Fueling up seems like an innocuous activity. The act itself only takes a few minutes, and it’s something every driver can do. But it’s not always as simple as that. When you add up the time spent and miles driven to the fuel station, the wear on the vehicle and fuel used to get there, and the potential for fuel card fraud when it comes to paying for the fuel, it can be costly.
For those reasons, some fleets opt for mobile fueling, where the fuel comes to their vehicles rather than the other way around. How does it work, and what should fleets know about it?
Three mobile fuelers answer the top five most frequently asked questions:
[ 1 ] How Does Mobile Fueling Work?
The way mobile fueling works depends, in part, on the provider. But typically, it works like this: a fleet schedules a time for its vehicle or equipment to be fueled, drivers whose vehicles need fueling leave the fuel cap door open, and a fueling vehicle arrives on site to fill the tanks of those parked vehicles.
Some providers also offer to perform additional safety checks or services like tire pressure checks and inflation or exterior cleaning while they are there.
Ward Supplee, VP of business development for Filld Inc., said mobile fueling is usually performed after hours when fleet vehicles have arrived back at home base.
“The vast majority of fleets come back to a central yard or parking lot at the end of their workday and park there overnight. So, the majority of mobile fueling services come during the nighttime hours and fill up the vehicles that require refueling,” he said. “Many of the fleets that require fueling are construction equipment, waste management companies, and delivery companies — those types of fleets are ideal for this kind of model.”
Most mobile fueling companies also offer both gasoline and diesel options. The difference between providers, according to Tyler Raugh, co-founder and president of Fleet at Booster Fuels, is the type of vehicle that brings the fuel and the pricing structure.
“When considering mobile fueling vehicles, larger fuel tankers may not be able to maneuver in fleet parking lots and may even damage the asphalt. If the fuel delivery vehicle is a pickup truck with a fuel tank in the back, safety could be a concern,” he said. “The fee structure — whether a service fee or a price per gallon delivered or both — is important to consider when calculating how much money a fleet manager can save with a particular service.”
Supplee said, in general, mobile fueling companies offer one of two pricing models.
“They’ll charge a price for the fuel and a delivery fee per vehicle or asset, or they’ll charge a price for the fuel and a single delivery fee for every vehicle parked at the site,” he said.
[ 2 ] Is Mobile Fueling Right for Your Fleet?
When considering whether mobile fueling is right for their fleet, Raugh said companies should start with the number of trucks in a fleet and where they’re parked when not in use, but local policies also play a role.
“Companies with four or more vehicles that park onsite in a central location during off-hours are great candidates for a mobile fueling service,” Raugh added. “Fleets investigating mobile fueling should also consider local government policies and make sure mobile fueling is permitted in their region.”
Daniel Arbour, Global GM for Shell TapUp, suggests fleets ask themselves some key questions:
“How much time does your team spend fueling your fleet or equipment? What if your fleet drivers arrived to work with the tank already full? How much value would that add to your company?” he said. “How nice would it be to have a trained team handle your fueling needs so you can focus on the job at hand?”
Raugh said deciding whether to leverage mobile fueling comes down to four factors.“It’s essential to understand how much money your fleet is spending on employee time, fuel consumption to and from the station, vehicle wear-and-tear, and company oversight over fuel cards, fraud, etc.,” he said. “Make sure that you take all these expenses into consideration when evaluating if hiring a mobile fueling service will help your bottom line.”
When considering a mobile fueling option, Supplee offered two tips: Do the math first, then start small.
“I would urge a fleet manager to try to understand their total cost of fueling, including fuel fraud, unproductive labor hours, and opportunity costs, before reaching out to mobile fueling companies. This will allow them to have a more informed conversation with the mobile fuelers,” he said. “I would also suggest that if it is unclear whether mobile fueling is right for their fleet, they might consider proposing a pilot of mobile fueling with a small subset of their vehicles, for example, at a single site. They can then compare the full costs of mobile fueling with those of using fleet cards to better understand the potential impact of expanding the mobile fueling service across the entire fleet.”
[ 3 ] What Are the Benefits of Mobile Fueling?
When mobile fueling is operationally feasible for a fleet, it can offer several benefits.
Efficiency and Reduced Vehicle Wear and Tear. Perhaps the most apparent benefit of mobile fueling is saving drivers the trip to the fuel station, keeping them focused on their core mission. Saving that trip also reduces wear and tear on fleet assets.
“Mobile fueling prevents fleet managers from having to send their employees to the fuel station, resulting in more control over routes and new unlocked efficiency,” Raugh said. “According to a study of 14 million trips conducted by Geotab, every trip to the fueling station costs companies 20 minutes of non-productive time and 2.2 additional miles of vehicle wear and tear.”
Improved Productivity. Because drivers aren’t spending time fueling their vehicles, Supplee said fleets can see productivity gains as well.
“If a delivery fleet driver detours from their route to go to a station to fill up, then detours back to the route, not only are those detours going to take 20 minutes, but the driver is also probably going to make fewer deliveries during the shift than they otherwise might have,” he said. “So if it’s a business that focuses on maximizing deliveries, that factors into the equation.”
Cost Savings. Of course, mobile fueling comes with its own costs, between the cost of fuel and any service fees. While these costs can vary, fleets may be able to reduce their overall cost with mobile fueling.
“Price per gallon is entirely dependent upon the mobile fueling company,” Supplee said. “They will reference the OPIS [Oil Price Information Service] price for that fuel grade, then give a certain number of cents over that price that will be charged to the fleet for the fuel itself.”
