Whether your business operates five vehicles or 100, a fleet card can help you manage, maintain, and control spending associated with these valuable assets.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of this type of payment method and offer expert tips on how to choose the right fleet card for your business.
Table of Contents
- What Is A Fleet Card?
- Fleet Cards For Businesses Of All Sizes
- What Are The Benefits Of Using Fleet Cards?
- Tips For Choosing The Best Fleet Card
What Is A Fleet Card?
At its most basic, a fleet card is a method of payment that allows fleet managers to:
- Enable their drivers to pay for fuel without having to use cash, checks, or a personal credit card
- Control purchasing by driver and limit transactions by frequency, amount, or day
- See purchase details for transactions with line-item details, like the grade of fuel and number of gallons
- Monitor, manage, and control costs associated with the vehicles in the fleet
But before you sign up for the first fleet card you see, it’s important to understand how these cards work.
How Fleet Cards Work
Fleet cards work in a variety of ways, but they all come down to two fundamental variables: authorized users and where the card is accepted.
With the first method of authorizing users, once you’ve signed up for a fuel card account, your team orders a set amount based on the number of vehicles in the fleet (often with the vehicle’s name or ID embossed directly on the card).
Drivers will be added to the fleet card provider’s portal and assigned a PIN. Most teams will leave the vehicle-specific card in the glove box or visor, requiring different drivers to enter their personal PIN at the pump in order to fill up.
The other common method of authorizing users doesn’t involve assigning cards to a particular driver or vehicle. Instead, any driver can use any card with any vehicle.
Before drivers leave your business or while waiting at the pump, they send a simple text message to quickly check into a card and vehicle. This means your team never needs to enter a PIN at the pump.
Where The Card Is Accepted
Just like the different methods of authorizing users, each fleet gas card comes with a different type of network: closed loop and open loop.
Closed loop fuel cards force drivers to constantly be on the lookout for and, perhaps, go out of their way to get to gas stations that accept the card they have with them. Many legacy fuel cards are closed loop cards.
However, a better solution is an open loop fleet card, like a Visa card which is accepted nearly everywhere. Drivers can stop whenever and wherever they need to along their route without having to travel out of their way to get to an accepting fuel location.
Such real-world flexibility translates to a savings of both time and money over conventional fuel cards, which often are limited to specific brands or geographies.
Choose a fleet card that makes it easy for your team to purchase fuel at the cheapest and most convenient stations on their route.
Fleet Cards For Businesses Of All Sizes
A misconception among business owners and first-time fleet managers is that fleet cards are only for large businesses with 20 or more vehicles on the road.
In previous decades, they would have been correct — many legacy fuel cards were designed for more substantial fleets. These cards had higher interest rates, severe late fees, minimum spending limits, and sky-high reward thresholds.
But, in the 2020s, modern fleet cards offer features that can benefit even small operations. For example, a business might field several motorized scooters for food delivery in an urban area. They can benefit from paying for gas with a fleet card.
Another business might operate eight work vans as part of its mobile repair service. They can benefit from paying for gas with a fleet card.
Really, a fleet of any size and type — be it work trucks, lawnmowers, motorcycles, UTVs, ATVs, forklifts, cars, pickup trucks, semis, tractors, bulldozers, or backhoes — can benefit from incorporating fleet cards into their standard operating procedure.
And, as we’ll discuss throughout the rest of this article, those benefits are accessible whether your fleet consists of one vehicle or 100 vehicles.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Fleet Cards?
1) Reduced Administrative Time And Expenses
Most companies operating fleets offer some type of reimbursement program to pay drivers, operators, and other employees for costs associated with the vehicles in their fleet.
This can cause extra administrative work to collect receipts, check odometers, and ensure drivers are making responsible purchases. And, if drivers forget to turn in receipts and then find a charge on their personal credit card, reimbursement can get even more complicated.
With a fleet card, all charges appear on one bill for easy reference, analysis, and recordkeeping. No more mountains of paperwork. No more hunting for receipts, running to the lot to check odometers, or worrying about where company funds are ending up.
Just straightforward, simplified bill paying.
2) Itemized Expenses For Equipment Assets
Another way that a fleet card can benefit your business — especially if you operate more than a few vehicles — is by giving you the power to itemize expenses.
