Drafting a truck to make it home

Drafting a truck to make it home

I was coming home from a 220 mile round trip journey and encountered a headwind on the return that pushed my wh/mile up to 380, a level that looked like i would arrive home with 0 miles. the car at 72mph seems to get about 70% of the ideal range meter. I was faced with the decision to slow down to 50mph or so or draft a semi truck. i got behind a car hauler and my wh/mile average went down to 260-270 which at times was better than ideal range. so drafting at 71mph added 30% to my range vs not drafting. I made it to the house with 20 miles still left in the battery.

andrigtmiller | 2 marzo 2013

Cool story, and nice to know.

Hills | 2 marzo 2013

How close were you to the truck?

ysrman | 2 marzo 2013

averaged about 1.5 car lengths if i had to guess.

c.bussert67 | 2 marzo 2013

Yup. Drafting works great for long haul, butt haulin. Used that many times on my Vegas run. The worst is being all alone pushing all that air. They peel off once in a while and I just slow down to 65 and wait for another tasty barge to go speeding by. I pick it up, tuck in behind, and let him do the work. Even getting in a line of fast moving traffic works if you can be the 3rd or 4th car back. They whip the air and get it moving in front of you. I try to get behind a suburban or something like that.
If you follow something like an 18 wheeler, when you start to grab the draft, at 70 or so, you'll actually hear the wind noise get quieter.
I used to use the speedo to watch power usage, but the new instant mileage on the energy page really shows you what's happening in real time.

Mark E | 2 marzo 2013

While it may work, I'd never condone it. 1.5 car lengths at 70mph is crazy. 70mph is around 110 kmh or 30.5 metres per second. The car is 5 m long, so you are 7.5 m behind the truck. You will close that gap in 250-500 milliseconds if something goes wrong.

Even being conservative, and assuming the truck could only pull 0.7g in braking force then you are still less than a second from hitting it - 1g is 9.8 metres per second.

Most humans have a reaction time between 0.5 and 0.8 seconds, and the brakes themselves have a reaction time of around 0.5 seconds (not to mention the delay in incandescent globes in the tail lights). This also assumes that you are completely attentive and ready to brake, not suffering brain fade from a long drive when you are so close that you can't see past the truck in front.

When i'm driving I can't stand tailgating and will wash my windscreen to make sure that the overspray annoys the tailgater and the drop back or go past.

Its extremely dangerous.

Superliner | 2 marzo 2013

It can be "somewhat safer" albeit STILL NOT recommended. If the Semi Driver is aware you are there and knows what you are doing there and why, and agrees to take you in tow. A good old fashioned CB radio can come in handy for that. From their vantage point they can see much farther ahead and if in voice contact with the semi driver he could alert you of impending slow downs well in advance.

In another life "just out of college" I drove Semi trucks for a stint While I "found myself" lol!!

But that still does NOT cover an emergency for which there is little or no warning.

Robert22 | 2 marzo 2013

Yet the number of rear-end auto collisions with eighteen wheelers remains extremely low. Additional risk however is present due to the possibility of tire delamination from the truck ahead.

Efficiencies of up to 11% (mpg) can still be gained at 100 feet (30m) for the less brave.

Mark E | 2 marzo 2013

I'd expect the number of rear end collisions to increase if more people were tailgating trucks. Most won't do it in an ICE car, with good reason.

30m is still driving less than 1 second behind the truck at 70mph. 7.5m is 250 milli-seconds behind.

I'd rather stop and charge than stop suddenly and potentially fatally.

Mark Z | 2 marzo 2013

Don't forget the added damage when the windshield is pitted from being too close to the trucks. If adequate charge is a problem, slow down to 65 mph or less and make it to your destination safely.

Brian H | 2 marzo 2013

Mark E;
true, but that's a "difference" timing. If the truck comes to an instant dead stop, you've got troubles no matter if you're 3X as far back.

And regen slowing kicks in faster than braking.

Eleonor2002 | 2 marzo 2013

This is not my experiance. For 7 years now, I drove a 24000 lb 5th wheeler in summer. The efficency of the brake is 3 time less than a normal car because of the big mass that you need to stop. So if you tail gate me you will have 3 time more time to stop. I am more consern with the cars that jump in front of me and try to stop! They don't realize that there is a reason why a keep a bigger distance between me and the car in front of me.

