One of the best ways to save money on fuel as an owner-operator or fleet manager is to use a fuel card. But with dozens of different cards to choose from, how do you choose? Here’s everything you need to know about fuel cards and how to choose the best one for your company.
What Is A Fuel Card?
A fuel card or fleet card is a type of payment card used to buy gasoline, diesel, and other fuels. In some cases, fuel cards can be used to pay for other expenses on the road like maintenance, meals, etc. (Fleet card and fuel card are largely interchangeable terms.)
Fuel cards can be like debit cards, where you pay with money you put on the card, or more like credit cards where you get a line of credit to buy fuel that you’re charged for at the end of the week or month.
Everyone in the industry from owner-operators with one truck to fleet managers running 100+ trucks can use fuel cards to track and control fuel spending and get discounts.
Benefits Of Using A Fuel Card
Every fuel card has its own set of perks, but there are some general benefits that apply to the vast majority of these cards:
Fuel costs take up 25% or more of your revenue as a trucking business owner, so discounts can get you a long way toward becoming more profitable.
- Control over fuel spending
Tracking fuel spending across multiple trucks, routes, and drivers is essential to running an efficient, profitable trucking business.
- IFTA reporting
Depending on the card you choose, you may have access to reports that simplify quarterly IFTA taxes
- Cash flow support
Many fuel cards offer a line of credit, meaning you don’t have to dip into savings to pay for fuel if your clients haven’t paid you yet. The boost to cash flow makes making large fuel purchases much easier.
- Building business credit
Especially when you’re just starting out, your business will likely have no credit or a relatively low score. Using a fuel card that offers a line of credit (as opposed to a debit card) can build your business’ credit and get you access to larger loans for buying new equipment at better rates.
How To Choose A Fuel Card
All fuel cards will have different ways of managing discounts. It will depend on what brand of truck stops and geographical regions you’re fueling in and what relationships the fuel card company has with those companies.
The good news is that you can have multiple fuel cards, so you don’t need to rely on just one to get the best discounts. Many trucking business owners will keep up to five different cards at once to have the flexibility of shopping around for the best fuel prices.
Here’s where fuel cards can get tricky. Many companies will make their fees overly complicated so that you can’t really tell what you’re paying for access to their service. Today’s fuel cards can charge up to 12 different fees for things like account maintenance, transactions, etc. Some cards will even charge you a percentage of your savings!
We recommend looking for a card with a simple, transparent fee structure.
Many fuel cards have a closed-loop network, meaning that you can only use it at certain truck stops or fueling stations. When shopping for a card, consider your regular routes and whether or not you’ll have access to those locations.
Every fuel card will have a different way of handling security and fraud alerts. Some will allow you to set up customized alerts based on fueling limits or requirements for drivers to enter a unique ID before fueling.
Anything can happen when you’re on the road. It’s important to choose a company that gives you the right kind of support. Remember, fuel likely accounts for a quarter or more of your revenue. So when you have a problem, you will want to be able to get someone on the phone.
Many cards capture data like price, location, and driver information, making it easier to identify opportunities for improvement on fuel spending.
Having access to your fuel spending information in the palm of your hand is especially useful for OTR owner-operators who are away from their home or office for extended periods of time.