As fuel supplies decline and prices fluctuate, independent drivers and major transport companies are struggling to accurately budget for fuel costs - and are actively searching for ways to keep those costs under control.
Of course, money isn't the only consideration. The environment is a key factor, too. Nearly 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are produced by the road transportation sector, a significant portion of them from heavy-duty vehicles. Fortunately, there are many practical decisions you can make as a driver to be more fuel-efficient - from vehicle spec'ing to at-the-wheel techniques and behaviours.
Making smart choices
You may not be able to fight rising gas prices, but your driving habits can reduce the amount of fuel you burn. Here are some steps you can take:
- Read the owner's manual for your vehicle and follow the manufacturer's driving recommendations.
- Use summer fuel whenever possible as it can improve fuel economy by as much as 3%.
- Optimize tractor aerodynamics: reducing aerodynamic drag by 10% can increase fuel efficiency by 5%.
- Use air deflectors as they reduce air pressure on a vehicle and provide fuel savings in the three to 10% range.
- Consider using doubles or triples instead of single trailers where applicable.
- Use rib design tires in all positions as they are more fuel efficient than using lug tires.
- Consider using low rolling resistance tires.
- Choose lighter truck specifications where appropriate. Less vehicle weight means better fuel economy and can also offer more freight capacity, increasing income per kilometre travelled.
- Use accessories such as oil pan heaters and block heaters (to help with cold starting and hasten lubrication), fuel heaters (to prevent fuel gelling), thermostatically controlled engine fans, winter fronts, battery blankets and in-cab auxiliary heaters to improve productivity and fuel efficiency.
Caring for your vehicle
Preventative maintenance plays a huge role in maintaining the health and efficiency of your vehicle. When your truck is serviced properly, you can run more efficiently and avoid unexpected downtime. Small problems should be fixed before they become bigger - and more expensive. In addition to regularly scheduled maintenance, you should also:
- Ensure your tires are inflated according to the manufacturer's recommendations - 1% of fuel is wasted for each 10 pounds per square inch of underinflation.
- Before you hit the road, make sure you've done a pre-trip inspection - not only is it the law but it can also help you avoid unwelcome breakdowns during your travels.
- Perform a post-trip inspection to spot problems that could delay you next time.
- Ensure all fluid levels are correct - both underfilling and overfilling can damage your vehicle.
- Monitor your restriction indicator for signs of the air filter becoming plugged or contaminated.
Smart driving practices
Fuel efficiency starts when you turn your engine on. Proper warm-up helps lubricate components and seals, reducing wear and leakage.
Starting your truck properly can save money on fuel. Keep the following in mind:
- When setting your vehicle in motion, make sure you use zero throttle and are in a gear that doesn't need any throttle.
- Don't pump the throttle of a fuel-injected engine as the amount of fuel required for starting is pre-measured.
- Let your vehicle warm up for three to five minutes - if the temperature is below 0 degrees Celsius allow it to warm up until it reaches a safer operating temperature. Don't rev it, let it warm up gradually.
- Warm your vehicle up after the initial idle time by driving gently, don't try to get too much speed out of the engine by pushing the throttle down hard.
- Use cruise control where appropriate.
- Reduce your average speed - generally, for every 10 km/h over 90 km/h you use 10% more fuel.
- Change gears smoothly - shifting progressively will result in about 30% improvement in operating costs.
- Always use the clutch, failure to do so can wear the gear teeth down in the transmission.
- Practise progressive shifting. Shifting before you reach the maximum governed rpm (usually between 1200 and 1600) reduces equipment wear, decreases noise levels and saves fuel.
- Run the engine in the highest gear range to keep it in a low rev range.
- Use your retarder properly and turn it off when you don’t need it - let the terrain work for you.
- Plan your route carefully: flat routes are more fuel efficient than mountainous routes and highway driving is more fuel efficient than inner city driving.
- Weather conditions affect fuel efficiency. Driving on snow-covered roads can increase fuel consumption by 15 to 20%.
- Choosing to drive a flat, multi-lane highway improves your fuel efficiency by:
- four to 11% compared to a flat two-lane highway;
- as much as 18% compared to a mountainous highway;
- and 25 to 35% over taking a suburban route.
Idling: A special note
Idling a class eight truck engine burns up to four litres of fuel per hour at 900 rpm. Turn off your engine when you stop for any length of time - you will save fuel, reduce maintenance requirements, prolong engine life and prevent unnecessary emissions. If a 10-truck fleet were to cut idling by an hour a day for 260 days, it would save approximately 10,400 litres of fuel ($11,440 at $1.10 per litre). A 100-truck fleet would save $114,400 and a 500-truck fleet $572,000.
For more information about energy management and efficiency, visit the Natural Resources Canada website.