The "30 Percent Rule" Pays Off

I'VE HEARD IT SAID that the difference between profit and loss in the trucking game is in the percentages. Well, there are some important percentages that you might not even think about. When you compare today's engines to truck engines you purchased 20 years ago, what I call the "30 percent rule" applies.

For example, compared to 1987 model engines, today's engines get at least 30 percent better fuel economy, cost 30 percent less for maintenance, run over 30 percent longer before overhaul, and perform at least 30 percent better.

But, on a constant dollar basis, they don't cost anywhere near 30 percent more! Those are some pretty good percentages to bet on. Let's "do the math," as the phrase goes.

First of all, engines in the 80s were mostly mechanically controlled while today's engines are all electronic. Electronics give the fleet or owner-operator not only more value but also much more information to manage fuel economy and to reduce maintenance and repair costs.

In 1987, many fleets felt pretty good about getting five miles per gallon in fuel economy, while today 6.5 miles per gallon is common…there's that 30 percent improvement.

When it comes to maintenance, oil change intervals were every 10,000 to 12,000 miles. Today 25,000 to 30,000 oil change intervals are common and some fleets have pushed their oil change intervals out to 50,000 miles. Thirty percent and more!

With 1980s technology, fleets had to adjust valves every 50,000 miles and roll-in bearings every 250,000 miles. Today, it's one valve adjustment at 100,000 miles and then every 250,000 miles thereafter. And bearing roll-ins are a dim memory to most fleet managers. That's quite a savings in maintenance cost—as well as reduced downtime.

Do the math on life-to-overhaul. In the 80s, lots of engines were ready for major attention at 500,000 to 600,000 miles.

Most of today's truck engines, given proper maintenance, are still strong at 750,000 miles and, for many, a million miles to overhaul is common. The difference is easily 30 percent and more.

How about productivity? The most common horsepower in 1987 was the venerable 425 hp. A 30 percent increase is 550 hp and today a fleet can spec an engine up to 625 hp. The same thing is true of torque, with today's maximum torque up to 2,250 foot-pounds!

OK, how about the cost? While it's true that engines cost more today, due to improvements in all areas and in compliance with more stringent emissions regulations, the cost for the truck itself, including the new technology engine is 12 percent less in constant dollars than in 1985!

When you evaluate what you get with new technology engines, today's truck power is a pretty good value after all… So you're getting more value than you probably think! Give me a 30 percent or more improvement in reliability, durability, maintenance cost and fuel economy at a long-term cost of 12 percent, and those are odds I'd play all day long.

Stephen R. Brown is the director of marketing for Caterpillar Global On-Highway Engines.