Be road freight savvy: 5 steps to beat the petrol price rise

How UK haulage experts are combatting spiralling fuel costs

It all seemed so different just a year ago. Thanks to the continued reduction in the cost of crude oil, fuel prices had fallen steadily since the third quarter of 2015. The outlook for 2016 was even rosier, with Standard Chartered analysts forecasting that crude could dip as low as $10 per barrel.

Instead, by October it had climbed to the $50 mark, and now prices are at a two-year high, with the world’s largest producers having entered an agreement to limit production. Meanwhile fuel duty remains at 57.95p a litre, despite continued pressure from leading transport bodies for the government to lower it.

Logistics generally has a low profit margin (around 4 per cent, according to the FTA), so haulage businesses have limited capacity to absorb this financial pressure. With the average annual fuel spend for a 44-tonne HGV already at £38,000, drivers and the transport managers who train them (just one of many jobs in their underrated profession) increasingly need to look at sensible actions to make significant savings.

The average annual fuel spend for a 44-tonne HGV already at £38,000

Examine each and every tyre

One of the most effective ways to instantly rectify fuel wastage is also one of the cheapest and easiest: maintaining correct tyre pressures.

Analysis shows that a van with tyres underinflated by 25 per cent will use two per cent more petrol or diesel. In fact, incorrect pressures account for 5 million gallons of fuel wasted daily in the UK alone. It also increases wear, which reduces tyre life and accelerates the need to fork out for replacements.

Make adjustments for airflow

For anyone who’s not a professional driver, the idea of improving the aerodynamics of a seemingly hulking HGV may seem laughable. Of course, in reality, precision adjustments can have a substantial impact on a vehicle’s drag.

There’s a reason most articulated tractor units have adjustable roof-mounted air deflectors. It takes moments to check they are at the optimum angle for guiding air over the highest point.

Any load should be positioned to improve aerodynamics – usually as near as possible to the rear of the cab – while taking care not to overload any axles. With dropside or flatbed trucks, keeping the height to a minimum will also reduce drag, as will properly sheeting a load or an empty tipper body.

incorrect pressures account for 5 million gallons of fuel wasted daily in the UK alone

Use clever driving techniques

Leave a standard 420hp HGV engine idling and stationary, and you will be wasting around two litres of fuel an hour. It pays not to be too hasty to warm a cab, and turn off the engine in traffic that has been stationary for any period of time.

Figures show that every time you change up a gear you improve fuel consumption by at least 10 per cent. So the quicker you move up the gearbox, the more you will save. Additionally, on diesel-powered vehicles, using the exhaust brake instead of the footbrake will halt the delivery of precious fuel to the combustion chamber.

Choose new vehicles carefully

When you’re investigating the benefits offered by a potential new addition to the fleet, ensure the engine management systems will help maximise fuel economy – but also put the manufacturers’ bumf to one side and trust your own eyes.

An HGV with a minimal gap between the cab and trailer will have improved aerodynamic performance. A large space will otherwise force air downwards into it, causing a change in pressure that increases the drag of the vehicle.

Obvious components to look for that improve airflow around a lorry include fairing on the cab roof and trailer front, tractor and trailer side panels, rounded front edges of the cab, a tapered container roof, and dams to stop air passing through the rough underbody.

Also bear in mind that, on average, commercial vehicles in the UK run at two thirds of truck capacity. Carefully planned downsizing isn’t an admittance of defeat. On the contrary, it can lower outlay – including fuel – and so increase profits and bolster business.

Every time you change up a gear you improve fuel consumption by at least 10 per cent

Go back to basics

As fuel use is directly proportional to the speed a vehicle moves at, allowing for a slightly longer journey time can slash costs. Tests show you can achieve a 22 per cent reduction in an HGV’s fuel consumption by reducing its speed from 56 to 50 MPH.

Unnecessary braking and gear changes use up fuel, and drivers should use the visibility advantage of the cab to forward plan effectively. Similarly remember speed gathered under power can be used to ascend and descend hills with less use of the accelerator.

Congested and hilly routes will decrease your MPG, so look for optimal routes for every journey. Driving in adverse weather conditions will also sap power due to the use of lights, demisting and heating.

If you have cruise control, maintaining constant speeds on motorways and dual carriageways will enable full use of it, optimising the system’s ability to provide the right amount of fuel for any situation.

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