Driving to maximize fuel economy

Driving to maximize fuel economy

While working at Shell Oil Co.’s Wood River Research facilities, my engineering team was tasked with determining relationships between gasoline composition and drivability and fuel economy. This would be much easier today due to the impressive electronic devices available, but in 1969, we had to do things the hard way.

I developed a cyclical operational test procedure for use on our chassis dynamometers. We made an audio tape which gave detailed driver commands at precise time intervals. Then we conducted more than 450 different tests using this procedure, and we were often surprised at the results.

For example, a test fuel which exhibited terrible drivability also gave the best fuel mileage. We later determined the reason: This fuel was so bad that the engine would often stall when the driver attempted a rapid acceleration. If the vehicle was at speed, the dyno rolls would continue to turn and rack up distance (miles) while the engine was not using any fuel, because it had died. We hadn’t foreseen that one.

Two lab techs and I drove more than 450 tests, and we learned something incredible: Mileage results had to take the driver into account. I was racing at the time, and I consistently drove 0.5 MPG worse than our best driver because I would stomp the throttle at the voice command. The best driver was more mature, and he would ease into the throttle at each acceleration command. The third driver was between us in mileage consistently. This forced us to consider how drivers influence vehicular fuel economy. Today, I don’t think engines are quite as sensitive to driver differences as they were back then, but the driver is still a significant portion of the equation.

Want more insight from John Martin? Click here to see all of his columns.

Think about how you drive in traffic. If the flow of traffic is steady until a light changes from green to red, watch what the other drivers do. You should instantly get off the throttle, but don’t apply the brakes. Other drivers will often run hard right up until the last moment and then hit the brakes. They will consistently get worse fuel economy because they didn’t think ahead.

How many truck drivers do you observe braking going down a hill? The best driver will think ahead and lose some of his speed by backing off the throttle as he crests the hill in order to avoid braking going down the hill. It’s easy to do—you just have to think ahead. Any time you touch the brake pedal you are losing fuel economy.

As always, best fuel economy is obtained at lower engine speeds because engine pumping losses are minimized. I always give a little silent cheer when I hear a truck driver “short shifting” away from a stop. Way to go! You are the man!

How many trucks do you observe going side-by-side down the freeway holding up traffic? This usually occurs because the driver of the passing truck didn’t think ahead about his passing maneuver. Think like a NASCAR driver and time your pass to be out of the slipstream a minimum of time. A NASCAR driver will follow the vehicle in front until he sees his opportunity to pass quickly. Fleets that instruct truck drivers to do this will get better overall fuel economy.

You May Also Like

Panelite releases new guards, deflectors, sunvisors for Peterbilt 589

Coming to market after a year of development, Panelite says the components fit the Peterbilt
589, and match its style.


Stainless steel accessory manufacturer Panelite has released several new products designed specifically for the new Peterbilt 589. Over the past year, Panelite says its engineers worked to design and develop fender guards, bug deflectors, sunvisors, cab and sleeper panels along with air cleaner light bars for the Peterbilt 589.

"Panelite products are designed to withstand North America's weather and the challenging conditions drivers encounter from coast to coast," said Colin Thur, national sales manager, truck OEM for High Bar Brands, Panelite's parent company.

Beyond standard TPMS: The crucial role of customizable tire health alerts

Delving into the shortcomings of standard TPMS and why customizable tire health alerts are crucial for commercial vehicle fleets.

Driving for Alabama: A family affair

The stories of two truck drivers for ’80s country hitmakers Alabama.

Photos by Amazing Grace Photography
So you want to write for Fleet Equipment?

Of course you do. As the premiere online publication for the heavy-duty truck market, charting the latest in trucking equipment, technology, and service trends, Fleet Equipment has a knack for digging up the stories behind the stories (while having a lot of fun along the way). Now you can be a part of it! But

Write for Fleet Equipment
Babcox Media mourns the passing of Tim Fritz, longtime editor and friend

Babcox Media Editor Tim Fritz passed away on Feb. 23 from a heart attack. He was 53 years old. Related Articles – Debating the merits of ethanol – Why isn’t a truck’s appearance part of the PM process? – Change is coming to U.S. energy policies Tim joined Babcox Media in 1990 and spent 31


Other Posts

Commercial tire market cautiously recovering from 2023 challenges

To better understand commercial tire expectations for the remainder of the year, we spolke with Pierluigi Cumo, VP of B2B products at Michelin North America.

Phillips takes two awards at Penske Supplier Conference

Phillips Industries was awarded both the 2023 Best Performing Supplier – Components Award, and the 2023 Best Innovation Supplier Award.

SAF-Holland to build specialty fifth wheel manufacturing plant

After nearly 50 years and 3 million fifth wheels produced, SAF-HOLLAND will move production from Wylie, TX to the new facility, once complete.

Dayton Parts offers new aftermarket products for Freightliner, Mack, Cummins and Hino applications

A new DPF differential pressure sensor, engine oil dipsticks and fuel injector wiring harnesses designed to match OEM spec.