Fuel accounts for up to 27% of the price of transported goods. The most expensive goods to transport are glass, stone, clay, and — fuel. It’s a cycle the economy can’t escape; if trucks don’t run, even the smallest businesses grind to a halt.
As of July 2022, the price of diesel averaged $5 across the US and small trucking companies particularly felt the effect of rising fuel prices, which can account for 40% or more of operating costs. Without the ability to negotiate directly with fuel companies and buy in bulk, small fleets with fewer than 26 power units have the highest fuel cost per mile.
For the fleets and owner operators that are focused on their bottom line, fuel cards provide a number of benefits including:
A fuel card, also known as “fleet card” or “fleet fuel card,” is a type of payment method that provides trucking companies with fuel management capabilities, saving money at fuel stations. Most fuel cards look like a typical credit card or debit card.
They are used by trucking businesses and truck owner operators to buy fuel. Depending on the card, can also be used to pay tolls and purchase maintenance-related accessories.
Fuel cards have a range of benefits including:
For fleets, the benefits of fuel cards scale up with the company. If the trucking company adds 5, 50, or 500 new vehicles to its fleet, the card issuer will provide additional cards, keeping expenses and record-tracking manageable.
Fuel cards are designed for public and private enterprises, including trucking and logistics companies of all sizes, including owner operators, and government agencies. Fuel cards are attached to a registered entity and are not for personal use. For personal use, individuals should look into gasoline credit cards.
Fuel cards look just like any credit or debit card and may be equipped with a microchip for swiping the card on point-of-sale terminals. The driver might need to enter other information, such as personal ID, vehicle ID, and mileage for maintenance and accounting purposes. All transaction records are automatically processed and safely stored for later review.
While most businesses will benefit from a company credit card, there are unique advantages to also leveraging a fuel card when fuel is a significant portion of operating expenses. For trucking companies and owner operators, this will definitely be the case but many small businesses, such as construction companies and landscapers can also benefit from a company fuel card.
Credit cards are accepted across a range of vendors for various goods or services. They provide funds without the user having to plan ahead through a line of credit with 30–60 days deferred payment. If the cash flow is limited, the user can also maintain a balance.
The downside of credit cards is that they do not offer fuel specific discounts and most fuel stations will add a surcharge for anyone paying with a credit card. There are also no spend controls or spend analysis.
When comparing fuel cards, fleet managers, owner operators, and small businesses should be aware of how different fuel cards are set up and the advantages to each type of fuel card.
While all of the fuel cards the top fuel cards listed below can be used to purchase diesel fuel, others can also be used on unleaded gasoline and may even offer a discount. For mixed fleets that may have vehicles requiring both types of fuel, selecting a card that can be used for diesel and gasoline will be important.
Fuel cards offer varying amounts of credit, from none to working like a typical credit card. Fuel cards can be broken down into three categories depending on how credit is offered.
Fuel cards that offer a credit line or operate like a charge card may request a personal guarantee. Business owners that have poor personal credit or that would rather not commit to a personal guarantee can either select a prepaid card or opt for a card like AtoB that doesn’t require a personal guarantee.
Fuel cards can either run on payment rails that are specific to fuel stations or on credit card rails, like Visa or Mastercard.
While fuel specific payment rails can only be used at specific locations, they typically offer larger discounts and most fuel stations will also offer the cash prices when paying with these cards.
On the other hand, a fuel card that leverages a network like Visa will be usable everywhere but companies will typically pay more because many fuel stations will add a credit card surcharge, even if it’s technically a fuel card. Fuel cards built on top of Visa or Mastercard also typically have smaller discounts.
A few cards, such as the Comdata Mastercard, offer the best of both worlds, with fuel specific rails for fuel stations and Mastercard rails for everywhere else.
Fuel discounts are offered either at the point-of-sale or the fuel discounts are rebated to companies at the end of the billing cycle. Functionally, this has little impact on cash flow unless the fuel card uses a prepaid method and a rebate model, which is unusual.
Fuel discounts can be calculated either by giving companies a discount from the list price or by using a “cost plus” method that adds a small fee on top of the price the fuel stop paid the supplier. Most publicly available fuel cards will offer a discount from the list price but some of the cards offering larger discounts will also utilize the cost plus method at certain fuel stations when it is advantageous. From the driver’s perspective, there is no difference beyond the price charged to the fuel card.
Yes, fuel cards provide discounts on fuel and the spending controls they offer also prevent internal mismanagement.
The business owner or fleet manager can often place the following limits:
The data gathered by each driver’s card then feeds into vehicle management software, providing an overview for each driver in terms of:
While fuel savings will vary widely depending on the fuel card, several popular fuel cards offer discounts ranging from 30-40 cents per gallon.
