Keep a Lid on Waste.

You hear a lot of talk about “cost control” in the trucking industry – but waste control is really what owner-operators in particular should be watching. Much of what you need to run a transport business – including fuel, money and equipment – often gets used inefficiently. And that waste hits the owner-operator right where it matters most: in the wallet. But you can do a lot to control waste on the road.

Check Your Specs

Blue Truck  On Country Road

Your paycheck will show it when you choose a truck with a big engine and a lot of chrome. First, there is the initial extra expense for the purchase. Then there's the added cost of fuel consumption. Weight and maintenance draws an even sharper contrast between a lifestyle truck – a "show truck" – and an aerodynamic truck that is an efficient tool for business. In fuel savings alone, the aerodynamic truck will usually more than offset the resale value of the stylish show truck. It also yields greater load capacity, more comfort, less noise and higher profit. And it takes about 50 less horsepower to maintain 65 mph than the show truck.

Watch Your Speed

To say that owner-operators are squeezed for time is an understatement. They get a lot of "encouragement" from shippers, consignees, other drivers and even dispatchers to hurry, so it's very easy to get into the trap of driving fast. However, speed is the number one reason for increased fuel consumption and reduced profit. Experts agree that every mile per hour driven over 60 mph reduces fuel economy by one-tenth of a mile per gallon.

Red Truck

The typical argument against driving slower is that you can make better time by driving faster and therefore make more money. But just look at the comparison chart (below) that shows one driver running at 70 mph and another running at 60 mph: In this example, Driver A is ten miles farther down the road than driver B, but has also spent $5.60 more to go those ten miles in the same amount of time.

$5.60 doesn't seem like a lot of money to most people. However, to understand the true cost of speed, you must look at the impact over an entire year. If you drive 140,000 miles per year and average 5.5 mpg vs. 6.5 mpg because you drive faster, you will spend $6,300 more on fuel. In essence, you have taken a 4.5 cents per mile pay cut.

Most owner-operators net about 40 cents per mile. If you divide the extra $6,300 fuel expense that driving faster costs by your net per mile of 40 cents, you can see you would have to drive 15,750 miles more per year just to pay for the extra fuel.

When you look at it this way,
speed actually costs you time.

This chart demonstrates fuel efficiency.
Driver A 70 5.5 12.7 1.60 20.32 29.03 70
Driver B 60 6.5 9.2 1.60 14.72 24.53 60
Difference 10 10 3.5 -0- 5.60 4.50 10

Make Fuel Go Farther

Of all the variable costs for an owner-operator, fuel is the most controllable – and easiest to waste. For good fuel economy, your truck has to overcome three things: rolling resistance, air resistance and gravity. Fortunately, your driving technique can address each of these and control the potential for wasted fuel. Here's how:


Slow down. Higher speed requires more horsepower, which in turn requires more fuel. It takes about 40-50 more horsepower to drive at 75 mph than at 65 mph.

Buy through your company's fuel network to control the cost and quality of fuel.

Perform regular maintenance such as overheads. Also check the mpg at each fill – if it falls off, determine the reason.

Limit idle time. Idling requires about a gallon of fuel per hour, which can cost you around $80 per week if your truck is left to idle for eight hours a day. Instead, for about $80 you can buy a remote starter with a temperature sensor that will start the truck at a specified temperature. It's a great accessory to have in cities with regulations against trucks idling for more than 15 minutes at a time. An extra blanket for when it's cold outside and window screens for when the weather is warm will help limit idling time, too.

To reduce rolling resistance, check the tire air pressure in all 18 tires and air them up at least weekly to the manufacturer's specifications. The trailer tires may belong to your carrier, but why pay the extra cost of pulling a trailer with under inflated tires?

Snug the trailer tight to the tractor to cut down on wind resistance. The ride may not be as good, but the savings are worth the trade-off.

Slower acceleration will consume less fuel and be easier on the mechanics of your equipment. This is especially important running on hills or in the mountains because it helps reduce the effects of gravity. Rapid acceleration gets you an extra few seconds, but creates premature wear on the engine, driveline and tires, along with driving up your fuel costs.

Slower de-acceleration (slowing and braking) is recommended because precious fuel is converted to wasted energy with hard braking. When the brakes are used a lot or used hard, much of the fuel you need to get up to speed is wasted when the brakes are applied. Safety experts recommend watching ahead a distance of 12 seconds so you never have to react at the last split second. Nor will you ever have to engage the engine retarder in city traffic if the "12-second rule" is followed.

Shop a Little Smarter

Millions of dollars are wasted every day on unnecessary purchases. Some specific examples:

Fast food and truck stop restaurants. Eating not-so-nutritious food is one thing, but it can also be expensive. Equipping your truck with a refrigerator and microwave can save you from $3,000 to $4,000 per year. You can buy a week's worth of food at the grocery store for the cost of two days of truck stop food – and eat healthier, too. Because of the per diem method for meal deductions, it doesn't matter if you spend $5 per day or $40 per day; you still get the same amount for the tax deduction. Why not spend the lowest amount possible, claim the maximum per diem deduction, and eat better at the same time?

Entertainment. Some drivers spend hundreds of dollars every month playing truck stop video games and going to casinos. Diversion and entertainment are needed during downtime but consider renting a movie, reading a book, or exercising – whatever works for you. If you like video games, purchase a gaming system and spend $20 a month for games instead of $10 a day. Books from your public library are also a low-cost form of entertainment. More than 300 truck stops rent audio books and satellite radio for entertainment.

Want more information about efficiency or other money-saving trucking tips? Contact your nearest SelecTrucks Center