- What Affects Fuel Consumption
- Improving your Driving Habits
- Essential Daily Checks
- Maintaining your Vehicle
- Upgrading your Vehicle
- Using Technology
- Fuel Conversion Table
- Further Information
- Helpful Infographic
Hundreds of individual factors affect the fuel efficiency of a used truck. While addressing one issue could lead to minor improvements, tackling the majority is the only way to make substantial changes. Many external problems – weather conditions, road conditions, etc. – are beyond your control; however, most internal problems – driving habits, maintenance, etc. – can be resolved with little effort.
Accurately determining what leads to poor efficiency is the first step towards successfully reducing your emissions. The majority of truck drivers have no idea how much they spend on vehicle upkeep and many believe that fuel consumption is the biggest expenditure. However, on average the fuel itself only equates to around 30% of annual operating costs. Maintenance, tyres and insurance accounts for the remaining 70%. However, the time and money you spend on these other factors will directly affect that precious 30%.
In the very best circumstances combining all of the improvements listed below could double your fuel mileage. While each truck will have its own physical limitations, improving fuel economy by 15% to 25% is a perfectly reasonable assessment, even on older vehicles – a target that’s even more plausible if you have an aggressive driving style.
What Affects Fuel Consumption
From faulty mechanics to poor road surfaces, literally anything can impede your fuel consumption. No problem is too small; in fact, addressing all of the ‘small’ issues together is the only way to substantially improve your economy and carbon footprint.
Your vehicle’s type, age, condition and load, will have a major impact on your fuel consumption. Aerodynamics, intake and exhaust restrictions, rolling resistance, mechanics and weight all fall under this category. While your overall vehicle specifications will limit your control over fuel efficiency, upgrades and maintenance can help you reduce the negative effects of poor mechanics.
The way you drive will have the greatest effect on your fuel consumption; however, it’s the one element that you have complete control over. If you’re an aggressive driver, simply toning down your driving style could yield impressive results.
Traffic and Road Conditions
The more you change gear, brake and accelerate, the more fuel you will use; therefore, variations in traffic congestion, speed limits and the layout of the road will have a direct effect on your truck’s performance. While it may sound strange, altitude also has a significant impact on fuel consumption. The higher you are above sea level the less oxygen there is; therefore, your motor must work harder. Drivers often have to keep their foot right down on the throttle to maintain power, even when driving on flat ground.
During the winter, vehicle performance will become approximately 10% poorer. This is because greater use of the auxiliary equipment is required; fog lights, de-misters, heaters, etc. In addition, the road conditions can force you to change your driving habits. Just like altitude, the temperate will also affect how much oxygen your motor can take in – when it is hot, oxygen molecules are more spaced out, but when it’s cold they are denser.
Improving your Driving Habits
You have the biggest influence over fuel consumption. It’s easy to blame your vehicle, but fundamentally, the way you drive and maintain your truck will have the largest impact. In fact, you probably have far more control than you realise.
Reduce Idle Time
The average 420hp heavy-duty truck will consume roughly two litres of fuel per hour when idling. Of course this is beyond your control if there is congestion on the roads; however, when you’re parking for short periods of time or are in any other situation when you’re truck will remain stationary, simply turn off the engine.
Monitor your Speed
Fuel consumption is directly proportional to speed. Going too fast will significantly increase aerodynamic drag, thus make your vehicle consume more fuel. In addition, it can also add strain to your engine and transmission. By simply monitoring your speed you could save almost a quarter of your running costs. For example, reducing your speed from 56mph to 50mph could decrease fuel consumption by up to 22%.
Image Credit:What’s Up With That
Improve your Clutch Control
It’s rarely necessary to use every gear. The quicker you move up a gear the more fuel you will save; therefore, fewer gear changes is much better for performance. Experts state that fuel consumption is reduced by 10% to 30% by simply moving up a gear.
Accelerate too quickly and you’ll place excess strain on your engine; however, accelerate too slowly and you’ll use more fuel – don’t push your vehicle beyond its capabilities. Combine a gentle low gear start with more rapid shifts to higher gears when you begin moving faster. Try to maintain a constant pace when you’ve reached the optimum fuel efficient speed.
Warm Up your Vehicle
If the temperature is below 0 degrees Celsius, turn on the engine and let your truck warm up for 3 to 5 minutes. Do not rev it up until it reaches operating temperature as it’s less strenuous for the engine if you let it warm up gradually.
Avoid Excessive Breaking
When it comes to breaking, less is more. Anticipating road conditions and remaining vigilant is the best way to prevent choppy driving. Gradually slow down rather than slamming on your breaks at the last minute; this is not only safer and more efficient, but will allow you to maintain momentum and reduce your gear changes.
