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As an owner-operator, these are the best 4 ways I save on fuel costs

As an owner-operator, these are the best 4 ways I save on fuel costs

In the trucking industry, the fluctuating cost of fuel is one of the biggest expenses. However, you can control and reduce fuel expenses if you follow the best practices while operating your truck and getting it ready for the road.

I’ve been a professional truck driver for over 20 years now, and here are a few tips I’ve learned on the road that may help with fuel optimization.

Reduce speed

Reducing your speed can significantly limit your fuel expenses.

Keeping your RMPs lower at cruising speed can help with fuel consumption. According to the Department of Energy, every 5 MPH over 50 will cost you an extra 0.19 cents per gallon. That means if your current MPG is 6 MPG at an average cost of $3.25 a gallon, your cost is 0.54 cents a mile.

However, if you can reduce your speed to 55 and improve your MPG to 8, your average cost per mile is now 0.40 cents per mile.

If your yearly average is 130,000 miles, that is an average savings of $18,200 that you can add to your bottom line by the end of the year. That breaks down to almost 8 truck payments a year—depending upon your payment plan.

You can also reduce fuel expenses by using cruise control and maintaining speed on flat, straight stretches. The new automatic transmissions also help with correct shift timing and by lowering excessive fuel waste while shifting gears.

Reducing hard braking and excessive acceleration can also help reduce fuel cost. You do not have to jam your foot to the floor and accelerate through the gears as fast as possible. Taking your time accelerating through the gears at a reasonable pace, skipping gears when possible, will save as much as 10-40% in fuel during stop and go traffic.

In the KeepTruckin Dashboard, you can monitor how many times a critical safety event (such as hard braking, hard cornering, and excessive acceleration) is recorded. You can use this information to identify mistakes, improve driving habits, and optimize fuel consumption.

Reduce unnecessary idling

Another way you can reduce your fuel consumption is by reducing your idle time. It is estimated that idling your truck can burn 1 gallon of fuel per hour. In other words, idling your truck during your ten-hour break can cost you at least 10 gallons of fuel a day, or at the cost of $3.25 a gallon, $32.50 a day.

One way you can reduce your idle time is buying an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) when you buy your truck. It is expected that by doing so, you will reduce your fuel consumption to 1 gallon a day at a savings of $29.25 a day. It means that if you are on the road 140 days a year, you save $4,095 annually.

Another way I have personally reduced my idle time is by shutting my truck off at fuel islands while fueling.

If you fuel once a day for 15 minutes using the same figures as above, you have reduced your idle time by more than 20 hours in a year and saved another $65. Not much, but in a business that counts pennies for profits, it adds up.

Because I have a pet in my truck, I idled well above the average of 50% to over 65-70%. That is now down to 1% because of my APU, reducing my cost by more than $5000 a year.

Improve vehicle maintenance

Another way to reduce fuel cost is by keeping your vehicle properly maintained. By performing the required pre-trip and post-trip inspections, a driver will often find defects that may lead to excessive cost in fuel and repairs. You can reduce fuel cost and improve handling by simply maintaining proper tire inflation.

In fact, when you spec your truck, you will want to research tires with the best rolling resistance for your operation. The less rolling resistance, the better fuel mileage you will get. Michelin has done the most research in this area. You can go to their website to compare tires.

By keeping up with your preventive maintenance schedule, you can make sure you have the correct filter change intervals for your fuel system. Also, be sure to carry an extra filter in case the fuel gels up due to weather conditions.

Fuel filters, oil filters, and regular oil change intervals safeguard proper lubrication for your engine. This causes less friction and in turn, saves fuel. This is also a good time to take oil samples, so you may possibly diagnose any internal problems with your engine.

Axle alignment is also critical for handling, improving miles per gallon as well as reducing tire wear. Even as something as small as 1/32 off on your alignment can cause excessive tire wear, shortening the life of your tires and costing you MPG.

Aerodynamics will also help you get better fuel mileage. Repairing any body damage that takes away how the air flows around you truck can improve mileage.

Devices like Flow Below, Air Tabs, wheel covers, and trailer skirts can increase your MPG from .2-1 MPG. This may seem like a minimal gain, but as I said, pennies add up and could mean as much as another truck payment by the end of the year. At 0.2-1 MPG, these simple, low-cost fixes can pay for themselves within six months.

Plan your trips

No amount of planning can overcome everything. However, proper trip planning can help you avoid wrong turns, congestion, and excessive miles, saving you extra fuel, time, and possible repairs.

According to ATRI (American Transportation Research Institute), the average cost for congestion per truck averaging 150,000 miles per year is about $34,000 a year. Proper time management and trip planning can help avoid congested areas during peak travel time and lower this additional cost.


It is possible to reduce fuel expenses by carefully planning your trips, minimizing idling, improving vehicle maintenance, and follow other best practices mentioned in this article.

If you have KeepTruckin’s ELD, you can view the vehicle utilization rate and idle time in your dashboard. The KeepTruckin ELD also helps identify vehicle maintenance issues early with fault-code detection and real-time alerts. Learn more about this.

By using these features, you can optimize fuel consumption and reduce your operating cost throughout the year.


Clifford Petersen

Clifford Petersen is a full-time driver and writer with over 20 years of experience in the trucking industry. An ex-Marine, Clifford was honorably discharged in 1985, and began driving as an owner-operator. He is proud to have over 3,000,000 accident-free miles. He is pursuing his Masters and Ph.D. in Psychology.