Editor's Note: This article has been updated! Check out this revised version published in February 2022. 

 -  Photo via  PublicDomainPictures  from  Pixabay

Photo via PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Although fuel prices continue to rise, you can take action to maximize fuel efficiency. Here are 20 suggestions for better fuel economy and best practices from small fleet operators.  

1. Avoid Long Idling

The worst mileage a vehicle can get is 0 MPG, which occurs when it idles. Idling for long periods of time, whether at a railroad crossing, stop light, or pulling off the road to make a call, consumes gas that could be saved by simply turning off the engine. Restarting an engine uses about the same amount of gas as idling for 30 seconds. Fleet managers should encourage drivers to shut off their engine when idling for longer periods of time.

However, note that turning off the engine may disable vehicle functions, including safety features like airbags. Drivers should be certain to only utilize this strategy in situations where there is no possibility of collision.

Don't forget to capitalize on your fleet's telematics system by setting alerts to monitor idling.

2. Get a Fleet Fuel Card

A fuel management program controls fuel expense by limiting the grade of fuel purchased and other non fuel-related items. Fuel cards can provide managers with data about fuel purchases and allow the company to set parameters to prevent unauthorized spending. Further, fuel card exception reports can help to identify purchases of more gallons of fuel than the capacity of the fuel tank, which may indicate that a driver is fueling another vehicle or storing fuel in gas canisters for personal use. They can also monitor multiple refuelings during the weekend and too-frequent refueling that doesn't correspond with a vehicle's MPG. 

3. Eliminate Unnecessary Weight

Spring cleaning can happen anytime, folks! Cars and trucks get much better mileage when they're not loaded with unnecessary weight. Every 200 lbs. of additional weight trims 1 mile off fuel efficiency. Most drivers accumulate material in their trunks, some of it non-required. Encourage your drivers to remove all unnecessary items from their vehicle, such as unneeded tools or materials.

4. Keep Tires Inflated to the Correct Pressure

Buy tire gauges for your drivers so they can ensure that tires are inflated to the manufacturer's recommended level. One underinflated tire can cut fuel economy by 2% per pound of pressure below the proper inflation level. One out of four drivers, on average, drive vehicles with one or more underinflated tires. When a tire is underinflated by 4 to 5 psi below the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure, for example, vehicle fuel consumption increases by 10 percent and, over the long haul, will cause a 15% reduction in tire tread life. Check the vehicle's doorpost sticker for minimum tire inflation pressure.

New tire design technology can also help to improve safety, increase sustainability, and lower costs.

5. Use Cruise Control During Highway Driving

Unnecessary changes in speed are wasteful. The use of cruise control helps improve fuel economy.

6. Don't Buy Premium Fuel

Resist the urge to buy higher-octane gas for "premium" performance, unless the car requires it. Octane has nothing to do with gasoline performance; it merely indicates the volatility factor in the combustion chamber. Unless the owner's manual of your vehicle specifically requires it, don't use premium fuel. Fuel costs could be cut as much as 10 cents per gallon by using regular fuel instead of premium.

7. Drive the Posted Speed Limit

This tip may save a life as well as fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a 10%  to 15% improvement in fuel economy by driving 55 instead of 65 mph.

8. Monitor Preventive Maintenance Schedules

Proper maintenance increases a vehicle's fuel economy.

  • Unaligned wheels that fight each other waste fuel.
  • Keep the air filter clean. A dirty filter clogs an engine's air supply, causing a higher fuel-to-air ratio and thereby increasing gasoline consumption.
  • Use good-quality, energy conserving (EC) oils with a viscosity grade consistent with the manual. Look for bottles marked with the symbol ECII, which is the American Society of Testing Materials logo for fuel-efficient oils.

9. Make Drivers Energy Conscious

Similar to turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms at home, drivers should practice energy conservation habits in their vehicles as well. If a vehicle has a trip computer, encourage drivers to use the "instant fuel economy" display to refine driving habits.

10. Use A/C Sparingly

Use the air conditioner only when needed. The air conditioner puts extra load on the engine, forcing more fuel to be used. An air conditioner is one of the biggest drains on engine power and fuel economy. It can reduce gas consumption by 5% to 20%, depending on the type of vehicle and the way it is driven. Don't use it as a fan to simply circulate air. If it's just too hot to bear without A/C, keep it set around 72 degrees. Use the vent setting as much as possible.

More Tips from Mike Antich: 10 Ways to Reduce Fuel Spend

11. Park in the Shade

Parking in the shade increases fuel economy since not as much gas will evaporate when the car is out of the sun. Air conditioning won't need to work as hard to cool down the interior. 

