Summer is right around the corner, and that means picnics, vacations and road trips with the family. But with gas hovering at nearly $4 per gallon, consumers may not be so keen to hop in their cars or especially their SUVs this year.
No one can empathize more about high fuel costs than professional truck drivers, who spend most of their time out on the road delivering the goods that keep North America going. Fuel is one of the top costs to trucking companies – often making the difference between a slim profit or no profit at all – and truckers have made it their business to maximize every precious (and expensive) drop that goes into their vehicles.
The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), a national trade organization representing longhaul motor carriers, has received many fuel saving tips from its member companies and their drivers. For example, John Gill, who is TCA’s 2007 Owner Operator of the Year and leased to Dart Transit Company of Eagan, Minnesota, reminds people not to leave their cars idling too long this summer. “When you’ve got the kids all loaded in the car and you’re on your way to the beach, it can be tempting to pull up to a convenience store and leave the engine and air conditioning running while you run in for cold sodas, but don’t do it,” he warns. “The gas you’ll burn will probably cost you more than the cost of the drinks, not to mention the harm the extra emissions will do to the environment.”
Doug Ladds, who is TCA’s 2007 Company Equipment Driver of the Year and is employed by MacKinnon Transport, Inc., of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, encourages people to carpool even while on vacation. “When I took a vacation with my sister and her family, instead of using our individual cars, we rented one newer-model minivan to transport both families,” he says. “Obviously filling up one fuel tank costs less than filling up two. But even if you’re not vacationing with a group, you can still consider renting a smaller vehicle, a hybrid, or a diesel-powered car for your trip.”
Here are some more suggestions, compiled from TCA’s 500+ trucking company members and their professional truck drivers:
- Think aerodynamically. If you’re on vacation and have extra luggage stowed on top of or behind the car, tie it securely and keep it as low, taut and smooth as possible. Otherwise, you’ll burn up more gas trying to overcome the wind resistance. Also, try to remove any bicycle/ski racks that you won’t be using and take out heavy, unnecessary objects before you take a trip – a lighter car requires less fuel.
- Plan routes. Consider buying a Global Positioning System (GPS). This device can help you plan the fastest and most direct route to your destination, thus saving you time and fuel costs. Also try to combine errands, because several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm. If possible, drive when traffic is lightest (road congestion will only slow you down and waste more gas) and plan to drive through major cities at off-peak hours.
- Drive the speed limit. Not only is it safer for you and your family, but lower speeds reduce engine and break wear, which cuts down on the cost and frequency of your vehicle’s maintenance. It also saves money on fuel. As road speed increases, so does air resistance and rolling resistance, which in turn requires more power to move your car.
- Use cruise control. Generally, using cruise control on the highway can make every driver’s fuel economy better than average. The key is anticipating changes that may occur while on the road. Try to maintain a high field of vision, establish a proper following distance from the vehicle in front of you, and minimize using the brakes by planning ahead.
- Watch how you stop and go. If possible, let up on the gas and try to coast to a stop. This saves the gasoline you would otherwise burn maintaining your speed longer. Or, slow down until the light is green so you don’t have to stop at all. Speeding up from 5 or 10 miles per hour requires less gas than starting from a complete stop. Conversely, don’t peel off from a dead stop to 60 mph in a few seconds... your car will literally guzzle gas trying to get up to speed.
- Maintain your tires. Air pressure is so critical to fuel efficiency that many trucking companies invest in automatic tire inflation (ATI) systems to monitor and continually adjust tire air pressure. Unfortunately for car owners, this feature is only offered on a handful of luxury models, so the majority of the population monitors air pressure the old-fashioned way: with a tire gauge. Just be sure to check frequently. Adjusting air pressure regularly can increase gas mileage up to 3%.
- Keep records. Keep a small notebook in the car and log how many miles you’re driving and how much you’re spending on gas. This can help you spot changes in vehicle performance and help you gauge how much to budget for fuel. There are some great fuel calculators on the Internet that can help you compute gas usage. Try http://www.csgnetwork.com/annualmpgcalc.html for gasoline and http://www.csgnetwork.com/hiwayfuelconsumpgphcalc.html for diesel.
Even if you are only able to implement a few of the ideas above, you’re bound to save some cash. Don’t throw your hard-earned money down the fuel pump; conserve a little gas this summer and use the extra change for more fun in the sun with your family!