How Do Fuel Cards Work?
Many of us are familiar with credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, and discount cards. We often use them on a regular basis to buy everyday necessities, like groceries, and to fund larger purchases, like home furnishings.
If you work in the trucking industry, you may also be familiar with fuel cards. But what exactly is a fuel card, and do they function the same way these other types of cards do?
In this guide, we’ll break down what fuel cards are, how they work, and how trucking companies can use them to their benefit. Keep reading to learn more.
Fuel Card 101
So, what is a fleet card and how do fuel cards work? While fuel cards—also called fleet cards—aren’t actual credit or debit cards, they do function with a similar concept and can be powered by the same technology.
Put simply, the main purpose of a fuel card is to help trucking companies of any size simplify the process of purchasing fuel. Company fuel cards do this in several ways:
- They offer discounts on fuel of five cents per gallon and up
- They allow professional drivers to make gas purchases quickly and efficiently
- They make it possible to finance gas purchases, even when cash flow is low or held up (for instance, by late client payments)
Do fuel cards save you money? Fuel card providers typically partner with various truck stops to offer discounted gas prices. So, the more professional drivers use their fuel cards, the more they and their owner operators can save in the long run.
How to Use a Card Fuel
While all fuel cards strive to provide fleets with discounted fuel prices, it’s important to note that not all fuel cards are created equal. This means that different fuel card providers may have different processes.
Generally speaking, however, you can use your fleet fuel card in one of two ways:
- As a credit card – In this scenario, the fuel card acts and functions the same way that a credit card would. When at the pump, the truck driver pays for their fuel using the line of credit associated with the card. Then, the balance is later paid off, similar to a monthly credit card bill.
- As a debit card – In this case, trucking companies can add funds to their drivers’ fuel cards to help manage spending limits and keep fuel expenses in check.
Depending on the fuel card provider you partner with, drivers might also be required to provide some additional information when using their fuel cards. This can include things like unit number, trip number, or truck driver number.
Are There Other Benefits to Using a Fuel Card?
The primary benefit of implementing the use of a fuel card is to help save on those hefty diesel fuel prices. However, because fuel cards are capable of more than your average credit or debit card, there can be other big benefits when implementing an effective fuel card strategy for your fleet.
Depending on the particular fuel card company you partner with, you may be able to use your fuel card to pay for additional trucking-related expenses, such as:
- Truck repairs and maintenance
- Auto parts
- Wiper fluid and blades
- Motor oil
Additionally, a fuel card may also be able to provide:
- Better fleet management – Depending on the type of fleet fuel card you use, you may be able to receive detailed and real-time reporting of transactions through an online account. These accounts are usually customizable and can provide insights into driver spending to help you effectively manage your fleet.
- Increased expense control – Most company fuel cards allow you to control the credit limit that your drivers have access to so that you can make sure everyone in your fleet stays within their spending limit.
- Fraud protection – Similar to credit card fraud, fuel card fraud can lead to lost funds and increased insurance premiums for your company. Fortunately, some fuel card providers are able to offer fraud protection in the form of enhanced authentication techniques and fraudulent charge monitoring.
- Credit bureau reporting – A fuel card that reports your transactions and payments to credit bureaus can allow you to build up your credit, making you more likely to receive increased spending limits and reduced interest rates in the future.
- Access to up-to-date spending reports – Some fuel card companies make it even easier to monitor your company’s overall spending by providing you access to your overall fuel costs, your total gallons purchased, your average fuel economy, and your total number of miles driven—information that’s required on your quarterly International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) reports.
- Paperless documentation – Manually monitoring your total mileage, total gallons purchased, overall fuel costs, and average fuel economy can be an incredibly time-consuming process. With a fuel card that monitors this information for you through an online account, you can streamline your paperwork and reporting procedures.
Depending on your fuel card provider and state, you may also be eligible to save through:
- Roadside assistance discounts
- Annual loyalty bonuses
- Cashback programs
How Much Can You Save with a Fuel Card?
So, how much money can a fuel card help your trucking company save? The exact amount you can save will depend on a few factors, like:
- The partnerships the provider has with truck stops and merchants
- The discount program the provider has in place
- The distance your drivers travel and where they travel to
- The number of trucks in your fleet
- The specifics of the fuel card program
For instance, fuel card savings per gallon can be wide-ranging, with most providers offering anywhere from 5–15 cents off per gallon.
Yet, the most important aspect to consider with average savings is the number of participating stations where the gas card is accepted. Fuel cards that offer much higher fuel price-per-gallon savings are usually only accepted at a few participating truck stops.
Plus, many fuel card companies will offset higher fuel price-per-gallon savings with hidden fees and penalties. If you aren’t careful and don’t read the fine print, you may end up paying more in the long run toward operating costs. These costs can include:
- Setup fees
- Monthly fees
- Per-transaction fees
- ACH fees
- Overdraft fees
- Out-of-network fuel station fees
- Card replacement fees
- Late payment fees
Is It Worth Getting a Fuel Card?
Putting together a strategy for implementing the use of a fuel card for your fleet can definitely be worth it. The discounts on diesel fuel alone are often enough to make fuel cards a worthy investment.
However, to make a fuel card worth your while, you should make sure that you fully understand the details of your specific fuel card program. As we mentioned earlier, not all fuel cards are created equal, so they won’t all provide the same fleet card benefits.
To get the most savings out of your fuel card, look for a fuel card program that offers:
- No fees – To increase your overall savings, choose a fuel card that offers low or no operating fees and has zero spending requirements.
- No limits – Some fuel card providers limit your fuel discounts to the first 5,000–6,000 gallons. By choosing a card with no limits, you don’t have to put a cap on your savings.
- Universal discounts – By choosing a card that can be used at any truck stop, you avoid paying out-of-network station fees or spending time trying to find an in-network station.
- Savings on all truck-related expenses – To stay on the road and on schedule, professional drivers need more than just fuel. Finding a fuel card that covers repairs, parts, insurance, and more leaves you with more cash on hand for other expenses, like employee payroll.
- Fraud protection – As stated earlier, fraud can cost your company hundreds of dollars. With fraud protection, you can ensure your money stays in your hands.
The good news is that a fuel card can be used by anyone, from an owner-operator to a single driver in a fleet of hundreds of trucks. So, once you find the gas card program that’s right for you, you can start lowering your operating costs and increasing your profits.
Save More with AtoB—The Fuel Card That’s Accepted Everywhere
Now that you understand how fuel cards work, you may be on your way to find the best fuel card provider for your business. Fortunately, AtoB makes the search easy.
That’s because AtoB can help you keep your operating costs low and your drivers on the road for longer with our zero-fee fuel card. Powered by VISA, our fuel card is accepted everywhere—that means you can even use our card at local small business mom and pop fuel stations. Plus, our card covers other truck-related expenses, including repairs, parts, tolls, insurance, and maintenance.
There’s no need to provide a credit score or SSN, and there’s no limit on the amount of discounted gallons you can benefit from. You can even set specific spending limits and track all your drivers' transactions through our customizable dashboard.
Purchasing fuel and managing your fleet has never been as easy as it is with AtoB. Unlock your potential savings by choosing the AtoB fuel card today.
US General Services Administration. GSA Fleet Cards. https://www.gsa.gov/buying-selling/products-services/transportation-logistics-services/fleet-management/vehicle-leasing/gsa-fleet-card