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Improving Fuel Economy for Trucks Through Smarter Driver Behaviour

26 May 2022

Fuel efficiency is one of the most important considerations when it comes to road transport. As a professional driver, you are the most important factor in the whole question of how to reduce fuel consumption.

In 2020, GB-registered HGVs operating in the UK, drove 10.1 billion miles, and as an HGV driver, one of your biggest responsibilities is to make active effort in reducing fuel usage. Generally, fuel equates to approximately 30% of overall operating costs, and for every 1 litre of diesel burnt 2.63 kg of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Therefore, using less fuel will not only make you a more economical driver but also reduce the impact on the environment too.

The UK Government have also introduced measures to assist with these efforts, through changes to legislation intended to make HGVs more fuel-efficient, for instance, allowing the use of aerodynamic features. Aside from this, there are a range of additional techniques that have also proven to help HGV drivers be smarter when it comes to fuel economy.

In this article, we’ll discuss a variety of measures that commercial drivers can engage in, in order to become more fuel-efficient.

Check Your Vehicle

As the driver, you’re (as well as the company you work for) responsible for the roadworthiness of your vehicle. You must carry out a walk-round check at the beginning of your shift before you head out onto the road. Whilst this is necessary, at the same time it can also help you save fuel. You can ensure your fuel-efficiency by checking the following:

  • Vehicle exterior – protruding panels, ripped or insecure curtains and loose bodywork
  • Fuel tank – loose fuel cap and fuel leaks
  • Tyres – damage, wrong tyre pressures and missing valve caps
  • Aerodynamics – must be accurately set for the vehicle and trailer (if applicable)
  • Load security and placement – make sure cargo doesn’t extend beyond the width/height of the cab and is sheeted (if required).
  • Start-up – strange mechanical noises and excessive black/white smoke
  • Moving off – evident tracking issues, dragging brakes and steering pulling

Avoid Unnecessary Braking

Harsh braking uses more fuel and demands more gear changes. When the footbrake is used, the road speed lost will have to be made up by using the accelerator, therefore wasting fuel. And when it becomes necessary to switch down a gear, then even more fuel is used. If you have an exhaust brake, make sure to always utilise it where possible.

Keep in mind that your load is also more likely to move around under harsh braking.

Forward Planning

By planning well ahead and keeping your HGV moving, gear changes will be reduced and therefore fuel will be saved. Each time you drop down a gear, the amount of fuel you consume will increase. However, if you plan ahead, this will help lower excessive gear changes. Your high seating position in an HGV can be utilised to your advantage as it gives you more visibility of the road ahead of you. Keeping your vehicle moving, even if it’s at walking pace, demands much less fuel use, in comparison to moving a vehicle from a standstill.

Utilise Cruise Control

If you have cruise control, utilise it – but always in a responsible manner. Cruise control can limit unnecessary acceleration and braking, instead maintaining a steady speed. In order to get maximum fuel efficiency benefits from cruise control, make sure you plan ahead on the road and be aware of your surroundings, especially behind you, so that you can change lanes safely and in good time.

Be Cautious of Speed

Fuel is directly proportional to the speed your HGV is travelling. Higher speeds of course equate to burning more fuel due to increased aerodynamic drag. In addition to this, excessive speed can also put additional strain on the engine and transmission system. So, reduce your speed in order to reduce your fuel consumption. In fact, a 22% drop in fuel usage can be accomplished simply by reducing your speed from 56 to 50 MPH.

Aside from the fact that speeding impacts fuel consumption, it’s also an incredibly serious safety issue. Not only does it put your life but the lives of other road users at risk too, as well as jeopardising your driving licence and therefore career.

Use Gears and Clutch Appropriately

The general rule of thumb is that the less gear changes you make, the less physical activity will be needed and therefore the drive will be more fuel efficient. Even when your HGV is completely laden, it’s not usually necessary to use every gear. The faster you move up the gearbox to top gear, the more fuel you’ll save.

Never double de-clutch on a modern vehicle as it increases clutch wear, in addition to wasting energy and fuel needlessly.

Avoid Unnecessary Idling

Letting your engine idle unnecessarily can in fact waste a great deal of fuel – typically 3% to 5% according to the Government Office for Science. Switch off your engine when you don’t need it on, or you’ve been stationary in traffic for any period of time.

Remember – think about how much fuel you may be wasting before you turn on your engine to warm up your vehicle.

Plan Routes in Advance

Whilst it’s understandable that you may not always be able to pick the route you take, where possible you should consider fuel efficiency when planning routes. For instance, using motorways and dual carriageways can mean a safer, more consistent and more economical drive, in comparison to rural B roads and urban roads. Plus, on motorways and dual carriageways, wear and tear on the engine and running gear will also be reduced, and your HGV will operate at its most economical level.

Keep an Eye on Aerodynamics

Any protrusions will cause drag and therefore waste additional fuel unnecessarily. Some HGVs have built in aerodynamic attachments which you should always make sure are correctly adjusted – your daily inspection of your vehicle will reveal otherwise. When features as such are used correctly, they can help you save between 7% to 15% on fuel consumption. 

Never Overfill Fuel Tank

Fuel expands when it’s hot – it can be heated by the sun as well as the fuel returned from the engine/fuel system. If you fill up the fuel tank to the brim, this means that when the fuel expands, the only way it can escape is through the breather vent. Not only is this a waste of fuel but diesel spillages are a hazard to other road users, especially cyclists and motorcyclists. Therefore, you should never overfill your HGV’s fuel tank.

Optimise Height and Position of Load

The height of your cargo should be kept to a minimum in order to lessen aerodynamic drag. Knowing how to load your HGV is incredibly important in terms of your fuel performance. Sheeting a load or an empty tipper body also reduces aerodynamic drag and will lessen your fuel consumption on the road.

Pay close attention to the way you position your load, in particular on a flat trailer, as this can also have an impact on fuel consumption and aerodynamic drag. But make sure to never overload any of the axles on your vehicle, adjusting the load on each axle can influence fuel consumption too.

As discussed above, it’s important to be mindful of how you’re driving, in order to better optimise how much fuel you’re consuming. By engaging in various measures, from utilising clutch control to checking aerodynamic features on your vehicle, you’ll not only reduce fuel use and therefore operating costs but vehicle emissions too and contribute to greater road safety.

If you’d like to talk to us more about how we can help, call us on 0808 178 9977 or chat to one of our agents right now.