5 minute read • sennder Team • March 25, 2022

9 Ways Trucking Companies Can Save on Fuel Costs

Gain four valuable tips for saving money on fuel costs, a practice that is increasingly important as global fuel prices continue to soar.
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Gas and diesel fuel prices are generally more volatile than other commodities. This is especially true now, as Europe’s gas supplies will be directly impacted by recent sanctions against Russia. Since 2020, diesel prices in Europe have been steadily climbing, and in the past month they have shot up significantly.

Fuel costs alone account for nearly one-third of a carrier's operating costs on average. So it’s clear that saving on fuel costs is a huge benefit to a carrier’s bottom line.

Chart on left shows fuel prices in Europe over the last year. They steadily rise until January 2022 when they spike. Graph on the right shows costs for carriers in various countries. Fuel costs make up nearly 30% of costs in most countries and 34% of costs for carriers in Poland.Beside switching to a completely electric powered fleet–which is prohibitively expensive for most small or medium trucking companies and has extensive delivery lead times–there is no way around buying fuel. However, finding small ways to save fuel can add up to significant savings pretty quickly.In this article, we’ll list the best tips to save on fuel costs for trucking companies.

Here are four tips to save on fuel costs.

9 proven ways to save on fuel costs

1.Fuel cost calculator

Before finding ways to save fuel, you need to know exactly how much fuel you are using. This gives you a baseline figure for fuel costs that you can refer to.

If you’re relatively new to trucking, fuel cost calculators are also a great way to quickly determine your fuel cost for a load, which will help you understand how profitable a load may be.

Calculating fuel costs by hand is a pain. You, or your drivers, need to take careful notes about distances driven and the amount of fuel pumped before and after trips. Also with fuel prices varying from station to station and day to day, you’ll find that the cost varies from trip to trip. To calculate potential fuel cost savings, it’s better to calculate an average that fuel reducing tactics can be compared against.

A fuel cost calculator makes the process of calculating a rough average extremely simple. Just plug in the distance of your route (km), the fuel efficiency of your vehicle (km/L), and the price of fuel at the pump (euro/L).

Once you’ve calculated your typical fuel costs, try implementing some of the tactics below and see how they affect your fuel costs. To identify which tactics are the most useful for your business, you may want to try one tactic at a time for a week or a month, and make notes of how your fuel costs change accordingly.

2.Encourage fuel efficient driving practices

Vehicles burn the most fuel when they accelerate, so maintaining a steady speed is one of the best ways to reduce fuel use on the road. This can be achieved by encouraging drivers to adopt fuel-efficient driving habits. Using cruise control on highways and maintaining road space in front of the truck while navigating city traffic are good habits to start with.

The heavier a load is, the more fuel is required to move it. So not overloading your trucks is also a good practice. Never exceed the permitted weight limit on your vehicles.

Beside the weight of the truck, the engine also fights against wind resistance, or drag. Trucks can be made more aerodynamic with the installation of angeled bumpers, sun visors, or fairings.

Also, consider air conditioning use. Research shows that air conditioning can increase fuel consumption by up to 10%. At speeds up to 80 kilometers per hour, it is typically more fuel efficient to roll the windows down and turn off the AC, when the weather allows. At higher speeds, it's better to keep the windows up and use the AC, because the added wind resistance actually increases fuel use.

Some driving schools provide specialized courses for learning how to drive more fuel efficiently. Paying for drivers to attend said courses could be a wise investment, as it is likely to lead to savings on fuel costs in the long term.

3.Stick to fuel-efficient tires

As the point of contact between the truck and the road, tires play a significant role in a vehicle’s fuel consumption. The amount of pressure that a rolling tire applies to the road is called rolling resistance. Reducing this resistance can significantly increase your truck’s fuel efficiency.

Regularly checking tire pressures is the simplest way to improve your tires’ performance. Under-inflated tires significantly increase rolling resistance, and they cause unnecessary wear on the tires themselves. If in doubt, double check your tires’ optimum pressure, and make an effort to ensure that each tire is inflated to that level once each month.It’s equally important to ensure all of your tires are filled to the same bar reading, because uneven tire pressures will create uneven weight distribution and wasteful fuel use.

