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6 of the Best Ways to Manage Fleet Fuel Costs

6 of the Best Ways to Manage Fleet Fuel Costs
The Siliconreview
17 July, 2020

When you manage a business fleet, fuel costs are among the heftiest expenses you’ll face – you don’t need us to tell you that. But what we can share with you are six simple yet impactful changes that you can make in order to minimize your fleet’s gas guzzling, and bring your business’ fuel spend down with it...

1. Use a fuel card program

Fuel cards – also known as fleet cards – are payment cards that your drivers use specifically to buy fuel (and sometimes maintenance services, if you allow it) while they’re out on the road. Not only do they save you the hassle of reimbursing drivers for the fuel they’ve bought, but they also enable you to keep a close eye on your fleet’s fuel spend.

That’s right – the software that comes with your fuel cards will automatically record each driver’s fuel-purchasing activity throughout the day, so you’ll find out pretty quickly if someone’s spending more than they need to.

Importantly, the best fuel cards come with the invaluable benefit of custom cost controls, too. With these, you can:

  • Cap the amount that your drivers can spend in a certain time period
  • Limit when a certain card can be used by time or date – for example, stopping drivers from using the card in their time off work
  • Limit purchases to fuel only, or fuel and maintenance only, so drivers don’t use the cards to buy personal items

Fuel cards also keep your gas money nice and secure. Many of them come with driver identification measures that prevent them from being used by fraudsters at the point of sale. Plus, fuel card providers make it easy to immediately cancel cards that go missing. You’ll get peace of mind as well as complete visibility over your fleet’s fuel spend – what’s not to like?

2. Optimize your route planning

It makes sense that the routes your drivers take have a big impact on their fuel consumption. But what makes a fuel-efficient route? Well, it comes down to two factors:

Firstly, you should ensure that your drivers are completing all of their jobs in the most efficient order, so that they can get around all of their stops while travelling the shortest distance in the least amount of time possible.

Secondly, when planning the routes themselves, you should look to avoid land features and population factors that cause vehicles to burn more fuel – including:

  • Rough terrain
  • Large hills
  • Traffic (avoid rush hour in busy areas if you can)
  • High speed limits (fuel is used up exponentially faster for every mile-per-hour your driver approaches above 50)

It’s a balancing act. There’s no point in straining to avoid that rolling hill, for instance, if the detour your driver takes to get around it eats up more fuel than if they’d just gone over it.

If all this sounds like a little more than you and Google Maps can handle on your own, you might want to invest in a fleet management system – in particular, one that comes with solid route-planning features. These use live mapping and traffic updates to automatically plot out the most efficient routes for your drivers to take.

3. Coach better driving behavior

Aggressive and inappropriate maneuvers actually burn more fuel than calm, mindful driving does. So responsible driving isn’t just good for your business’ reputation – it’s also easier on your wallet, too. In fact, a 2017 study found that, in light-duty vehicles, aggressive driving can decrease gas mileage by 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic, and 15% to 30% on the highway, costing motorists an extra 25 cents to $1 for each gallon of gas.

When it comes to fuel-wasting habits, the worst culprits include:

  • Idling excessively
  • Braking harshly (we can’t stress this enough: Do. Not. Tailgate!)
  • Accelerating suddenly
  • Driving close to, or over, the speed limit
  • Driving in the wrong gear
  • Not using cruise control when you should

So, communicate clearly with your drivers to let them know that they should be avoiding these behaviors. Not only will they be safer out on the road, they’ll also use less fuel, and will find that they don’t need to fill up as often. Convenient for them and cost-saving for you – sensible driving really is a win-win!

If you’d like to keep a firmer hand on the rudder here, you could consider trying a fleet management system. Many of these systems track behavior on the road, reporting back to you when a driver does something inadvisable. Many even compile driver safety scores and rank your employees on a leaderboard, motivating them to perform better with some friendly competition.

4. Keep your vehicles in top condition

Vehicles that are less than ship-shape don’t run at their most efficient, and so burn more fuel to cover fewer miles – ultimately upping your fuel spend. In fact, there are so many ways in which your vehicle’s condition can have an impact on how much fuel it burns.

Air filters that aren’t replaced quickly enough can get clogged with dust and debris. Fuel caps can degrade, letting greater volumes of oxygen into the fuel tank. Fuel injectors that aren’t kept clean can become choked with carbon deposits. Deflating tires that aren’t pumped to the correct pressure increase rolling resistance. The result of all this? A vehicle that burns much more fuel than it should. In fact, the RAC says that simply keeping tires properly inflated can improve fuel economy by 2%.

Yes, preventative maintenance is your friend. Keep an eye on DVIRs (driver vehicle  inspection reports, which your team should be conducting before and after every journey) and have any small issues fixed before they become big ones. Commit to pencilling in oil changes and regular services after a certain number of miles. Or consider investing in a fleet management system that can automate this maintenance scheduling for you.

Remember, regular maintenance can not only help you to keep fuel costs down, but it also reduces the risk of unscheduled, expensive repairs and extended downtime.

5. Coach in-cab best practice

Driving aggressively isn’t the only thing an employee can do to cost the boss a few extra dollars every month. Playing fast and loose with a vehicle’s air con, heating, and even windows can all contribute to heftier fuel costs too.

You probably already know that in-vehicle air con and heating practically drink fuel – and so using them unnecessarily should be a no-no for your drivers.

But watch out, because you need to tread carefully here – you don’t want to become known as a draconian manager who won’t let his/her staff get comfortable in their vehicles. Instead, simply ask that they use air con and heating appropriately: only turn them on when they’re actually needed, and don’t crank them up to 11 every time. And never – repeat, never – use the air con while the windows are rolled down. Your driver may as well be tossing your gas money out the window!

Speaking of windows, opening them – and sunroofs, too – all the way creates drag, which also makes engines burn through fuel faster. Again, ask your drivers to use windows and sunroofs sensibly. If they can cool down and get some fresh air by rolling one down halfway – instead of opening them all fully – then that’s what they should do.

6. Minimize vehicle weight

Vehicles that weigh more burn more fuel. That’s a given – and for fleets that transport tons of freight, it may seem an unavoidable fact of life. However, there are some things you can do about it, starting with asking your drivers to be thoughtful about what they bring into the vehicle with them. Ask that they only travel with the tools, cargo, goods, or personal items that they need for each particular journey, as opposed to travelling with a continuous stock of items that they might not need.

At the more mechanical end of the spectrum, you might decide to swap out your vehicles’ heavier components for lighter aluminum versions – but only if you have the resource to comfortably do so, of course.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it – six steps that you can take to get a better handle on your fuel costs. Our advice is to start by setting up a fuel card program, as these are designed to help you streamline what your drivers spend on fuel in a convenient and user-friendly way. But you should also try to optimize your routes, cut out wasteful driving and in-cab behavior, practice preventative vehicle maintenance, and ensure your vehicles are no heavier than they need to be. Good luck!