Fueling the truck

BOOM! Back-to-back blog entries! Whoa! We’re sitting and waiting at a receiver so I had some spare time. This is a ‘learny’ topic that’s been on my list of things to write about for a while, so here it is! Don’t get too overly excited. And grab some popcorn.


Feeding the beast, as I like to call it. Filling a truck up with fuel is a lot like filling up your car, but with a few major differences.

First of all, your average car holds somewhere around 12-15 gallons of gas. Our truck has two 125-gallon tanks, so we can haul up to 250 gallons of diesel fuel.

Which leads to the next major difference – the average car uses gasoline. The big trucks use diesel. Most people know this – what’s tough is learning to call the foot pedal an “accelerator” or “fuel pedal” instead of “gas pedal.” Because if you call it a “gas pedal,” (especially if you’re a chick) the boys are going to start reminding you to fill your blinker fluid. And no, there’s no such thing as blinker fluid. And no, I haven’t fallen for that one. Even though I’m typically pretty gullible… and blonde. ;)

Another difference is a very simple thing – when pulling into the fuel pumps to fill a semi, it’s important to know you’re pulling into the correct “truck-friendly” fuel pumps. First of all, they have diesel fuel. Second, there’s usually two pumps for each truck (I’ll get to that below). Third, most truck fuel pumps now have DEF, which I’ll also get to below. And fourth, the canopy clearance is tall enough for a big rig. I’ve seen too many embarrassing photos online of trucks that tried to pull into a regular car fueling station. Yes, they may have diesel, but you just might end up wedged there waiting for a wrecker to rescue you.

The process:
1. Wait for an open pump.
2. Pull up and line up.
3. Enter your information.
4. Fuel diesel tanks, DEF, and reefer.
5. Pull forward and park.
6. Go inside for receipt and leave the fueling area.

1. Wait for an open pump.
Sometimes there is an open pump and you don’t have to wait, but sometimes all the pumps are full and you do. In this case, you generally pick a truck to wait behind because space is limited and you don’t want to take up more room than necessary so other trucks can get through and/or wait in line, too. When you’re choosing a truck to wait behind, there can be a little strategy to put to use. You first look for a truck that doesn’t have one pulled up in front of it (standard practice after fueling is to pull up one truck length and park to open the pump for the next guy). This way, when the truck you’re waiting for is done, it’s clear for him to pull up, leaving the pump open for you. If there’s a truck in front of him, and the driver is inside taking a poo or something, you could be waiting a while. Another thing to look for is how far along the driver is in the fueling process – sometimes you can tell if they’ve just started fueling or are nearly done. Get behind the guy that’s nearly done. And the last thing you can look for is if the truck has a reefer (refrigerated trailer). The reefer fuel tank is on the trailer, so when drivers have to fuel the reefer tank, they pull up a short ways so the pump can reach the reefer tank. This tank doesn’t need to be filled every single time the truck does, so the driver may not even fill their reefer tank, but it’s just one more thing to look for if you’re hoping to get in and out quick.

2. Pull up and line up.
Once your fuel station is open, you pull up slowly and get your truck lined up so the pump hoses will reach the diesel tanks. As you’re pulling forward, it’s important to watch the trailer, too. Sometimes you go in a little crooked and want to be sure “ol’ Leroy,” the trailer (my trainer called the trailers “ol’ Leroy” and it stuck with me), doesn’t clip another truck or the giant, yellow, cement poles between fuel pumps.


Gettin full. Mmm, yummy diesel!

3. Enter your information.
Once at the pump, you first insert your fuel card. I’m not sure if it works the same for Owner/Operators that use their own credit card, or if they have their own fuel card or what – but as a company driver, we are given a fuel card to use at specific truck stops. We use only Pilot and Flying J truck stops to fuel. Anyway, we insert our fuel card, then insert our Pilot Rewards card. This is nice because it rewards you with free showers and points that can be used like cash in the store. Next the pump prompts you for the following information: Truck Number, Odometer Reading, Trailer Number, and Employee Number. It also asks if you need Tractor Fuel, Reefer Fuel, or Both. A seperate screen asks if you need to fill DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid)*. After a couple more questions to see if you need a cash advance or will be purchasing any products in-store, like bottled DEF, it prompts you to remove the nozzle and begin fueling.

