To paraphrase an old adage, “You can’t control what you don’t measure.” Nowhere is this truer than in fleet fuel usage. In fact, successful fuel management starts with successful fuel monitoring.
But, once you have a monitoring program in place, how can you use the information to optimize fuel usage throughout your fleet?
In this article, we discuss the basics of fuel monitoring, why it’s important, and how you can use fuel monitoring data to optimize fleet activities across the board.
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Why Is Fuel Monitoring Important?
Fuel monitoring is defined as “tracking and analyzing a vehicle’s fuel usage.” While the concept itself may seem very basic — and it is — the data it produces and the way you put that data to use is anything but basic.
In fact, a robust fuel monitoring program can often mean the difference between profit and loss at the end of the year.
Here are just a few ways that fuel monitoring may contribute to the successful operation of a fleet-based business.
1) Fuel Efficiency
Every fleet manager knows that fuel efficiency is one of the cornerstones of their day-to-day activity.
With fuel efficiency numbers in hand, you can make more informed and cost-effective decisions when it comes to things like:
- Routes driven
- Driving behavior
- Overall spending
- Vehicle operation
- Vehicle maintenance
This kind of data may also reveal solutions that can help managers improve one or all of these activities for a single vehicle or the entire fleet.
For example, fuel monitoring may reveal that one of your vehicles is idling more than the rest and wasting four gallons, or $15-worth, of fuel every day. If the vehicle operates five days a week for a full year, that’s around $4000 down the drain.
And that’s just one vehicle.
Analyzing fuel efficiency throughout the fleet can help you control spending and improve profits across the board.
2) Fuel Theft
Diesel and gas are critical for the successful operation of your fleet, so identifying and eliminating fuel theft is one of the most beneficial things you can do with fuel monitoring data.
Fuel theft can take many forms, including:
- Outright theft (from lost or stolen fuel cards)
- Fuel skimming
- Odometer tampering
- Inaccurate reporting
- Unauthorized purchases
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In many businesses, fuel theft happens more often than anyone would like to admit and can become a very real drain on the bottom line.
A fuel monitoring program can help drivers and managers pinpoint where and when fuel theft — be it accidental or intentional — might occur and reveal ways that all involved can avoid these mistakes and reduce future drains on the business’s profits.
3) Maintenance Costs
Fuel monitoring can also help your business control another major expense: Maintenance.
Telematics often reveals small problems early on that, if left unattended, can spread to other, larger and more expensive systems throughout the vehicle.
Dealing with those small problems as soon as they develop can help you avoid the major problems that can cost your business hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in repairs and the bottlenecks that may come from fleet vehicles being out of service.
Fuel monitoring can also help you stay on top of preventative vehicle maintenance to make sure all the vehicles in your fleet are operating safely and efficiently.
Legacy fuel monitoring programs rely heavily on paper receipts to make their recordkeeping successful.
While this has worked in the past, improvements in technology mean that modern recordkeeping can utilize real-time digital data to make common and repetitive tasks much easier.
These tasks include:
- Maintaining fuel logs
- Paying fuel taxes
Digital recordkeeping is also simpler for your drivers (who, let’s face it, already have enough to contend with on the road).
With some fleet credit cards, purchases are automatically recorded (including digital copies of any receipts) so that expenses don’t get lost or forgotten.
5) Fuel Spending
One of the most important aspects of fuel monitoring is the impact it can have on overall spending.
Even if your business isn’t concerned with fuel efficiency, fuel theft, maintenance costs, or recordkeeping right now, you may still want to focus on controlling what you spend filling up the tank of each vehicle.
While that often means finding the best price per gallon, it can also mean monitoring vehicle systems (typically through pre- and post-trip inspections) to make sure everything is running at peak efficiency.
With the help of vehicle tracking and fuel monitoring, you may be able to cut cents (or even dollars) off of each fill-up and even increase profit margins.
How To Use Fuel Monitoring To Optimize Fleet Activities
1) Refine Regular Routes
Depending on the type of fleet you run, your vehicles may visit the same destinations (or, at least, the same areas) on a regular basis. In such cases, you’ll likely be faced with multiple ways of reaching those destinations and areas.
