Regular truck maintenance is the go-to solution of many fleet managers to increase vehicle mileage and reduce carbon emissions.
Although proper upkeep does help, it takes more than keeping trucks in good condition to boost fuel efficiency and sustainability significantly.
What Is Fleet Sustainability?
Fleet sustainability is an initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of fleet vehicles, particularly tractor-trailers. Fostering eco-friendliness in the trucking sector matters because decarbonizing freight transport is crucial in stopping global warming. In 2021, the United States trucking industry released more than 417 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere — 78% more than its total emissions in 1990.
Fuel-inefficient semi-trucks upset everybody. You deal with fluctuating diesel and gasoline prices while getting less mileage from your vehicles. Customers who care about the planet dislike them because they contribute significantly to global warming. However, the inconvenient truth is they’re indispensable. Trucks remain the most commonly used mode of freight transportation in terms of tonnage and value — in 2023, they moved 13.1 billion tons of cargo worth $12.1 trillion.
Fleet sustainability makes the essential trucking industry greener. Higher vehicle mileage is an enticing motivation for you to boost the fuel efficiency of your trucks, reducing their carbon emissions in the process.
14 Tips to Improve Mileage and Reduce Emissions
Follow these 14 tips to achieve fleet sustainability for higher truck mileage and fewer climate change gas emissions.
1. Take Driver Training Seriously
Train truckers how to drive the right way. Knowing their way around vehicles won’t suffice to move the needle in fuel efficiency. They must be mindful of how they operate vehicles to travel longer distances with fewer diesel or gas refills.
It all starts with training. You must prioritize driver education to teach employees the best practices and kick bad habits while behind the wheel. Truckers will learn fuel-efficient driving skills and their underlying logic. They will understand how idling and specific maneuvers — such as tailgating and abrupt braking — negatively impact fuel economy.
2. Set Fuel-Efficiency Targets
Use SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound — goals. Arbitrary objectives are unreliable in generating positive results because they have no rhyme or reason. Conversely, SMART goals are more attainable when set reasonably.
Set individual SMART goals for truck drivers according to their skill and experience levels. Truckers can use them to monitor their progress and see how close they are to hitting fuel-efficiency targets.
3. Track Driver Performance
Set up telematics systems to keep tabs on driver behavior on the road. They can retrieve numerous types of vehicle and driver performance data, including:
- Truck position
- Idle time
- Trip distance
- Harsh driving and braking
- Seat belt use
- Battery voltage
- Fuel consumption.
Telematic devices can send what they collect to the cloud for review on their companion fleet management apps.
4. Adopt Gamification
Motivate your drivers to hit their goals using gaming elements. Use avatars, challenges, points, badges, rewards, leaderboards and feedback to improve trucker performance and create healthy competition. A gamified fleet sustainability program can make targeting and smashing SMART fuel-efficiency goals fun.
5. Watch Fuel Card Transactions
Glean insight from real-time and historical fleet card transaction reports. They can reveal trends that shed light on refueling frequencies. Crunch the numbers and look for ways to manage truck fuel consumption better.
6. Inflate Tires Adequately
Ensure proper tire pressure before hitting the road. A tire drives down fuel economy to a degree whenever it dips below its recommended air pressure.
7. Optimize Routes
Change course dynamically to eliminate empty miles and maximize vehicle utilization rates. Planning ahead isn’t enough to decrease circuitous trips. Truckers can encounter logistical curveballs — such as uncharacteristic heavy traffic and sudden inclement weather.
Follow the lead of UPS, which uses ORION to recalculate routes and update directions for drivers in transit when needed. It shortens routes by an average of 6 to 8 miles, allowing drivers to drop more packages despite changes in orders, traffic conditions and pickup commitments.
Investing in a similar navigation tool can replicate UPS’ final-mile efficiencies. Combining trips and using multi-stop trucks can also cut fleet vehicle mileage.
8. Minimize Drag
Use aerodynamic kits to decrease the wind resistance of fleet trucks. Vehicle covers, side skirts and vortex generators are popular add-ons. Chassis and roof fairings, aero bumpers and boat tails are also worth considering.
Moreover, closing the gap between tractors and trailers with aerodynamic devices. Swapping solid rubber flaps for slotted mud flaps also meaningfully reduces drag.
9. Check Truck Alignment Regularly
Correct misalignment immediately to ensure the rubber meets the road at the right angle. Otherwise, fleet vehicles will consume more fuel to run. Improper alignment can do a number on the tires, too. Watch out for incidents — such as towing, hitting a curb, and getting into an accident — that can alter truck alignment.
10. Travel Light
Carry less cargo to unburden fleet vehicles with unnecessary weight. Overloading is counterintuitive because the extra heft translates into more fuel consumption. It usually happens when truckers:
- Move freight from other jobs.
- Forget to unload tools from previous tasks.
- Filling the tank more than the trip requires.
- Leaving roof racks mounted when not in use.
11. Lower Rolling Resistance
Inspect tires for tread wear to spot internal damage early and replace worn-out ones as soon as possible. The tire tread provides traction to minimize hysteresis loss — or energy loss that inhibits the vehicle from moving forward.
Paying attention to tread wear bolsters the progress that inflating your tires adequately, ensuring proper alignment and removing excess loads make in improving fuel efficiency. Restore your tires’ ideal tread depth to regain their grip.
12. Automate Some Functions
Increase driving efficiency with automated tasks. Artificial intelligence (AI) is an excellent assistant because it reliably handles minor vehicle operational duties like gear changes and can determine the most efficient range for truck engines in unique situations. Adaptive cruise control lends some self-driving capability to truck platoons, reduces fuel consumption by up to 13% and helps vehicles safely move on the road together.
Moreover, applying machine learning models to telemetry data can streamline truck maintenance. AI can detect mechanical issues between scheduled check-ups, empowering you to tune up your fleet vehicles proactively. Catching problems before they happen contributes to fuel efficiency and spares drivers from dealing with unexpected breakdowns, potentially stranding them in the middle of nowhere.
13. Be Mindful of Engine Warmups
Conventional wisdom advises warming up engines for 10 minutes to prepare them for trips in subzero Fahrenheit temperatures. However, doing it for too long is useless at best and unlawful at worst — for example, idling for more than five minutes is illegal in Maryland.
14. Pour the Right Lubricants
Choose top-shelf, low-viscosity lubricants. Viscosity refers to the ability of a lubricant to resist flow and shear. The consensus is that lower-viscosity products improve fuel economy. Axle and transmission oil trends prove this.
Get More Truck Mileage Out of Every Drop
Embracing alternative fuels is the ultimate path to achieving genuine fleet sustainability. Upgrading to hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles is capital-intensive. If you can’t abandon diesel and gas yet, at least make your fleet greener and more fuel-efficient with these tips.