Security. Control. Lower costs. Saved administrative time. These are some of the benefits provided by fleet fuel cards. But unless you prepare your fleet department and drivers, rolling out a fuel card program can have its problems. That preparation means more than simply sending out a memo telling drivers they can "fill it up" on the company fuel card. No one is more keenly aware of start-up problems with fuel cards than Heidi Munro, district sales manager with the Wright Express (WEX) fuel card company. Munro said, "To implement, prepare. Don't just have a fuel card sent to drivers. They'll put it in a drawer somewhere." Munro's caveat, prepare, was something we took to heart at Van Waters & Rogers Inc. when we recently initiated our first-ever, fuel-card program. In the process, we learned a few things, and thought there might be some benefit sharing our experience and that of other companies, which have discovered ways to ease the fuel card implementation process. And most of that discovery focuses on preparation and communication — two factors that can alleviate some of the trial and error in new programs and ensure a smooth transition and a positive attitude toward your new fuel program.

Meet With Fuel Card Providers And Ask About Your Options

Your account provider can furnish a list of all service options. They can also help establish standards for fuel and other services. Of course, decisions about such parameters depend on the fleet composition and company philosophy. For instance, you'll want to determine whether drivers should be allowed to make other purchases besides fuel (perhaps oil or routine maintenance) and place upper limits on such purchases. Then again, you may want to restrict your card to fuel only. What about car washes? While Van Waters & Rogers wanted to provide this as an option for their drivers, another company may think of that as a responsibility of the employee. Are car washes easy to obtain? We found that they tended to be inaccessible and inconvenient in our case. If the car wash is attached to a gas station, it can usually be charged to the card. However, if it is a stand-alone car wash, many of them are not partners with the fuel card companies. In these cases we instructed drivers to pay for their own washes and file for reimbursement on their expense accounts. Aside from fuel and maintenance-related purchases, there are other factors to consider when setting up your program. At the top of the list is whether the fuel card should be attached to the vehicle or the driver. Most of the time the fuel card will be attached to the vehicle, because this provides the most accurate, fuel- and cost-reporting data. Obviously, there can be some confusion among drivers, since they're used to having their own credit cards. Katy McFadden, fleet manager at Wagner Equipment Co. in Denver, CO, said her company explained "over and over, the card goes with the car." Jo Ann Daniels, fleet manager at Western Wireless in Issaquah, WA, said with a half-smile, "When I see a driver pull a fuel card out of his wallet, he's in trouble." Her company also attached the card to the car. Another factor of prime consideration is the use of PIN/security numbers. Will the PIN follow the driver, or the card? In most cases, the PIN is attached to the driver in the form of an employee ID number or by using parts of a social security number. That way, a PIN can stay in effect if an employee moves from one vehicle to another. These are just some of the issues to discuss with your fuel card company.

Some Pointed Questions to Ask Your Fleet Fuel Card Provider

  • What services does your card allow?
  • How many stations accept your card? Does it matter if a national fuel provider is independently owned?
  • As to usage, what kind of reports are generated? Do such reports tell where and when a card is used? How much detail do they contain?
  • How do I order a driver fuel card, and how long will it take to arrive?
  • When a driver receives a card, is it active immediately?
  • How do I assign, delete, or change PIN/security numbers? How long will it take for changes to take effect?
  • How long does it take to cancel a card?
  • How is fuel card abuse determined; and how quickly am I notified?
  • Who will be my contacts at your company?
  • Who administers the program? What is expected of me and my organization?
  • Can the fuel card be used when drivers use a temporary rental car?
  • Do the fuel cards work internationally?

Fleet Management Company Needs to be Kept in the Loop

If you use a fleet management company, determine its role in the process, and how fleet and fuel management will be integrated. This is a point that needs early resolution. In our situation at Van Waters & Rogers, there was some initial confusion among our fleet administration staff as to whom we should contact under particular circumstances. It was a lesson that had already been learned by Munro, WEX's district sales manager. Munro confirmed, "Administering a program is a team effort. It involves the organization, fuel card company, and lease management company." In addition, she added that responsibilities can overlap, so clarify those duties and who performs what function.

