Vehicle Transport: How Not to Let the Wind Drag You Down

The biggest hurdle to get over when spec’ing your truck for fuel efficiency is wind-resistance. Where do you start? You can look online for information on tractor-trailer aerodynamics and reports like this one published by Canada’s National Research Council are useful. In some cases, it seems you could improve efficiency and cut emissions by more than 20% with combined improvements, and the idea of doing that simply by adding some new fairings or other equipment is enticing, especially when you consider the EPA’s Phase 2 regulations and how you can gear up for the future while reducing operating costs. That report from Canada’s NRC is a good starting place to look for how to improve your truck’s efficiency. The prospect of dropping money on these might seem less than desirable, so let’s take a look at the numbers.

These figures are based on the NRC Canada’s fuel savings in liters per year. For now, we will only focus on fuel and cost savings, including how long it takes for the fuel savings to pay for the new equipment. The idea of the US EPA and NHTSA’s Phase 2 regulations is that manufacturers will also start putting these on their trucks before selling them. However, all the following estimates assume the trailer is coming into your possession with no aerodynamic improvements and it is up to you to respec the truck for optimal drag reduction, such as with a glider kit. The study’s standard truck travels around 77,625 miles a year and an average speed of around 60 mph.

Combining fairings, boat-tails, and side skirts can reduce fuel consumption on a sleeper cab truck by about 1700 gallons a year. Using extended skirts and adding a profile roof cuts another 150 gallons, saving $4238 to $4612. Day cabs stand to gain more efficiency from improvements, mostly by virtue of an already larger gap between the cab and the trailer. Day cabs can cut down by around 2100 gallons a year with basic skirts, fairings, etc. which means $5200 in cost savings. A day cab with extended skirts cuts out another 185 gallons, $461. Not bad, right?

There are plenty of testimonials about how various fuel efficiency improvements pay for themselves, sometimes in just over a year. The EPA says carriers should recoup the costs of adding fuel efficiency improving equipment within two to six years, but many times truckers say they see the equipment pay for itself sooner. There will, of course, be some deviations from the projections, but these are often better than worse. Manufacturers have already started offering aerodynamics and other fuel-saving equipment to their new models, adding the cost in to the sticker price. Again, the extra cost is paid off by the improved efficiency, it just takes a matter of time and mileage. These looming regulations might be harder to live by for larger companies, but many small owner-operator companies are already investing. You’re probably among them. The sooner companies start jumping on these basic technologies and investing, the better off things will be. If the fiscal rewards of investment are not enough incentive, maybe let the ecological benefits of improved fuel-efficiency sweeten the deal. Remember, there are government incentive grants available if you are trying to save.

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