Buy Right

Max Kvidera | January 03, 2011

For its independent contractors, Dart Transit offers a system that plots the shortest route and notes places along that route offering the cheapest fuel. Also, on Dart’s website, contractors can click on a fuel tab, plug in cities, and find within a specified radius all the fuel locations from cheapest to most expensive, whether or not they are within Dart’s network of fuel providers. “It will list the pump price and the Dart contractor price,” Doth says.

National Association of Small Trucking Companies member fleets can tap into the association’s directory of fueling stops to find the lowest prices. “Our Quality Plus program is really a fuel optimization program,” says NASTC President David Owen.

Richard Smith, owner of a three-truck fleet in Central Iowa, tries to buy at truck stops in the NASTC directory on runs to Idaho, Utah and California and back. He assesses where the best discounts are and passes the information along to his drivers. “We will search out the cheapest price,” he says, though sometimes other prices are better because of discounts.

One of the organization’s tools is a Daily Fuel Hedge. Each weekday NASTC takes a reading of OPIS wholesale rack prices from about 400 fuel locations that becomes the cost basis for the next day’s fuel purchases.

“We know the day before whether the price is going to increase or decrease,” Owen says. “We text-message the drivers on our program with an alert that says to buy before midnight or after midnight.”

Fuel cards issued by carriers, truck stops and organizations can save 3 cents a gallon and far more. Some discounts change frequently, even daily.

Mike Skurdahl, who runs under his own authority as Sun Chaser Transport, uses a NATSO check card and gets a 5-cent-a-gallon discount from the credit price at Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, where he buys most of his fuel because of low prices. When buying at least 1,000 gallons a month, he also gets free coffee and showers.

Independent Henry Albert earns a cash price that is usually 6 to 7 cents a gallon less than the credit price by using his Truckers Advantage card through the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association. Bob and Linda Caffee, team drivers for FedEx Custom Critical, gain fuel price breaks negotiated by their carrier.

NASTL members use a FleetOne card as part of the group’s Quality Plus Network of about 840 truck stops. In 2009, members averaged a 12 cents a gallon discount, says Owen. “Once they’re qualified through our program, our members are buying fuel about as effectively as the big guys are,” he says.

When evaluating discounts, make sure you know how the discount is calculated, says David Wolff, of owner-operator financial services consultant ATBS. For example, your carrier may get a 4 cent discount, but is that deducted from the sign price or the pump price, which sometimes differ?

Many fuel surcharges assume the truck gets 6 mpg. If your mpg is better than that, the surcharge will reduce your actual fuel cost per mile more than if your mpg is less than 6. The more the fuel price increases, the more you can reduce your fuel cost per mile if your mpg is better than the norm.

You can look at your fuel cost per mile and compare that with fuel surcharges being offered. If fuel is $3 a gallon and the fuel surcharge price base is $1.25, you would divide the difference by your base mpg. For example, divide $1.75 by 6 mpg and you get a little over 29 cents a mile, the amount you would be paid for fuel by the carrier, broker or shipper offering the surcharge. For every 5-cent increase in fuel price, your amount would increase by a little less than a penny.

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