Don't Sit Idle as Fuel Costs Climb

Rising U.S. crude oil consumption, ongoing instability in oil-rich countries and growing global demand in developing nations pretty much guarantee diesel fuel prices will spike just in time for your construction season to hit full swing. As of mid-April, the U.S. Energy Administration (www.eia.gov) was forecasting an average price of $4.21/gal., an increase of $.27 from last summer.

Unfortunately, such a rise in fuel price is nothing new; diesel fuel has climbed $1.75/gal. in just the past three years. Since it seems unlikely we’ll see any changes in legislative policy or in the availability of fuel sources that will have a meaningful impact on prices anytime soon, fuel costs appear destined to make up an increasingly larger percentage of your company’s costs of operation for the foreseeable future.

Consequently, it’s on your shoulders to implement changes in your organization to help reduce that percentage. Following are some areas to consider:

Properly trained operators, and drivers, tend to be more fuel efficient. A lot of changes have taken place in the past decade in terms of machine functionality. Operators who understand how to take advantage of features such as economy modes will be able to lower fuel use. Make sure operators know when and how to apply fuel-saving features and/or adjust settings to the application. They should also know how to position a machine for optimal productivity with minimal movement and/or travel.

Likewise, ensure all employees using company vehicles understand the necessity to drive with fuel efficiency in mind. Tromping on the accelerator, excessive engine idling or revving, hard braking and other “bad habits” will quickly drain a fuel tank.

If excess fuel consumption is a consistent problem, consider installing equipment tracking systems to monitor both vehicle/equipment fuel efficiency and driver/operator performance.

Establishing more efficient routes will save both time and money. This is true whether on a jobsite or on the streets. Mapping out transport, loading and haul routes in advance can shorten travel/cycle times and help avoid uphill travel and other fuel-guzzling conditions. For city driving, pre-determined routes can reduce both mileage and time spent idling in traffic.

If you have a number of fleet vehicles in regular service, consider utilizing a GPS-based logistics system to map and track vehicle movement. GPS units in the vehicles will also enable drivers to find destinations and/or alternate routes more quickly.

Fuller loads equal fewer loads. Designate your most fuel-efficient vehicle(s) for longer travel distances and strongly encourage (or mandate) carpooling to jobsites where feasible. Use available space in truck beds to transport tools, equipment or materials needed on the site.

Utilize the full payload capacity of any trailers heading to your jobsites. Determine if smaller equipment or lighter weight materials can be added without exceeding capacity limits. Avoid letting partially empty trailers leave your yard whenever possible.

A good PM program keeps fuel use from escalating. Preventive maintenance is one of the first things that can start to slide as project schedules heat up. Yet, plugged filters and aging fluids place added strain on engines and other components. More power, and fuel, will be required to achieve the same level of performance. By maintaining regular service intervals, you will keep equipment working at optimal efficiency, and help keep fuel costs from creeping upward.

For additional tips on managing fuel costs, visit the Business and Fleet Management sections of ForConstructionPros.com.

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