By Clifford Petersen

In the trucking industry, the fluctuating cost of fuel is one of the biggest expenses. However, as an owner operator, you can control and reduce fuel expenses if you follow the best practices while operating your truck and getting it ready for the road.

I’ve been a professional owner operator truck driver for over 20 years now, and here are a few tips I’ve learned on the road that may help with fuel optimization.

Reduce your speed

Driving slower can significantly limit your fuel expenses.

Keeping your RPMs lower at cruising speed can help with fuel consumption. According to the Department of Energy, every 5 mph over 50 will cost you an extra $0.19 per gallon. That means if your current MPG is 6 MPG at an average cost of $3.25 a gallon, your cost is $0.54 a mile.

However, if you can reduce your speed to 55 and improve your MPG to 8, your average cost per mile is now $0.40 per mile.

If your yearly average is 130,000 miles, you could potentially save $18,200 that you can add to your bottom line by the end of the year. That could break down to almost eight truck payments a year—depending upon your payment plan.

Use cruise control

You can also reduce fuel expenses by using cruise control and maintaining speed on flat, straight stretches. Newer automatic transmissions also help with correct shift timing and by lowering excessive fuel waste while shifting gears.

Reducing hard braking and excessive acceleration can also help reduce fuel costs. There’s no rule that says you need to put your foot to the floor and accelerate through the gears as fast as possible.

Take your time accelerating through the gears at a reasonable pace. In my experience, I find that skipping gears when possible nets me a savings of as much as 10 to 40 percent in fuel during stop-and-go traffic.

In the Motive Dashboard, you can monitor how many times a critical safety event (such as hard braking, hard cornering, and excessive acceleration) is recorded.

You can use this information to identify mistakes, improve driving habits, and optimize fuel consumption.

Reduce unnecessary idling

Another way you can reduce your fuel consumption is by reducing your idle time.

It is estimated that idling your truck can burn a gallon of fuel per hour. In other words, idling your truck during your ten-hour break can cost you at least 10 gallons of fuel a day, or at the cost of $3.25 a gallon, $32.50 a day.

One way you can reduce your idle time is by buying an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) when you purchase your truck. By doing so, you may reduce your fuel consumption to one gallon a day at a savings of $29.25 a day. It means that if you are on the road 140 days a year, you can save $4,095 annually.

Another way I have personally reduced my idle time is by shutting my truck off at fuel islands while fueling.

If you fuel once a day for 15 minutes using the same figures as above, you have reduced your idle time by more than 20 hours in a year and saved another $65. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a business that counts pennies for profits, it adds up.

Because I have a pet in my truck, I idled well above the average of 50 percent to over 65 to 70 percent. That is now down to 1 percent because of my APU, reducing my cost by more than $5,000 a year.

Improve vehicle maintenance

Another way to reduce fuel costs is by keeping your vehicle properly maintained.

By performing the required pre- and post-trip inspections, a driver may often find defects that could lead to excessive costs in fuel and repairs. You can reduce this and improve handling by simply maintaining proper tire inflation.

In fact, when you spec your truck, research tires with the best rolling resistance for your operation. The less rolling resistance, the better fuel mileage you’ll get. Michelin has done a lot of research in this area. You can go to their website to compare tires.

Axle alignment is also critical for handling, improving miles per gallon as well as reducing tire wear. Even as something as small as 1/32 off on your alignment can cause excessive tire wear, shortening the life of your tires and costing you MPG.

Schedule regular maintenance for your truck

By keeping up with your preventive maintenance schedule, you can make sure you have the correct filter change intervals for your fuel system. Also, be sure to carry an extra filter in case the fuel gels up due to weather conditions.

Here are more ways to safeguard proper lubrication for your engine:

  • Regularly replace fuel filters
  • Regularly replace oil filters
  • Know your oil change intervals
  • Safeguard proper lubrication for your engine

Making sure all of these parts of your engine are running in tip-top condition causes less friction and in turn, saves on fuel costs.

This is also a good time to take oil samples, so you may possibly diagnose any internal problems with your engine.

Is your truck aerodynamic?

Aerodynamics will also help you get better fuel mileage. Repairing any body damage that takes away how the air flows around your truck can improve mileage.

Devices like Flow Below, Air Tabs, wheel covers, and trailer skirts can increase your MPG from .2-1 MPG. This may seem like a minimal gain, but it all adds up and could mean as much as another truck payment by the end of the year.

At 0.2-1 MPG, these simple, low-cost fixes can pay for themselves within six months.

Plan your trips

No amount of planning can overcome everything. However, proper trip planning can help you avoid wrong turns, congestion and excessive miles. This, in turn, saves on fuel costs, time, and possible repairs.

According to ATRI (American Transportation Research Institute), the average cost for congestion per truck averaging 150,000 miles per year is about $34,000 a year. Proper time management and trip planning can help avoid congested areas during peak travel time and lower this additional cost.

By using these features, you can optimize fuel consumption and reduce your operating cost throughout the year.

Learn more through our guide about how to become a successful owner-operator.