GeekEV | 2 marzo 2013

MythBusters did an efficiency test on drafting a semi a while back and found that you could get significant benefit even pretty far back - I forget the exact distance. I think it was something like 100 feet. Closer is better, of course, but only up to a point. If you get too close you're modulating the accelerator too much, not to mention it gets pretty white knuckle. This is exactly why I keep thinking all EVs should have adaptive cruise control with a configurable follow distance. That would make this MUCH safer.

trydesky | 2 marzo 2013

I used to draft semi's when I got my Prius. Their forums are full of efficiency stories. I think I could improve from 50 to 65mgp.

After a bit, it was too "white knuckle" as Geek mentioned.

Docrob | 2 marzo 2013

I might sue this method as a last resort as an alternative to being stuck in the Californian or Arizonan desert but that's about it. If I knew I could make it to a supercharger or home by slowing down to 60 that would be my first choice. Drafting is an option but a damn dangerous one.

Docrob | 2 marzo 2013

that of course was intended to read *use*

RedShift | 2 marzo 2013

This is a cool thread. Loved reading ths innovative trick. Not sure whether its as dangerous as some folks are saying though.

Docrob | 2 marzo 2013

Your not sure if sitting behind a 40 ton vehicle at a distance that will close to zero in less then a second if they suddenly brake is dangerous?

Mark E | 3 marzo 2013

@Brian H: you are correct, however being a 7.5m behind also means that you are relying on the truck seeing and reacting, since that close your vision is completely obscured. I observe a 2.5 to 3 second distance as a minimum at speed and it has meant that I've avoided accidents for the last 32 years.

I've seen some accidents developing in front and had time to react, brake, swerve or whatever. In on example where I was not far back - closing to overtake - a wombat appeared from the car in front. I was on a motorcycle and only had time to stand up and attempt to lift the front wheel - and got away with it. I hit the wombat at 120 kmh and was lucky.

For all of the non Aussies here a wombat is a solid ball of muscle the size of a large dog. They can do severe suspension damage if you hit one, and have caused serious accidents. In this case I can only assume that the car hit it first, running over it but between the wheels.

My point with this - if I was my normal 2-3 seconds behind I could have avoided the obstacle easily, but as I was closing I had less than a second to react. No time at all.

lph | 3 marzo 2013

I use the 4 second rule where ever possible so drafting is out for me.
I know this is silly to do on purpose but if the battery ran out of charge, could you not charge the battery while getting a tow using regen mode? This would mean that you would not need to get towed all the way. Would probably need a pretty strong tow rope.

cloroxbb | 3 marzo 2013


Im pretty sure you are NOT supposed to be "pulled." Flatbeds are the recommended towing procedure.

nickjhowe | 3 marzo 2013

@lph, @cloroxbb is right. The Model S cannot be towed. You'll void the warranty. The only allowable towing is to get it onto a flatbed [or out of a ditch :-)]

lph | 3 marzo 2013

Assuming there was a way to attach the tow rope... what is the reason for voiding the warranty? Would it damage the car in some way?

nickjhowe | 3 marzo 2013

@lph - the only way is to attach to the suspension, and it needs a 2x4 under the front of the car to take some of the strain. There is no towing eye.

Brian H | 3 marzo 2013

A model S can do 60-0 in about 110'. A truck takes multiples of that. Unless it crashes ahead of you, there's lots of braking time before the breaking time sets in. ;)

Dr. Bob Reinke | 3 marzo 2013

One of our truck drivers drilled a hole in the floor of his cab, and placed a piece of 3/4 inch conduit through it. He has a bag of marbles fastened to his seat and when he can't see the car tailgating behind him, he reaches into the bag and drops the marbles down the conduit. Discourages tailgating!! So remember, if you can't see his mirrors, he can't see you.

lph | 3 marzo 2013

Always thought that some truck drivers did not have all their marbles ;-)

drp | 3 marzo 2013

Drafting works really great for the fuel economy but the hood of the vehicle will look like it has freckles pretty quickly. Think it's pretty severe particularly if you drive on roads that get salt on them at all. Additionally, just the dust and dirt blowing across the fields in the Midwest leave a lot of residue on the road and it hacks the crap out of the hood. Road rash is a big deal! I don't want that on my Tesla.