For example, you can choose to assign a fleet card to a specific vehicle. Then, no matter if the driver changes or stays the same, you can get more precise information about the cost of operating that vehicle.
3) Cost-Related Trends
Insight into driver activity and vehicle expenses can help you identify cost-related trends within your fleet.
With the itemized expenses mentioned above, as well as other advanced reporting features, you can see what each vehicle needs to stay in good shape and spot patterns in operator behaviors — both good and bad — that may be affecting your bottom line.
Once you’ve identified such trends, you can take steps to encourage or discourage spending in those areas.
4) Spending Control
Advanced fleet cards come with an online management platform that makes it easy to set rules for each card so that your drivers spend less on the road.
With some cards, you can limit purchases by days of the week, time of day, or even transaction amount. You may even be able to add additional controls around the location of vehicles and additional categories, like parking and maintenance.
All of this helps your business reduce costs and control spending like never before.
Modern fleet cards offer enhanced security to help stop theft, abuse, and fraud. These cards allow you to track everything so you can see where and when your vehicles are being used.
They also send you alerts about suspicious activity — such as transactions attempted outside the authorized purchase area or fuel purchases that exceed vehicle tank capacity — so you don’t have to learn about unauthorized spending after the fact.
Some companies even give you the power to lock a card in one click to prevent it from being used.
6) Less Stress For Drivers
Piloting a fleet vehicle is a stressful job. It doesn’t matter if the route takes them a short distance in town or a long distance over the road, drivers have a lot to think about and contend with.
You don’t want to add even more stress to the situation by constraining the options they have available along the way with a closed loop card.
With the right fuel card in their pocket, your drivers will have the freedom to decide where and when it’s best to fill up instead of having to worry about whether or not their vehicle will make it to the next approved fuel station.
When your drivers are less stressed, they’ll be better able to focus on piloting their vehicle, navigating the traffic around them, and traveling from point A to point B safely.
Tips For Choosing The Best Fleet Card
1) Look for universal acceptance
As we mentioned earlier in this article, one of the best ways that you can help your drivers and your business is to choose an open loop fleet card with universal acceptance, like a Visa card that is accepted nearly everywhere. That gives your drivers access to the least expensive, most convenient gas stations and truck stops along their route.
2) Avoid Hidden Fees
Many of the more common fleet cards incorporate a long list of extraneous service fees, including transaction fees, per-gallon fees, credit risk fees, and out-of-network fees. But is that really something that you have to accept? Absolutely not!
Choose a fleet card that never charges hidden fees and makes your monthly bill easy to understand so you can stay on top of payments without breaking a sweat.
3) Set The Rules For Spending
No matter how many vehicles you have, it’s important to take full control of your fleet.
With many modern fuel cards, you can take advantage of powerful online features to set different rules for different drivers or vehicles and make your job easier in the process.
When you have more options — such as the ability to set policies to prevent certain transactions, authorize payments in real time, and flag charges for review — you can exercise the kind of spending control that makes your fleet and your business run smoothly.
4) Eliminate Paper Receipts
Collating piles of receipts — when drivers remember to turn them in — can occupy a large part of your day. But when you incorporate a fleet card into your workflow, you can all but eliminate those pesky receipts and track everything online.
With some fuel card companies, for example, you’ll automatically receive digital records of each transaction your drivers make so you can keep track of every dollar spent, reduce waste, save time, and make fleet management easier than ever before.
5) Get Rewards
Your business spends a significant amount of funds on fuel and maintenance every year. Why shouldn’t you be rewarded for that activity?
A top-tier fleet card will offer simple rewards that help you do business better, including:
- Discounted per-gallon fuel costs
- Additional discounts when you shop with preferred partners
- Statement credits just for signing up
But take note: Many fleet cards that offer large rebates have complex tiers and rules in place that cardholders must adhere to and satisfy in order to actually get the reward promised.
For example, one fleet card may only offer rewards for a short period of time, such as the first six months after you start using the card. Another fleet card may only offer rewards on a specific amount of fuel purchased, such as the first 100 gallons per statement period.
And, as we mentioned earlier in this article, some restricted-use fleet cards may only offer rewards on certain brands of fuel.