*DEF, or Deisel Exhaust Fluid
I’m going to go on a quick tangent here, because the DEF thing is kind of interesting, and exclusive to big trucks, as far as I know. DEF is a solution of urea and deionized water. Yes, urea. Like pee. So don’t spill it on yourself! Anyway, the truck has a totally separate tank that holds DEF. This solution’s purpose is to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions into the air from the truck’s exhaust system. So what happens, in a nutshell, is the DEF is thrown into the exhaust system and broken down into an ammonia potion that converts everything to simple water and nitrogen, which is harmless – and that is what is released through the exhaust. So it’s emissions stuff and becoming standard on all trucks. A few fun facts about DEF: The nozzle on a DEF pump is 22mm wide compared to the 44mm wide diesel pumps so that drivers don’t accidentally put diesel fuel into the DEF tank. DEF freezes pretty easily, so the pumps are insulated with a sort of “jacket,” and the tanks are built to reduce the possibility of freezing when in the truck. DEF weighs 9 pounds/gallon, while diesel fuel weighs in around 7 pounds/gallon. (We have had to use this information when dealing with gross weight of our vehicle – and have had to refrain from filling up all the way to stay within legal weight limits.) And last, if the truck runs out of DEF completely? The truck’s power is greatly reduced until the DEF tank can be refilled. We haven’t had it happen, but I’ve read that the truck will power down and run at only 5mph until the tank is filled. That would suck at the side of the road. We do carry a jug of DEF in our storage in case we need it. If you’re all into the super-nerdy details of the emissions and the DEF stuff I’ve mentioned, that’s totally cool. This is all you’re gonna’ get from me, but at the end of this post are two references that I used to get some basics that will lead you to more details. Have a ball!


The DEF jacket to keep the urea snuggly-warm and unfrozen.

4. Fuel diesel tanks, DEF, and reefer.
Once lined up, you fill the tanks. Trucks usually have two diesel tanks. One on each side of the truck (ours has two 125-gallon tanks), so the diesel pumps at truck stops have two hoses/nozzles at each spot. The one on the driver’s side is the main pump, and the one of the passenger’s side is called the “satellite” pump. You first start the main pump on the driver’s side tank, then go over to the passenger’s side tank and get the satellite going. I usually wash my windows while waiting for the tanks to fill. 200 gallons can take a while! Oh, and washing windows with the super-long squeegie is tricky, but I’m getting better at it.

Once the diesel tanks are full, the pump prompts you to fill DEF if you’ve selected to fill it. If we’ve lined up correctly, we don’t have to move the truck to fill DEF. But a few times, the hose didn’t quite reach, so I did have to scoot up or back a foot first.

If you’ve selected to fill the reefer tank, that will be the last prompt. Here you’d pull forward until the reefer tank on the trailer is lined up with the pump’s hose/nozzle, then get back out, power down the reefer unit and fill up the tank. And don’t forget to restart the reefer when you’re done!

To spot a reefer unit out on the road, look for a cylindrical tank hanging below the trailer just behind the landing gear, or the actual refrigerating unit attached to the front of the trailer (behind the tractor). At night, you’ll see a small green light on the trailer’s nose (front) on the driver’s side. Green means the reefer is running properly. If it turns yellow, service is needed asap. If you’re hauling something like raw meat or frozen foods, you want to be sure it stays at the temperature it’s supposed to!


The green reefer light indicating all is well! Our cheese is staying at a nice, cool 34 degrees.

5. Pull forward and park.
Once all the fueling is completed, you pull forward leaving enough room for someone to pull into the pump behind you. You can also go and park in the lot, but usually when we’re fueling, we just need to run in, pee, and grab our receipt. This is what this space is for.

Note – It’s kind of a sin in the trucking world to use the fuel line for anything other than fueling purposes. Truckers have been known to pull through and use it as parking spot for their breaks instead of using the lot. I will admit that we have pulled in and parked to run in for a quick pee – but we ONLY do this when we know we’re going to be in and out within minutes, the fuel island is pretty much empty and we are certain we won’t hold anyone up. I may get blasted for admitting to that – because hey… a sin’s a sin, even in trucking.


Don't be "that" guy.

6. Go inside for receipt and leave the fueling area.
Don’t lollygag. After fueling you go inside, be quick about restroom breaks and coffee fill-ups, head to the driver kiosk, swipe your rewards card, select “print receipt,” and move on so other truckers can continue to filter through the pumps without any major hold-ups. If we’re going to use a shower or need a longer break, we’ll always go straight past the fuel parking and just back into a spot in the lot and go in from there.

So that’s the process of “feeding the beast.” I know I can be a little long-winded, but trust me, it could’ve been worse! I just started reading about the two types of diesel – #1 and #2. When it gets freezing-cold outside, diesel fuel can gel up. #1 gels at a lower temperature than #2, so there’s additives, blends and even more that goes into it. The learning process is never over in this industry! I am no expert, and will most likely never claim to be one, but I’ll share stuff I think I know, anyway. Now if you ever need to fuel up a big rig, you’ll know the routine!

Keep ‘er rollin’ rubber-side down!


Adam running the satellite pump.

*If you’re curious to read the more techy stuff about DEF, here’s the two basic references I used for my lame-o description. Go nuts and let me know if I missed some major point. :)



Tonight I love my and Adam’s squeegie wars when we’re both awake for a fuel-up. We can’t see each other over the truck, but we’ll both be squeegie-ing our side of the windshield and invading the other’s side. He’ll clean, I’ll soap over it, then he’ll get me back. I totally won last time when his squeegie actually fell off the stick and fell into our hood. Yeah, it was pretty freakin’ funny.


And that's only half of what we can hold! Quite a price tag!


Reefer fuel tank under the trailer, behind the landing gear.


The reefer unit/engine attached to the nose (front) of the trailer.


