More than three million heavy-duty Class 8 trucks move 9.2 billion tons of freight annually along America’s arterial highways, according to the American Trucking Associations. It takes over 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel to move this freight, costing over $121 billion. Fuel costs are the largest variable cost in trucking. How can you control this? Invest in simple technology to boost mpg.
One man is doing exactly that. Meet Daniel and his wife, Phyllis Snow, of Snow Trucking who are adopting the latest technology to slash fuel costs and become more competitive in the dry freight business.
By employing a methodical, almost scientific, approach to evaluating new technologies, the husband and wife team have transformed their 1996 freightliner classic XL with over 1.8 million highway miles from a 4.8 mpg vehicle to 7.5.
Two years later, the couple has documented savings of $30,000 in diesel fuel costs for the truck they affectionately refer to as “the Goose.” If every operator was as progressive as the Snow’s, the industry would save billions in fuel, not to mention the positive impact on the environment.
Targeting Fuel Costs
In 2012, the husband-and-wife team made the move from hauling livestock on a regional basis to dry freight runs throughout the Central and Southern United States. Facing stiff competition, they quickly realized that they needed to re-think their fixed and variable costs.
“The very first thing to know in any business, including trucking, is your operating costs,” emphasizes Daniel Snow. “Once you determine that, you discover that fuel is eating you up when it’s over 32%.”
At the time, fuel costs for the Goose was a whopping 48% of their total expenses. So the couple decided to marry their old school professionalism and service with a commitment to apply new technologies that could drive down fuel costs.
Team Snow was determined to look beyond OEM claims of fuel savings and instead consider all available aftermarket products. Snow arrived at this conclusion by meticulously examining his own fuel consumption data, quickly discovering that “a lot of time, the data [from manufacturers] appeared skewed.”
“Our major goal over these last two years was to find real raw data, highway data, that is not manipulated in any way.”
To accomplish this, Snow engaged in a step-by-step approach to document fuel consumption and any associated savings. They identified and installed various fuel saving devices and then kept detailed notes and calculations. No two devices were applied at the same time.
“Just about everything we do, we do in phases. That way we know exactly what each individual product is doing for us,” says Snow.
Gauge Tuners to Improve Engine Performance
At the top of Snow’s list was investigating high-performance gauge tuners that help reduce fuel consumption and improve engine performance.
While not all gauge tuners are equal, these devices typically focus on tuning the engine control module (ECM) to improve performance and then some provide additional features such as a driving coach or diagnostic reader.
Besides the obvious discriminator of wanting the tuner that optimized fuel savings the most, Snow insisted on being able to upload the tune himself and not mail away his ECM, which would result in significant big rig down time and lost revenue. “We wanted to buy the tuner, not just a tune,” says Snow.
All of a sudden, the list of options became very thin. In fact it melted away to one – the Heavy Duty Gauge Tuner (HDGT), a Bully Dog product from Derive Systems.
Snow installed the device on the Goose’s 60-series Detroit Diesel in January of 2013.
Describing himself as “mechanically inclined, but not computer inclined” he was able to plug it in, follow the prompts on the screen, and complete a short download in less than 15 minutes.
“I was really impressed with how simple it was to plug-and-play,” says Snow.
The unit was installed, while he and his wife were on the road, at a shipper’s facility in Atlanta, Georgia. This was significant, because the couple had recently completed three identical runs from Atlanta to the final destination in Texas.
“We had completed that run several times, so we knew exactly what that load cost us,” explains Snow.
The initial test run of the engine programmer yielded an immediate saving of $174.
Snow then began calculating the fuel savings every 1,000 gallons of fuel; after calculating the results, the Goose had gained 1.4 mpg on average.
The next step was to take advantage of the HDGT’s unit’s “driving coach,” which offers tips that help develop positive driving habits to improve fuel economy.
“We started adjusting our driving habits using the monitor and gained another 0.7 miles per gallon, just by plain old driving better,” says Snow.
Over the past two years, Snow has traveled 236,000 additional miles with the engine tuning software and saved over $30,000.
“Other truckers will find that in a very short period of time the investment in the heavy duty gauge tuner will go from a ‘cost’ category and move across the page to the ‘income’ side,” says Snow. “For us it was after 4.5 months when the technology converted to a profit center.”
To squeeze out even more fuel savings, the couple also installed a SmartTruck Undertray system on their trailer to smooth the rig’s aerodynamic profile. This change netted an additional 0.4 mpg.
Finally, they installed another Bully Dog product from Derive Systems, a ceramic-coated exhaust manifold that added 0.2 mpg.
The grand total was an additional 2.7 mpg, boosting The Goose from 4.8 to 7.5 mpg.
More importantly, Snow says, “it took us from being non-competitive on what we were bidding on to being more efficient than most company-style trucks out on the road.”
Declining Diesel Prices Triggers Need for Efficiency
It may seem counterintuitive, but the recent decreases in diesel fuel prices actually makes increasing fuel efficiency even more critical.
Savings from the decrease in fuel prices are often offset by plummeting freight rates. Even if both were to drop proportionally, this doesn’t take into account the fixed costs of trucking – insurance, tags, and trailer payments – that don’t change.
So what does Snow intend to do with the money he saves? In addition to paying his personal bills and setting a little aside for retirement in the not-too-distant future, the couple would like to contribute more to charities, indulge in good food and add more chrome to the Goose.
“The more money we don’t have to put in the fuel tank, the better; and the more money we have for ourselves and others,” concludes Snow.
By Marissa Muller, Derive Systems.