During the last week of 2017, the average per-gallon price of diesel fuel in the U.S. jumped 7 cents, to $2.973. Diesel today costs 38 cents more per gallon than it did a year ago.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Short-Term Energy Outlook predicts the retail price of diesel will rise only slightly over the course of 2018. Still, now is a good time to self-assess and make sure your trucking company is minimizing its fuel use while maximizing savings.
Here are a few items for your fuel savings checklist as you enter the new year:
Check Fuel Card Usage and Savings
There are many different fuel cards. Not all are equal. Some fuel card programs offer great prices on diesel, but their networks of fuel stops don’t align with the lanes your trucks run. Other fuel cards may partner with a wide range of retailers, but the fees and discounts do not add up to significant fuel savings for your business.
Now is a good time to sit down and assess your company’s fuel card program. Are your drivers using the fuel card most of the time? Are the best fuel discounts available where your trucks run? How much are you paying in transaction fees and other costs related to the card? Finally, is the card easy to use and can you quickly determine your savings on each transaction?
As a carrier, you need a fuel card that consistently offers strong savings on diesel wherever your fleet operates. Finding a card program that offers the right blend of discounts and flexibility can help your company save thousands of dollars a year on fuel.
Analyze Fuel Consumption
Fuel purchases make up 34% of operating expenses for the average trucking company. That means that anywhere you reduce fuel consumption can have a significant impact on your fleet’s profitability.
Cutting back on fuel use takes some time and analysis. You will need to calculate your trucks’ miles per gallon and fuel costs per mile. Knowing your MPG per load can help you identify trouble spots in fuel consumption and make better business decisions on what jobs to take. Hauling construction equipment through the Rockies, for example, may mean more fuel usage than the trip is worth to your business.
There are many uncontrollable factors, like weather, road conditions and traffic, that affect fuel consumption. By digging into the numbers of your fleet’s performance, however, you’ll likely find areas you can improve. The more you know about your trucks' fuel use, the easier it is to craft a strategy to lower your monthly or annual fuel costs.
Watch for Fuel Taxes
Taxes on diesel fuel are different from one state to the next. When possible, plan your trucks’ fuel stops to avoid filling up in states that levy the highest taxes on diesel. States like Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Washington and New York typically have among the highest state taxes on fuel. States with the lowest fuel taxes include South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri and New Jersey.
Promote Better Driving Habits
An idling Class 8 semi-truck will use up a gallon of diesel over the course of an hour. The American Trucking Associations estimates that one hour of idling per day over a year is equal to 64,000 miles of engine wear.
As truckers spend more time waiting to load or unload their trailers, the amount of fuel wasted by idling can quickly add up. Remind your drivers to turn off their truck engines during waits that are longer than a few minutes. Other good driving habits, like traveling at lower speeds, easing up on sudden braking and bypassing routes with a lot of stop-and-start traffic, can also help burn through less diesel.
Study Fuel-Saving Technology
Over time, the type of equipment your trucking company uses can have an impact on how much money you spend on fuel. Fuel-efficient tires with less rolling resistance can increase fuel economy by 5% to 15%, according to the Department of Energy. Other equipment like aluminum tires, trailer skirts, boat tails and vortex generators also cut down on the amount of energy it takes to move an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer. When an 18-wheeler rolls down the highway, an estimated 50% of its fuel use goes toward reducing aerodynamic “drag.”
Outfitting your trucks with more energy-efficient equipment costs money, of course. However, these upgrades can provide a positive return on investment through savings on diesel. A 10% reduction in fuel costs may not sound like a lot, but that represents a savings of $100,000 for a trucking fleet that spends $1 million a year on diesel. Before making an equipment purchase, take time to weigh the short-term cost against the longer-term fuel savings for your company.