Bottom Line
Modern Trucking Techniques
Down to the last drop
OOIDA Senior Member Henry Albert leaves no detail overlooked when it comes to pushing his fuel mileage ever higher

By Henry Albert, Land Line contributor

Editor's Note: The 10 mpg fuel average may seem to be the fictitious unicorn of the trucking world. But, there are plenty of drivers who have made it a passion to squeeze every lost drop of fuel economy out of their equipment. OOIDA Senior Member Henry Albert from Mooresville, NC, is one of those drivers.

Among other things, he blogs about his quest for the best fuel mileage possible as part of Freightliner's Slice of Trucker Life program.

Henry took some time to share highlights of his journey and how he's now achieving above 9 mpg.

I've been trucking since 1983. In 1996, when I began as an independent owner-operator, that's when operational costs became crucial to my success.

My journey began with a 1996 Freightliner FLD 120 mid-roof with a Series 60 Detroit Diesel engine. The specs on my first truck were 360-400 hp, 1,450 lb.-ft. of torque, 9-speed transmission, 3.73 gears on 275/80R24.5 tires.

My quarterly IFTA reports were coming in at 6.3 to 6.5 mpg. At the time, I was transporting chain link fence, wallboard and plastic conduit. I was able to record better fuel mileage with 49,000 pounds of wallboard vs. 25,000 pounds of chain link fence. Every little piece of wire grabs the air.

I came up with ways on my own to mitigate my aerodynamic deficiencies while pulling chain link fence. When loading, I would request all the wrapped bundles be put up front along with the wide material. In doing this, I was able to shape the load "like a raindrop." I used this loading theory for all of my flatbed shipments.

I purchased a utility 48-foot, 102-inch-wide air ride slider flatbed trailer to replace my 10-foot, 1-inch spread axle to give me even greater flexibility in load positioning for aerodynamics. This was a welcome change as it improved my fuel mileage more than enough to pay for the trailer.

In 2001, I purchased a new Freightliner Century Class 70-inch XT with a Series 60 Detroit Diesel engine. The specs for the second truck were 500 HP, 1650 lb-ft. of torque, 10 speed transmission, 3.55 gears on 275/80R22.5 tires.

With this truck, I was able to reach 6.8 to 7.2 mpg on IFTA quarterly reports. I further refined my methods of loading for aerodynamics.

And in 2009, I was chosen to participate in a program offered through Freightliner Trucks called "Slice of Trucker Life." Three owner-operators were chosen to spec out new 2009 Cascadia trucks for a yearlong test drive. We were to report our day-to-day operations and blog about our experiences on the road. For me, it was like being a kid in a candy store. This was the chance of a lifetime to get exactly what I wanted on a truck. Also, I changed my flatbed operation to dry van.

The new Cascadia featured a 70-inch raised roof, Detroit Diesel DD15, 455 HP, 1,550/1,750 multi-torque engine, 13-speed Eaton Ultra Shift transmission, 3.42 gears, 445/50R22.5 wide-base single tires. I had the same size tires on my dry van trailer as well.

Since making the change to dry van, most of the loads weigh between 15,000 and 30,000 pounds. When I began driving this truck, my fuel mileage was in the low 7 mpg range. As the truck's engine began to break in, fuel mileage increased.

After establishing a good baseline mileage, I started to make aerodynamic modifications to my trailer. The first change was adding side skirts to the trailer. I noticed an immediate .4- to .5-per-gallon increase in fuel mileage. Next, I modified the mud flaps to fit wide base singles properly. Toward the end of my tour with this truck, I added a nose cone to the trailer. At that point, my fuel average was in the high 7 mpg range, and I was achieving over 8 mpg fill-ups.

In 2010 Detroit Diesel introduced their BluTec SCR Emissions Technology and Freightliner continued "Season 2: Reloaded" with the "Slice of Trucker Life" drivers. Each driver again had the opportunity to spec out the new 2011 Cascadia with its updated 2010 emissions.

I kept most of the same specs as the 2009 truck, with the exception of making it a 6-by-2 tag axle configuration. I decided with a bit of care, a tag axle would work well in my operation.

With the new truck, my mileage has rarely been below 8 mpg with my year-to-date mileage at 8.6 mpg. My weekly route consists of a dedicated round-trip run between Charlotte, NC, and Laredo, TX.

This is a good fuel mileage route since the flat part of the run, between Houston and San Antonio, is usually where I get my worst fuel mileage because of high winds.

With the new truck, I have been able to break into the 9 mpg range on a fairly regular basis. I make it into the 10 mpg range on a daily basis but never on an entire tankful. Keep in mind, my load weights run between 15,000 and 30,000 pounds and my self-imposed speed is 65 mph.

Most recently, I've added wheel covers to the truck and trailer, installed a wake reducer and relocated the trailer license plate to a location where it's out of the air flow.

In all fairness to the new truck, I need to include my DEF consumption as well. I've been mostly in the 370 to 390 mpg range at a cost of $2.53 per gallon, which works out to .006 cents per mile. Ironically, my coffee cost per mile is more than my DEF fluid. I recently wrote a blog including many links on my journey to great fuel mileage. LL