Exploring Semi Truck Aerodynamics

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Semi truck aerodynamics have come a long way over the years. Tractors and trailers are now able to slice through the air much more effortlessly than previous generations. And when you add aftermarket devices to your equipment, aerodynamics can be improved even more. The result in all of this, of course, is the potential for big time fuel efficiency movement in the right direction. Like many other new technologies hitting the transportation industry, we’re still at the tip of the iceberg with where all of this may go. So for now, let’s explore the current state of semi truck aerodynamics a bit further.

Truck Aerodynamics – What Has Changed?

The biggest change over the past 10 years has been with the design of the tractor itself. Engines have become smaller and more efficient giving truck manufactures the ability to reduce the front of the truck by sloping the hood and windshield more than ever before. Additionally, there has been a movement toward more rounded bumpers, mirrors and other things that stick out.

Additional aerodynamic improvements can be made using wheel covers, slotted mudflaps and cab underbody treatments. The overall idea is to reduce vehicle drag as much as possible by limiting the amount of gaps and places for air to be “trapped.” Some manufacturers of products for gap regions on the market today claim that fuel savings of up to 2% can be achieved. However, a lot of the improvements that will be seen are completely dependent of the test procedure chosen, including initial tractor-trailer gap size, and test speed.

Now, you may be wondering – what about the trailer? Well, very little has changed with it over the past several years. The biggest trend that you may see out on the road is the implementation of a trailer skirt or “tail” designed to help with aerodynamics. These are devices that are attached to the underside of a semi-trailer for the purpose of reducing aerodynamic drag caused by air turbulence. The idea is to help fill the gap between the forward and rear axles. Trailer skirts are usually made from aluminum, plastic or fiberglass with plastic the most resistant to damage from side or bottom impacts.

Cost vs. Gains

The biggest question to consider when examining improving semi truck aerodynamics is cost vs. gains. How much will implementing new solutions set you back? What will be the financial improvements as a result? Many times it’s tough to really, truly know the answer to that second question. That can certainly make investing in new aerodynamic technology a tough pill to swallow; especially for smaller fleets.

It is impossible to give concrete numbers as it all depends upon the exact type of implementation, but some manufactures report savings of up to 2% with tractor devices and around 4% with things such as trailer skirts.

All or Nothing?

Many Fleet Managers see semi truck aerodynamics as an all or nothing deal. Sure, you can do one little thing and see some improvement. But at the end of the day, aerodynamic devices all kind of feed off each other. If you don’t spec the truck right and implement things in an all or nothing approach, it can be difficult to feel like you’re seeing appropriate results. In other words, doing just a couple of things doesn’t always mean that they’ll add up to the savings you expect. Aerodynamics that produce the big time fuel savings require an “all in” commitment.

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Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, Dickinson Fleet Services has grown into one of the largest independent fleet maintenance and management companies in the country. Dickinson Fleet Services is the leading provider of on-site mobile maintenance and repair services nationwide. Offering mobile on-site maintenance and repair services for light, medium and heavy-duty trucks and trailers with over 300 mobile units operating in 40 states.