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Understanding how to keep fuel costs down — that’s how you roll
Want to save fuel? Of course you do. Any truck operator has fuel economy as a top priority. But with so many products on the market promising savings, and the need to optimize every dollar spent, how do you choose an option that can really make an impact?
You can start from the bottom. Let’s look at how changing the type of tires you put on your truck can make a difference in your miles per gallon.
Normal travel down the road causes a constant state of friction — or resistance — between the tire and the asphalt. Low rolling resistance tires are based on a simple principle: tires that coast down the road more easily use less fuel than tires that need a driver to bear down on the pedal to move forward. How much less? Tire rolling resistance accounts for nearly 13 percent of truck energy use.
By using a different structure, tread pattern and material than standard tires, these low rolling resistance tires cut down on how hard “the rubber meets the road.” A low rolling resistance tire can reduce fuel use by 3 percent or more compared to the best-selling traditional tires in the same class.
The easiest way to find tires that will meet that standard is to choose from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program list of verified low rolling resistance tires. These tires are listed by brand and type on the SmartWay website. Taking a bit of time to research the right tire for your application could pay real money in fuel savings over the long haul.
Super singles (wide-based) tires are another option that has grown increasingly popular in the trucking industry. Lowered rolling resistance is one of the benefits, since a single wide tire encounters less resistance than two standard tires.
A secondary benefit to be considered is the weight reduction that results from the single rim and tire. Total weight savings for a tractor and trailer is between 800 and 1,000 pounds. That adds up to a reduction in fuel use or an increase in cargo capacity. Couple the wide-based tire with the lighter weight aluminum wheel, and you have a winning combination. Wide-based tires reduce drag and noise levels as well.
When making the switch to super singles, drivers need to check the inch-wide laws to avoid extending their truck’s footprint beyond the legal limit. The transition will require a change in the type of rim being used and you will likely need professional guidance.
Some drivers are hesitant about using super singles due to concern about what happens if there is a tire failure or a flat. Yes, that would require a roadside service call instead of a rough ride to a truck service center. But here is where I must spend a little time talking about one of my favorite subjects: tire pressure. It is especially critical when riding on wide-based tires. Every time you do a walkaround, you must be diligent about checking tire pressure.
But that’s true no matter what type of tires you choose to put on your truck.
Several years ago a study was conducted on tire casing found on the roadways. The standard assumption was that they came from retreaded tires, which were thought to be less reliable than new tires. The assumption was wrong.
In fact, the researchers discovered that half of the casings were from new tires. Further analysis showed that low air pressure was typically the cause of tire failure, for both new tires and retreaded tires.
Tires lose two to four psi of air each month, naturally. More can be lost from any punctures that occur when a vehicle rolls over debris in the highway.
So get those pressure gauges out and check the air in those tires frequently to avoid a tire failure and to lower the rolling resistance. The smartest tire in the world will not be able to improve your fuel economy if the air pressure is not adequate to support the vehicle and the cargo.
Homer Hogg, Technical Training Manager for TA and Petro, has worked as a truck technician for more than 30 years. He is ASE Master-certified, a Daimler Certified Trainer and a member of the Nashville Auto Diesel College Hall of Fame.
Homer Hogg’s “Maintenance Matters” airs on the Dave Nemo Show (Road Dog Trucking, SiriusXM 106), 8 a.m. ET, the first and third Thursday of each month.