Fleet gas cards have been a fixture in the transportation and trucking industry for decades. Over time, other industries, including field services and specialized trades, have begun to recognize the savings from investing in fleet management solutions.
Businesses of all types and sizes can now benefit from issuing fuel cards to employees who drive vehicles or operate machinery away from the business’s base.
So, what exactly has the transportation industry known for years? And how can you harness the power of fleet gas cards even if you only operate a few vehicles?
In this article, we answer those questions and discuss the benefits of modern fleet cards so you can find the best option for your business.
Table of Contents
- What Are Fleet Gas Cards?
- How Fleet Gas Cards Work
- What Businesses Are Fleet Gas Cards Designed For?
- Benefits Of Fleet And Fuel Cards
- How To Choose The Right Fleet Gas Card
What Are Fleet Gas Cards?
Fleet gas cards (also known as fleet and fuel cards, fleet cards, or fuel cards) started as a way for drivers to pay for gas in company vehicles without having to spend their own money.
Over time, this streamlined method of payment evolved into a more comprehensive tool that now makes it easy for vehicle operators and fleet managers to:
- Monitor charges while drivers are on the road
- Control costs associated with the vehicles in the fleet
- Collect odometer readings to understand miles per gallon efficiency
- Avoid having to use cash, checks, or personal credit cards
While most fleet cards can only be used for fuel, some also allow charges for maintenance and repairs. However, certain limits placed on cards by the issuing company can make it difficult for vehicle operators to get what they need when they need it.
In addition to spending restrictions, some fuel cards are restricted even further to specific locations — typically, a particular chain of gas stations.
All of this adds up to more complications for the operators, who constantly have to be on the lookout for fuel stations, maintenance bays, or repair shops that accept the payment method they have with them.
That being said, it’s important to understand how different fleet cards work before choosing which one to implement in your business.
How Fleet Gas Cards Work
Different fleet gas cards offer a variety of functions that either make your fleet run smoothly or throw up speed bumps along the way.
Three of those prominent functions include:
- How you authorize users
- How you view purchase data
- Where the cards are accepted
One common method of authorizing users starts with ordering enough cards for each vehicle. After placing the cards in the vehicles, the fleet manager will add drivers to the business account and assign them each a unique PIN.
When it’s time to fill up, the driver will retrieve the vehicle’s fleet gas card (typically from the glove box or the sun visor), enter their PIN at the pump, and proceed to fill up.
Another common method of authorizing users skips the step of assigning cards to a particular driver or vehicle. With this system, any driver can use any card with any vehicle.
To activate the card, a driver simply sends a text message to a specific number. That acts as a check-in of sorts and pairs their name with the vehicle in question for future transactions.
This process prevents your team from needing to enter a PIN at the pump every time they fuel up. It may also save time because there’s no more worrying about whether the right card is in the right vehicle.
With some fleet gas cards, you have to wait for a statement to arrive each month before you can view purchase data on your account.
More advanced fleet gas cards, however, give you access to an online portal through which you can see who’s spending what and where. This is by far the more effective and efficient option because these online tools allow you to do so much more than just view purchase activity.
You can also:
- Enable fuel-only purchases
- Set spending limits
- Authorize payments
- Block transactions
- Flag transactions for review
- Monitor alerts about suspicious transactions
- Lock cards to prevent further activity
- Access spending reports
You can even sync data with accounting software, such as Xero and QuickBooks, so your business can maintain more accurate books.
Similar to the various methods of authorizing users, each fleet gas card comes with a different type of network: closed loop and open loop.
Legacy fleet gas cards with closed loop networks often force drivers to travel out of their way to get to a fuel stop that accepts the card they have with them. That results in more difficulty for your team, delays in the trip, and more miles on your vehicles.
With an open loop fleet card, like a Visa card, drivers can stop whenever and wherever they need to without having to travel miles off the optimum route to get to an authorized fuel station.
What Businesses Are Fleet Gas Cards Designed For?
In the past, fleet cards were designed primarily for businesses with a large number of vehicles on the road. Today, however, modern cards offer features that even small operations can access and enjoy.
Whatever kinds of vehicles you operate — be they vans, scooters, lawnmowers, motorcycles, UTVs, ATVs, forklifts, cars, pickup trucks, semis, tractors, bulldozers, or backhoes — you can benefit from incorporating a fuel card into your workflow.
Benefits Of Fleet And Fuel Cards
1) Advanced Spending Controls
With top-of-the-line fleet gas cards, you set the spending rules on each card to better accommodate drivers with different responsibilities and distances to travel.
