As featured in July's edition of Owner Driver Magazine

A good driver can save you money while bringing out the best in electronically sophisticated trucks

By Matt Wood, Fuel Efficiency Manager – Volvo Trucks

Apparently trucking was a lot better back in the 1970s and 80s. These decades are often referred to as a golden age in Australian transport by many a misty eyed driver.  

I come across this view quite a lot. I’m a little young to have really lived it, (I was still collecting Weet Bix cards with trucks on them and drawing pictures of road trains), but if the tales are to believed, 30 years ago trucks didn’t break down and crashes rarely happened.

Selective hindsight is a wonderful thing. It seems to skip over the delights of wrestling with a wet tarp on a windy day for example and dragging big weights over bad roads with very little horsepower.

The reality is that trucks are not only safer these days, they’re also more reliable. There’s a heap of statistics from the likes of NTI to back this up. Sure an old-school prime mover from the 1980s wasn’t likely to be side-lined by an electrical issue. However, it was more likely to throw a leg out bed or suffer some other sort of catastrophic engine failure than a modern truck.

What was the old joke?

“Hey Boss I’ve broken down with an electrical issue.”

“And electrical issue!?”

“Yeah number 1 piston has knocked the alternator clean off its bracket!”

Okay it’s probably not recommended that you remove a Volvo piston on the side of the road and replace it with lump of red gum.

It’s common to hear detractors of modern trucks say that they’ve been “Dumbed down” and that “Anyone can drive them.” There’s a belief that new trucks take the skill out of being a good driver.

I however, beg to differ. Sure most people can make a new Volvo move, that doesn’t mean that they can actually drive one properly.

All the old skills traditionally used to operate an 18-speed Road Ranger, a 20-speed Spicer, use a Jake Brake, or maybe even to juggle a couple of gear sticks are still needed to drive a modern Volvo. Okay, I get that we’re not double clutching, rev matching and manually shifting the cogs when using I-Shift. But we still need the same awareness and skill to get the best out of a modern truck.

A good driver is already a fuel efficient driver because the key elements of fuel efficiency from behind the wheel are pretty much the same elements that make a good driver; mechanical sympathy, awareness and anticipation.

After all, strip away the sophisticated electronic architecture of an I-Shift transmission and you’ll find a 12, 13 or 14--speed manual crash box.  

Like all trucks a Volvo has an engine, transmission and engine brake (we haven’t quite gone electric just yet!). Of course in the case of Volvo there’s also the I-Roll coasting feature. However, the way you interact with these features and functions, engine, transmission and engine brake is conceptually the same, you’re just using different levers and buttons to do so.

Hidden away from view is an array of systems geared towards making the driver’s life easier as well as extracting the best efficiency and performance out of the vehicle. Tools like Cruise Control and Eco setting (Eco allows you to set an over run parameter on your cruise setting).

 However, these systems still need to be utilised to get the best out of the truck both in terms of performance and efficiency.

Same goes for coasting. A Volvo will freewheel in undulating country, it’ll even freewheel in heavy traffic, provided the brake stalk and the gear lever is in the A position. You’ll be amazed how far you can roll over a decent length trip.

Over the course of a 1190km trip the other day I managed to coast for 32 kilometres. And I’m sure a better driver than me could’ve doubled that. The advantage of coasting is that it uses the truck’s momentum to tackle the next uphill climb or to maintain motion while in heavy traffic, reducing the amount of fuel needed to turn the drive wheels when I-Shift slots back into gear.  

A good driver uses the tools they’re provided with to get the best out of their vehicle both in terms of fuel and performance.

Nobody is “just” a driver. While the Australian transport industry is facing a massive labour shortage there are still plenty of professional drivers out there who know how to handle a truck. And a good driver will save a company thousands of dollars over the course of a year, not just in fuel, but also in areas like tyres and wear and tear.

Meet Matt Wood

With over 25 years’ experience in the Australian road transport industry, Matt Wood has insights across a wide variety of businesses, transport applications and fuel efficiency strategies - and Matt is here to help you succeed.  

Do you have questions about how you can increase your business’ fuel efficiency? Simply Ask Matt by clicking on the below link to send him an email.

askmatt [at] volvo [dot] com

Who is Matt?

Matt's a former truck driver, 4x4 and commercial vehicle journalist and writer. He now works for Volvo Trucks Australia in the role of Fuel Efficiency Manager, which encompasses traditional and alternate transport fuel solutions as well as telematics. He has a geeky interest in all things mechanical and an unrequited love for old Land Rovers.