Seven Ways to Improve Fuel Economy

Reducing fuel

Fuel is a major expense for fleets, and improving fuel economy can result in significant savings while also potentially increasing the lifespan of a vehicle. Mike Hasinec, former vice president of maintenance for Penske Truck Leasing, shared seven tips for improving fuel economy.

1. Spec the Right Vehicle

Choosing the right specifications for the application a vehicle will run in 80% of the time is one of the biggest opportunities to improve fuel economy, Hasinec said.

2. Stay Current on Preventive Maintenance

Today's engines are more efficient from a fuel economy standpoint and they live longer, but they can't tolerate lack of maintenance. “Because they're so tightly machined, the tolerances are so much tighter and they operate more efficiently, but they aren't as forgiving," Hasinec said, adding that preventive maintenance is a critical element of improving fuel economy.

Even exhaust leaks can harm fuel economy, as they can impact waste heat recovery and passive and active regenerations. “When you have exhaust leaks, not only does it bother the driver from the fumes, but it also can impact the after-treatment system and fuel economy. If there are air leaks, the air compressor has to run all the time. All of those little things have parasitic loss and all of that adds up," he said.

Other maintenance issues include:

  • Poor battery maintenance can cause the alternator to charge excessively.
  • Improper belt tension, as well as worn belts, can cause components to be overworked or perform poorly.
  • Regular greasing of components, such as the brake S-cams, slack adjusters, etc., prevent things, such as brakes, from dragging.
  • Proper brake maintenance is also important, as worn brake parts or brakes out of adjustment can cause brakes to drag.
  • Proper cooling system maintenance allows the engine to run efficiently.
  • Proper clutch adjustment on mechanical linkage and manual transmissions prevents slippage.

3. Check Engines

As part of preventive maintenance, Penske techs validate engine parameters, such as road and cruise speeds and especially idle shutdown, which can alter fuel economy. Techs also check for various software updates. “Many of these updates improve vehicle reliability, regens and fuel economy," Hasinec said.

4. Use Quality Products

Using a good quality motor oil and filters as well as quality air filters is also important and can improve fuel economy while also prolonging engine life.

5. Inspect Aerodynamic Devices

For vehicles that spend most of their time on the highway, aerodynamics play an important part in improving fuel economy. “Keeping devices secure and in good condition is critical," Hasinec said.

6. Inflate Tires Properly

Proper tire inflation is a critical element when it comes to fuel economy. Tires running just 10 pounds underinflated can impact fuel economy by as much as 1%. Penske checks tire pressures every time a unit is in a service bay for any type of repair. Techs can also inspect tires for irregular wear that can be caused by misalignment, which also impacts fuel economy.

Penske has made tire inflation systems standard on its trailers. “Trailers are the most neglected equipment at a fleet. You don't see them in and out of the shop and drivers don't take care of them the same way they do the truck," Hasinec said. “Tire inflation on those is unbelievably important."

7. Reduce Idling

Excessive idling negatively impacts fuel economy, wastes money and can have a negative impact on the after-treatment system. If parameters are set up properly, excessive idling can be managed. “Today's engines don't require a lot of warm-up time, even in the winter. If you set up the parameters correctly, you can set the coolant temperature to be the trigger as to when the clock starts for idle shutdown," Hasinec said. “This will ensure that the vehicle will have adequate time to defrost the windshield, for example."

Most states have regulations that don't allow diesel engines to idle more than five minutes. “To reduce idling, fleets can spec APUs or stand-alone auxiliary heaters. These heaters burn a lot less fuel than the engine," Hasinec said.