As fuel prices rise, it’s back to basics as fleets find ways to reduce consumption.
It’s going to be a steamy summer, as gas prices are set to heat up to their highest in possibly a decade.
And that’s enough to have fleet managers everywhere dusting off their most efficient fuel control strategies. There are some basic steps that anyone can implement for improved fuel management control.
Step 1: Driver Education
Possibly the first step is basic driver education. “Driving smoothly is important because speeding, accelerating quickly and hard stops can lead to a 25 percent increase in fuel consumption,” notes Erin Bernier, Marketing Manager, Shell Fleet Solutions. “Idling is also important. If a driver is idling for more than one minute, excess idling will burn a significant amount of fuel.”
However, it’s important to understand what is appropriate idling. “You may have vehicles working on a railroad track that are required to idle, or they’re running PTOs or other equipment, so they need to idle,” says Andy Hall, System Manager, Fuel and GMS Products at ARI. “But if you have a sales vehicle like a sedan and it’s idling because the driver wants to keep his car warm, then that’s a problem.”
Step 2: Telematics
This is where telematics can come in handy. “Telematics is a great tool to get data on idling and other driver events,” says Hall. “It will give you data, but then you have to take accountability.”
He recommends fleets be honest about what they can handle, and how much data they can deal with. “Have some sort of monthly reporting. In a perfect world, you’d have a tank capacity in your system that you’re working with. If a driver fuels over that tank capacity, as soon as you get that data in your report, you would reach out to the driver.
“On a monthly level, by seeing the outliers, you can see if there’s potential misuse. And you can investigate to see what’s going on that may be driving up costs.”
Step 3: Route Planning
Planning routes can make a big difference in fuel consumption. “Drivers need to know what their route is ahead of time,” says Bernier. “We ensure all our drivers will take the best route with a journey management plan.”
Drivers complete and submit a journey management plan for every trip. For example, they identify if there will be construction on their route, or congestion due to rush hour, and look at alternative routes.
“That includes looking at risks like weather, especially in the winter months,” says Bernier. “The journey management plan logs drivers so their managers, or other staff, know where they are supposed to be in the event that something happens.”
Step 4: Right Sizing
Right sizing is a good management practice to minimize fuel spend. “Evaluate your fleet to determine if you should reassign, replace or eliminate certain vehicles to reduce fuel and maintenance costs,” recommends Bernier. “Fleet managers need to work with their drivers to determine if their fleet would benefit from smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. That’s going to depend on what that fleet is using those vehicles for, and if they can use a smaller vehicle versus a fullsize van.”
Also, look at how vehicles are being loaded. “Many drivers don’t understand that they have all this extra equipment in their van or truck that they don’t need,” says Hall. “They like to have it, just in case. And that extra weight is driving up their fuel consumption. Trucks often have old supplies, old equipment, just sitting in the back doing nothing, just weighing that vehicle down.
“Drivers should know if their vehicle is overweight, of course, as long as they’re staying within their threshold, within government regulations.”
Step 5: Maintenance
Staying on top of maintenance should always be a priority, but even more so in times of high gas prices. “Drivers should be checking their tire pressure,” says Bernier. “If a tire is under-inflated by just one PSI, fuel efficiency can be reduced by up to three percent. Change the air filter regularly, because if your engine has to work harder to bring in air that it needs to burn fuel efficiently, then it’s going to burn more fuel.”
Even modern vehicles that are equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems still need to be checked. “The systems are great, but it’s always a good idea to check them on a regular basis, because the systems can be fallible,” says Bernier.
Step 6: Fuel Card
Implementing a fuel card program can also be helpful. “The cards come with transaction monitoring,” notes Wayne Rose, Senior Vice President at Jim Pattison Lease. “That’s very common with fleets that have 10 or more vehicles. The card can be used at multiple fuel vendors nationally. You can get one card that covers them all. We manage it and send you an email if there is a transaction out of the ordinary.”
Fuel cards can also identify what kind of fuel a driver is filling up with. “Most vehicles run on regular unleaded,” says Rose. “It’s about a 16 cent spread between premium and regular fuel, for example, in Ontario. You want to make sure that people are utilizing the gas that the vehicle requires. But at fleet companies, we do pay attention to that. We can monitor if drivers are using a higher octane fuel than is required for the vehicle.”
Step 7: Alternative Fuels
Fleet managers may also want to consider alternative fuel vehicles. “There are definitely more options available,” notes Bernier. “You can choose a type of fuel that makes sense and is most efficient for what their fleet is doing. What is the availability of alternative fuels along driver routes? There’s also the cost of alternatively fuelled vehicles, and weighing how much they can save in the long run.”
Hall notes that there are limitations. “Sometimes electric vehicles are a good option, but for a complex fleet, that may not be the case,” he says. “Now that there’s charging at home, how do you reimburse a driver? How do you track that spend? It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”