When transporting a fleet of vehicles from point A to B, drivers must consider a variety of factors to ensure the optimal route is safe, efficient, and cost-effective.
Fortunately, creating a comprehensive route optimization plan incorporating weather forecasts, fuel prices, and scheduled stops can inform drivers of expectations and ensure their journey is risk-free.
To gain a solid understanding of what goes into effective truck route planning, we’ve created this guide to act as your backseat driver as you navigate the essentials of planning routes.
What Is Truck Route Planning?
Unlike heading off with a pal for a summer touring the national parks, commercial route planning isn’t a matter of Google Maps and bookmarking the Roadside America website to plan selfies next to giant fiberglass chickens and the biggest ball of twine in the world.
While both trips include mapping out multi-stop driving routes, they have different priorities and needs. Beyond weather and traffic patterns, trucking routes require knowledge of:
- The vehicle’s size and weight
- Weighing station locations
- Toll road charge methods
- Truck usage, such as overpass heights, road width, and road restrictions
- Refueling and truck driver break needs
In addition to identifying fuel stops based on large truck access, you may also need to identify:
- Specific fuel chains and franchises for restrictive fuel card programs
- Shower facilities
- Overnight parking locations
Why Is Truck Route Planning Important?
Incorporating all the facts before you finalize a designated truck route will prevent losses, save money, and keep your business running more smoothly and more safely. Investing in truck routing software or a truck route planner will help you avoid:
- Truck damage from low overpasses or other commercial vehicle hazards
- Higher fuel costs by not optimizing stops based on state and local tax variations
- Shipment delays after last-minute rerouting to avoid restricted or congested roads
- Sleep-deprived drivers in search of facilities to sleep, shower, or use limiting fuel cards
- Higher tolls due to lack of efficiency in toll route, delivery, and weigh station planning
With fuel costs skyrocketing in 2022—up to a summertime national average of $5.01 gasoline and $5.82 diesel—making every dollar count is more important than ever 1. Commercial fleets can’t afford to make errors that lead to increased vehicle repairs, downtime, fuel and toll costs, or safety risks.
Overall, an optimal route planning program will:
- Increase profit margins
- Reduce delivery time
- Minimize vehicle repair and downtime
- Improve time management, efficiency, and productivity
- Increase customer satisfaction and retention
Top Tips for Truck Route Planning
Truck route planning is a critical part of ensuring that goods are delivered safely, on time, and cost-effectively. There are several factors that need to be considered.
#1 Understand the Time Involved in Stops
Even in the most expedient circumstances, consider that a fuel stop period interrupts the run from the point of reducing speed on the highway before the off-ramp through the return to cruising speed.
A complete stop to refuel can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, which may include:
- Waiting for available fuel stations
- Filling tanks up to 300 gallons
- Cleaning windshields and mirrors
- Topping off fluids like oil, water, and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF)
- Checking tire condition
- Visiting the facilities
- Ordering food or beverages
- Taking mandated driver breaks (often an uninterrupted 30 minutes)
- Performing safety checks before driving
#2 Consider Local Fuel Price Ranges
Obviously, you’re going to rack up higher fuel costs on the west coast than the midwest in general. But keep in mind that the prices can range widely at a much more localized level. For instance, if you were near Chicago in mid-October 2022, you’d pay an average of $5.20 by stopping in Norridge, versus $4.10 just 42 miles away in Campton Hills. 2
It may be worth it not just to cross state lines, but to choose refuel locations based on more immediate city and county price variations. Typically, prices will be high in city centers, lower in some suburban rings, and then rise again in rural areas with less competition. Learn more about fleet fuel management and ways to reduce fleet expenses.
#3 Calculate Time and Costs Related to Weight
Weight is critical in truck route planning. To keep weight at the forefront of your truck route planning, keep the following in mind:
- An empty semi-truck typically weighs between 25,000 and 35,000 pounds 3
- A 300-gallon tank of diesel weighs about 2,100 pounds, and many trucks have two tanks 4
- Maximum total weight for a fully loaded semi-truck under federal law is 80,000 pounds
In addition to tire wear and performance, a truck’s weight will affect:
- Fuel efficiency and thus overall fuel costs
- Cost at toll roads that charge semi-trucks by weight
- Fines at weigh stations
- Tire wear and performance, which impacts fuel efficiency and accident risk
To plan the most cost-effective route, you’ll need to:
- Optimize truck weight including both loads and fuel weight
- Identify lowest-cost refueling locations and vendors
- Calculate toll road routes
If trailer loads vary, you may find variations in what elements are juggled. Is it better to limit refueling amounts or fill up at lower-priced locations? Better to refuel after a weight-based toll if the fuel price is higher?
