strength routine on their site that can be done in 20 to 30 minutes.

Use your own body weight to get stronger. Here’s a trucker workout that can be done in 10-15 minutes, without any equipment. It’s from TheHealthyTrucker.net.

Try exercising in your cab. Abdominal squeezes, shoulder shrugs and heel raises can all be done without getting out of the driver’s seat. A trucker named Joe Martin has created a video called “Truckersize” showing you how. You can learn more about it and buy it here.  On this forum is a long thread with lots of people describing the exercises they do in their cabs. And here’s a video on YouTube showing you how to get isometric exercise sitting in front of a steering wheel.

Fit in more walking. Take a 10-minute walk around the parking lot at every stop and by the end of the day you’ve burned more calories than if you’d just filled up and got back in the truck. In a pinch, you can even walk laps in the cargo of your truck. Some truckers even stop a little more often to fit more of those walks in to the day.

Use your feet to do some exploring. You can download an app for finding walking trails that also offer room to park a rig. And at Traillink.com you can search by city for even more trails.

Get inspiration from people who’ve already done it. Read the story of John Drury, a truck driver who used to spend 70 hours a week behind the wheel. About the time his weight reached 400 pounds, a good friend died of complications from diabetes and Drury started making changes. Another trucker explains how he stays in shape driving nights and how 15- to 20-minute power naps help him do it.

New HOS: Savings Lives? Or Just Making Life Harder?

iStock_000004045744XSmallWhere do you stand on the new HOS?

If you’re reading this blog, odds are you don’t look kindly on the increased regulation that’s being enforced as of July 1. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration claims the changes will save 19 lives and prevent 560 injuries each year, those claims are disputed by many in the industry. Some predict losses in productivity and a pay cut for truckers.

The changes are stirring up plenty of controversy. If you want to get your blood pressure up, check out some of these stories:

  • Transport Times features an editorial showing that data gathered by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) disputes FMCSA’s estimates of industry impact. While the FMCSA projects savings of $133 million, ATRI’s projections have the new HOS regulations costing the trucking industry $189 million.
  • Fleetowner.com reports the findings of an analyst who predicts new HOS will make it harder to hire truckers and create a 2% to 10% productivity decrease in the industry.
  • Supply Chain Digest’s website offers a report about the American Trucking Associations’ claim that the FMCSA bent its evidence to support its own agenda.
  • The story’s been covered by national news outlets, and you can see Commercial Carrier Journal’s website for links to stories in the Wall Street Journal, on NBC and NPR.

Others in the industry are looking at the issue more pragmatically. You can find articles about exactly what the changes are and how best to work within the new law on these websites:

What do you think about the new HOS? Will they change how you work?