On the Road

The 1.6 MPG Epiphany, Part II

July 3, 2013

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Carlos Cruz and is 2013 Freightliner Cascadia.
Carlos Cruz and is 2013 Freightliner Cascadia.

I should probably update the title of this blog, but that would make it seem like a new story. It should now read "The 3.5 mpg Epiphany."

This is actually a follow up to a blog I wrote a little over a year ago about a fellow, Carlos Cruz, who was a struggling lease-purchase driver. He wasn't making any money and was about to walk away from the truck when he decided to try some of the fuel saving tips he had read about and heard about on the radio. In a single cross-country trip, operating properly, his fuel economy jumped from about 6.2 mpg to the low-seven range. After a month of running like that, he maintained and often topped 7.8 mpg.

Today, his 90-day average is over 8 mpg, and his personal loaded best at 75,000 GVW or more is 9.7 mpg. He says the difference in fuel costs now compared to a year ago is about $300 to $400 per week or about $15,000 to $20,000 a year in additional revenue. Needless to say, he's now a very happy and -- dare I say -- prosperous owner-operator.

Much has happened to Cruz since that first story appeared in this space in May of 2012. While he's not the fame-and-glory type at all, he has graciously and very willing accepted the role of go-to-guy at the company for helping struggling owner-operators with better fuel economy. He is mentoring several drivers already, and he thinks nothing of spending many hours helping other drivers achieve what he has accomplished.

And he got a new truck in the deal. He's now driving a 2013 Cascadia, which is ironic because it was Daimler's reported fuel economy results from such a truck that originally prompted Cruz to contact me. I had reported the results Daimler provided on the cross-country fuel test last year -- 9.31 mpg on a cross-country trip averaging 62 mph. Cruz was incredulous, and sent me an email with the subject line, "Cascadia Scamulation." Based on his experience, he obviously did not believe the reported results were possible.

While Cruz, in his new Cascadia, is not yet averaging 9.31 mpg, he has exceeded that mark a few times, and it remains his goal.

Going Against the Grain

In his fuel economy presentation to new recruits, he talks about the transition from barely making it financially to setting and reaching fuel economy goals. He describes how he had to get over the usual old devils of ego and peer pressure to get what he really wanted -- a better income.

"Slowing down was the hardest part," he says. "I had to get my ego over the fact that everybody on the road was passing me, and I was fighting with the incorrect notion that I had to get more miles to make more money. At first it was hard to fight the urge to put my foot down. Even my dispatchers were telling me 55 was too slow."

Cruz says he has never been late for an appointment because he took too long to get there. His calculations revealed that most trips allowed an average road speed of 45 mph.

"There was plenty of time to meet my appointments, so why was I driving at 62? I started planning my trips for 55 and still arrived early," he says. "At 62, I was just throwing away money."

He described one particular trip where he had a new-hire with him as a trainee. He had noticed over a period of time another truck with a coach and trainee passed them three or four times during the day. Cruz was humming along at 55 mph while the other truck was doing 66. They wound up together at the Petro in Kingman, Az. late in the day and they started ribbing Cruz about going so slow.

"I said, well, we're here at the same time and I'll bet my fuel mileage is a lot better than yours," Cruz recalls. "We compared number and sure enough, I was 8.3, he was 7.6. I spent some time talking with the trainee and the trainer about fuel economy and now they both have my phone number and they are both 55 mph drivers."

Here's where Cruz stands, best and worst fuel economy, over a three-month this year.
Here's where Cruz stands, best and worst fuel economy, over a three-month this year.

The truck has a 560-hp DD15 engine which is set at 460 horsepower. He runs a 9-speed overdrive through 0.336:1 rear ends on knobby dual tires, which are a company policy, not his. He's waiting for the day when the truck is his and can be refitted with wide-single tires.

With that drivetrain, Cruz says he has no problem taking the revs down to 800 rpm on some hills when a down shift just isn't quite necessary. And because of the large step between gears on the 9-speed, he's become quite adept at progressive shifting running very low engine rpm at cruise speed.

"Freightliner technicians have told me I've very easy on the truck and because of that my maintenance costs are likely to stay really low, he says. "I could probably push out my oil drain intervals too, but I'm not going to push that one yet."

Rethink Old Norms

What fascinates me about Carlos Cruz is that he was just like a lot of other owner-operators or lease-purchase drivers at one time; ruing the fact that he wasn't making any money and all set to blame the program rather than look at the mistakes he was making. In part one of our story, he admitted that he didn't know why it took him so long to try a few of the suggestions that are so readily offered to owner-operators today.

When he did finally come around, he admits to being stunned by the difference it made. Today, he's almost evangelical about fuel economy. He says a lot of owner-operators need to rethink what the business is all about, and forget what they have been told about running miles. "That's for company drivers," he says.

A two-week sample of Cruz's fuel mileage, taken from his My Gauges fuel ledger.
A two-week sample of Cruz's fuel mileage, taken from his My Gauges fuel ledger.

"A lot of guys in the lease-purchase program are worried about making the truck payment and they still think they need more miles to make money," Cruz observes. "Let me tell you, the thing to worry about is not miles or the truck payment or the maintenance escrow. It's fuel economy. If you sweat the fuel economy, everything else will take care of itself."

Cruz is already thinking out loud about the day the truck is paid for when he can start building a small fleet -- with really well-trained drivers. He has such plans and he'll likely see them through. That's quite a turnaround over just one year for a guy who was 2,000 away from handing in the keys and becoming a construction worker.

I can't wait to bring you The 1.6 MPG Epiphany, Part 3.


  1. 1. Heather Dunn [ July 09, 2013 @ 08:45AM ]

    Can I repost this article to www.teamrunsmart.com? I would give you credit as the author. Please let me know.

  2. 2. Sean O'Rourke [ July 11, 2013 @ 11:21PM ]

    alot of this advice sounds like kevin rutherford advice even the fuel gauges is kevin rutherfords

  3. 3. GREG FOREMAN [ July 14, 2013 @ 02:07PM ]

    This is an example of what I've said for years. There is a difference between "truck driving" and "truck operating". To many drivers are drivers pure and simple when they should be "operators". The other side of the coin is that to many trucking companies do not know how to "spec" a truck out for their particular application. MAVERICK TRUCKING ,Little Rock, is an example of a company that purchases to spec.

  4. 4. Heather [ July 26, 2013 @ 09:07AM ]

    Greg - Team Run Smart just had a webinar on how to spec your truck for fuel efficiency. You should check it out. www.teamrunsmart.com/fuelwebinar


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Author Bio

Jim Park

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Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.


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