However, the general rule of thumb is that, the higher the fuel discount, the more restrictive the fuel card. Such cards can still provide tremendous savings depending on a company’s routes but companies must plan ahead. Many truckers also elect to carry multiple fuel cards in case they need to fuel up at a station outside the network of their primary fuel card.
While some fuel cards only offer discounts of a few cents per gallon, for trucking companies the savings can still add up to a significant dollar figure over the course of the year. The average class 8 truck uses almost 12,000 gallons of fuel each year. With diesel prices rising above $5 a gallon in 2022, the typical trucker will spend more than $60,000 on fuel over the course of the year.
The table below displays expected savings for a truck that consumes 12,000 gallons of fuel over the course of a year while the price of fuel averages $5 per gallon.
In addition to fuel discounts, drivers can increase their MPG to save on fuel by implementing the following habits:
In addition to fuel discounts, trucking companies and owner operators should take the following factors into account when selecting the fuel card that is right for them:
While every business is unique, the fuel cards selected below all offer deep discounts and have a large footprint in the US compared to similar cards.
With deep discounts and a network of popular fuel stops across the nation and in Canada such as TA Petro, AMBest, and others, the TCS fuel card is a great option for trucking companies and owner operators looking for deep discounts on diesel. The only major downside of the TCS fuel card is that it is a prepaid fuel card so truckers worried about cash flow may need to look into other cards that offer a line of credit.
While it does require funds to be on the card for purchases, there are no balance minimums, maximums, or fees associated with having or using the card. Funds can be loaded onto the TCS fuel card by bank wire, Western Union, or ACH.
Because the card is prepaid, TCS does not perform a credit score check on new applicants and the approval process typically takes 5-7 days. Once approved, the card is shipped in 3-5 days via FedEx (so it cannot be shipped to a PO Box).
Mostly known for their freight factoring business, RTS also offers a great fuel card for trucking companies worried about cash flow but that are still seeking deep discounts on diesel. Applicants do not need to factor invoices with RTS but those with cash flow issues can benefit from their services.
The card is accepted at more than 2,000 locations, including Pilot Flying J and others, but fleets using mixed fuel of diesel and gasoline will need to look elsewhere for their gasoline needs.
The biggest downside to the RTS card is that the card is a prepaid fuel card but they do offer a $2,500 line of credit per truck each week, which should be sufficient for most companies.
NASTC stands for the National Association of Small Trucking Companies and their fuel card lives up to its name. The NASTC fuel card offers the deepest discounts for any fuel card that works like a charge card.
While they cannot boast of having the largest network on this list, 1,100 locations will be sufficient for many over-the-road truckers.
The biggest drawback to the NASTC card is that users must be active members of NASTC, which has an annual membership fee of $250. However, the membership has other perks such as the ability to sign up with BigRoad, an ELD provider with FMCSA certification, at no cost. Another partner is RoadSquad, which has no service truck dispatch fee for NASTC members.
While Multi Service has in network discounts, they can also negotiate on your behalf with fuel providers and also port over existing discounts onto their fuel card. According to the official website, the negotiation results in a discount in 90% of cases. For a fleet that uses 60,000 gallons a year, the website states fuel savings go over $16,000. Since larger fleets or regional fleets that frequent the same smaller fuel stops will have more leverage to negotiate discounts, this will be a more attractive option for those trucking companies vs smaller carriers or owner operators.
The Multi Service reporting software provides regular reports that display all haul and truck details. It is compatible with 28 major trucking software platforms, including TMW, McLeod, and ProMiles. In cases of incompatibility, Multi Service offers customer support. The service directory points Multi Service users to the nearest available shower, parking, and restaurant.
While the Fuelman Deep Saver Fleet Card does not offer the largest discounts on diesel fuel, the card does offer discounts across a wide network of fuel stops for both diesel and gasoline, which is unusual. While many trucking businesses won’t see much value in this, hot shot trucking companies that run mixed fleets may find this to be a good option.
Fuelman Deep Saver Fleet Card comes with a slew of perks, one of which is the reward program — for each eligible gallon, the account receives one point. There is also the suspicious transaction alert system, as well as the detailed fuel and tax report.
The biggest downside to the Fuelman Deep Saver is the monthly fee for each card as well as additional fees that users feel aren’t properly advertised. If this card seems like a good fit, be sure to read the fine print.
The Wex Fleet CrossRoads Card can be a good alternative to the Fuelman Deep Saver card for mixed fleets that skew heavier on diesel purchases. While the card does not offer any discounts on unleaded gasoline, the discounts on diesel max out at nearly double that of the Fuelman.
The Wex card also comes with the ClearView program that is available in three varieties — Snap, Essentials, and Advanced. ClearView Snap provides a daily savings report delivered automatically. Essentials has activity detail breakdowns, and Advanced allows for direct communication with drivers through text or email.
