Abstract In this paper, we evaluate energy efficiency in the European freight transport sector over three decades, according to a variety of indicators, methodologies and databases. The aim is, on the one hand, of determining major drawbacks in energy efficiency metrics, on the other hand, identifying a possible trend in the sector. The present analysis shows that energy efficiency evaluation is generally subject to misinterpretation and distortion with regard to the methods and data source adopted. Two different indicators (energy intensity and fuel economy) were initially taken into account to select the most suitable for evaluating vehicles’ efficiency. Fuel economy was then adopted and measured according to two different methodologies (top–down and bottom–up). We then considered all the possible sources of distortion (data sources employed, methods of data detection, speed of detection, power enhancement, size factor) with the aim of accomplishing a sound estimation. Fuel economy was eventually divided with the maximum power available (adjusted fuel economy), to account for the power shift of vehicles, that represents a further efficiency improvement.