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Old 02-05-2012, 11:19 PM   #1 (permalink)
Touring Musician
Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: United States
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Touring Musician hitting the road

Hi Eco friends,

I'm a nationally touring musician... have been so for many years. Actually, I put in a good bit of my touring each year by bicycle, but to keep things financially sustainable the really no way around the range and speed of the the tour van. So, in an effort to reconcile my eco-conciousness and my business, I need to get the most out of my '99 Chevy Epressvan. And, I've signed up to start the conversation.

Last year, we averaged a somewhat respectable (considering 4 people and gear as a load) mpg of 16.5-17.5. That has mostly to do with enforcing a strict 65 mph maximum speed rule on the highways. But I want to do better. Beyond getting the scan gauge... what are other suggestions.

Just reading through the forums I've thought of lighter wheels, newer bearings, maybe shooting for a solar assist to take some work off the engine. I'd really like to get this thing up past 30 mpg.

Thanks for all your suggestions!

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Old 02-06-2012, 09:08 AM   #2 (permalink)
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Posts: 2,442

2004 CTD - '04 DODGE RAM 2500 SLT
Team Cummins
90 day: 19.36 mpg (US)
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Fuel economy is a subset of Economy. A gauge of how well other things are going, if you will, in that a larger perspective is important to relative understandings.

More information would be good for "you" (the group of owners or operators) to specify. The order of "knowing" vehicle expenses beforehand is relatively:

- Vehicle specification
- Climate
- Terrain
- Intended Use

Second, (a NeilBlanchard quote)

the relative order of [mpg] importance is still:

* Drivetrain Efficiency
* Aerodynamic Drag
* Weight
* Rolling Efficiency


A truck manufactured as long ago as fourteen years is nearing the end of a viable lifespan in re available parts supply. Fifteen years marks the point where the national chain stores and dealerships start to answer all queries with, "Well, we can order that for you" as they clear the shelves of inventory to keep room for newer vehicles. Obviously, this is the low point of vehicle price as well (forced auction) so acquisition costs are lowest, but other expenses can rise.

So, the information that would be helpful to you might be (budgets):

- Time frame: How long will this vehicle be in use?

- Distance: What is the expected distance this vehicle will cover in this period?

And then to particulars of how often used, typical distances covered, how important is reliability (unscheduled service required), budget to repair & maintain, etc. To that end download the AAA Cost Per Mile Worksheet,


and do some work at the EDMUNDS True Cost to Own article to see how projections can be made.

Obviously, a old vehicle zeros out a few categories, but one should look at the rate of increased costs of repairs to project some sort of bank account dollar number for this. IOW, if I know the years and the miles then I can come up with some sort of CPM projection (within which fuel costs are included).

Fuel cost is not the largest expense item for a newer vehicle, but it appears to be a large one for out-of-pocket expenses. Thus this emphasis on knowing all costs per mile, as some decisions that are smart are not otherwise obvious.

The order of importance is then:

* Brakes
* Tires
* Steering
* Electrical

One would, in an ideal world, specify a vehicle according to:

- Longevity
- Reliability
- Economy

where use is closely understood (analysis based on experience). Few individuals or organizations do a "great" job, but there are plenty who do a good one. Assuming that this van is a good choice -- and as longevity is factored out [present vehicle age] -- then reliability still trumps economy, overall, in that one cannot afford to lose income due to loss of vehicle service; thus the order of safety first, reliability second as to how time, energy and money should be spent.

Here is a .pdf from the State of Vermont which is easily laid out. One doesn't need to be a mechanic to have a rough idea of the importance of these, it is enough that one has a starting point from which to work.

