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Driving Down Fuel Costs

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Gas prices started climbing early this year. Instead of getting a winter reprieve, contractors and consumers alike had to shell out more cash to get around. To help manage the increased costs, contractors have been implementing some new, and even creative, fuel saving strategies.

GPS & Gas Cards To Control Fuel Costs

Brian Loughrige is experimenting with a GPS on one of his three service vans. Loughrige owns Air Max Heating & Cooling, LLC in Brandon, MS. He’s getting serious about managing fuel costs. “We’re paying $3.82 a gallon for fuel now,” he says. “It costs more than $100 to fill up.”

Loughrige’s drivers use Exxon fuel cards. The Exxon program reports who bought fuel and how much it cost. Loughrige checks the reports to make sure the spending makes sense.

But it is GPS that he believes will enable him to manage fuel costs more effectively. “It gives me a way to supervise the drivers,” he says. “It tells me when a driver is running a vehicle after hours, so I can hold him accountable.”

A GPS device on every vehicle would give Loughrige the ability to find any of his trucks at any time. After hours, he can make sure drivers follow the company’s no personal use policy. During the working day, he can make sure the drivers are where they are supposed to be.

GPS Follows 75 Aire Rite Vehicles And Checks The Engines

Last year, Don Langston’s 75 or so drivers spent $425,000 on fuel. It may be more this year. “Our average price has gone up to $4.25 a gallon,” says Langston, who is president and owner of Huntington Beach, CA-based Aire Rite.

Aire Rite drivers don’t pay $4.25 per gallon, though. ARCO’s Fleet Card program lowers prices by 10 to 20 cents, Langston says.

Once a year, Langston brings all of the vehicles in for a physical inventory. “After the inventory, we weigh the vehicles and pull weight off,” he says. “We’ll occasionally get rid of a couple hundred pounds.”

Langston has installed Network Fleet GPS devices on the company’s fleet. The system enables managers to enforce the personal use policies.

In addition, Network Fleet ties into the engine’s diagnostic computer and monitors things like diagnostic trouble codes, ignition status, speed, hard braking, excessive idling, mileage and fuel efficiency. The onboard unit will report aggressive, inefficient driving as well as mechanical problems that create inefficiencies.

Managing Fuel Costs In Manhattan

Donnelly Mechanical of Queens Village, NY, runs a fleet of about 85 vehicles: 65 vans, two large box-style delivery trucks, and 18 cars for supervisors and project managers.

“Our coverage area is Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs,” says Tiziano Sartori, a partner and vice president for operations. “But 95 percent of our work is in Manhattan.”

Between 15 and 20 percent of the company’s operating expenses go for gasoline, which is why Sartori manages fuel costs.

Donnelly Mechanical’s drivers carry fuel cards. “We use Fuel Man,” Sartori says. “We can buy different brands of fuel. The program saves us a couple cents a gallon.”

Donnelly also uses GPS to manage personal use of vehicles, engine performance, aggressive driving, and excessive idling.

Another GPS feature lets Sartori assign a gas card to a vehicle by entering the VIN number. The system checks a database to find the capacity of that model’s gas tank. At each fill up, the system compares how much gas the vehicle should need with the gallons purchased. If a driver buys too much gas, the system reports it.

The company also employs a mechanic, who inspects vehicles at least twice a year or whenever they need service. He uses the GPS system to schedule oil changes. Older vehicles receive service every 3,000 miles while newer ones will go 5,000 miles. Vehicles operating at peak efficiency use less gas.

In the end, however, the only way to keep drivers from using gas is to take the trucks away. Donnelly Mechanical is giving that a try.

“Because our business is in an urban environment,” Sartori says, “we can take guys out of vans and give them vertical accounts in high-rise buildings. Each works out of a toolbox set up in one of their buildings.

Sartori started the program 10 years ago. Soaring gas prices has led him to expand it. Today, about a dozen of the company’s 82 technicians take the train to work and service customers in high-rise buildings without a truck. Of course, you can’t do this in the suburbs.

The point is, however, that there are creative ways to manage fuel costs. You just have to find them — or create them.

Posted In: ACCA Now, Vehicles & Fleets

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