But, when factoring in the savings associated with the fuel consumed when traveling to and from fuel stations, productivity, vehicle wear and tear, and eliminating fuel card fraud, oftentimes the service fee and/or higher price per gallon are offset.
“The mobile fueling ROI is impressive,” Raugh said. “Fleets typically reduce their fueling costs by more than $800 per vehicle annually after switching to Booster, and one Booster fleet customer reported saving $483,000 in labor costs in its first year of using the service.”
Reduced Fuel Card Fraud. Mobile fueling eliminates the need for fuel cards, which in turn eliminates the possibility for fraud.
“A lot of companies that are currently buying fuel for their fleet use a fuel card of some sort. No matter how effectively the fuel card monitors fraud, there is always some fraud that is conducted through that fuel card,” Supplee said. “By using mobile fueling, you no longer give those drivers and employees the opportunity to practice that fraud.”
Simplified Billing. Instead of managing fuel charges from multiple drivers, mobile fueling providers typically provide one invoice to fuel all of a fleet’s vehicles.
“We provide an itemized invoice and web business portal detailing exactly how much fuel has been provided to each vehicle,” Arbour said.
Raugh said Booster also offers streamlined billing. “Booster’s technology tabulates one bill for an entire fleet, removing the tedious task of managing and reconciling hundreds of fuel station receipts, and the customer’s detailed dashboard gives a more transparent look into fuel consumption and savings,” he said.
Reduced Contact. These days, making a trip to the fuel station can mean additional risk due to COVID-19. Raugh said mobile fueling helps reduce the risk of exposure.
“Fuel station pump handles are highly contaminated with pathogenic microbes and viruses, including COVID-19, which can live on plastic surfaces, such as fuel station pump handles for up to three days,” he said.
Reduced Emissions and Contamination. By replacing multiple trips of individual trucks to the fuel station with one visit to the fleet’s home base, mobile fueling reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
“With Booster’s more efficient supply chain, one mobile fuel delivery will reduce the carbon footprint by 1.1 pounds of CO2 emissions by eliminating trips to the fuel station. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of cars and fleets filled via mobile delivery every week, and it really adds up,” Raugh said.
Mobile fueling also gives fleets the opportunity to green their fleet while saving money, rather than making a large investment, according to Arbour.
“The sustainability of the fleet is high on the agenda of many fleet operating companies. Although the transition to a more sustainable fleet can often come at a high cost, with Shell TapUp, you can reduce your carbon footprint with your existing fleet,” he said.
[ 4 ] Does Mobile Fueling Come with Any Challenges?
While mobile fueling comes with many benefits, there are also a few challenges. When considering mobile fueling, fleets should be aware of the following:
Access. It’s important to make sure the mobile fueling truck can actually get to the trucks or equipment that need fuel.
“We encounter challenges with accessing the vehicle lot, making sure the vehicle is parked so we can access the fuel tank, and making sure the fuel cap is open,” Arbour said.
Availability. Fleets with high utilization rates may have challenges leveraging mobile fueling simply due to time. If trucks are coming into the yard late at night, then leave again early in the morning, there may not be enough time for them to be fueled.
“If a large fleet operator is seeking a mobile fueling service, there is a risk that the window of time that the fleet is not in use may not be long enough to allow for the fueling to occur,” Supplee said. “And if a mobile fueling driver arrives at a site too early and starts fueling vehicles while other fleet vehicles are still arriving on site, the driver can lose track of which vehicles have already been fueled.”
Safety. Because a company is bringing fuel to your site, ensuring safe delivery is imperative.
“Fuel is a hazardous substance,” Raugh said. “Not only do mobile fueling delivery vehicles need to meet and exceed safety standards, but fueling professionals need to be certified and trained in safety and environmental protocols.”
Decentralization. If a company allows drivers to take their trucks home at night mobile fueling may not be a feasible option.
“If the vehicles are decentralized, a mobile fueling company must consider whether it’s worthwhile to drive around to the vehicles to fuel them, so mobile fuelers must consider the density of fleet vehicles if they are parked across a broad area (for example, like a car-sharing service might have),” Supplee said. “The mobile fueler would extend a price that would factor in the drive time for the mobile fueling driver to visit the various locations of the vehicles. So, if the vehicles are spread out, it may be cost-prohibitive.”
Regulatory Hurdles. Despite many safety and environmental advantages over traditional fuel, mobile fuelers confront outdated regulatory models, many of which stem from polices that were crafted 60 or more years ago for gas stations.
Booster’s Chief Policy Officer, Joe Okpaku, described Booster’s safety and environmental operations as paramount. “We have earned our reputation as a good operator, but we are still working against the notion that mobile fueling should be treated like stationary fueling,” Okpaku said.
[ 5 ] What Else is There to Know About Mobile Fueling?
Beyond the basics of mobile fueling, Supplee said there are a few more things fleets should be aware of.“Be sure to understand all of the operational implications of having the fleet fueled by a mobile fueler,” he said.
This would include considerations like how a fueler will access the location where vehicles are parked, how they will know which trucks and equipment should be fueled, and how long vehicles will need to be stationary to complete the job.
Supplee also said fleets often get tripped up when calculating cost comparison.
“It’s important to understand the full cost of having your fleet refueled using fuel cards versus using a mobile fueler,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest mistake a lot of the operations management of fleets make — they overlook the fuel costs on both sides of the equation.”
While operational considerations and costs are important, Raugh said mobile fueling benefits both companies and the communities in which they operate.
“Mobile fueling is a win-win,” he said. “Fleet managers can save money and time while reducing traffic congestion and protecting the environment.”