Turn Off the Air Con
Air conditioning systems are powered by the engine; therefore, when you’re driving at slow continuous speeds the engine will need to work harder. In these circumstances it’s better to keep the windows open instead. When you start to increase speed, however, open windows can increase drag. If you keep the air con on at high speeds and the windows down at low speeds, you could reduce your fuel consumption by up to 10%.
Reduce Gear Changes
Whenever you drop a gear your fuel consumption will increase. Always remain vigilant and look ahead to reduce excessive gear changing. Adjusting your seat to a higher position could help you be more aware of what’s going on in front and around you. It’s also worth noting that even if you’re vehicle is only moving at a slow pace, it’s using considerably less fuel than if it were at a standstill.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that aggressive driving increases gas mileage by 33%. Safe and relaxed driving is, therefore, the easiest and most effective way of improving fuel efficiency.
Essential Daily Checks
The law states that both the owner of the vehicle and driver are responsible for its roadworthiness. Before you enter your truck you must always conduct a walk-round check. This should include, but is not limited to, checking the:
- Tyre pressure
- Trailer coupling
- Window visibility
- Load security
- Ancillary equipment
For more information read the DSA’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness.
Image Credit:Department of Motor Vehicles
If you’re working for a company and notice vehicle damage before or during your shift, report the problem immediately, otherwise you could be held responsible.
Plan your Route
Before you set off, plan your route in conjunction with both traffic warnings and topography. Slow hilly terrain will significantly reduce fuel performance; therefore, avoidance – where possible – is the most effective solution.
Adjust your Load
The position of your load will affect your truck’s aerodynamics, especially if you’re driving with a flat trailer. Arrange the load as close as possible to the cab and try to keep it low.
Image Credit:Fright Best Practice
Check the Weather
This may seem trivial, but the weather can have a huge impact on how you drive; therefore, it’s always good to be aware of potential downpours, snow or any other problematic conditions. This could not only influence your route, but could help you predict and avoid traffic congestion.
After you have finished driving perform a post-trip inspection. Spotting problems in advance is the only sure-fire way to prevent unnecessary breakdowns.
Maintaining your Vehicle
Maintaining your vehicle is the only way to address physical issues before they start to cause damage. Small menial tasks such as low tyre pressure or worn tread may seem insignificant; however, over time they could result in serious problems.
Check the Tyre Pressure
If your tyre pressure falls below the recommended psi, the rolling resistance will cause more drag, which increases fuel wastage. For each number below the recommended figure your fuel economy will suffer by approximately 1%. Check your tyre pressure at least once per week if the vehicle is in frequent use.
Check your Tyre Tread
In addition to regularly checking the tyre pressure you should also check the tyres themselves. For example, rib tyres will have greater rolling resistance than other types; however, low aspect ratio tyres are stiffer and can withstand heavier loads. The type of tyres you use should accommodate the type of work you undertake.
Monitor your Spark Plugs
Check your spark plugs at least once every year or every 7,000 miles if you’re using copper plugs. Spark plugs can reveal a lot about the state of the engine. For example, discolouration could mean that your truck is burning too much fuel.
Perform More Oil Changes
When using an old truck it’s always a good idea to over-compensate oil changes and purchase synthetic oil and high-capacity filters. This will provide more lubrication, which means your engine will need to do less work.
Replace Old Air Filters
Whenever you change the oil, be sure to check the air filter as well. Over time they could get clogged with dust and debris, especially if you regularly drive off-road. If your truck isn’t getting the power it should or has jerky acceleration, get it looked at immediately. Getting rid of old air filters could reduce your fuel costs by up to 10%.
Check your Fuel Tanks
Fuel will expand when it’s hot; therefore, if your tank is completely full the only way for it to escape is through the breather vent. This can not only be harmful to your truck, but also hazardous for other road users – especially motorcyclists. Too little fuel, however, could damage your engine, which could require huge repair costs. Balance is always key.
Keep your Vehicle Clean
This is without a doubt one of the most understated elements of maintaining a vehicle. Keep your truck clean both inside and out. Let too much pollen and dust build up and it could impede your air filter or electronics. While the damaging effects can take months, or even years to occur, it’s never a good idea to take any chances.
Keep your truck in a good condition and there’s no reason why it should fail. While these tips may seem tedious and unnecessary, it is regular maintenance that’ll ensure your vehicle stands the test of time and continuously performs at its peak.
Upgrading your Vehicle
Without upgrades your truck’s capabilities will be limited. While regular maintenance and changing driving habits will help you get the most out of it, even a minor upgrade could take it that little step further.
Install Air Springs
Suspension is frequently overlooked - maxed out suspension puts unnecessary strain on tyres, which will wear them down quicker and result in less momentum. Adding air springs will give your truck more leeway with regards to the load capacity if you often find this to be an issue.
