AAA Cooper puts a high premium on fuel saving technologies, so is experimenting with a range of fuel saving devices, from side skirts on trailers to aftermarket computer devices, says Terry Clouser, director of maintenance.

Recognizing the importance of the driver in fuel economy, the carrier is taking the operator out of the equation as much as possible. By using power units with automatic transmissions, limiting tractor speed 65 mph and setting an idle shut-off time of three minutes, the company removes some of the need to train and worry about drivers. The system optimizes the truck for them.

Aerodynamics is high on AAA Cooper's priority list, Clouser says. All of his tractors are equipped with full aerodynamic packages, but he's looking at an autimatically movable fifth wheel, a fairly recent innovation the cuts trailer drag.

The fifth wheel, which is being designed by at least two suppliers, moves toward the trailer as the truck increases speed, closing the gap between the tractor and trailer, thereby reducing drag. The trailer drops back to its normal position as speed goes back down, allowing normal turns.

Such advanced solutions aren't cheap, and really only work with large carriers, Clouser says. But simple things, too, can make a world of difference in fuel economy.

"We spend a lot of time on pre- and post-trip inspections, making sure tires are pumped up," he said. An under-inflated tire can make an enormous downside difference in mileage, and present a safety hazard. Taking a quick look before a driver heads out is about as low-tech and effective as one can get.