Get a Wheel Up on Fuel Economy

Last month I installed a “poor man’s” lift axle.  While it was more of a conceptual test than a budgetary constraint, the cost was very reasonable while providing incredible fuel savings.

The “poor man’s” lift required the purchase of two Velvac 320184 3-way Manual Push/Pull Valves to act as a suspension dump valve, one valve for each axle.  While I had the truck in for service one day, I conveniently got underneath the trailer to plumb the air lines to the valves.

On my Utility dry van trailer, the airline runs from the air tank to the leveling valve then sequentially to the suspension air bags.  I changed that by plumbing the air line from the leveling valve to a tee fitting, then to the supply side of each of the Velvac dump valves, and from there to its respective axle.

This arrangement provides two purposes.  The first, pressing need, is to dump both axles, then secure the lifted axle in the lifted position, then reinflate just the grounded axle.  In my operation, the forward axle is the lift axle while the rear remains grounded, especially since the leveling valve is mounted to the rear axle.  This could be relocated to the front axle if your operation required relocating.  The second benefit of isolating the axle dumps is to allow for tighter maneuvering in the event that I dump the air from the rear axle, thus shortening the effective trailer wheelbase allowing the trailer to pivot on the front axle’s wheels instead of the midpoint between the axles as is the normal condition.

To secure the axle in the up position, I initially tried using a 4-inch ratchet strap.  This had several problems: the strap stretches, which allows the lifted axle to bounce on uneven pavement.  Secondly, it is cumbersome to secure the strap on the slider box, wrap the strap underneath the axle, then back up to the slider box over a pulley, then aft to secure it through a ratchet.  The impracticality and ineffectiveness of lifting the axle with the strap nearly nixed the test. 

As a practical solution, fellow Landstar BCO Jim Fowler saved the concept by suggesting and providing two short lengths of Grade 5 securement chain with a chain come-along.  One end of the chain hooked on the slider box rail while the other end is wrapped underneath the axle.  The come-along hooks to the top section of the chain while the other end meets the chain near the axle.  Tighten to secure in the up position.

To ensure the axle is lifted as much as possible against the airbag’s bump stops, with the air exhausted from both axles, I drive the front axle’s wheels up on a pair of short 2×4’s.  When the lift axle is secured, I reinflate the rear axle and drive off the lumber.  Viola!  The axle is suspended.

At first, this lifted arrangement provided barely two inches of lift, which experience quickly proved insufficient to prevent tire scrubbing when bouncing over bridge abutments and deteriorating highways.  Another Landstar BCO, Rodd Timmer, came to the rescue, suggesting a larger, 455/55R22.5 wide-based tire on the grounded axle while keeping the 445/50R22.5 tires on the lifted axle.  This unconventional setup provided the necessary additional inch of lift.

As for the fuel economy gains, my first month of service showed 0.79 MPG gain (from 8.61 to 9.40 MPG) while running light loads or empty with the axle raised for 9,300 miles versus running light or empty with the axle lowered for 2,200 miles.  Admittedly, this is still a brief test, but it’s incredible results are highly encouraging!

To determine the return on investment, one would have to consider how many miles could be lifted (i.e. 65% of the time average for me for the past 18 months).  I shelled out $130 for both Velvac valves plus another $150 in DOT-approved ⅜” air tubing and various DOT-approved brass fittings for the valves and airbag inlets.  In my operation, a lifted axle would yield $2,400 annual fuel savings based upon 0.79 MPG gain at today’s diesel fuel prices.  This homemade test lift axle setup nearly paid for itself within the first month’s test period! 

Other improvements that I will make is to upgrade my Hendrickson airbags to their new “ZMD” internally-baffled airbags that would help reduce the bounce that results from putting all the weight on just two airbags instead of four.  I tried upgrading my shock absorbers from the 5+ year old OEM shocks for a pair of $82 Monroe Gas Magnums that failed to yield the desired bounce reduction; perhaps a better choice may be to upgrade to RoadKing shocks.  I’ll wait to see if upgrading the shocks will be necessary once the new Hendrickson ZMD airbags are installed.

The other quantum leap was an even more recent upgrade from the fixed-length, angled trailer skirts to the state-of-the-art Windyne Flip & Slide skirt.  This new skirt allows me to slide my trailer tandems aft while the skirt extends as the tandems move rearward.  This moving of the tandems aft also reduced trailer bounce.  I will write about these skirts in another blog.  Until then, get a wheel up for fuel economy!

Aerodyne Transportation Receives Landstar’s Star of Quality Award

Landstar’s Vice President of Operations, Gregg Nelson, recognized Aerodyne Transportation, LLC for its “commitment to our values of safety and customer service excellence.”