In other words, given an excellent vehicle mechanical baseline (proper tires, brakes, shock absorbers, tight steering, new bushings, etc); where the details of a state safety inspection are also exhausted (new exterior lamps, wipers, horn etc as necessary to replace broken or just old); and a maintenance schedule and budget are established


details pertaining to straight fuel economy concerns start to matter. Only then. In this are:

* Excellent front end alignment
* Lack of steering wander
* Zero brake drag
* Tire pressure according to load (not sidewall maximum) on low-rolling resistance tires (LT-type; also acquire an empty and loaded two-pad weight scale reading)

Etc. Etcetera includes: no tail-dragging van with headlights illuminating the local sky as safety, reliability and economy are all compromised (rear axle air bags [not air shocks] may be required). Tramlining or brake pull are also not acceptable from the standpoint of safety -- reliability -- fuel economy. In the same vein I would specify only genuine GM part for the primary & secondary ignition systems. Bite the bullet on that.

Planning a trip of any significant distance ought to include best routing (as with a MAPQUEST option) to minimize:

- stop & go
- non-limited access roadways
- metro slowdowns due to season, day or hour
- unknown fuel or rest stops (plan ahead)

and to always have an alternative route at hand. The use, also, of national and state databases and real-time reports on:

* construction slowdowns
* holiday, sports or seasonal traffic
* weather-related traffic problems

joined with highly detailed metro atlases as well as comprehensive state/national atlases, not just a dashboard GPS unit. Use time well, leaving a significant amount for delays. If one is never in a hurry, or surprised by problems, then FE tends to take care of itself. But a stressed driver doesn't have what it takes for the many tiny adjustments [fine motor skills] that are the only thing available to modify the progress of a heavy non-aero vehicle.

Business vehicles, espeically trucks, only achieve decent fuel mileage in steady-state travel speeds. While a car might be able to fudge or cheat in some regards, the weight penalty (braking penalty) of a truck means that mechanical baseline and well-chosen routing are paramount to minimizing fuel costs. Driver skill has to do with finding compromises that arise from experience, primarily anticipating rolling distances to avoid throttle and brake application (followed by fewest steering inputs). The use of cruise control is highly recommended (given non-mountainous terrain), where otherwise appropriate.

A Scangauge or similar is also recommended for learning to maximize point-to-point "straight lines of sight" (as blind curves, hills, etc require a truck to slow more than cars given longer braking distances).

Details like proper driver seating posture and mirror adjustment (as well as how to use mirrors) is highly recommended. Same for perfectly clean glass at all times. Securing cargo agains fore-and-aft movement as well as side-to-side is of serious concern, as is the avoidance of lower order driver distractions. Driving a business vehicle is a job and ought to be treated as such, for then the payoff works to keeping all costs -- not just fuel -- low and affordable.

Fewer jobs at a higher price are ideal, as we know, but one can go broke taking every small job without understanding vehicle expense. It's in the margins of the complete CPM expenditure that intelligent decisions or negotiations can be made. To further this end, the world of non-profits is bound to have, online, resources about vehicles & budgets. See also schools and churches. Liability for passenger transportation has deep resources for mitigation. Homework is crucial. Fuel, by comparison, is always cheap.

Good luck

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Old 02-06-2012, 11:53 AM   #3 (permalink)
Touring Musician
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Thanks for the thorough reply!

Having been the power train on my utility bicycle for long distance touring I can certainly appreciate the essential need to proper mechanical maintenance. This van is a conversion van (should have mentioned that) so it dose have some aero works and it has been maintained very well. However, I'll start off with the first thing on your list of importance: drivetrain. I know there's some improvements I could make there.

I do think this question of how to make an older, medium-light duty vehicle run cleaner and more efficient is super compelling. There are so many bands and other small businesses trying to make something work that are just dirtying things up. The financial hurdles of getting in to a newer, commercial van that has hybrid options or maybe all-electric are significant. Most folks find themselves in the position I am in: hauling a few folks and a bunch of equipment for huge amounts of time. It has to be dore reliable and be cost-effective.

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Old 02-07-2012, 01:23 PM   #4 (permalink)
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Posts: 2,442

2004 CTD - '04 DODGE RAM 2500 SLT
Team Cummins
90 day: 19.36 mpg (US)
Thanks: 1,422
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My post was rather long so am relieved that it hits the right note (pun intended as a former cello player), as vehicle expenses -- the overall cost -- can be a killer in so many businesses.

