Optimizing your fleet's efficiency, safety, and compliance starts with the precise spec'ing of your company's work trucks. The first step in this process involves the art of gearing—finding the right blend of engine power, gear ratio, and transmission options to allow your fleet trucks to complete the task at hand.
“Today’s fleet managers have to weigh many different variables to ensure their trucks meet the right criteria,” says Marc Layman, manager of truck upfit at Mike Albert Fleet Solutions. “Having your truck engines geared appropriately must be one of those variables. Proper gearing ensures your trucks can do the work reliably and safely, maintain the required speed with a full payload, and meet the fuel economy requirements you expect.”
Determining the right gearing setup for the trucks in your fleet can do wonders for your fleet’s productivity and efficiency, but there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Getting to that sweet spot will largely depend on the industry you’re in, where you’re operating, and your key business objectives.
Let’s explore some of the key considerations and performance indicators to keep in mind when optimizing your fleet’s gearing setup.
The basics of fleet truck spec’ing.
To spec your fleet trucks properly, you need to know and practice the fundamentals. The main requirement? Your trucks must be able to safely and legally carry your on-the-job weight demands. Determining the application of your trucks is the starting point for fulfilling this requisite.
“When we help clients spec new trucks, we always start with the basic question: What is the application?” says Layman. “We’ll talk through what they’ll be carrying or towing, how their vehicles will primarily be used, and where they operate.”
Each of these factors will determine the ideal build of your fleet vehicles. Things like wheelbase, body type, payload capacity, and so on can all be customized to fit your unique needs. From there, you can focus on how to perfect the necessary gear ratio.
Take your fleet's vocational needs into account.
Today’s trucks are more efficient and advanced than ever, but it’s still critical to consider their job-related requirements when selecting the right gearing setup. Work trucks can be used for dozens of different applications, from delivering heavy appliances to plowing snow to towing trailers or other vehicles. Each of these will require a different gear ratio to achieve peak performance.
That's why it's crucial to address your fleet's on-the-job needs:
- Constant or diminishing loads: Will your trucks deliver items and get progressively lighter throughout the day, or will they be service trucks loaded to their maximum GVWR with heavy equipment? Understanding the type of load your trucks carry can help you build your gearing setup to prioritize speed or power.
- Towing requirements: If you plan to use your trucks to tow trailers or other vehicles, you’ll want to consider the weight of the trailers (loaded and unloaded) as well as their size and length. Hauling heavy trailers will require additional torque provided by a lower gear ratio.
Consider topography and average speeds.
Gearing your trucks properly also ensures that your drivers will be well-equipped to handle the terrain and prevailing traffic conditions in your service area. This is where startability and gradeability come into play, both of which are huge performance indicators for trucks that are directly affected by gearing.
Gradeability refers to the size of the incline (or grade) that a fully loaded vehicle can climb without losing speed, while startability refers to the incline (or grade) that the same vehicle can start climbing by just taking one’s foot off the brake.
Be sure to factor in these important variables:
- Topography: Will your trucks be climbing the steep mountains or hilly terrain of Appalachia, or cruising along the flat highways of Florida or Texas? If your trucks will be continually running in steep-grade conditions, you’ll need to make sure they're geared for these types of trips.
- Off-road conditions: Trucks that will be navigating muddy construction sites should be geared with enough power/torque to handle rough terrain with ease.
- Average truck speed: Where will your trucks spend the most time in terms of speed? The gearing setup will affect the average and maximum road speeds you can expect from each of your vehicles.
Many fleet managers forgo the effort required to find the gearing sweet spot by simply paying for more performance than they need. Unfortunately, over-spec’ing your trucks can pose its own issues.
“It might seem easier to just say, ‘I’m going to put the highest horsepower unit available in my trucks,’ but we find that comes with drawbacks,” Layman notes. “Not only does this come with an initial cost increase, but it also means a more expensive extended warranty.”
Beyond the additional costs, if your trucks aren’t going to be carrying that much weight or climbing particularly intense grades, they won’t be running at their peak efficiency. In other words, over-spec’ing will likely lead to wasting fuel and spending more time and money on maintenance long term.
Don’t forget fleet industry regulations.
How to balance lower truck emissions and fuel economy has been a hot topic in the fleet industry for years. Since the EPA began cracking down on diesel emissions in the mid-2000s, many manufacturers began using truck engines to capture some of that particulate matter and exhaust pollution. While these changes helped to bring emissions down, they also had a negative impact on the fuel economy and engine power of the vehicles.
As stricter emissions regulations are expected to continue, proper gearing is one of the best tools you have for striking a balance.
The right gearing also rights the RPM of your fleet trucks.
In general, truck engines have a very small window in terms of RPM where they are both fuel efficient and clean burning. If the RPM is too low, the engine doesn’t burn off efficiently and plugs up a vehicle’s exhaust, which leads to breakdowns and emission-related issues. If the RPM is too high, you have the issue of excessive fuel economy waste. Ensuring your trucks are geared properly can help you stay in a perfectly balanced RPM range.
Ill-suited gearing of your trucks can hurt your fleet in various ways, so it’s well worth your time to determine if your trucks are properly spec’d for your business needs.
Looking for professional assistance on your fleet truck gearing setup? Contact one of our Mike Albert Fleet Solutions experts today.
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