Is It Time to Break Up With Your Fluids Provider?

Is It Time to Break Up With Your Fluids Provider?

1.  Are they a provider or a partner?

A fluid provider supplies oil and other fluids. After that, you’re on your own as to whether those products are best suited for your fleet’s needs. A fluid partner will know your operation – fleet age, average length of haul, type of freight – and will recommend the best options for optimum performance and your bottom line. Too many fleets go the provider route, relegating fluids as almost an afterthought. But in doing so, they are ignoring potentially significant savings in time, money and overall performance.  

“There is more than one engine oil, even in Shell’s line, so how do you select the right one?” asks Tom Mueller, Shell general manager of Commercial Road Transport Lubricants. That’s where a true fluid partner shines, because they can evaluate your entire operation and recommend the best oil – and other lubrication products – to meet your needs. They can also adjust those recommendations as your fleet ages, adds new truck technology, modifies routes or faces other changes.

Fleets that use lower viscosity engine oils along with other fuel-saving techniques can save roughly $5,000 per truck, according to the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.

Most fleets continually explore ways to reduce their total cost of ownership. And while fuel comprises roughly 55 percent of an average fleet’s total operating budget – according to the North American Council for Freight Efficiency – the impact lubrication can have on fuel consumption is a mystery that only the leading fleet operators seem to have solved.

At least that’s the impression from NACFE’s latest Fleet Fuel Study, which shows that lower viscosity engine oils are one of the top three most widely adopted fuel saving techniques of leading U.S. fleet companies. Alongside other efficiencies, this allows these market leaders to achieve over-the-road tractor fuel economy of 7.23 mpg compared to the average 6.24 mpg, reducing their costs by roughly $5,000 per truck, according to NACFE.                                   


2.  Do they offer top-tier products – and ample supply?

The best lubricant isn’t necessarily the least expensive, Mueller says. It’s the one that matches your application and duty cycle.“The right oil is cheap insurance against a failure that will keep you off the road,” he says. While factors such as TBN (total base number), oxidation control, proven long drain compatibility and proof of performance are the hallmarks of any top-of-the-line lubrication product, it’s not enough for your fluids partner to offer top-tier products. They also need to assure their fleet partners that they have ample supply and the ability to deliver it in a timely manner. 

"The right oil is cheap insurance against a failure that will keep you off the road."  

Tom Mueller,
Shell General Manager of Commercial Road Transport Lubricants

“Many of the fleets we talk to want to minimize inventory,” Mueller says. “By partnering with a global leader such as Shell, fleets can be assured they will have the right lubricants when they need them.” And should a fleet’s trucks need attention when they are away from the terminal, “they want to know it is a brand that is available everywhere,” he says. 

3.  Do they take a holistic approach?

Mueller says many fluid providers don’t think much beyond engine oil. Instead, he stresses finding a fluid partner that considers the entire truck ecosystem. “Selecting the right transmission fluids, oils and greases can make a big difference,” he says. “They should all work together, particularly if you buy them from the same supplier.”  

Mueller points out that in certain applications, power systems are interconnected. One example is how the engine in a refrigerated truck supplies power to a direct drive refrigeration unit. A poor fluid match in those types of applications can have significant impact elsewhere. A true fluids partner understands that co-dependency and can make the best recommendations for lubricants and fluids that will work together.

 4.  Are they a technology leader?

The days of having a mechanic making guesses about fluid performance are over, Mueller says. With fleets increasingly adopting technologies such as transportation management and maintenance software, they need a fluids partner that can help make the most of these advancements.

“We can build on the track record of success, and technology is the starting point,” Mueller says.

Technology can even assist in selecting the right oil: Mobile apps and even AI-assisted fluid selection programs use data trends and granular information to make selections, taking the guesswork out of the process.

5.  Can they help you navigate the regulatory landscape?

A host of new emissions regulations in effect this year and continuing into 2027 and beyond means fleets must choose from no fewer than seven powertrain options – diesel, gasoline, natural gas, battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen ICE and hybrid.

A good fluid partner, Mueller says, should be on top of the regulatory landscape. “You want to work with a reliable partner who will help counsel you to make the right decisions,” he says. And while changes to lubricant formulations are driven by engine manufacturers’ compliance with regulations, fleets will see benefits including longer drain intervals and improved fuel economy that will boost fleets’ bottom lines, he says.


"When it comes to complying with new emissions regulations, you should "work with a reliable partner who will help counsel you to make the right decisions."

Tom Mueller
Shell General Manager of Commercial Road Transport Lubricants                                   

When it comes to the fluids that keep your equipment investments running, don’t make the mistake of sticking with your existing provider just because you’ve been with them a long time. Times change and so do your fluid needs. Do your homework to find a true partner that can provide a strategic, scalable fluid program, one that will transform your fleet’s performance.