Some trucking companies follow the practice of stopping more frequently but refueling only to limited quantities, such as half a tank, in order to keep weight-related costs down. Consider whether a consistent rule makes sense in certain parts of the country or company-wide.
All of these factors can be integrated through effective truck route planning to minimize both short- and long-term costs.
#4 Stay on Top of the Weather
Rain, sleet, snow, ice, fog—none of these conditions are ideal, especially when they arrive without warning. Poor weather conditions can increase time on the road by:
- Creating traffic slowdowns
- Increasing accidents or delays that necessitate rerouting
- Causing road closures
Just as with weight-related calculations, you may need to consider whether to opt for a shorter route through difficult weather or a longer route with no weather hazard predictions.
#5 Incorporate Maintenance Into Route Planning
Ensuring and encouraging ongoing maintenance starts with optimized route planning. Your drivers must have the time, space, and tools necessary when they’re on the road.
A helpful route plan will incorporate critical maintenance, such as checking fluids and tire condition and pressure. While it adds minutes to a fuel stop, leaving these issues unattended to can disrupt a route schedule by:
- Increasing the chance of skidding, accidents, and tire blow-outs
- Reducing fuel efficiency
- Adding cost and delays with more frequent tire replacement or increased repair needs
#6 Use the Right Tools
With an internet connection, a stack of paper, and a pencil with a BIG eraser, you might figure this out by hand. But to get up-to-the-minute information on prices, tax and toll rates, and road conditions, you need to invest in a commercial vehicle route planner or route optimization software.
Effective route planning software will connect management, dispatch, and truck drivers through desktop platforms and mobile apps in order to:
- Optimize routes by time, cost, and other factors
- Compare planned route options
- Provide real-time alerts and options for road blockages, accidents, and traffic jams
- Incorporate mandated breaks and specific truck refueling needs
- Identify road limitations relevant to commercial drivers
- Provide GPS tracking accessible by fleet managers and clients
- Connect drivers to fleet dispatchers in real-time
In addition to standard trips, your routing software should incorporate reverse logistics to coordinate pickups of returned orders or used containers with existing routes.
#7 Analyze Your Data
Having access to a tracking software or system should provide you with both the tools to complete a job and with cumulative data that can be of use. With readymade reports or a planning dashboard, route optimization software should help you:
- Spot irregularities where actual costs or time exceeded the plan
- Identify needs for driver training and reminders
- Calculate the true cost and profit margin of clients and jobs
- Support driver evaluations and high-performance indicators
- See changes over time in tax rates, vendor prices, and other costs
Fuel Cards for Truck Route Planning
Whether you work with delivery or shipping logistics, efficient truck routes will save you time and money, and choosing the right fuel card program is part of a top-notch trip planning approach.
By tracking fuel stops and usage, you can identify low-cost vendors, fuel-efficient routes, and any spending irregularities. You can then integrate fuel card data with your fleet management system and connect fuel costs to assigned vehicles, load weights, and driving routes.
When truck drivers use the AtoB fuel card, your company can save up to 25 cents per gallon each time a vehicle is refueled. The AtoB secured gas card offers transparent pricing and is accepted nationwide.
Whether you’re the brains behind a single-owner LLC, or an OTR trucking company, AtoB offers one of the most flexible fuel card programs for you and your truck and delivery drivers.
Take the wheel and get started with AtoB fuel cards. Start your AtoB fuel card application today.
1 Statistica. Daily average regular gas and diesel prices in the United States throughout the war in Ukraine. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1293019/us-daily-average-gas-prices/
2 GasBuddy. Gas Price Map. https://www.gasbuddy.com/gaspricemap?lat=42.0276871500645&lng=-88.2276964487289&z=10
3 J.D. Power. How Much Does a Semi Truck Weigh? https://www.jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/how-much-does-a-semi-truck-weigh
4 Sage-Answer. How big are fuel tanks on semi trucks? https://sage-answer.com/how-big-are-fuel-tanks-on-semi-trucks/