Also, when you need to buy tires, look into fuel-efficient types. As opposed to high-traction tires, fuel-efficient tires are designed to reduce rolling resistance while still providing enough traction for safe driving. Since tires naturally become smoother with wear, your tires’ fuel efficiency actually increases over time. For this reason, it is worth keeping your tires until the end of their life. That said, it is important to change tires when their tread has worn down to the end of its lifespan. In Europe the limit is generally considered to be a tread depth of 1.6mm, but local regulations may vary.

Carriers that work with sennder can take advantage of our partnership with Michelin and select from a customized suite of fuel-efficient tires. Michelin offers tires with low rolling resistance that are useful for both short and long-haul transport, and can save drivers up to 1.2 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers.

4.Avoid idling your fuel away

Perhaps the easiest way to save fuel is simply not to burn it when you don’t need to. Idling, or leaving a truck’s engine on when the truck is parked, quickly adds up to a significant amount of fuel being burned.

A few quick facts about idling:

  • An idling vehicle can burn around 4.5 liters of fuel per hour

  • According to the American Trucking Association, one hour of idling per day for a year results in the equivalent of 64,000 miles (over 100,000 km) in engine wear

  • Idling for as little as 10 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine

Truck drivers are likely to overlook their own idling, thinking that one truck’s idling costs are insignificant. But a liter of fuel here or there accumulates over time. Even a small amount of idling, multiplied across an estimated 6.2 million freight trucks in the EU, amounts to an exorbitant fuel cost, as well as a significant cost to the environment and to peoples’ respiratory health.

Most idling occurs when no business activity is happening, such as during driver breaks, at truck stops, in traffic, or while a truck is sitting at the dock. Unfortunately, idling often goes unchallenged by company leaders.

Reminding drivers to turn off their engines when they step out of their trucks, or creating a company policy to reduce idle times can add up to significant fuel cost savings. It will help your

5. Gain savings with a fuel card

Fuel cards, essentially credit cards that work only at fueling stations, are used by most carriers as a convenient way to allow their drivers to fuel up without using their own funds, and to consolidate monthly fuel purchases into one or two payments. Many fuel cards also provide access to discounts on purchases, depending on the volume of fuel a carrier consumes.

At sennder, we provide access to two fuel card options–with DKV and with E100–to all of our partnered carriers. Each of these options offer different benefits.

Our E100 cards typically work better for carriers who drive long haul international lanes, whereas our DKV cards tend to work better for domestic lanes, or for carriers that require a higher network density. Interested carriers can try both cards to see which one best suits their business.

A sennder truck driver fuels up at a DKV partnered station.

As with most fuel cards, these allow drivers to fuel up at any station within a vast network of stations across Europe, and carriers are billed for the fuel up to 21 days later. Fuel card holders also gain some added perks, such as discounts on tolls, and VAT and mineral oil tax return service.

The added bonus of using sennder’s fuel cards is that they grant access to better rates than one would earn with a small or medium fleet of trucks. By bundling the volume of all of our partnered carriers, we are able to pass on fuel savings that carriers can’t typically earn unless they have hundreds or thousands of trucks.

6.Track vehicle performance with Telematics

Telematics systems can gather important data on the performance of vehicles and drivers in your fleet. Telematics solutions rely on both GPS and telecommunications technology to collect and relay relevant information.

Beyond GPS location tracking, which specifically shows where a vehicle is at a certain time, telematic devices can also collect information about speed, acceleration, braking, and idling. Also, you can use telematics to remotely monitor your vehicle, collecting fuel use or odometer readings, for example.

This kind of data helps you gain a more granular understanding of how fuel is being used in your transports. It allows you to identify potentially wasteful driver behaviors, like abrupt stops or rapid acceleration and deceleration.

