Trailer Talk

Trailer Aero Devices Help Save 1 mpg, Manager Says

Air Tabs vortex generators and Laydon side skirts smooth air flow and make trailers easier to pull.

May 24, 2016

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Latest tractrors are streamlined Peterbilt 579s. They average 7.7 mpg while pulling Great Dane and Utility vans with full aerodynamic equipment. 
Latest tractrors are streamlined Peterbilt 579s. They average 7.7 mpg while pulling Great Dane and Utility vans with full aerodynamic equipment.

Aero trailers are a big part of fuel-saving strategy at Duplainville Transport, the trucking arm of Quad Graphics, a major printer based in Wisconsin.

Most of the 160 Great Dane and Utility 53-foot vans are outfitted with gap reducers, side skirts and rear vortex generators. A tractor pulling one of them saves about 1 mpg compared to a bare one, says, John Drake, the fleet manager.

The fleet uses Laydon ribbed-aluminum side skirts because “image is very important to us. We’re the second-largest printer in the country and we want nice-looking equipment. We picked those because a, they look nice and b, they work. The Utility dealer here (Badger Utility) is a Laydon distributor, so that works out well for us.”

Also, “I’m a believer in Air Tabs,” the triangular vortex generators. “We’ve looked at other devices, and it’s $400 to equip a trailer with them (Air Tabs) compared to thousands of dollars for the tail things, and the results are the same... It reduces the vortex, so you don’t get that suction behind the trailer as you go down the road.

Air Tab vortex generators smooth the air as it leaves a trailer's rear end, reducing fuel-eating drag. 
Air Tab vortex generators smooth the air as it leaves a trailer's rear end, reducing fuel-eating drag.

One of his past times lends proof to his testimonies.

“All you have to do is ride a motorcycle behind the trailers to notice the difference,” says Drake, a Harley-Davidson enthusiast. “With the bare trailer you can feel the air turbulence and you’re going this way and that way. With an aerodynamic trailer, you pull up behind it and it’s pretty smooth, and you can back off a little.”

The latest tractors are streamlined Peterbilt 579s with long sleepers, auxiliary power units, automated transmissions and other modern equipment. They are driver pleasers, which fits into corporate philosophy.

Quad Graphics and Duplainville treats employees well, with good pay and “very good benefits,” says Drake, who’s been there 28 years, and employee satisfaction leads to top performance, including fuel economy. That they’re satisfied is indicated by the turnover rate – less than 10% among drivers and owner-operators.

Editor's note: This is a preview from HDT's June 2016 special fuel economy issue, "10 MPG and Beyond." Read more about what fleets are doing to improve fuel economy today and the outlook for even more fuel efficiency in the future.


  1. 1. Brian Layfield [ May 26, 2016 @ 11:25AM ]

    thanks for the write up, FYI the skirts are injection molded TPO plastic. B

  2. 2. Bob Montgomery [ June 14, 2016 @ 05:44AM ]

    Great article, Tom. I couldn't agree more that Aerodynamic devices save fuel and money, especially now that diesel prices are approaching $2.50 per gallon on average. I do think readers should check pricing on rear drag devices, the "tail things," certainly TrailerTail by STEMCO(R), aren't nearly as expensive as they were a few years ago.


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Author Bio

Tom Berg

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Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.


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