Upgrade the Electrical Grounds
This is especially important on older vehicles. Upgrading the electrical grounds simply ensures that all of the wires and contact points are connected properly. This will prevent malfunctioning electronics – namely the sensors.
Lose Unnecessary Accessories
‘Downgrade’ your vehicle by getting rid of any large or heavy accessories such as bully bars and headache racks. If they don’t serve a functional purpose, then all they’re doing is weighing down your truck and consuming fuel. That said; don’t remove anything that benefits the aerodynamics.
Install an Air Intake System
Airflow is extremely important. Air intake systems will essentially deliver excess air to your engine and help it breathe more easily. This will positively reflect in the power, response and fuel economy of your vehicle.
Attach a Tailgate Cover
If you usually drive with an open tailgate, you’re probably losing a substantial amount of fuel to excess drag. This, however, is easily rectifiable with a tailgate cover. The cover will essentially provide a surface for the air to flow past, rather than letting it rush into the opening.
Install a Performance Exhaust
Performance exhausts are specifically engineered to reduce flow resistance and improve your fuel mileage. In addition, they can increase horsepower by up to 10%. While performance exhaust systems can be quite a significant investment, they’re definitely worth considering if you need a replacement.
The featured upgrades may seem like a considerable investment; however, they will pay for themselves many times over by reducing your fuel consumption. In addition, they will increase the overall value of your vehicle if you’re planning on selling at a later date.
It can be very difficult to assess your driving habits and pinpoint problems by simply reading the dials on your dashboard. Technology can’t change the physical performance of your truck, but it can certainly help you determine where you’re going wrong.
Topographical Sat Nav
Topographical (TOPO) satellite navigation systems will not only inform you of road markings, but also elevation in the geography, which can help you plan ahead more efficiently. For example, a peak in elevation could prompt you to increase the throttle and gain more momentum. In addition – like most GPS devices – they are able to calculate the most efficient route for your journey. If the purpose of your newfound interest in fuel economy is environmental, there are also solar powered options available.
An MPG meter is a device that will tell you how many miles per gallon you are using (or kilometres per litre) in real time, allowing you to see for yourself the difference when you are driving in varying conditions. By assessing the recorded data you can figure out what aspects of your driving are burning the most fuel and how you can make improvements.
A fuel mizer is very similar to an MPG meter; however it will remind you if you aren’t abiding by the pre-set list of driving behaviours. For example, an alarm will sound if you accelerate too fast or if you brake abruptly. On most devices a red light indicates bad driving, a yellow light indicates moderate quality driving and a green light indicates good driving. You will probably find a fuel mizer to be very frustrating at the beginning; however, when you start to shake off your bad habits it’ll gradually become less and less noticeable.
You’ll be surprised by how many alternative fuels are already on the roads. Although diesel still remains to be the number one fuel for trucks and heavy duty vehicles, there are plenty of other options available, such as DME (most energy efficient), synthetic diesel, biogas, MeOH, CNG and ethanol.
There are various smart phone applications on the market that could help you monitor your driving habits. Recommended products include:
- Eco Drive (The AA) – Fuel efficiency monitor for Android and iPhone (free)
- Truck Com – Cloud based fleet management software for Android and iPhone (pay-as-you-go).
On average a topographical sat nav, MPG meter or fuel mizer will reduce your fuel consumption by roughly 10%. While they can be expensive to purchase initially, your savings will cover the costs over time.
Fuel Conversion Table
Follow these steps if you want to calculate your miles per gallon without a fuel mizer or MPG meter:
- Fill up your tank and record the mileage (Mileage A).
- Keep a record of any subsequent future fuel purchases (you don’t have to completely fill up your tank again.)
- Completely fill up your tank using the same fuel type, and ideally at the same garage (Mileage B).
- Divide the total mileage since the first fill by the number of litres you have used.
- Multiply the figure by 4.546 to calculate your miles per gallon.
Maintain your records and you’ll be able to calculate exactly how much money you save when you make fuel efficient changes to your driving.
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) www.dvla.gov.uk
The DVLA is a UK Government organisation responsible for: maintaining a database of drivers and vehicles in Great Britain; issuing driving licenses; organizing the collection of road tax; and selling private number plates.
Driving Standards Agency (DSA) www.dsa.gov.uk
The DSA is a UK Government Organization that: promotes road safety awareness; improves driving standards through tests; and maintains a database of registered driving instructors.
Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) www.vosa.gov.uk
The VOSA is a UK Government organization that provides various licensing and testing services, and aims to promote roadworthy standards of commercial vehicles.
Highways Agency Traffic Information www.highways.gov.uk/traffic
The Highways Agency provides real time traffic updates throughout the United Kingdom.
MET Office www.met-office.go.uk
The Met Office provides weather and climate change forecasts worldwide. It is the leading weather service in the UK.
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