Something I forgot to mention, and highly recommend, comes from the world of trucks: that the truck is paid separately from the owner/driver. That is, all costs (including replacement cost; that of a future vehicle) are accounted for separately and are in no way to be listed as profit. I realize that in your business that this is not quite possible, yet I recommend it as an accounting line entry nonethess (it has to do with IRS-deductible miles, essentially cancelling that out) as it informs the mind of how to think about this. Thus, again, the understanding of CPM calculations.

If my cost, adjusted or otherwise, is 40-cpm, then an 800-mile trip is genuinely $320. The fuel cost may be but 21-cpm and it is tempting to think that the opertional cost is but $168. The $152 difference belongs to the truck. This is why total time/miles must be considered: what tires will take me the length to the expected calendar year vehicle sale date? In example my truck could well go 250k on but two sets of tires . . with the caveat that I have to run the miles in a certain time frame. This sort of thing -- a detail -- is worth your while. Same for all the other cpm entries.

For the short run I would "pay" the truck by always filling the fuel tank at jobs end and setting aside money for book maintenance (and a small amount for needed repairs for this calendar year). It can take awhile to catch up if safety-related items are aging and their individual repair/replacement dates are within sight.

Given a good-running, freely-rolling, safe & reliable transport van, then driver experience, as above, comes into play. Records, posture, mirrors, trip-planning, in short, discipline.

With those two -- monetary allocation understood and dedication to the daily use exigencies -- then do some of the many suggestions one may encounter at this site come into play:

* Scanguage
* Block heater
* Grille block (may require coolant and trans temp gauges)
* Belly pan
* Removable boat-tail (see threads on big truck aero for ideas)
* Optimal exterior mirror sizing

Other ideas may crop up (with which I to some extent disagree, such as manual steering box replacing power steering box) and they should be weighed against problems of fatigue, alertness, etc., which I see as mitigating against such changes based on long travel times.

Let's say I improve mileage by 25% over present (rather a big jump, but done to illustrate; figures are rough); from 17-mpg average annual mpg to 21-mpg. At $3.50/gl at 20k miles annually my fuel cost drops from $4,117 to $3,300; or, a savings of $785. (More important is the reduction of actual fuel used to cover the same distance as it implies less wear & tear on the vehicle; from 1,176-gls to 952-gls, a reduction by 224-gls. The implication is that the vehicle can be kept in service longer as repair costs decline per mile).

Over 20k miles my fuel cost declines from 21-cpm to 17-cpm, only 4-cpm. That is worth nearly $4000 in but five years (100k miles). Yet the outlay on a 40-cpm vehicle has been $40,000. A pennies here, and a few pennies there . . . .

This page has a link to a download from OOIDA in re CPM costs, and lays out the arguments cogently.

Fuel cost is simply the largest driver-dependent variable. Other costs are as large or larger. While on the road it is food, meals & misc which can will up to more. This is an area ripe for a new approach by a traveling group.

It is only as a businessman that we see the value of fuel subsidization for what it is. Unlike mass transportation (trains especially) where the operating expenditures are spread society wide, the burden of personal transportation is high and is mainly unrelieved if business income is below a certain level, even with deductible miles and per diem expense deductions.

For the well-chosen business vehicle -- for the small business owner -- it is the longest life at the lowest cpm that determines success. And that the vehicle be as safe, reliable and economical when ready to retire as it was when new (not as hard as some would have us believe). Wash, wax, windshield replacement ("sandblasted" after about 150k), interior repairs/replacement of seat coverings, seatbelts, etc, are all part of this when one considers lowest possible cpm. I would assume a 250k-mile total life as a minimum given primarily highway miles and a 15 model year lifespan for a vehicle purchased at 3-5 years of age. To do it well we replace wearing items before they wear out.

I doubt that a hybrid will ever be up to this, but diesels have been doing it for years already. Fedex contractors with Sprinter vans are an example.

Okay, enough of this, thanks for your patience.


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