Top 7 ways to improve fuel economy in a semi-truck

November 22, 2022

Owner-operators fuel up at the pump.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Fuel is one of the biggest expenses for trucking businesses. Owner-operators who drive an average of 10,000 miles per month could spend $70,000 on fuel every year.

High costs at the pump can add up fast and affect your profitability, especially as diesel prices continue to rise. But there are ways to reduce this expense.

Read on to explore our tips on how to improve fuel economy in a semi-truck.

Why your semi-truck may be using a lot of fuel

There are many factors that contribute to the amount of fuel a semi-truck uses, including:

  • The efficiency of your engine.
  • The size of the load you’re hauling.
  • The terrain you’re driving through.
  • The weather conditions you’re experiencing.
  • The speed you’re driving at.

It takes just one of these variables to change your truck’s average miles per gallon (mpg), but on average:

  • Semi-trucks get 5.6-6.5 mpg.
  • The most fuel-efficient trucks range between 8-10+ mpg.

7 opportunities to improve fuel efficiency in your semi-truck

1. Slow down.

It’s no secret that you burn more fuel the faster you drive. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA):

  • Operating at speeds above 75 miles per hour (mph) uses 27% more fuel than when you travel at 65 mph.
  • Every 1 mph increase in speed equals about a 0.14 mpg decrease in a semi-truck's fuel economy.

The sweet spot for most trucks is between 50 and 60 mph. Reducing your speed even a few miles per hour can significantly increase your mpg.

In the end, that’s extra money in your pocket.

2. Watch that right foot.

Like cars, semi-trucks consume more fuel when accelerating. Rapid accelerations add stress to the engine and transmission, which burns fuel faster.

Controlling your speed can help maximize fuel efficiency. You can do that by:

  • Using cruise control when it’s safe.
  • Staying in the highest gear if possible.
  • Increasing your following distance.
  • Using your truck’s natural momentum.

3. Reduce idling.

Idling your semi-truck burns 0.8 gallons of fuel every hour, the U.S. Department of Energy found. If diesel is priced at $5 per gallon, a 10-hour rest period will cost you $40.

You may find it beneficial to invest in an APU or climate-control system to cut back on idling. The upfront costs may seem daunting, but these alternatives can help you save in the long run.

4. Maintain your tires.

Tires can significantly impact your truck’s fuel economy (and your wallet). Every drop in pressure decreases your mpg by 0.3%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Properly inflated tires can save you 11 cents per gallon on fuel.

The right tire pressure for a semi-truck depends on the following:

  • Brand of tire.
  • Size of tire.
  • Type of tire.
  • Weather conditions.
  • Load weight.

Check your tires for pressure, leaks and punctions before hitting the road. Additional maintenance such as rotations, balances and alignments will make your tires last longer.

5. Plan your trip.

You can save valuable time and money by mapping your route ahead of time. Trip planning will help prevent missed exits and wrong turns, which can lead to more miles and wasted fuel.

Planning your trip can also help you avoid traffic jams and driving through rough terrain.

6. Do business with a carrier.

Some trucking businesses, like Schneider, offer fuel discounts and other tools to owner-operators who do business with the company to help reduce costs at the pump.

Many of the discounts companies offer are competitive with fleet discounts and save owner-operators thousands of dollars each year on fuel.

7. Take advantage of truck stop rewards programs.

Consider rewards programs where you can earn points for simply filling up your tank.

While these points may not lead directly to fuel savings, they may give you discounts on other things you spend money on at truck stops, like food and beverages.