Mark E | 4 marzo 2013

@Brian: that's where you are wrong. Yes, the car can stop a lot faster than the truck. No contest.

However, your reaction time eats up the space *really* fast, and if you are distracted a all before you know it its an emergency stop to avoid rear ending the truck. Plus being so close you can't see past to get advanced warning of what's coming up.

Oh, and when the truck does do an emergency brake - which you haven't seen coming - then at 0.7g that's just under 7 metres per second that you gain on it. At 7.5 m behind the truck the gap is gone and you have crashed in just on a second. Add into that the human reaction time of between 0.5 and 0.8 seconds assuming an attentive driver expecting an emergency stop. It's about 1.2 seconds in practice.

Once your reaction time is up you have either hit the truck, or are about to.

Timo | 4 marzo 2013

Mark E, you mentioned that brakes take 0.5 seconds to react. That can't be right, half a second for brakes to activate is eternity in accident timescale.

I agree that one to even two seconds is average action time though. Note that this is not REaction, but actual action. From time to notice that "hey something is happening" to "decision what to do" can be rather long time. Less for experienced driver, longer for inexperienced (also inexperienced driver might do wrong decision far more likely, but that's another matter completely).

Also you mention "are about to [crash]", at that point it doesn't matter much if car can decelerate faster than truck, truck started decelerating earlier, so it is already going quite a lot slower, so add your own car initial velocity before deceleration starts to that and you notice that distance required for you to reach same or slower velocity is quite a bit longer than your reaction time.

noel.smyth | 4 marzo 2013

tried this for about 2 to 3 miles at 60ish MPH and wow what a difference, was running about 200 wh/m.

c.bussert67 | 4 marzo 2013

After only 2 milliseconds of trying to compile all this data, my computer just crashed!!!

Brian H | 4 marzo 2013

Mark E;
Which would you rather be behind: An SUV doing an emergency brake, or a tractor-trailer? A car, or an SUV?

The smaller the vehicle, in general, the faster it will stop and the less reaction time you have. The maximum reaction time is provided, for your convenience and safety, by large trucks.

Mark E | 4 marzo 2013

There is a good summary at

@Timo: Agreed, the time taken for the brakes to actually start working is longer a bigger part of the equation than you think. The report above estimates 0.3 seconds. This is part of the reason emergency brake assist was invented. The human action time is a component of the brake action, but not all of it. How fast do you think you can move a lever 3-4 inches? That's the brake pedal, and it isn't an on/off switch, but a linear movement that takes time.

@Brian: There is a trade-off. The truck cannot stop as quickly, but blocks more of the view ahead to anticipate.

Lots of drivers completely overestimate their ability to react in an emergency. The reaction time is dramatically increased if you are not expecting it from if you are sitting, attentive, waiting for an event. If you are drafting another vehicle and look briefly at your dashboard and back to the road ahead that is 0.5 seconds at a minimum, plus the surprise factor and the time taken for you to realise that this isn't just the vehicle ahead slowing down a little, but doing an emergency stop.

In general driving we see brake lights come on all the time, so they don't automatically trigger us to emergency brake - you need to compute that the vehicle ahead is actually slowing down rapidly and you need to brake harder. This takes time, and if you have a buffer of less than a second you just don't have any to spare.

Additionally, as I have mentioned a number of times, when you are that close to a large vehicle you simply can't see the road ahead to get additional cues as to what is happening, and shorten your own reaction time. I have found myself braking *before* the vehicle ahead on a number of occasions as I'm observing what is happening and anticipate.

Further, a string of vehicles drafting on a freeway is a recipe for disaster, as the number of 'draftees' increases so does the risk. If you are unfortunate to be in the middle the accident can be even more severe for you as you get squashed from both sides.

jason_freedman | 4 marzo 2013

As a distance bicyclist, drafting makes a HUGE difference in how much work you need to do. Like night and day. Having said that, I'm with the majority here that drafting is not something I'd want to do in a car at 70mpg behind a semi. Scary enough if the cyclist in front of you has to go around a pothole and that's at 20mpg.

olanmills | 4 marzo 2013

+100 Mark E, thank you.

