Side Skirts Save Owner-Operator Team $10,000 a Year in Fuel

In previous quarters, Schilling’s big rig and trailer, without side skirts, averaged 6.7 to 6.8 miles per gallon. For the first quarter with the prototype Freight Wing fairings installed, his rig averaged 7.2 miles per gallon.


Racking up close to 20,000 miles every month translates into a big fuel bill for owner-operator Jim Schilling and his brother, Mickey, who drive in a team operation.

That’s why Jim Schilling was more than happy to be a “test bed” for Freight Wing’s new AeroFlex 2012 side skirts on his 2008 Great Dane refrigerated trailer back in May. The fairings, which recently became commercially available, are designed to improve aerodynamic performance and provide fuel savings.

Schilling said they are doing just that.

“My fuel miles picked up 6%, 7% or more,” he said in a telephone interview as he headed south through Stockton, Calif., to Salinas, where he was scheduled to pick up a load of lettuce.

In previous quarters, Schilling said, his big rig, without side skirts, averaged 6.7 to 6.8 miles per gallon. For the first quarter with the prototype Freight Wing fairings installed, his rig averaged 7.2 miles per gallon – a gain of four-tenths to five-tenths of a mile per gallon. That works out to a percentage improvement between 5.88% and 7.46%. Doing the math, that equates to close to $10,000 a year in fuel savings.

The Freight Wing fairings also have proved flexible and durable, Schilling said. They are constructed of a dense matrix polyethylene material – an engineered plastic — and feature a flex mounting system. The side skirts have taken a couple of knocks here and there, usually backing into a loading dock or when the rig has to go over speed bumps, but have not sustained any damage other than minor scrapes, Schilling said.

The combination of resilience and sturdiness in the Freight Wing fairings didn’t surprise Schilling, who went the extra mile – literally, it could be said – to assure himself that the side skirts would last.

“I had my buddies drive next to me” to observe how much the fairings moved as his rig traveled along the highway, Schilling said. The word he got was that there was hardly any noticeable motion – “a tiny bit.” The Freight Wing fairings are the only ones Schilling has tried. Others that he looked into seemed too heavy and bulky, he said, noting the fairing weigh in at 150 pounds (30 pounds lighter than Freight Wing’s previous generation side skirts).

Based in North Bend, Wash., east of Seattle, Schilling has his own authority and does business as Velocity Transport. His tractor is a 2008 Kenworth T660, painted red.

An unexpected benefit of the side skirts, which Schilling said he noticed immediately, was a reduction in buffeting. The vehicle rocks less in windy weather, making his ride more comfortable.

However, it’s the fuel savings that won Schilling over to the side skirts.

They seem to have had the same effect on state regulators in California. In 2011, the Golden State began requiring aerodynamic devices such as side skirts and low-rolling-resistance tires on new trailers. By 2013, any trailer entering the state must have side skirts and fuel-efficient tires, unless operators enroll for phase-in plans.

For Schilling, it’s good business sense. When the price of diesel fuel spikes owner-operators usually can’t pass along the full cost to their customers. Anything that saves them fuel is a big plus.

“We’ll do anything we can to save fuel,” Schilling said. “These side skirts have really benefited our bottom line.”

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