Similar to the Wex Fleet CrossRoads and the Fuelman Deep Saver, The Comdata Mastercard can be used to purchase diesel as well as unleaded gasoline. While the card doesn’t offer discounts on gasoline, it offers deeper discounts than the Wex and Fuelman alternatives depending on the fuel stop.
The fuel card is a comprehensive payment solution that provides ample cash and credit to truck drivers. The card controller can set authorized recipients and send funds electronically using associated products, such as Comcheck Mobile and OnRoad. Driver payroll deposits can be automated.
Truck drivers have access to recurring cash balances refilled by the card controller, allowing them to withdraw and use cash as needed. There is also a 20% discount on stays in all participating hotels and reduced wait times at CAT scales.
The card is tailored for fleets of up to 50 trucks and comes with a wide range of perks in addition to the 15 cents on each gallon of diesel. Such perks include discounted tires, with average savings of $100 per tire, and additional savings on wireless plans, hotels, and more. While not a universal card, it is accepted at over 12,000 fuel stations.
The card provides automatic preparation of IRP and IFTA fuel tax reports. Users are also enrolled in the Bestpass tolling network to simplify toll tracking and eliminate windshield clutter.
The Permits module handles receiving and forwarding all trucking permit requests. Tractor and trailer information is automatically updated in the system. For payments, checks and MoneyCodes can be issued instantly for seamless payments using the internet, the app, or a phone call.
While the fuel discounts will be minimal with AtoB because most fuel stations add a credit card surcharge (the card runs on Visa's payment rails), the card can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.
The main draw of the card is that businesses can get a line of credit from AtoB without a credit check or personal guarantee. The AtoB card has weekly balance limits for its users, though they are increased quickly. One testimonial on the official website states the spending limit was increased from $1,600 to $2,500 within 10 minutes of requesting. According to the AtoB FAQ, the payment terms are net 0–7, depending on the card user’s financial health.
Additionally, because the company reports payment history to Experian, businesses can use the card to build their credit score.
Because there are no fees associated with the card, it is a great option for most businesses, even if it is only used as a secondary fuel card when needed.
While there are fuel cards with bigger discounts available, the Shell Small Business card is unique in that it does not require businesses to pay off their bill at the end of the billing cycle. Instead, they can carry a balance when cash flow is tight.
The card can be used to purchase discounted diesel and unleaded gasoline at 13,000 Shell stations and the card also gives users a 15% discount at Jiffy Lube.
Like the Shell Small Business card, the Wex Fleet Flexcard also allows businesses to carry a balance at the end of the month rather than paying off their bill in full. While the Wex Fleet FlexCard offers a smaller discount on fuel than the Shell Small Business card, the card can be used anywhere .
Like other Wex cards, the card has no setup or monthly fees but users online have reported getting hit with early termination fees.
Free app that works with any credit or debit card to replace a fuel card, providing savings of up to 50¢ per gallon. The user chooses the location, picks a refueling spot through the app, and shows the received code to the cashier. The payment goes through Mudflap and the receipt is delivered to the user’s email address.
There are no signup or transaction fees with Mudflap and it includes mom&pop stores that are normally ignored by fuel cards. Usable only for diesel purchases but on more vehicles compared to a fuel card, including RVs and pickups. Mudflap also supports Visa and Mastercard-powered fleet cards.
User reviews praise Mudflap for transparency, ease of use, and savings that reportedly go up to 80¢ a gallon. The average rating is 4.81 out of 5 stars across 843 reviews.
A free app that tracks mileage, fuel consumption, and service costs for any vehicle. Users can schedule maintenance and review the vehicle’s repair and refueling history. Those who like to tinker with vehicle data can import theirs into Fuelio using an open source Fuelio Converter, export it as CSV files, and back it up to Dropbox and Google Drive.
User reviews sing glowing praises to the app’s simplicity and thoroughness. There is an entire community behind the app, resulting in translation to 40 languages and crowdsourced information on gas prices. The average rating is 4.6 out of 5 stars across 114,000 reviews for the Android version.
Free app that provides fuel prices and other information relevant to truck drivers across the US. The prices are updated every 4 hours on the basis of all intervening fuel card purchases from 5,000 participating truck stops.
Google Play Store reviews lament the April 2022 revamp/rebrand that apparently hampered the app. Users complain that the app keeps crashing and that it forgets their choices. The average rating is 2.6 out of 5 stars across 1,000 reviews.
A collection of useful trip-planning tools in one app:
GasBuddy covers 150,000 gas stations in all 50 states and Washington DC, providing fuel prices and information on amenities at the chosen refueling spot. The blog provides fuel price analysis and predictions based on recent gas purchases using the associated credit card powered by Mastercard.
User reviews are overwhelmingly negative, complaining about meager discounts, suspicious transactions on the card, and non-existent customer support. The card allegedly has a $75 daily limit, past which the discount does not apply. The average rating is 1.58 out of 5 stars across 287 reviews.