As an Owner-Operator, What Can You Do to Make Your Semitruck More Fuel Efficient?

Posted on: 27 April 2016


If you've recently transitioned from a company semi driver to an owner-operator (OO), you may be on the lookout for anything that helps improve your rig's fuel economy and overall efficiency, therefore allowing you to keep as much of your per-mile pay as possible rather than sinking it into fuel or maintenance. However, making a multi-ton truck aerodynamic can be a tall order. Read on to learn more about why fuel efficiency is so important to you as an OO, as well as some steps you can take now to make your rig more efficient and increase your bottom line.

What advances in technology are poised to make semitrucks more efficient?

Despite a number of advances in diesel engine design since the early 1970s, the average fuel economy of a semitruck hasn't improved by much over the past four decades. In 1973, the US federal government estimated the average mile-per-gallon rate for most semitrucks to be in the 5.6 range; today, this number is around 6.5 miles per gallon. Of course, this mpg average can vary widely depending upon the age and weight of the truck and the terrain it's traveling. Taking an unloaded truck on a flat stretch of highway should be much more efficient than driving a fully-loaded truck through hilly terrain. 

In an effort to improve these figures, the federal government mandated in 2014 that all semi trucks with sleeper cabs must average at least 7.2 miles per gallon on flat terrain. This has spurred manufacturers to create a number of fuel economy-improving tools and measures that should be able to save you money in the long run—even if you can't afford to purchase a new truck at the moment. 

One way to make your truck more aerodynamic is to install side skirts on the sides of your vehicle and round caps on the rear trailer doors. This helps to decrease the drag on your truck as it moves down the road, allowing it to use less gas on its journey.

You may also want to look into "super single" tires to replace your current dual tire setup. These tires are much wider than ordinary single tires and should be able to eliminate the need for dual tires on each side of the axle. Because the super single tires have only a single point of contact with the road, they can reduce the amount of diesel fuel your truck needs to keep these wheels spinning without compromising traction or stability. Some estimates show that switching to these tires can increase your fuel economy by around 7 percent, taking you up to nearly 7 miles per gallon if you're currently sitting at the 6.5 average. 

What should you do to further improve your truck's fuel economy? 

If you've already installed side skirting and changed your tires but find you still have trouble reaching the 7.2 mile per gallon threshold, you may want to look into your load size. Attempting to haul a too-heavy load with a too-small engine can significantly compromise your fuel economy and put unneeded strain on your engine. Cutting back your cargo weight should help you improve your fuel economy and keep your rig in good running condition for years to come. 

For those who have always had some interest in chemistry and have access to restaurant waste oil, brewing and using biodiesel instead of commercial diesel in your semi can give you an mpg boost while lowering your overall fuel cost. With a weekend spent constructing a holding tank and rounding up supplies, you may be able to generate your own biodiesel for as little as $0.80 per gallon. Although most company drivers won't be permitted to use noncommercial diesel in company vehicles, as an OO you have more discretion and control over your vehicle's fuel source. 

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