Equipment Maintenance = Fuel Savings

As surprising as it may seem to some, proper engine and equipment maintenance saves fuel. How much?, a site developed as a partnership between the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) and Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room (CWR), recently came up with 10 key maintenance components that can affect up to 50 percent of fuel consumption.

The group decided to produce the report because they believe that the prevailing mentality is still to look at maintenance as a cost and not a potential savings. Specifically, not enough fleet owners and supervisors think of maintenance in terms of fuel savings. Changing that attitude can not only produce more efficient, cost-saving measures, but could also have a profound “green” impact on the country, the authors of the study say.

Heavy-duty freight trucks emit 1.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions annually — an estimated 5.5 percent of society’s total greenhouse gas emissions — because of the trucking sector’s dependence on petroleum-based fuels like diesel and natural gas. On average, over the last decade fuel prices have commanded nearly 40 percent of the cost of trucking. That’s why the adoption of efficiency technologies – like the fuel catalyst, for example – by all classes of trucks and heavy equipment fleets offers significant cost savings to the sector while reducing emissions. These technologies are relatively cheap to implement, and are widely available on the market today.

Here are the 10 components they came up with:

  • Lubricants/Engine Oil
  • Intake/Exhaust System and Diesel
  • Particulate Filters
  • Engine Cooling
  • Air Compressors
  • Wheel Alignment
  • Tires
  • Fuel Filter Systems
  • Aerodynamic Devices
  • Electrical Systems
  • Air Conditioning

This isn’t going to be easy. As trucks become infinitely more complex – essentially computers and a myriad of other smart technology on a rolling platform carrying tons of goods at high speeds – isolating which tech offers the best savings through maintenance is going to be very difficult, the authors concede.

Speed Limiting, Good Tires

But both federal regulators and fleet owners have a vested interest in ensuring that engines are burning less fuel more efficiently in such a way to extend the life of vehicles. Federal safety regulators, for example, are proposing that heavy-duty vehicles be equipped with speed-limiting devices set to a specific maximum speed. This new standard would require each vehicle, as manufactured and sold, to have its device set to a speed not greater than a specified speed and to be equipped with means of reading the vehicle’s current speed setting and the two previous speed settings (including the time and date the settings were changed) through its onboard diagnostic connection.

What’s the benefit of this new standard, which will likely set a speed cap at somewhere between 65 and 70 mph? The big reason is safety – to limit the damage from truck-auto collisions. But, there’s also a green argument.

“There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking,” said Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.” Carriers that are already using speed limiters voluntarily “have found significant safety, as well as fuel efficiency and equipment lifespan benefits with little to no negative impact on productivity,” he added.

Another key piece of equipment is tires. Tires account for one-third of a tractor-trailer’s fuel usage (some 2 mpg) at highway speed, with rolling resistance accounting for up to 35 percent of the fuel consumed by a big rig, according to Michelin Truck Tires.

The Next Evolution in Maintenance

“The next evolution in maintenance, therefore, will be a new sort of PM: not preventive but predictive maintenance,” the authors write. “A predictive maintenance system functions using telematics devices and an array of vehicle sensors in order to record and wirelessly relay vehicle performance data, including any issues that may arise, back to the fleet, which in turn can quickly respond…”

“Fleets should be willing to invest in technologies and/or staff to optimize their maintenance protocols, and they should monitor fuel economy savings in order to justify those investments.”