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.