For example, you can often set policies at either the driver level or the vehicle level with some fleet and fuel cards. These policies may include transaction limits per day, per week, and at certain times of the day, as well as requiring odometer readings on every transaction.
Advanced spending controls such as these help your business reduce costs like never before.
2) Freedom For Drivers
With an open loop fleet card, your drivers won’t have to go out of their way to obtain the fuel they need to reach their destination (and get back to base).
Instead, they can fill up at any gas station that accepts Visa or other card network without having to search for the right station that may be well off their route.
That type of freedom makes their job much easier and keeps job satisfaction high so that they’ll drive for you for years to come.
3) Streamlined Administration
The administration of a vehicle fleet usually involves a reimbursement program of some kind. Your business pays back drivers, operators, and other employees for costs associated with the vehicle they pilot.
This can make for a lot of extra work. And, if drivers forget to turn in receipts and then find a charge on their personal credit card, reimbursement can get even more complicated and convoluted.
With the right fleet and fuel card, all charges appear on one bill that your business then pays at a designated time.
No more mountains of paperwork. No more hunting for receipts and delinquent charges. Just streamlined billing and payment that makes everyone’s life easier.
Security is important for today’s mobile workforce. The right fleet card adds a layer of safety for your business that can’t be found anywhere else.
Advanced fleet gas cards give you the power to easily track everything so you can see where your vehicles are, when they’re being used, and even how they’re being driven.
They also alert you to suspicious activity so you don’t find out about unapproved spending weeks later when the statement arrives.
With security features like these in place, you can avoid such fraudulent spending as fill-ups outside an authorized purchase area and fuel purchases that exceed tank capacity.
Another benefit of modern fleet gas cards is that they give you the power to create reports that help you analyze the way your business works. This is especially beneficial if you operate more than five vehicles.
For example, if you assign a fleet gas card to a specific vehicle, then no matter which driver operates it, you can get a more accurate picture of the cost of operating that vehicle.
Reporting like this opens up a world of data about how the vehicle is running, when to schedule maintenance, and even when it’s time to trade in the vehicle for a newer model.
How To Choose The Right Fleet Gas Card
1) Choose One That’s Accepted Where You Need It
We mentioned the difference between fleet gas cards with closed loop networks and open loop networks earlier in this article.
And, as we discussed, open loop fleet cards are, by far, the better option for your business because drivers can stop whenever and wherever they need to without having to travel miles off the most efficient route to get to an authorized fuel station.
In fact, issuing fleet cards to your drivers provides even more benefits than you might realize, including:
- Reduced wear and tear on your vehicles
- Less stress for your drivers
- Fewer miles traveled
- Higher miles per gallon
- Faster response time
- Decreased driver time
These benefits, however, are only available if you choose an open loop fleet card. Such cards can be used anywhere Visa or other card network is accepted.
This is vastly different from legacy cards with restricted acceptance that only work at in-network stations your drivers pass along the way.
Before you sign up for a fleet gas card, if you’re looking for wider acceptance, be sure to choose an open loop fleet card.
2) Prioritize Security
Few things are as important to the success of your business as the security of your fleet gas cards.
We discussed modern features that can benefit your fleet earlier in this article, but there’s more that you can do to ensure the security of the card you choose.
When shopping for a fuel card company to partner with, make sure their cards come with an EMV chip embedded in the plastic. EMV chips (or Europay, MasterCard, and Visa chips) are tiny microprocessors that generate a unique code each time the card is used to pay for fuel.
These codes are only valid once and cannot be used for any future transactions. So, if someone records your transaction and attempts to use the data to buy something else, the system would deny payment for that purchase.
To further prevent fraud and theft, the most advanced fleet gas cards are linked to a cell phone number. Drivers must send a text from that cell phone number before they can use the card to make a purchase.
This activation procedure and security verification ensures that even if a card is lost or stolen, there is very little chance it can be used again.
3) Find Payment Terms That Work For Your Business
Another tip for choosing a fleet gas card is to find payment terms that work for your business.
Every business has its own unique form of operation — yours is no different. As such, the fleet card you choose should offer flexible payment terms that fit your workflow. Payment terms that are too rigid will have your business operating “behind the eight ball” right from day one.
Instead, look for terms that:
- Optimize cash flow
- Don’t conflict with essential company needs
- Provide the right payment schedule
- Don’t lock you into too-frequent bills
With such terms in place, your business won’t have to struggle with writing a check every week as it would with some fleet cards.
Operating with flexible payment terms removes many of the obstacles in your fleet’s workflow and makes it easier for your business to succeed.