Data related to fuel consumption, such as engine diagnostics and odometer readings, may further improve your transport operations. You can begin to identify optimal conditions for maximizing fuel efficiency. For example, vehicles tend to perform best within a certain range of speeds, and also within a certain timespan on the road.

Some telematics systems can also notify you about maintenance schedules. Staying on top of oil changes and inspections ensures that your vehicles are running optimally, which amounts to fuel savings in the long term.

7.Improve route efficiency

It is perhaps too obvious to point out that driving shorter distances generally requires less fuel. However, optimizing route efficiency is not only about finding the shortest line between your pick-up and drop-off locations.

Of course, if you haven’t already done so, using a GPS mapping tool to identify the shortest driving route is a good place to start. But another factor to consider is time, and more specifically, traffic. Driving a short route with heavy traffic will likely use more fuel than a slightly longer route with less traffic.

To understand which of two or more routes is the most fuel efficient, have a driver try each route a couple times and compare the fuel used on each run. (You can save yourself some manual work here if you have a telematics solution that tracks fuel use–see above section).

If you have the flexibility to do so, consider the optimal times to send your vehicles on certain lanes. Perhaps you can avoid rush hour traffic in a key bottleneck along your route by adjusting the pick-up time by an hour.

8.Avoid empty runs and empty kilometers

“Empty runs” and “empty kilometers” refer to trucks running empty. Trucking companies lose money in two ways when this happens. First there is the literal loss in expenses for fuel, driver wages, toll fees, etc. Second there is the loss of potential revenue I.E. the income that would have been generated if the truck had taken a load on another route instead. For both of these reasons, empty kilometers should be avoided at all costs.

So why are empty trucks seen as an unavoidable problem for some carriers? Typically, trucks run empty because of an imbalance in the flow of shipments that a carrier has access to.

For example, a trucking company based in Germany may have contracts for constant shipments going east. But if the company hasn’t found a steady supply of shipments to bring back to Germany, then the drive back home is going to mean a lot of fuel burned with no additional revenue to show for it.

Therefore the solution to empty kilometers is better transport planning. Roundtrip loads are ideal. But any second load that brings a truck closer to home on the way back can be helpful.

This is where our digital carrier platform, orcas, really comes in handy. On our marketplace, you can quickly search for exclusive sennder loads to fill out your shipment schedule. Also, the platform leverages algorithms to suggest loads and trip bundles that suit your business. With route planning made easy with orcas, you can find more shipments, reduce your empty kilometers, and minimize your fuel costs.

9.Switch to electric vehicles

If you’d like to stop paying for diesel fuel altogether, electric vehicles (EVs) are the way to go.

Tesla isn’t the only company engineering electric trucks. European truck manufacturers, like Scania and Volvo, are already planning to convert half of their business to EVs by 2030, and 100% EV or hydrogen powered trucks by 2040. So if you’re eager to replace a gas-guzzler in your fleet with an emissions-free EV, you may want to start saving now.

Of course, today’s electric cargo trucks are expensive, which could make them cost prohibitive for smaller trucking companies. But that steep cost up front is offset in time by the fuel savings that you earn on every load that your electric truck carries.

To see if buying a new EV makes sense for you, run a cost analysis comparing the initial cost of an EV truck versus the cost of running a diesel truck. Try comparing the numbers over a couple different timelines, such as five years or ten years.

You’ll also need to consider charging infrastructure, and other limitations for electric trucks on your current lanes. For example, some shipping lanes around the Netherlands can already be run on electric trucks, but longer trans-European routes are still lacking the charging stations to make fully electric runs possible. In these cases, hybrid vehicles may be the best option for maximizing fuel savings at the moment.

EVs may not be a realistic choice for every carrier immediately today, but looking ten to 20 years down the road, it’s clear that electric and hydrogen powered trucks are going to change the way trucks are fueled. Keep your eyes open as more electric trucks hit the road. Rebates, favorable loans, and tax incentives for buying EVs seem likely as the EU strives to reduce fuel use and related carbon emissions.

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