12 thoughts on “Fueling the truck

  1. Number 1 diesel has dye in it and is designated for heavy vehicles that are not required by law to pay the heavy road use tax(Mostly Farming Tractors, Combines, etc…). Number 2 diesel is dye free and is taxed for heavy road use per gallon you by per state. If you get stopped for a DOT inspection you will notice that the DOT officer will shine a flashlight into your tanks. He is looking for the reddish color dye, and if it is found in the tank the fine is pretty hefty. The Diesel number 1 and diesel number 2 blend you mentioned is in small enough porportions to not show the red dye very well. Premium Diesel for cars is much the same as that for heavy truck except for the fact that is treated with lubricants and cleansers on a different percentage than that of heavey use trucks. Also, DEF freezes very easily since it is roughly 33% Urea, and 67% water.

  2. Hey there! I just got a gig with my friend’s company expediting long distance deliveries and it’s my first time driving a diesel truck. I’m not driving a truck quite as big as yours (it’s just a 19′ box truck) but I’ve been slowly learning the ins and outs of the trucking world. I wish I would’ve found your blog sooner! It would’ve save me a major “damsel in distress” moment when I ran out of DEF on the highway. Luckily my truck maintained 55 mph for a bit. Any longer and it would’ve gone down to 5 mph. I came across your blog today because I didn’t know the difference between tractor fuel and reefer fuel. It was my first time attempting to use the trucker side of the station and I was completely thrown off by all the prompts. Since I’m only 11′ tall, I’ve been staying inside my comfort zone at the car pumps. You answered my question for me, for sure. Now I won’t feel so intimidated by the big rig side. Anyway, you’ve got lots of great info here and I really appreciate you sharing! I love your sense of humor, too!


  3. I’ve always wondered what the fueling process was like at those big truck stops. There is a guy in Phillips that has a new Diesel Car and it also uses DEF. I think it is that way for all new diesel engines.

      • My 2013 VW Golf diesel gets “fuel conditioner” every 40k miles – I wonder if that’s DEF. On the subject of diesel refueling – a word of caution to other diesel car owners. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of nowhere, the diesel pumps are set up for tractor trailers and not suitable for diesel cars. The nozzle diameter is too big to fit in a passenger vehicle tank. I first ran into this problem 100 miles from anywhere. Definitely gave me that “oh crap” feeling. Thankfully they did have one diesel pump that worked for passenger cars.

      • I know there are additives for the diesel to help keep it from gelling in cold weather – I assume it’s like Heet for gasoline cars, kinda. Maybe your additive is something like that. The DEF would be a separate tank because it’s not supposed to mix with the diesel.

        I never thought about the pump situation with a diesel car – I wonder how it’s different from #1 or #2 truck diesel?

      • Hmm, well I have pretty limited understanding of these things but this is the little I know. I’m supposed to only put diesel #2 in my car – that’s the standard ultra low sulphur diesel at most regular gas stations. I have no idea if that’s the same diesel as tractor trailers use. Diesel #1 is the cold weather diesel that won’t gel in below freezing temperatures. I don’t live where that’s much of a problem. It gets cold here but it’s not a sustained cold like Montana or North Dakota might get. On a similar topic – I live in a rural area where you can also get red dye diesel #1 (“farmer red”), which is subsidized for farm use and thus much cheaper than regular diesel. However – and the VW dealer warned me about this – if I were to put farmer red in my car, it would leave a red residue on my engine and around my tail pipe. If I were to get caught with these tell-tale markers on my car, I’d get in a bunch of trouble.

        As far as the DEF discussion and its use in diesel cars – from the little I learned on the internet, it seems that using the DEF additive is required in some but not all new diesel passenger vehicles. For example, Volkswagen uses it in its larger cars like the Passat and the Toureg but it’s not necessary in smaller cars like Golfs and Jettas. The cars that require it have a seperate tank and injector for DEF but it’s under the hood and you only have to add DEF every 1000 or so miles (every two fill-ups). The new Mazda diesel that should be arriving in the U.S. very soon is being designed so that it doesn’t need DEF.

      • We do use #2 in our truck now, but in the winter the fuel stations up here switch to a blend of #1 and #2, I guess. I haven’t heard of the farmer red – interesting!

        It’s funny, never thought I’d find this stuff so interesting, but I do! :)

      • Oh and one last thing – I was wrong about how much DEF is needed for VW engines. The Passat and Toureg only need it added every 10,000 miles. It gets added with every oil change (the oil change intervel being 10,000 miles on VW diesels). I love my VW. It makes the cutest little diesel burble. I also get over 50 mpg on the highway! Woohoo! Plus it’s fast and powerful. :)

  4. Very well done!! As for O/O we fuel exactly as you do except each week on our paycheck we get all the fuel we purchased taken off as well as Cargo Insurance ($241.00 a week) and monthly insurances for the truck. We aren’t able to get health insurance thru V&S unfortunately.
    I was going to tell you about mentioning a ‘reefer’ unit to a non trucking person and they couldn’t talk from laughing so hard! Yes we really have our own language, don’t we? Keep it safe and thanks for sharing our trade! A real big thumbs up to you and Adam! It’s great to have you on our team!

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