Save Money with Your Trucks

The rapid rise in prices of gasoline and diesel fuel recently has put a strain on shipping costs. Last year at this time gas was selling for $1.95 a gallon. Now it is about $2.40. Diesel last year sold for about $1.80 a gallon, now it’s up to around $2.50.* With increased world demand and limited refining facilities, expect fuel costs to continue to rise.
Trucking is an integral part of the plant business. All supplies arrive by truck. Most plant products are also shipped by truck. Moving materials around the greenhouse requires fuel for forklifts and tractors.
Although trucking amounts to less than 10 percent of the cost of plants it can mount up at the end of the year. Purchasing the most efficient equipment, operating it properly and maintaining it on a regular schedule will keep costs down.

Cost-saving Guidelines

Select an energy-efficient diesel engine. The higher compression ratio of a diesel engine means more work output. Adding a turbocharger or intercoolers can also decrease fuel use. Don’t oversize the engine as it increases fuel consumption.
Choose aerodynamically designed box trucks and tractor cabs. Roof deflectors improve efficiency up to 6 percent. A design with a sloped hood, streamlined front profile and open front bumper also helps.
Install more efficient trailers. Research has shown that reducing the gap between the cab and trailer from 45 to 25 inches results in a 3.5 percent savings on long-haul trucks and 1.2 percent on local deliveries. Closing the side curtains on delivery trucks will save 4-5 percent. Although not common yet, adding trailer side skirts below the body reduces air turbulence from the undercarriage with a saving of 5-18 percent.
Select a lightweight truck body. Truck manufacturers are copying airplane manufacturers in using more aluminum and other alloys. Aluminum hydraulic tail gates, lightweight shelving and nylon load binders should be used. Carrying an extra 200 pounds may increase fuel consumption by 1 mile per gallon or more.
Don’t forget the wheels/tires. Selecting aluminum or magnesium wheel rims can reduce weight. Going from 22.5- to 19.5-inch tires will reduce the weight about 400 pounds on a dual tire axle. The use of a wide base tire instead of duals will cut fuel consumption by 2-5 percent. Besides the reduced weight, rolling resistance is lower.
Maintaining the correct tire pressure and balance is important. Fuel usage increases 1 percent for every 10 pounds per square inch that a tire is below the recommended pressure. Many trucks are available with automatic tire inflation.
Increase speed reduce fuel efficiency. For a trailer truck, increasing the speed from 60 mph to 70 mph reduces the miles per gallon from 7.1 to 6.1. Governors are available for most trucks that can be set to maintain a maximum speed of 60-65 mph. To offset the longer travel time, some companies share the savings with the driver.
Idling wastes fuel. A 400- to 500-horsepower diesel engine consumes about 0.6 gallons per hour when idling. Delivery trucks are frequently left idling while they are loaded or unloaded. Time may total 1,000 hours or more per year.
Electronically controlled engines can be programmed to limit idle time from 7-10 minutes. Direct-fired heaters and auxiliary power units are available to reduce the need to leave the engine idling to keep the plants warm or cool.
Importance of scheduling deliveries. Delivering a few flats or pots on demand or to correct a delivery mistake frequently costs more than the plants are worth. Making just-in-time deliveries to the large chains can also affect trucking costs. Picking up carts at the end of the season requires an extra trip to the retailers that you serve.
Scheduling software is available that will route your trucks in the most efficient manner. It compares cost, mileage and time.
Bulk fuel purchases. With fuel prices constantly escalating, some growers are locking in a price for their heating fuel for winter. It may also pay to lock in the price for gasoline or diesel for extended periods of time. This may mean having to install your own double-wall storage tank.  Changing to synthetic lubricants such as low-friction engine oil and synthetic drive train lubricants can raise fuel efficiency 1-3 percent.
Regular maintenance pays. An accurate log of daily miles traveled, fuel usage and miles per gallon can help in pinpointing problems with truck operation. A daily safety inspection should be part of the operator routine. Scheduling preventive maintenance based on hours, days or miles of operation will eliminate many breakdowns and lost time.

Impact Truck Operation Efficiency

A survey by the American Trucking Association found that the skill and decisions made by the driver have the greatest impact on fuel consumption. The difference between the best and poorest drivers was about 35 percent or 5-7 cents per mile in fuel efficiency.
A driver constantly makes decisions that affect fuel economy, including when to shift, how fast to drive, how long to let the engine idle, when to brake, when and where to stop for fuel and how to travel between locations. Changing driving style to include gradual acceleration, constant speed and anticipated braking can improve mileage by as much as 20 percent.
Drivers who have gone through a formal training course usually do the best. Training is available in most states. Major trucking associations also have videos available for new drivers.

* September 2005

Reprinted with permission from GMPRO October 2005, p. 72.