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Striking A Balance Between Automation and Budget: Fuel Management For Fleets Of All Sizes

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When fuel from a public-agency fueling site turns up missing and unaccounted for, the fleet manager typically has to answer for its absence. As the price of diesel hovers around $4 per gallon and slowly continues to rise, the cost of missing fuel can quickly become a significant business expense, especially for smaller fleets. Though upgrading to an automated fuel management system presents a costly up-front investment for fleets of all sizes, the benefits of having such a system in place often far outweigh the initial financial setback.

Many different levels of automation are available at many different price points. The more automated the system, the more you can expect to spend. But, with more automation also comes more control over the fleet, fuel management, odometer readings and preventative maintenance programs. Not sure which level of automation is best for your fleet? The following list of automation levels can help you find a system that fits within your budget.

1. Manage Fuel Management with an Access Fob, Key or Card. 

At the most basic level of automation, just a step above filling out a clipboard,a simple fuel management system uses a fob, key or card to monitor fuel usage. A driver just swipes a fob or card, and then enters odometer information, which is then sent to the software system for tracking fuel use and mileage. It’s basic, but this system works especially well for small niche operations.

2. Use an RFID Tag that can Recognize what Type of Vehicle needs Fuel. 

At the mid-level of automation, a fuel management system can use an RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tag to program how much fuel a specific type of vehicle requires. A module on the fuel hose can detect a tag on the vehicle and read the vehicle’s identification number prior to fueling. A system at this level of automation can also use an odometer range for more accurate odometer inputs, read credit cards and provide even more access to vehicle information.

3. Connect to the Vehicle’s OBD-II Port to Access Advanced Information. 

For high automation, a fuel management system may use an add-on to connect to the vehicle’s OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostic System) port and retrieve odometer information, trouble codes, maximum speeds, engine time and idling time. With this level of automation, the add-on can pull information from the vehicle (even when it’s not fueling) and send vital information to the accompanying software. This level of automation can help make preventative maintenance more efficient.

Business benefits of Automation

When considering which level of automation is right for your fleet management efforts, consider the benefits that come with higher levels of automation. An advanced automated fuel management system can offer better tracking and accounting data. With an automated system, a fleet manager can require an employee identification number and vehicle information before fuel is dispensed. This helps fleet managers run a more accurate preventative maintenance program and prevents misuse or loss of fuel. Most importantly, an automated system will give employees more time and mental capacity to focus on the critical aspects of their job.

Cost of Fleet Automation

When choosing a fuel-automation system, consider potential ROI. You can estimate your ROI by calculating how much staff time is being spent going over incorrect odometer readings or accounting for missing fuel, and then quantify that time in terms of dollars spent. For fleets that are still using a manual, clipboard-and-pen system, the ROI yield for an automation system will be much higher, even from a small investment. Fleets that are already partially automated will need to spend a little more money to see a significant ROI.

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