Maximizing Fuel Economy

July 2, 2008 07:07 AM

Tips From The Pros To Help Cut Fuel Costs Around The Farm

Operating costs are hitting all of us hard. My neighbor just rolled in from filling the diesel tank in the bed of his truck he uses as his rolling service station for farm equipment working out in the fields and a couple pieces of construction equipment spread around the county. The 100-gallon tank just cost him $400 to fill. "That's painful,” was all he could say.

The cost of fuel isn't going down any time soon. In fact, industry experts say we should expect costs to continue to escalate for a while to come.

But there are ways that you can minimize how much fuel, be it gas or diesel, that your vehicles and equipment consume. And stretching fuel economy doesn't necessarily mean investing hundreds or thousands of dollars in engine upgrades and special parts. Changing one's own driving habits does more for improving fuel economy than any mechanical add-on.

For example, knock off the engine warm ups and idle times of your diesels. Newer engines don't need a five-minute warm-up before going to work. Most engine manufacturers say no more than three minutes is more than enough time to get fluids and temps good-to-go even on cold mornings.

Likewise, put a stop to vehicles and equipment sitting around idling. A diesel burns about a gallon-an-hour at idle. That's costing you more than $4/hour in wasted fuel. Idling just one piece of equipment an hour a day adds more than $1,400 a year to your operating costs.

Need to cut down on those fuel costs out on the open road? Slow down. The biggest detriment to a vehicles fuel mileage is wind resistance. The EPA highway fuel economy figures based on an average speed of around 48mph with several minutes of the tests done at speeds ranging up to 80mph. The fuel economy killer is wind resistance: The faster you drive, the more fuel (power) it takes to maintain the higher speed.

As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.30 per gallon for fuel, or reducing your vehicle's fuel economy 7 percent to 10 percent. And the bigger and taller the vehicle is - like a 4x4 pickup – even more fuel economy is lost due to speed.

The same holds true for how you drive in traffic, around town or around the county: The EPA and manufacturers tests show "aggressive driving” (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. That's why using cruise control out on the open roads makes sense and cents.

If you approach stops like there's a baby in the back seat and accelerate like there's an egg under your foot, you're maximizing fuel economy.

Driving your truck with the air-conditioner on all the time also eats into fuel economy. So does driving around with under-inflated tires – both on your truck and on the trailer if one is in tow. Check tires at least once a month and inflate them to the pressure indicated on the placard on the driver's door – or in the owner's manual.

Over-inflating doesn't help fuel economy. What over-inflated tires do is make the vehicle ride worse, accelerate tire wear, lengthen stopping distance and the increase the chances of hydroplaning. Excess weight adds to the fuel-economy woes, too. If you have a lot of heavy tools and gear in your vehicle that isn't needed, chuck it. The lighter the vehicle, the better fuel mileage it gets.

Speaking of better, if there's one product to invest in that has proven to improve fuel mileage it's a tonneau cover – hard or soft , it doesn't matter. A tonneau cover will improve highway (55mph-faster) fuel economy by as much as 5-percent. Oh, keep that tailgate closed. Extensive wind tunnel tests show a dropped tailgate actually decreases fuel economy slightly as it increases the wind drag created inside the bed and at the back of the cab.

Take these driving tips to heart and you will see a reduction of your annual operating fuel costs whether it's one vehicle or a fleet of dozens.—Bruce W. Smith


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