4) Avoid Hidden Fees
While a certain fleet card may look good on the surface, the hidden fees buried in the fine print can often nickel-and-dime your business into the red.
Be on the lookout for hidden fees such as:
- Per-gallon fees
- Out-of-network fees
- Transaction fees
- Late fees
This last hidden fee — late fees — can be especially damaging to your working capital balance and take a big bite out of your bottom line.
For example, some fuel cards charge as much as 12.25% of your outstanding balance should you miss a payment. If, after missing a payment, your card carried a balance of $8,000, your business would owe an extra $980 come the next billing cycle.
Hidden fees like that can seriously limit the cash you have available for other business activities. Avoid these potential hits to your bottom line by reading the fine print carefully before signing up for a fleet gas card.
5) Pay Attention To Administration Fees
Administration fees are another thing to watch out for when shopping for fleet gas cards.
These charges usually take the form of:
- Research fees
- Pay-by-phone fees
- High credit risk fees
- Check processing fees
- Setup fees
- Program maintenance fees
You can minimize these administration fees when you partner with a fleet card company that offers fair, transparent, and straightforward terms.
6) Look For Rewards And Rebates
In addition to no hidden fees and no administration fees, some of the best fleet gas cards offer rewards and rebates on the purchases your fleet makes every day — even fuel.
Different cards offer different rewards, but not all of them are useful for your business. Look for a company that offers perks like:
- Sign-up bonuses
- Referral incentives
- Discounts with partner business
As every fleet manager knows, fuel costs are the largest expense that a fleet has to contend with.
In addition to the rewards mentioned above, find a fleet gas card that offers rebates in addition to the rewards mentioned above.
One of the most cash-back options for businesses of all sizes is the per-gallon rebate. Such a program pays you back based on the total gallons your fleet purchases every day.
Some companies only offer this type of rebate for a short period of time (e.g., the first three months you use the card), for a set number of gallons (e.g., the first 50 gallons per statement period), or on a certain brand of fuel.
Top-tier cards, though, offer rebates on all of the fuel your fleet purchases — no time limits, no gallon limits, and no brand limits.
With rewards and rebates like these in your corner, it’s much easier to manage your fleet and keep it running smoothly.
7) Research Customer Service
Look for a customer service team that:
- Understands your business
- Works hard to remove roadblocks that can restrict the way your business works
- Allows you to connect with them on your terms, not the other way around
- Provides plenty of ways to get in touch (including text, email, and phone)
- Responds quickly when you ask a question
- Doesn’t transfer you through an endless phone tree before you find the right person
- Gives you answers when you need them
- Delivers personalized service any and every time you reach out
When choosing a fleet gas card to integrate into your workflow, don’t just research the features, research the customer service team as well. Think of them as your partners in business and find the one that works best for you.
8) Look For An Online Expense Management Platform
Not all fleet cards are created equal. With some legacy options, all you get is the card itself. Modern fleet gas cards, though, often come with tools that help you oversee spending and keep your team working smoothly.
The most advanced cards even provide spending controls that allow you to set policies at either the driver level or the vehicle level through an online expense management platform.
This 21st-century tool allows you to limit purchases by day of the week, time of day, and transaction amount. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These unique tools can do so much more.
With an online expense management platform at your disposal, 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.
When shopping for a fleet gas card, be sure to verify that you have access to such a platform before signing up.
9) Choose A Card That Grows With Your Business
Once you choose a fleet gas card, you want it to grow with and adapt to the needs of your business.
For example, some of the best cards make it possible for your drivers to purchase other goods and services — such as food, supplies, lodging, maintenance, and repairs — while they’re away from home base.
Or, when your fleet exceeds a certain number of vehicles, your business will benefit from syncing the data from your fleet gas cards with bookkeeping software you already use like Xero, Sage, and QuickBooks so that there’s less manual entry (and less chance for errors).
Similarly, by combining payment activity with vehicle telematics data, you’ll have access to insights that can help you run your fleet better and enjoy even more protection from unauthorized purchases, theft, and fraud.
Few fleet gas cards satisfy everything — both the benefits and the tips — that we’ve mentioned in this article. But, if you do enough research and ask the right questions, you will find the best solution.
Optimize Your Fleet Expenses With A Fleet Gas Card
Whether you operate five vehicles or 500 — and whether those vehicles stay in town or travel across the country — Coast can help you track expenses, save time, and boost profits.
With our Coast card and online platform, you can see the details of every purchase right down to the line item so you can build trust and maintain profits as you go.
To learn more about Coast, visit CoastPay.com today.