20 Ways to Control Fuel Costs as an Owner-Operator


Your No. 1 expense as an owner-operator is fuel. There’s a lot of factors that help determine your fuel efficiency, and cutting fuel expenses can can help you make more money on every load. Check out 20 tips to reduce fuel costs so you can keep growing your business as an owner-operator.
1. Reduce your average speed.

Shippers and consignees often encourage speedy travel, so it’s easy for a truck driver to fall into the trap of driving fast to appease them. Yet experts agree that speed is the main reason for increased fuel consumption and reduced profit.

Did you know? A driver that covers 130,000 miles per year at 70 mph would have to log 25,454 additional miles to make up for the decreased mpg that going 70 mph instead of 60 mph creates. Because of hours of service limits, most drivers can’t close that gap.

2. Limit the time spent idling.

Many drivers idle to power climate control and accessories at night. However, idling requires about a gallon of fuel per hour, which can cost you about $120 per week, if you idle eight hours a day. Invest in an auxiliary power unit which will pay for itself in no time.

3. Watch your cash flow.

If you know a low-price area to fill up is on your route, don’t fill up at the more expensive fuel stop. Limit what you put in your tank based on your mpg and the distance it’ll take for you to reach the cheaper gas station.

4. Buy the right fuel.

In farming areas, it may be difficult to find ultra-low-sulfur diesel. Make sure to check labeling if you’re buying from any outlet that’s not clearly a truck stop.

5. Be careful with biofuel.

Biofuels tend to be more expensive and produce lower fuel mileage. Know the level of biofuel allowed under your engine warranty, and use only approved fuels.

6. Maximize storage.

Opt for larger dual tanks when buying a truck. This gives you the option of stocking up on super-cheap fuel when you can and cutting down on the number of stops needed.

7. Spec your truck wisely.

Think about weight and maintenance when selecting a truck. A big engine and heavy chrome may be tempting, but think about aerodynamics if you want a bigger paycheck. (And no, the increased resale value typically won’t make up for the added fuel costs over time!)

8. Perform regular truck maintenance.

Start a preventative maintenance routine to make sure you’re running efficiently. Low oil, a dirty air filter, or a compressor leak will all affect your mpg.

9. Check your MPG regularly.

Divide the number of miles between stops by how much fuel you burned. Do it at every single stop and track it in your phone a notebook you keep nearby. If it starts to change, figure out why. Many factors are outside of your control (weather is one example), but it’s important to stay in-tune to your truck.

10. Maintain tire pressure.

To reduce resistance, check the air pressure in all 18 tires and fill them up at least weekly to the manufacturer’s specifications.

11. Slow your acceleration and deceleration.

Save fuel, premature engine wear, driveline, and tires by losing the lead foot. Slowing acceleration is especially important running on hills because it helps reduce the effects of gravity.

12. Shift wisely.

Don’t drive by engine sound, but by RPMs. If you’re unsure, the manufacturer can help you determine the sweet spot.

13. Cut down on out-of-route miles.

Try rethinking your route, keeping side trips to a minimum, and using precise directions and you’ll see a pay-off in savings. Most owner-operators can shave miles by 3% this way.

14. Try a roof fairing.

Airodyne reports a full roof fairing that delivers just a 10% increase in fuel economy can save $6,900 a year. Even more basic flat-style roof fairings can deliver up to 5% in fuel savings.

15. Consider low-rolling resistance tires.

A deep tread tire will have more rolling resistance when it’s new because it has more squirm in the tread. Low-rolling resistance tires have a more durable tread but at shallower depths.

16. Get some aluminum wheels.

Yes, aluminum wheels can cost three times more than those made of steel, however most long-haul fleets use aluminum because the weight reduction is so dramatic. The resale value of aluminum wheels is retained for longer than steel wheels, too.

17. Add trailer side skirts.

Manufacturers say these devices can boost fuel economy by more than 5% and cost only $2,900 per trailer to install. Do the math to see how quickly they’ll pay for themselves.

18. Try getting a fuel surcharge.

Many carriers pay a surcharge when the national average price for a gallon of diesel exceeds a certain price. As long as you know your truck’s fuel economy, you can calculate how well a fuel surcharge compensates you for rising prices.

19. Understand low-fuel-tax states.

When you select your fuel stops, make sure you understand the difference between pump price and the real cost of the fuel without taxes. This might mean that the cheapest fuel is in the next state even though the pump price is higher. High tax purchases are settled up when you file your IFTA report.

20. Take advantage of fuel optimizer programs.

If your fleet has a fuel-optimizer program, use it. The fees for these programs have become rare, and they’ll help you plan a trip based on fuel prices.

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