12. Encourage Carpooling

Encourage carpooling through incentive programs. Possible incentives include reduced cost or free parking, preferred parking, or reward programs such as prize drawings. Employers can help employees form carpools through rideshare organizations, which help potential carpoolers locate others nearby with similar schedules. If you have several employees going to the same work location or job site, ask them take one vehicle instead of driving separately.

13. Make Your Vehicle More Aerodynamic

Wind drag is a key source of reduced fuel mileage, causing an engine to work harder, thereby reducing fuel economy. Minimize wind drag by keeping the windows rolled up. This allows air to flow over the body, rather then drawing it inside the cabin and slowing down the vehicle. A wide-open window, especially at highway speeds, increases aerodynamic drag, which could result in a 10% decrease in fuel economy. If you want fresh air, run the climate system on "outside air" and "vent," and crack the window for additional ventilation. Lowering the tailgate of a pickup creates turbulence, causing wind drag and a less fuel-efficient truck at highway speeds. By leaving the tailgate up, a smooth bubble of air is created in the bed.

14. Purchase a Fuel-Efficient Vehicle

Purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles is a great way to save on gas. Since this article originally ran in 2007, we're now in a world that is increasingly adopting alternative fuels and shifting to EVs. Don't underestimate your environmental and monetary impact by electrifying your fleet.

15. Anticipate Traffic Flow

Anticipate traffic conditions and accelerate and decelerate smoothly-it's safer, uses less gas and reduces brake wear.In stop-and-go commuter traffic, look two or more vehicles ahead as you keep an eye on the driver in front of you. This enables you to accelerate and decelerate more gradually. By anticipating a traffic light change, an upcoming stop sign, or the need to slow down for a curve, you can avoid or reduce brake use and save gasoline in the process. Like the "jackrabbit start," the "jackrabbit stop" is also a major contributor to inefficient driving.

16. Avoid Aggressive Driving

Time studies show that fast starts, weaving in and out of traffic, and accelerating to and from a stop light don't save much time and wear out components such as brakes and tires faster. Simply limiting quick acceleration and fast braking can increase fuel economy. When accelerating, pretend you have a fresh egg underneath your right foot. A light, steady pressure helps to minimize the amount of fuel consumed and maintain a more moderate and steady speed. By not driving aggressively, drivers can save up to 20% in fuel economy, advises the EPA.

17. Avoid Uphill Speed Increases

When climbing a hill, the engine is already working hard to overcome gravity. Pushing it harder by stepping on the gas is simply a waste of fuel.

18. Check the Web for the Best Fuel Deals

GasBuddy.com is a network of more than 179 city-specific websites with gas price information posted by users. Browse this site on your mobile phone to find cheap gas on-the-go.

19. Fill Up in Mild Weather

Fill up during the coolest time of the day, because during these times gasoline is densest. Gas pumps measure volumes of gasoline, not densities of fuel concentration.

20. Use a Wholesale Club or Grocery Store

Does your company have a business membership to a warehouse chain such as Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale Club? Typically these wholesale clubs offer some of the lowest gas prices in town. The downsides are that you may find lines at the pumps and the cost of membership will offset some of your savings if all you do is buy gas. Yet, if you shop at one of these anyway, or you're a heavy gas user, you may still find the savings worthwhile. Also, discount retailers (Wal-Mart, Kmart) and grocery stores that have pumps often charge less than the competition to get people on their lots, plus there's no membership fee.

Additional Tips from Fleets

Using Passive GPS Increases Routing Efficiency

Mark Wilson, Operations Manager
Swish Maintenance Limited
Ontario, Canada
Cleaning products supplier
Fleet size/type: 10 Cube vans, 12 service vans, 15 passenger vehicles, 15 tractor-trailers

Wilson is tackling rising fuel costs with GPS tracking reports, pump savings and more fuel-efficient vehicles. Wilson uses a passive GPS system, which does not allow real-time tracking but also does not incur a monthly charge. He uses the reports to find out if a driver had to detour from his route too far so as to not make the stop cost-effective.

Wilson averages the cost per stop against the company's average margin on sales. For clients on the losing side of those numbers, he's been looking at ways to build the order and decrease the delivery frequency.

While he's seen his vendors tack on fuel surcharges to deliveries to his company, Wilson says it's not an accepted practice in his industry. Wilson has been able to use the tracking information to cut down on idle time as well. The company leases some trucks from Ryder.

The trucks save a few pennies on gas at Ryder fuel locations as part of the deal. The company mandate is for fuel-efficient vehicles, Wilson says. Wilson analyzed the cap costs, fuel efficiency and resale value of a Camry hybrid versus a Chevy Impala and factored in his sales force's annual miles. He found that the Camry hybrid became cost effective in the third year of use, so he bought the car.

"We want to be friendly to the environment. So even if [the costs] came out the same, we didn't use the fuel," Wilson says.