Jackie and Kerr from the KFG Agency nominated Aerodyne for the Star of Quality award for making “Landstar shine.”  KFG’s direct customer, Jaime Anderson, wrote “I just wanted you to know that Alec was fabulous.  He was on time and polite and a pleasure to work with!”

“That particular load was especially memorable,” Costerus says.  “It was an early morning hookup to a customer’s trailer with a delivery in Casper, Wyoming.  The forecast was for up to a foot of snow.  It was one of those days when you knew it was going to be a tough slog of a day.  Nonetheless, I was prepared for those Winter conditions because I planned for it by doing a seasonal tire changeover from Summer fuel economy maximizing tread to a full-siped Winter tread design for my wide-based super singles.  I also carry a full complement of Pewäg square link traction chains.”

Featured on the back cover of the 2017 Rand McNally Motor Carriers Atlas, Costerus touts Rand McNally Trucking’s high-tech weather oveChicago-1[286] Back Coverrlapping.  “The section between Douglas and Casper, had been shut down several times during the night and earlier in the day due to accidents.  “But I had the real-time weather precipitation type and intensity superimposed on one GPS, while displaying the 30-40 mph crosswind overlaid on another GPS.  When I slipped a time or two on the snow-packed lanes, I could see that I was in the very worst of the weather along my route; not to worry, I knew that the conditions were not expected to deteriorate any further.  That information told me that I didn’t have to chain-up and could continue unabated.  Had I not been so technologically equipped and fitted with the right tires, I might have exited and disappointed the customer.

“There are a lot of Drivers who, ‘when it’s below 40 [degrees], they stay south of [Interstate] 40.’  There are also those who profess that if the weather is so bad that hanging iron is a possibility, they park the rig for another day, on the theory that ‘chains are to get out of a problem, not to get into one.’  That is certainly one business model, but not mine!  Our customers, our Landstar Agents, and in turn, their customers, all expect that we deliver their goods.  Nobody ever promised a sunny day.  Sometimes, you have execute on all the planning and preparation, to man-up and push on.  Our precise niche is doing that which others don’t want to, even when it’s unpleasant; otherwise, we are no better than the next Driver.  Average planning and ability begets average results, and below average earnings.  I’m not interested in average anything.”

“This was a prime example of planning your work and working your plan.  We naturally hope for the best, but with the elements, we must plan for the worst.  In the end, we delivered right on schedule; the customer and their customer never knew for the worse.  That is a vital attribute of what we do at Aerodyne.  We deliver more than just cargo freight; we deliver certainty.  If we, as partners in the supply chain distribution channel, fail to deliver certainty, then what do we have as a durable competitive advantage to differentiate us apart from our competitors?  That is but one example that sets us apart from our competition.

Thank you, Jackie and Kerr at KFG Agency, and Jaime at Stryker, for entrusting Landstar and Aerodyne to deliver your cargo.  We’re grateful for the opportunity and the honor of receiving the Star of Quality.

Leased to Landstar Inway, Inc., Aerodyne Transportation, LLC is a Colorado-based, over-the-road, long-haul carrier serving customers needs throughout the North American continent.  Aerodyne is proud to be an EPA Transport Partner with 100% EPA-designated Smartway equipment.  Photo courtesy of Rand McNally.

Fuel Tax Explained: How to Purchase the Least Expensive Diesel Fuel

AS I WAS GATHERING my quarterly IFTA filing information, I decided to get off my derrière and write this article about how to best purchase fuel. As the single-largest owner-operator expense, diesel fuel often costs us between $33,000 and $45,000 per year, depending on the price. Yet, given this item’s large impact on our bottom-line, I am surprised at just how few know how to buy fuel at the cheapest price. If you’re in this category, then this article is for you!

Benjamin Franklin said that “A Penny Saved is A Penny Earned.” My corollary is that he was only half right when he famously coined the phrase. Buying fuel is a spin on Ben Franklin’s take, albeit Mr. Franklin was not buying diesel fuel for his vehicle. Saving money on fuel purchases not only saves money at the precise time of purchase, but puts you twice that savings ahead of where you’d be had you foregone the savings. So indeed, savings adds up! Frugality is twice as valuable as being a spender.

The key to shopping for fuel purchasing is to compare prices on an “ex-tax” basis. The term “ex-tax” means to look at the price, excluding fuel tax.

Diesel fuel at the pump, let’s say at $2.50/gallon, has some fuel taxes built into the price. Each state is free to set its own fuel tax rate; depending on the state, those tax rates range from Oklahoma’s $0.13/gallon to Pennsylvania’s $0.747/gallon.

As an aside, the fuel tax liability is determined by the number of gallons of fuel consumed while driving in each state. The credit is determined by how many gallons of fuel purchased in each state. At the end of each quarter, there will be a state-by-state reconciliation, and that is done through the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) filing.

