If you’re planning to expand your truck fleet or replace aging trucks this year, one important factor to guide your decision is projected fuel economy. Just a modest 2 mpg improvement can create anywhere from several hundred to $2,000 or more in annual fuel savings per vehicle, operating 30,000 miles per year (depending on the truck class and assuming $3.05 per gallon fuel costs). Multiply that savings by the size of a truck fleet and the potential is obvious.

When evaluating manufacturers and their truck offerings, what resources are available to most accurately research and compare projected fuel economy?

The answer depends on the size of the truck you’re looking to compare. For example, if you’re acquiring a vehicle from a mid-size to a 1/2-ton full-size pickup or van, most of the research can be done easily on the Web. Vans, trucks, and SUVs under 8,500 lbs. gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) are required to meet federal fuel economy standards. Therefore, each vehicle’s projected fuel economy ratings for both city and highway driving are published and easy to access through Web resources.

However, vehicles 8,500 lbs. GVWR or above are exempt from federal fuel economy requirements, making it more challenging to project fuel economy. These vehicles include 3/4-ton and 1-ton pickups, vans, and medium-duty trucks (such as cab-overs and conventional chassis cabs).

Working with Vehicles Under 8,500-ls. GVWR

Where on the Web are the resources to accurately evaluate fuel economy of trucks under 8,500 lbs. GVWR?

A productive place to start is www.fueleconomy.gov, created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Once logged onto the site, click "Compare Side-by-Side." Select the model-year you want to compare and the site will guide you from there.

Once a comparison report is generated, keep in mind the site is assuming what it deems standard usage when calculating combined mpg. By standard, the Web site assumes 55-percent city mileage, 45-percent highway mileage. Actual usage may differ. To create a comparison report that more accurately reflects how your company will use the vehicle, click on the link for "Customize with Your Gas Prices and Annual Miles." You can then adjust the city and highway percentages.

Other services the site provides to assist in research include:

  • MPG Estimates from Users. This link provides access to the fuel economy actual users of particular vehicles say they are getting.
  • Print Fuel Economy Guide. Published annually, this guide provides fuel economy values for the full range of makes and models for the model-year.
  • Why MPG Varies. This section outlines the variables that may affect fuel economy and how they can be accounted for in planning.

Other Online Resources

The following are additional online resources to guide research on fuel economy considerations.

  • www.edmunds.com/fueleconomy. This site provides articles, such as Top 10 Most Fuel-Efficient Trucks and SUVs, among other resources.
  • www.kbb.com. Kelley Blue Book offers lists on "Gas Mileage Champs."

The Change in EPA Standards for 2008 Model-Year

To better reflect real-world operation, the EPA has changed the way it estimates mpg. Starting with the 2008 model-year, the EPA accounts for the impact of the following factors on fuel economy:

  • Faster speeds and acceleration.
  • Air conditioner use.
  • Colder outside temperatures.

A 1-2 mpg or so difference may be noticed when comparing the window sticker mpg estimates on a 2008 model to a 2007 truck with the same equipment.

What if you want to compare EPA ratings of 2008 trucks with previous model-year trucks? What conversion must be made to compare apples to apples? The Web site, www.fueleconomy.gov, has already converted older model years in its mpg comparisons to mitigate this issue. The site also offers a mpg conversion calculator at www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/ratings2008.shtml

Working with Vehicles Above 8,500-lbs. GVWR

What about researching vehicles that exceed 8,500 lbs. GVWR, including 3/4- and 1-ton pickups, vans, and medium-duty chassis? The EPA doesn’t offer published guidelines. How then, can accurate comparisons be made?

This objective is definitely more difficult. You can’t just visit a Web site and compare truck to truck. Even more challenging, the real-world fuel economy on a single medium-duty chassis can range widely, depending on the truck’s application and daily load requirements. Will the truck be used in mostly stop-and-go conditions or will it operate primarily on the highway? Will the truck need to idle lengthy amounts of time for PTO operation?

Despite the variables, however, reasonably accurate mpg info can be gathered. Here’s an idea that should point you in the right direction.

Contact three to four industry peers who are using one, the other, or both of the makes and models you’re evaluating. Ask these questions:

  • What average fuel economy are you getting from this type of truck? This is a starting point. The next questions will help compare usage to that of your own trucks.
  • What percentage of the truck’s usage is city mileage? What percentage is highway mileage? Evaluate whether their usage reflects your own. If not, adjust accordingly.
  • What type of body or upfits do you have on the truck? Weight affects fuel economy. You want to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison.
  • Is the vehicle regularly maintained? Even the smallest maintenance items, such as checking tire pressure, can significantly impact fuel economy. If your contact follows a consistent maintenance schedule, you will gain a more accurate read on projected fuel economy.

Sales literature from many of the truck manufacturers publish claims for "improved fuel economy." This may very well be the case due to the availability of more efficient engine technologies. However, how do you, as the purchaser, quantify what "improved" really means? Let those whom you respect, who actually use the trucks, provide their assessment.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to projecting fuel costs, why take a shot in the dark? Leverage the resources available on the Web and the knowledge of peers in your industry to gain the objective information needed to make the best decision for your company.