How to Lay the Groundwork and Make Preparations For Launch

It's imperative that your driver data be accurate. Make an initial audit of your records (and periodically, thereafter) to ensure drivers are in the right vehicle and all other data is correct. In addition, when employees are terminated, most businesses immediately recover the company car. Recovering the fuel card immediately is also an established practice. Also, delete that person's PIN from the system simultaneously. Any delays to that course of action is risky. A disgruntled, former employee can do a lot of damage both to the car and fuel bill in a very short period of time. You'll need to provide your fuel card company with information such as driver's name, address, phone number, vehicle number, make and model, year, and VIN. To decide what fields you want to include in this database, first determine what is required by your fuel card company and fleet management company. Then decide what data you would like to have available for reporting. For example, fields for an e-mail address or job title may be important in administering your program.

Establish a Timeline for Launch, Then Set Preceding Deadlines

Establish dates for your startup and communications about the program. Once you've gathered your information about the program, established parameters and updated driver data, set your startup date. Work backward from there and plot dates for sending out communications. Coordinate the date you want new cards sent out to your drivers. If cards are sent out too early, drivers will try to use them prematurely and the cards may or may not be active, since they are not yet in the system; send the cards too late and drivers may begin to panic from their expectations not being met. Also, try to implement your program at a "slower" time of year, rather than during "crunch" times such as major vehicle ordering periods or other busy times.

Work Out Procedures for Administering the Program

After you've met with the fuel card and fleet management companies, then a pretty clear picture will emerge of where the responsibilities lie and how everything is coordinated. That is a prime opportunity to evaluate the new fuel card program and its impact on administration time. In most cases, your administration time will dramatically decrease due to the elimination of processing the paperwork generated by reimbursements. And the word dramatic is appropriate, because GE Capital Fleet Services, Eden Prairie, MN, recently estimated that its soft costs amount to about $25 for handling each paperwork invoice. "Before fuel cards at Wagner Equipment, it was an administrative nightmare," said McFadden. However, if your fleet management company handled that portion before, look for some administrative time increase in-house as it relates to your role in such areas as ordering, terminating, and changing fuel cards and PIN numbers. Considering your role in this interaction, ask your fuel card company the time frames you can expect regarding card issue and changes. Is it a couple of days or a couple of weeks? Find out where the card originates. If the driver hasn't received it, is the reason because the fuel card company hasn't mailed it yet or your leasing company needs to process it? Knowing the process and how long each step takes will prevent, for instance, ordering duplicate cards, thinking the original has been lost (but it is actually en route). Plus, you will be able to confidently inform the driver of their card's status in the process. Another consideration is, what the procedures will be when a driver changes vehicles, rents a car, is terminated, or added as a new-hire? Determine these in advance so you're not ad-libbing when the program starts, handling such processes one way today and another way tomorrow. And what about unique situations when people are somehow between usual practices? How do you cope with them? One option is using the so-called "pool fuel card." Another is having several extra fuel cards and PIN numbers for temporary use. In any event, make certain all involved departments will be notified, and have read, understood, and signed off on the procedures. If your accounting department will be responsible for errant fuel reimbursements, seek their counsel on the best way to handle such exceptions. One final procedural note: Tell your drivers what to do with their receipts. Drivers are so conditioned to saving their receipts that they may respond with disbelief when advised that electronic fuel card management no longer requires receipts and paper copies can be destroyed.

