As a truck driver, there are a few expenses you know are going to cost you the most from month to month. Unlike many of your other biggest expenses, fuel is one that you have a lot of control over. Other than choosing the cheapest places to stop and adding aerodynamics to your truck, there are many other strategies you can employ while driving in order to spend less on fuel. Here are a few tips for how to drive a truck to maximize fuel efficiency.

Drive Slower How to Drive a Truck to Fill Up Less

Truckers don’t get much encouragement from their shipper or receiver to get somewhere slower. But speed is the number one reason for increased fuel consumption and reduced profits. The faster you go, the more fuel you are going to use. In fact, a simplified rule of thumb is every mile per hour driven over 60 mph reduces fuel economy by one-tenth of a mile per gallon.

The typical argument against driving slower is that you can make better time by driving faster, and therefore make more money. For the purpose of this article, we are talking about how you can save money on fuel by driving slower. Here is a hypothetical example of how much more a truck driver will have to drive per year to make up the additional fuel cost of driving faster.

Compare one driver running at 70 mph getting 6 mpg and another running at 60 mph getting 7 mpg. Over an hour, driver A is 10 miles further down the road than driver B, but at $3/gal., he’s spent around $10 more to go those 10 miles in the same amount of time.

That might not seem like much money, but the impact over an entire year is significant. If you drive 110,000 miles per year and average 6 mpg vs. 7 mpg because you drive faster, you will spend $7,857 more on fuel. Most owner-operators net around $1.50 per mile. If you divide the extra $7,857 fuel expense that driving faster costs by your net per mile of $1.50, you would have to drive 5,238 miles more per year just to pay for the extra fuel. When you look at it this way, speed actually costs you time.

Find the sweet spot of your engine

The “sweet spot” is the most efficient RPM to run your engine. Running your engine in its sweet spot requires that you drive at a constant speed that is usually slower. If your engine is working harder in order to drive at a certain speed, more fuel is going to be used. 

The trick is using torque, not horsepower to pull your load. Pulling with horsepower means you are using more energy and therefore burning more fuel. Pulling with torque means you are sustaining your speed without having to overwork the engine.

In general, a good sweet spot tends to be between 1250 - 1350 RPM. The number not to exceed is 1500 RPM. Every truck engine varies, which is why your owner’s manual should list the ideal range for your engine. If you don't know it and aren’t able to find it in the owner’s manual, make sure to contact your dealer and they can let you know peak horsepower and peak torque at a specific RPM. 

Keep in mind that there are external factors that are going to affect your sweet spot. The main takeaway is that the lower the RPM, the less fuel your engine will consume.

Be smart with your braking

As you are driving, it's inevitable that you are going to have to use your brakes. In fact, there are going to be plenty of times when you need to slam on your brakes in order to avoid a collision. However, there are ways to drive so you don’t have to use your brakes as much.

The problem with braking in terms of fuel efficiency is that every time you brake, you have to accelerate to get back up to speed. In order to accelerate to get back up to speed, you must put your foot down on the pedal and work the engine which burns additional fuel.

One of the best ways to reduce braking is to try and anticipate changes in traffic. By doing this, you can leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. By leaving distance, you won’t have to brake every time the car in front of you does. Also, if a vehicle needs to get over in front of you, there is plenty of room for that vehicle if they decide to slow down. This way you won’t have to slam on your brakes in order to prevent rear-ending them.

Stay in a higher gear

For those that have experience driving trucks, shifting gears is second nature. However, some may have not thought about shifting gears in relation to fuel efficiency.

At a consistent speed, the lower the gear, the higher the RPM. This means the harder the engine has to work to go that speed, which also means the more fuel is being used. Paying attention to your gears to maximize fuel efficiency is similar to finding the engine’s sweet spot. This is because the gear you are in determines how much the engine is working. 

When you are driving, it’s better to shift to the next highest gear while still at a low RPM rather than waiting for the engine to run up to a high RPM. Keep in mind, driving fast in a low gear consumes about 45% more fuel than is needed.

Use your fuel network/optimizer

If you run for a company that provides a fuel optimizing software program… USE IT! This software can save you 5-20 cents per gallon when you refuel at an in-network truck stop. If you use approximately 16,500 gallons of fuel a year, ten cents or more savings per gallon will save you $1,650.

Most carriers provide you with a fuel card and automatically deduct fuel expenses from your settlement. This means it’s easier to manage fuel expenses and cash flow. Optimizers can also save you time and money with the following:

  • Track how much you are spending on fuel
  • Track your miles driven
  • Develop your Quarterly Fuel Tax report easily
  • Plan your lowest total net cost of fuel based on the route you are traveling

Additional Tips

Think about your momentum

In order to go forward, you don’t always need to have your foot pressed all the way down. If you need to accelerate, think about gradually speeding up. Be wary of going up and down hills and try to build momentum with little fuel going downhill so that you don’t have to use so much to get up the hill.

Utilize cruise control

If you are on a stretch of highway that isn’t busy, don’t be hesitant to use cruise control. Using cruise control can help you go a consistent speed and keep you from doing unnecessary accelerations and decelerations. Cruise control can actually save you up to 6% in fuel consumption.

Cut out of route miles

Use your atlas or GPS to take the quickest route to your destination. If you need to stop, try to use that stop to handle filling up, going to the restroom, eating, and anything else you need to get done in order to avoid going off route to stop again. Typically 6-10% of owner-operators’ miles are out of route. Try cutting this in half by really thinking about your stops and staying consistent with your route. 

Minimize Idling

The average truck burns a half-gallon of fuel at 650 RPMs to one full gallon of fuel at 1,000 RPMs per hour of idling. Idling 8 hours a day can cost $200 a week, and increase maintenance costs. Many states, counties and cities have idling reduction laws with fines as high as $25,000. Aside from saving fuel, an unattended truck that is idling is also easier to steal and creates unnecessary security issues.

Do you now know how to drive a truck for maximum fuel efficiency?

Thinking about these things while driving is important for any trucker. As a company driver, you may get bonuses from your carrier if you are consistently driving efficiently. For owner-operators, fuel costs always rank as the number one expense. Because of this, it's crucial that you know how to drive a truck for maximum fuel efficiency. These aren’t the only things you can do to maximize fuel efficiency but these are some of the free things that you can easily do while driving in order to save on fuel.


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