Six Steps to Save on Fuel Costs

Six Steps to Save on Fuel Costs

Regardless of industry or size, almost every business relies on trucks in some way to move products. With soaring oil prices driving the cost of diesel to record highs, companies are feeling a significant impact on their bottom lines. Adding to the issue is increasing pressure and tougher regulations targeted at reducing emissions. These factors are forcing shippers and fleet managers to take a whole new look at how they manage transportation, reduce fuel consumption and increase fuel efficiency in their business.

A successful fleet management strategy is intrinsically designed to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, regardless of outside economic and environmental factors. When implemented proactively, these fuel saving solutions can ultimately help businesses maintain profitability and remain competitive for the long term.

1. Train drivers to practice fuel-efficient driving techniques.

Drivers play the most important role in improving fuel efficiency. The way a driver operates a vehicle on the road is critical. The first way drivers can improve fuel efficiency is by slowing down. Speed is the largest single factor affecting fuel economy in large trucks. For example, increasing speed from 55 to 75 miles per hour increases fuel consumption more than 50 percent. On the other hand, reducing speed from 65 to 55 mph results in a 22 percent improvement in miles per gallon. Remember to consider a balance between fuel economy and delivery speed and productivity requirements when establishing speed limit policies. Drivers can also reduce fuel consumption with techniques such as using cruise control, coasting whenever possible and braking and accelerating smoothly and gradually. 

2. Improve tire maintenance.

Correct tire pressure, alignment and frequent tire maintenance have a significant impact on fuel economy. First, it's important to determine the appropriate tire for a particular application. Factors including vehicle configuration, vehicle alignment, and tire/tread selection are critically important to improving the fuel efficiency of a fleet. Alignment is also key - if wheels on a trailer are not aligned, the drag on a vehicle increases. Most importantly, a comprehensive tire program must focus on maintaining proper tire pressure.

Trailer tires play a particularly significant role in a vehicle's fuel efficiency.  According to Bridgestone, approximately 52 percent of any possible gain in fuel efficiency comes from the trailer wheel positions.

3. Specify fuel-efficient equipment.

New engine technologies, improved aerodynamics and weight-saving designs are available to improve the fuel economy of today's fleets. It is recommended to follow guidelines provided by the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay program when specifying vehicles. According to the EPA, 960 million gallons of diesel are idled away by long-haul trucks each year in the United States. Auxiliary power units that use battery backup systems and engine shutdown timers help to eliminate unnecessary idling. Invest in 2007 engine technology and fuel-efficient transmissions to enhance fuel economy. On tractors, frame side fairings and a 70-inch raised roof can reduce wind resistance and lightweight axles and drums decrease weight. On trailers, side skirts reduce drag by blocking cross flow under the trailer, and gap reducers decrease the space between the tractor and trailer. Automatic tire inflation systems keep tires at the proper pressure to optimize miles per gallon.

4. Implement an ongoing preventive maintenance program.

A well-maintained vehicle is a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Consider outsourcing the maintenance of your fleet to an experienced third-party provider, or at least make sure your fleet is on a scheduled maintenance program for even the most routine care to optimize performance. Preventive maintenance services will make sure critical vehicle components are repaired or replaced before they wear out or break down.

5. Leverage technology.

Take advantage of new telematics and onboard diagnostic systems that help fleet owners analyze fuel purchases, route optimization and vehicle performance. Web-based fleet data enables fleet managers to analyze trends in real time and recognize opportunities for increased efficiency.

6. Streamline your supply chain.

Third-party logistics providers have the experience to identify and remove waste in the supply chain that can lead to unnecessary fuel consumption. Shippers should research how implementing some of these strategies and making up-front investments can help mitigate the impact of rising fuel costs. Integrate real-time inventory visibility in the warehouse by leveraging technology to streamline and improve the accuracy of inventory levels and reduce unnecessary trips. Optimize distribution networks and consolidate routes, reducing the number of loads to require fewer trips and less idling.

Renehan is executive vice president of sales and marketing for fleet management solutions at Ryder System.