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Fuel cards are no longer just for fuel

At one point in time, a fuel card was for paying for fuel, but integration with TMS systems are adding new opportunities for fleets and drivers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The days of drivers carrying around multiple credit cards to handle life on the road are quickly disappearing. Once, drivers might have a company credit card for expenses, a fuel card to pay for fuel, and even their own card for non-job-related expenses, but that is all changing as innovations in fuel cards might be making the company credit card obsolete.

For instance, the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association offers its members the Truckers Advantage fuel card, which provides a 10 cent discount on fuel purchased at Pilot Flying J. With no annual fee and fuel rebates that average 3 cents per gallon, the card is a nice benefit to independent truckers. And those that sign up for Pilot’s MyRewards program get five times the usual points on purchases, providing an additional financial incentive.

And that’s only the beginning of possible benefits. Many fuel cards have been transitioning into more of a multi-purpose card. The WEX Fleet One Edge OTR fuel card is an example of this. Users get up to 12 cents per gallon off the listed price at more than 3,000 locations nationwide with no fuel transaction fees. They also get card acceptance at over 8,000 truck stops, nationwide discounts on major tire brands and additional savings on things such as equipment, maintenance, parts, hotels and even wireless plans.

WEX also offers reporting to fleets through its ClearView web analytics tool that provides insight into purchases and data generated from the fuel card.

There are numerous fuel cards available, including options from Fuelman, Comdata, and TCH to name just a few. Most major fuel providers offer their own options as well. The reality is that while once a fuel card was used to buy fuel, it is now increasingly being used to manage operations and help drivers survive life on the road.

Ray Workman, vice president of product development for Triumph Business Capital, says the use cases for cards continues to grow.

“Over the past 10 years we have seen an increase in use cases such as fuel fraud prevention, RFID automated fueling and an expansion of non-fuel related transactions,” he tells FreightWaves.

Fleets can now use fuel cards to monitor how much fuel is purchased, where it is purchased and reconcile that with engine and GPS data to generate fleet efficiency and mpg reporting, for instance. This helps identify potential waste, maybe even mechanical problems on trucks that are harming fuel efficiency through increased use of fuel. It also reduces manual administrative costs.

Fuel cards also help reduce fuel fraud – some estimates are that as much as 8% of fuel is stolen each year – by placing limits on how much fuel can be charged to the card at any stop.

Knowing all this data can help determine how much fuel a truck should need for any route, helping better manage fuel spend.

Going beyond just the basics mentioned already, fleets are now able to take advantage of integrations offered by fuel card providers.

Fuel Card companies have spent a vast amount of resources integrating their programs with transportation management systems (TMS) making fleet spending control, fuel tax filing, employee payroll, and cash advances more efficient than using other types of spending accounts,” Workman adds.

One of the most complicated tax filings for fleets that operate interstate is managing International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) reporting. IFTA requires fleets to file quarterly fuel tax reports to determine the net tax or refund due and to redistribute taxes from collecting states to states that it is due.

Utilizing a TMS with fuel card integration allows data such as location, gallons, total cost and date/time of the purchase to be automatically inputted into the TMS for fuel tax reporting. This will save time from having to manually reconcile fuel receipts.

RFID fueling has also grown in popularity in recent years. RFID-enabled tags allow fleets to set fueling limits whether they are based on number of gallons or cost, or even specific locations, and then seamlessly transmits data to TMS systems. Comdata is one of the companies that offers this through its SmartQ cardless solution.

Even more useful to drivers is the ability of today’s fuel cards to manage other expenses, such as paying for hotels or meals. Some fleets even allow drivers to use the cards to pay for internet connectivity to connect with loved ones back home, or as a way to reward drivers for safe driving or on-time delivery through bonuses added to the cards.

Workman says more innovative ways to use the traditional fuel card are arising every day. “Fuel discounts and rebates will continue to be a driving force for logistics companies but be on the lookout for new technologies that reduce fragmentation and increase collaboration,” he notes.

The benefits to drivers could be endless.

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