Communicate with Drivers Until Fuel Cards are Second Nature

Implementing a fuel program is like giving a speech. First, tell your audience what they are going to hear. Next, tell them what you want them to hear. Finally, tell them what they just heard. Linda Jennings, fleet manager at Van Waters & Rogers, did just that. She prepared drivers by sending out advance e-mails, which explained the new program and when it would start. Next, the fuel card company mailed packets that included the fuel card, PIN, an introduction letter, and details of the program. This was followed by another company e-mail advising drivers that they should have received such a package and to contact the appropriate official if they failed to receive it. About a week after start-up, Jennings distributed a final e-mail with common questions and answers regarding fuel card issues. She addressed many of the initial driver concerns. One note of caution: Make sure the correspondence, memos and language from the fuel card company are consistent with your company's policy, procedures, and are expressed in the vernacular used in your corporate culture. Some materials from the fuel card company are standard, however, and may need to be adapted for the sake of consistency. What can you do to help keep the transition to fuel cards as painless as possible? Some companies offer videotapes of how the card works with quick, 10-minute seminars to drivers. McFadden got the Wagner Equipment drivers directly involved. She informed them of the upcoming program launch and asked drivers to inquire at the gas stations they frequented to determine whether the card was accepted. Thus being personally assured, the drivers felt a higher comfort level when using the card at the program's start. To put the Western Wireless drivers at ease, Daniels provided each with a directory of participating gas stations. She discovered such reassurance on usage particularly valuable to drivers in remote locations. "We used e-mail, a promotional flyer, detailed instructions, left our phone lines open, and made ourselves available," said Daniels. All of the organizations interviewed sensed resistance to the program among some of their drivers – some of it subtle. This can be manifest as in feelings about loss of control to being "watched." It's important to assure drivers that fuel card programs are for their convenience as well as for the sake of company efficiency. At Van Waters & Rogers, we found one way to minimize such feelings was to emphasize to employees that you don't want them to spend their cash or use personal credit cards, then fill out paperwork with receipts and wait to be reimbursed. Let them know the company is making a gesture of support, so they can focus on their jobs and avoid the inconvenience of filing expense reports. Nevertheless, there will be some drivers who resent not being able to go to certain stations that they used to frequent. And yet, even this is correctable. Ask the drivers to inform you of such stations where they are comfortable doing business, and then make an effort to get these stations added onto your fuel card program list. Most things are negotiable and this is one of them.

Questions & Answers for Drivers

Here is a sample of questions you may expect from your drivers. You'll have to provide your own answers since they will vary with each company, depending on your internal policies.

  1. At what stations can I use my new fuel card?
  2. If I lose or misplace my fuel card, who do I call, and what do I do?
  3. How do I get a PIN number?
  4. Can I use the fuel card to get my car washed?
  5. What other purchases can I make with my fuel card?
  6. What do I do with my receipts?
  7. Who do I call if I have a problem with my fuel card?
  8. If my fuel card doesn't work, and I must use cash, then how do I get reimbursed?

Do the Research, Launch the Program, Settle Into a Rhythm

The hard part is done. Most companies agree that implementing a fuel program tends to be front-loaded. The first two to three weeks involves lots of questions from your drivers, but afterward the inquiries taper off. Now you're ready to make use of all of the great reports that are available with your fuel program. McFadden summed up the advantages of implementing a new fuel program at Wagner Equipment. She said, "For anyone new in fleet, it's the first and most important thing they should do. It's a quick sell to management and the relief of administrative time is tremendous. It pays off immediately and drivers love it." Kathleen Schultz is fleet administrator at Van Waters & Rogers in Kirkland, WA, where she runs a 450- vehicle fleet.

10 Steps to Save 130 Gallons Per Year

By applying the following driving tips from the Society of Automotive Engineers, you can increase your miles-per -gallon by 10 percent. That equals roughly 130 gallons of gasoline each year by the average fleet driver.

  1. For cars with automatic transmissions, get into high gear as quickly as possible. To do so, press lightly on the accelerator and let the transmission do the rest.
  2. When accelerating, pretend you have a fresh egg underneath your right foot. A light, steady pressure helps minimize the amount of fuel consumed.
  3. Anticipate the changing of stop lights, stop signs, or the need to slow down for a curve. This can help you avoid or reduce your use of the brake and save gasoline in the process.
  4. When you come upon a "merge ahead" sign, automatically check your speed, traffic spacing, and length of your acceleration lane so that you can merge smoothly.
  5. Try car pooling at least once a week with another person.
  6. In commuter traffic, look two or more cars ahead rather than watching the driver in front of you.
  7. Use air conditioning sparingly.
  8. Avoid engine warm-up and extended idle periods.
  9. Plan and consolidate your trips and errands.
  10. Keep tires inflated to recommended pressure (maximum preferred) and follow vehicle manufacturer's maintenance recommendations.