The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its SmartWay program by defining an Elite level that promises to save more fuel, and money, than the original category. Either includes a list of “verified” equipment that makes a tractor and trailer relatively easy to propel along a highway.

SmartWay has its shortcomings in evaluating aero equipment, as Equipment Editor Jim Park notes in his HDT series on aerodynamic testing, because EPA staffers must take the word of manufacturers who’ve had their products tested. But SmartWay is far easier than trying to test things yourself.

As EPA says on its website, Elite products claim to save at least 10% in fuel over base vehicles. That includes 1% for low-rolling-resistance tires and 9% for aerodynamic fairings, usually at least two and perhaps three items that cut air turbulence and drag at highway speeds. On trailers, these are nose treatment, side skirts and a tail device. Products on the pre-Elite list promise to save a combined 6%.

“A typical tractor using a SmartWay Elite trailer (i.e., low-rolling-resistance tires and Elite Aerodynamics) could save about 1,700 gallons of diesel (fuel) annually,” the website says. Even with today’s cheaper fuel prices, that adds up to a lot of bucks.

Of course, there are some catches: Trailers aren’t moving all the time, because they have to be loaded and unloaded, and time for that varies. In hook-and-drop operations, many trailers languish in customer yards and at terminals. Whenever they sit still, the special equipment saves nothing.

When trailers are moving, city operations, traffic congestion, rough pavement and tough weather can reduce speeds below where the equipment starts to work – say, 45 or so mph. And aero devices can be damaged, causing delays and money for repairs or replacement, and they look ragged until work can be done.

Early on, one western fleet executive thought aero fairings were of so little value that he considered buying trailers shorter than California’s 53-foot threshold, where devices become mandatory. Maybe he’s changed his mind by now.

Anyway, much more info is on EPA’s website. Scroll about halfway down and click on the aerodynamics tab.

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

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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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.

View Bio
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