- Maximizing activity along the way
- Steering clear of high-traffic areas
- Avoiding rush-hour delays
- Staying away from rough roads that can cause vehicle damage
Then, once you’ve identified those routes, make them a regular part of the directions you provide to your drivers so they’ll get in the habit of using those corridors more often.
2) Improve Driver Behavior
Inefficient use of fleet vehicles can lead to more miles driven, wasted fuel, and increased wear and tear — all things that can cost your business money without providing a return.
Use your fuel monitoring program — and the telematics that make it possible — to identify negative behaviors such as excessive idling, rough stops and starts, aggressive cornering, and inconsistent highway speeds (just to name a few).
Then, train drivers to exhibit positive behaviors that improve fuel mileage.
You can even use the information coming in to design training programs for new drivers that get them into good habits right from the start.
3) Customize Maintenance Schedules
As we touched on earlier, preventative maintenance protects your fleet from expensive emergency breakdown repairs and saves your business money in day-to-day use.
Use telematics and fleet monitoring software to develop customized maintenance schedules. For example, data may reveal that the oil filters in Vehicle A wear out quicker than in Vehicle B.
With that information, you can schedule oil and filter changes for Vehicle A earlier in the cycle (e.g., every 2000 miles instead of 3000 miles) in order to avoid the reduction in power and efficiency that comes with a clogged filter and restricted oil flow.
With the help of monitoring data, you will be better positioned to customize each vehicle’s maintenance schedule to get the most out of this important asset.
4) Centralize Fuel Purchasing
Consider setting up a centralized department for fuel purchasing. It can be a single individual or a group of individuals, but they should be tasked with monitoring, refining, and optimizing the way your fleet purchases fuel while out in the field.
For example, give one or two employees the responsibility of taking the fuel monitoring data, analyzing it, and finding ways to:
- Establish spending controls
- Create rules and guidelines for drivers
- Manage business gas cards
- Compare suppliers
- Identify cost-saving opportunities
- Make sure drivers purchase fuel promptly and efficiently
Creating a centralized fuel purchasing department or manager can help ensure that cost-cutting measures aren’t being overlooked because of a breakdown in communication between managers, owners, and others with a controlling stake in your business.
5) Build Driver Accountability
Drivers are the front line in your fight against low fuel efficiency and high fuel spending. Building driver accountability into your workflow is one of the best things you can do to help your business stay on the road to success.
To do this, use the fuel monitoring data to incentivize good driving behavior. Set clear expectations, guidelines, and rules for your drivers (e.g., accelerate slowly and smoothly from a stop) so they have a framework in which to operate.
Then, create incentives and rewards for drivers who abide by the rules you’ve set. Finally, monitor the telematics data and distribute rewards to the drivers who improve their accountability and exhibit behaviors that result in high fuel efficiency and low spending.
Throughout it all, provide regular feedback so drivers see what works and what doesn’t.
6) Review Fuel Monitoring Data
To build on the saying we mentioned earlier, “You can’t control what you don’t measure on a regular basis.”
It doesn’t do your business any good to gather fuel monitoring data once and then forget about it entirely.
You don’t have to wade through the information every day — that can be overwhelming — but do your best to establish a schedule and review the data when the time rolls around.
For your business, you may have the time and manpower to monitor fuel data every day. Or, you may choose to do it every week, every two weeks, every month, or every quarter.
Some businesses find it beneficial to do a thorough review every six months. This gives drivers enough time to implement new rules and behaviors and for those changes to become evident in the fuel spending and fuel monitoring data.
It doesn’t matter which schedule you choose, as long as you stick to it. Reviewing your numbers regularly can help you see if the things you are doing are affecting your bottom line for the better or for the worse.
Build A Fuel Monitoring Program With Coast
Building a fuel monitoring program may seem daunting at first, but the benefits are well worth the time and effort. Coast can help.
The Coast fleet and fuel card can help organizations of any size and structure get a handle on their fleet fuel expenses with open-loop functionality (accepted wherever you can use a Visa card), no-cap/no-minimum-spend rebates, and real-time transaction reporting.
To learn more about how Coast can contribute to fuel monitoring and management and improve your fleet activities as a whole, visit CoastPay.com today.