Preventing Fuel Pilferage

Fred Sprenza
Transportation Manager
ARC Broward, Inc.
Sunrise, Fla.
Disabled care agency
Fleet size/type: 50 12-15 passenger vans, Ford E350, Chevy Express vans

Sprenza uses a fleet fuel card to monitor fuel purchases and thus lower the fuel bill. "By reviewing the fuel card reports I recently discovered that a particular driver's van was getting only three miles per gallon.

It's an older van but it was running fine with no computer trouble codes. One day I followed the driver from the agency on her morning run to a local gas station. Lo and behold another SUV pulled up behind her and proceeded to fuel up on the same pump and the same purchase.

I confronted her when she returned to the agency. It turns out it was her boyfriend's vehicle. I fired her on the spot for the fuel pilferage."

Most industry experts agree that a 15 percent savings in overall operating costs is possible by using a fuel management program.

Switching to Propane

Rick Longobart
Fleet Services Superintendent
City of Inglewood Fleet Management and Transit Services
Police, water and sewer, street division, facilities, public transportation and motorpool
Fleet size/type: 600, vehicles and equipment to facilitate the above

The City of Inglewood is switching most of its fleet to run on propane fuel. This is no small undertaking-it involves installing a 1,200 gallon propane tank and digital fueling dispenser that will interface with the existing fuel management system.

The city secured a Propane Energy Resources Council (PERC) grant, which is available to government and private businesses. The grant will cover the cost of the electrical installation for the propane station and leave a balance of $253,000 in grant funds to replace and retrofit older equipment.

The switchover is driven by the very low cost of propane. The cost per gallon, which depends on quantity, is presently $1.27 for Inglewood's fleet. Longobart estimates savings of $30,000 per year by operating city vehicles on propane.

Because propane-powered vehicles operate cleaner, Longobart expects to see additional savings in maintenance. 

Getting Serious on Idling

Stuart Aust
Owner and Founder
Paramus, NJ
Termite pest, bird and animal control Fleet size/type: 25 vehicles, VW bugs, Ford Rangers, F-150s.

Aust has a GPS tracking system installed in his fleet, and has been using it to get serious on lowering idle times. He was able to correlate times on one employee's cell phone bill with the GPS tracking reports to know that he was on a break, staying cool in the truck while making a personal call-for two hours in one day.

"Anybody that's idling for more than five minutes gets spoken to by a manager right away," says Aust. "We tell the guys if you're sitting in the vehicle you're obviously not working on the account, so we're going to consider idling a break. After 15 minutes we consider that downtime."

Aust has tightened up efficiency in routing by cross-training employees for both animal and termite control. Now two faraway jobs, which previously would have required separate trips, can be handled by one tech.

"There's an investment up front, but in the long run it's helping us to be more efficient," Aust says. Aust also uses routing software specifically designed for the pest control market. Originally both technicians and inspectors drove pickup trucks.

Now only the service techs drive the trucks. The inspectors drive fuel-efficient VW Beetles, which also serve as mobile billboards for the pest control company.

Weighing the ROI of "Right-Sizing" the Fleet

Joe Christenson
Plumbing Plus and Remodel Works Bath & Kitchen Poway, Calif.
Kitchen, bath plumbing and remodeling Fleet size/type: 30, Chevy 3500 service vans and 1-ton pickups

To save fuel costs Christenson has been "right-sizing" his vehicles to the specific job. He moved a drywall specialist out of a van and into a more fuel-efficient Toyota Tundra pickup with a truck cap fitted with bins and side openings. The change upped his fuel economy from 10-11 mpg to 16-17 mpg, though it hurt on the marketing end.

The large white space on the vans makes for great mobile billboards; not so for the pickups. For the remodeling business, he'll probably stick with the vans. "We were able to do $366,000 worth of business last year on the remodeling side just from people who saw our trucks, or about $20,000 worth of business per vehicle," Christenson says.

Christenson says he'll move toward diesel-powered vehicles for greater fuel savings and longer engine life. Because each van drives more than 25,000 miles a year, he'll recoup the initial diesel premium in a year.

The company is also investing in a custom-built scheduling program for more efficient routing. The program gives each job type-bathtub installation, laying tile-its own code. The codes correspond with each employee's skills. Jobs can be scheduled precisely factoring time, distance, skills and materials needed.

The scheduling program may run as much as $10,000 to build and install, but fits into Christenson's philosophy of automation. He only has one person in accounting; similar businesses have four.

The company streamlines procedures using two GPS systems, one of which processes timecards electronically via Nextel phones.

This article originally was published as "20 Ways to Save Fuel" on Sept. 1, 2007 and appeared in the September 2007 print issue of Business Fleet. This version has been slightly adapted.

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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