So many people feel like they are smart/skilled enough to do what everyone else can't or shouldn't, and if something goes wrong, there's always some unexpected extenuating factor that caused the accident, so it just can't be their fault alone. Normally speeding works fine!

Well duh! Accidents happen because the unexpected happens. And when more than one unexpected thing is going on, then the chance something will go wrong are multiplied.

It's not worth it.

anthonytesla | 4 marzo 2013

its not worth it...but if you are suffering range anxiety, which I was yesterday coming back from Palm Springs (to south Orange County) with very significant head and cross winds, it really did help. I commented to my daughter that I wish I had a permanent sign in the car so I can notify the truck that I'm going to draft him/her, so they know...

Cattledog | 4 marzo 2013

Anecdotally, on a 400 mile roundtrip to Houston, felt like about a 15% efficiency gain in Wh/mi at 2 seconds back an 18 wheeler. Safe and efficient.

c.bussert67 | 4 marzo 2013

You find good drafters. They either don't mind you are there, or don't even notice and maintain a smooth constant speed. I wish I could say I'm drafting, or thank them after a long haul. I find it a unspoken friendship. If I'm in my big truck, I don't mind if someone tags along. I just make sure to give them fair warning when I see traffic slowing up ahead. Usually just slowing without the brakes sends the message. If I get suspicious of a braking event, I'll break the draft, check out what's up ahead. If he's just being jerky, I'll find another partner.
As for road debris, I checked the box next to paint armor... it has held up great so far! Taken a few rocks so far with no paint damage.

ebullio | 21 marzo 2013

Regen will give you a few extra meters because the car will slow down before you touch the brakes.

Thumper | 21 marzo 2013

Did a 228 mi. trip last week that included mountain passes on I5. Drafted part of the way on both out and back legs. I stayed pretty far back but still had a good benefit. Averaged 312 w/m on south leg into a headwind and 291 on the north leg. On the north leg, picked up an empty log truck to draft. This may be the ideal draft. They have a strong wake, have the power to go up the hills at the 65mph and without a load they can see you in their mirrors and you can see past them fairly well. Still stay back enough to be safe and not cause them to be irritated.

Lanber | 21 marzo 2013

I friend of mine says he makes the trailer go out on the dirty shoulder momenterily, kicks up all kinds of shit for tailgaters or bicycles

nau | 21 marzo 2013

In case you cannot stop in time, your beautiful car will go underneath the semi and your head may move to a different place. It will be quite a ugly scene.

Brian H | 21 marzo 2013

Being unable to stop as fast as a big truck happens only to daydreamers. The MS has exceptional stopping power; trucks, not so much.

Mark E | 22 marzo 2013

Tailgating a large truck is actually very dangerous. Depending on your definition of 'drafting' it could be extremely dangerous or only moderately dangerous. It's not about the stopping power of the brakes or anything else, if you are less than a second behind the truck you are extremely likely to hit it if for some reason the truck does a quick stop.

It's also illegal and you can be ticketed for doing it.

Brian H | 22 marzo 2013

The truck that can stop in 1 second from highway speeds, or in within 1 second of the MS' stopping time, has yet to be invented or produced.

Rob M | 22 marzo 2013

For those that think drafting close to a truck is a good idea just think about how the trucks higher suspension will pass harmlessly over a fairly large stationary object and how little time you will have from the point you can see it. Good luck.

vgrinshpun | 22 marzo 2013

I absolutely agree with Rob M and have a true story to prove his point.

Little more than a year ago I was following a semi in the early morning darkness, closer than I should have. When the truck cleared the WHOLE carcass of a large deer, I did not have sufficient time to react and run over it in my Infiniti G35 at approximately 75 mph.

Brian H | 22 marzo 2013

I bet the repairs cost you deerly.

vgrinshpun | 22 marzo 2013

The cost was covered by insurance company (not Hartford).

The biggest problem was to get rid of the stench. My dog was perpetually insisting on doing thorough investigation of the underbody.

Mark E | 22 marzo 2013

@Brian H, the truck doesn't need to stop in 1 sec for you to hit it. It just needs to slow down rapidly before you have time to react. If you are too close then you have already hit it. It's basic math and physics. A truck slowing at 0.7g changes speed at 16mph ie you are closing that fast.

Note that I have never said you would hit it at 60mph.