When shopping for fuel, take the pump price (or your discounted fuel price if you receive a discount through your carrier or trade organization) minus the applicable state fuel tax. Let’s look at some examples:

Location       Pump Price                  Fuel Tax                      Ex-Tax Cost     
Colorado A:   $2.50 / gallon price – $0.205 / gallon tax = $2.295 / gallon
Colorado B:   $2.52 / gallon price – $0.205 / gallon tax = $2.315 / gallon
Wyoming Z:   $2.52 / gallon price – $0.240 / gallon tax = $2.280 / gallon

Comparing the two Colorado truck stops, it’s clear that Colorado A has a lower cost than B.

Wyoming Z has a higher pump price in this example, but Wyoming has a higher fuel tax, yielding a lower ex-tax cost. Thus, in this example, it would more prudent to make the purchase at the Wyoming Z stop.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s discuss some exceptions. First, there are three states: Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana, that do not extend the full amount of fuel tax paid as a credit. In these cases, the amount of fuel tax to subtract from the pump price is the actual amount of tax credited.

I created a table showing each state’s or province’s fuel tax rate that you can print. Use this chart to calculate your ex-tax cost and compare your favorite fuel stop to another. For ease of calculating the ex-tax price, you can use the green highlighted middle column, Diesel Tax Credit Rate, that will account for the above three exceptions.   Fuel Tax Rates

Another exception is Oregon, where no fuel tax is collected at the pump when you purchase fuel. Instead, Oregon charges a mileage-based road use tax. In all the other 47 Continental states, the fuel tax is based on x-number of cents per gallon. That – say $0.21 per gallon, divided by your truck’s fuel economy, like 7.0 miles per gallon, yields a $0.03 per mile effective tax rate. Oregon, on the other hand, charges a $0.1638 per mile tax. That is equivalent to more than $1.14 per gallon fuel tax, which is 50% higher than the highest state’s fuel tax. Nonetheless, this does not alter your fuel purchase strategy; just beware that you’ll be getting that mileage tax bill. Conversely, if you routinely run in Oregon, you better ensure that your revenue rate sufficiently compensates you for that tax.

There’s a reason that the major truck stops offer points, Shower Power perks, and the like. Consider this: how much did that free shower cost if you overpaid $20, $30, or $60 in fuel? How many times do you fuel in the month? Need I go on? Make Mr. Franklin proud, buy smart and save the money!

Over-the-road, long-haul truckers have, quite literally, hundreds of fueling locations from which to choose along their trip. Sometimes, you must make more than one fuel stop to complete the journey. It’s not uncommon that you’ll need to make your fuel purchase decisions by analyzing dozens of different truck stops’ discounted fuel price and state tax rates, to optimize your fuel purchases. That will be an upcoming topic. Until then, remember, ex-tax and drive safely.

Based in Colorado, Alec Costerus is President of Aerodyne Transportation, LLC, an over-the-road, long-haul carrier leased to Landstar Inway. You can follow Aerodyne on Facebook at:

Alec is also a member of the Trucking Solutions Group, a group of transportation professionals striving to improve our business through education, both for ourselves and others in our industry, while also projecting a positive image. Go to to learn more.

TSG Submits Comments on Proposed Speed Limiters

The Trucking Solutions Group announced last week that it has submitted its group’s comments in response to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s joint Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.  Through this proposed rule, these agencies propose equipping heavy vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating exceeding 26,000 pounds with a speed limiting device; and requiring motor carriers to operate these vehicles at or below a speed to be set in a final rule. 

Trucking Solutions Group Chairman, Henry Albert, President of Albert Transportation, Inc. noted that the group members, individually and collectively, ardently support the agencies’ goal of increasing safety on the nation’s highways.  “The problem is,” Albert notes, “this proposed rule has the potential of making the roads less safe.  That is why we, as a group of professional truckers, felt compelled to rise in opposition to this proposed rulemaking.”

The group’s commenter-in-chief, Alec Costerus, President of Aerodyne Transportation, LLC, said that having heavy trucks travelling at slower speeds – usually at speeds posted below the maximum speed limit – with cars travelling at higher speeds, increases the number of truck-car interactions, hardly a measure that will lead to safer highways.  The TSG members believe that speed limits should be set by local and state transportation authorities who are better positioned to determine the safe speed at which cars and trucks should operate.  “We wholeheartedly disagree with the proposed rule’s approach of bureaucratically determined speed limits.  Furthermore, traffic, weather, road, and other conditions all enter the safe driving speed decision-making that is best determined by a professional, well-rested driver who is in control of that vehicle.”

Founded in 2008, the Trucking Solutions Group is a group of transportation professionals who collaborate to help improve each other’s business.  Consistent with this mission, the group members all contributed to the group’s comments in what Chairman Albert described as the most hotly discussed topic in the group’s recent history.