When shopping for a fuel card, always read the fine print and choose one with no time limits, no gallon limits, and no brand limits.
6) Research Customer Service
Some fleet managers overlook the customer service aspect when shopping for a fuel card and focus, instead, on the rewards and rebates they can earn.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being concerned about what you can get back for all the fuel you purchase. But you’ll often find more long-term value in customer service you can count on than in any cash-back or discounts you can earn.
To help you find the customer service that’s right for you, think of the fleet card and everything they offer as a partner you’re bringing into your business.
Does the partnership benefit your business? Or does the fleet card company get more “bang for the buck” than you do? If the fleet card company offers less-than-reliable customer service, the latter is always true.
You can swing the pendulum more in your favor by doing your research and identifying a customer service team that:
- Responds quickly when you ask a question
Gives you answers when you need them
- Understands your business
- Delivers personalized service any and every time you reach out
- Doesn’t transfer you through an endless phone tree before you find the right person
- Works hard to remove roadblocks that can restrict the way your business works
- Provides plenty of ways to get in touch (including text, email, and phone)
- Allows you to connect with them on your terms, not the other way around
Take the time to interview or try out the customer service team of the fleet cards you’re researching to choose the one that works best for your business.
7) Find The Right Online Tools
In today’s hyper-mobile business climate, online tools are a must for drivers and fleet managers alike.
Such tools allow you to:
- See the details of every fuel purchase
- Achieve greater transparency with your fleet
- Track expenses
- Provide insight to help you save at the pump
- Reduce paperwork
- Streamline bill pay, recordkeeping, and accounting
- And much more
But not all fuel card companies offer those tools. Sometimes, the card is all you get. That’s why it’s important to choose a fleet card that includes some form of an online expense management platform.
The most useful software gives you access to everything mentioned above in addition to advanced features, such as:
- Spending controls
- Driver policies
- Vehicle policies
- Day of the week purchase limits
- Time of day purchase limits
- Location purchase limits
- Transaction amount limits
When you incorporate an advanced online expense management platform into your workflow, you’ll gain full visibility of every dollar your fleet spends and have access to exactly what’s happening with your fleet, every second of the day.
Be sure to ask the fleet card company you’re considering if they offer online tools so you can make the right choice for your business.
8) Prioritize Security
We discussed some of the modern features that can benefit your business earlier in this article (i.e., tracking, alerts, and instant locking). But there are more ways you can ensure the security of your fleet cards and the money they can access.
One of the most important is EMV chips. An EMV (or Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) chip is a tiny microchip embedded in the card itself that generates a unique code every time your driver swipes to pay for fuel.
These codes are only valid once and cannot be used for any future transaction. That means if someone records your transaction and attempts to use the information to buy something else, the system will deny payment for that purchase.
Many legacy fleet card providers offer magstripe-only cards — rather than chip cards — as default, which puts you more at risk of fraud because they aren’t as secure as chip cards. Choose a card fleet card with a chip for the maximum protection.
9) Avoid Unacceptable Payment Terms
Many fleet managers neglect to research the payment terms only to find themselves locked into an unacceptable schedule when the first bill arrives.
You can avoid this issue by choosing a fleet card with payment terms that work for your business, not against it.
Look for billing and payment terms that help you:
- Maintain essential company needs
- Set up an advantageous payment schedule
- Optimize cash flow
- Avoid paying bills too often
This last variable can be especially damaging to your bottom line and the way your business operates. How so?
Some fleet cards lock you into a 14-day payment schedule so that your business has to make a payment every two weeks. Others may go even further and lock you into a 7-day payment schedule so that your business has to make a payment every single week.
Such frequent payment terms make it extremely difficult to allocate money to other business needs and put you between a rock and a hard place right from the start.
10) Pick A Fleet Card That Will Grow With Your Business
At first, you may only be concerned about using your fleet card to pay for fuel. But, as your business grows, will your fleet card grow with it?
Down the line, you may decide that it makes sense to put all fleet-related expenses on one card, or decide that you need more integration with vehicle telematics.
Modern Fleet Cards For Your Business
If you’re searching for a fleet card for the 21st century, look no further than Coast.
For more information on how Coast can positively impact your bottom line and help your business run more smoothly, visit CoastPay.com today.