Fleet refuelling is a crucial on-cost for any business enterprise operating commercial vehicles. For fleet managers, there are a range of options depending on the specific operational requirement. Retail forecourts and truck-stop fuel bunkering services with access provided by way of a key card account, are designed for low volume requirements, such as start-up fleets or on-the-road fuelling for vehicles unable to reach their home base.
But as the scale of business operations continues to expand, it will become increasingly more cost effective to purchase fuel directly from the oil companies. There comes a point where the initial outlay for a bulk storage tank and associated dispensing equipment should pay back within a relatively short period of time. The high-mileage fleet operator can afford to shop around and take advantage of lower spot prices.
In addition to savings on the cost of fuel, depot facilities allow far greater control for the business owners. Systems can be implemented to collect data and monitor fuel usage automatically. Depot fuelling also allows better productivity, as drivers time can be managed more efficiently. Also with single product diesel fuelling points, the possibilities of misfuelling company vehicles are eliminated.
Having made the decision to install depot fuelling, the fleet operator should take into account that this is a long-term investment. The overall cost of ownership is therefore just as important as the initial purchase price. Even for a medium sized fleet, the value of stock passing through the fuelling point year-on-year, will be measured in tens of thousands of pounds.
Availability should be the watchword. As in most markets, the range of fuelling systems on offer varies, not only in terms of quality but also in terms of after sales support. Fuel management solutions have also evolved to include web-based services. These are subscription based arrangements in which the supplier of the fuelling equipment shares a commercial interest in the on-going reliability of your depot installation.
Four key elements for keeping your fuelling equipment fit for purpose:
- Buy quality products
Buy once and get it right first time. Nothing beats buying quality products that are much more reliable and long lasting than cheap alternatives. The little extra investment initially will pay back in terms of reliability as well as economy by avoiding frequent and often costly emergency call out repairs.
- Buy compatible products
Equipment failure and consequential downtime will impact your business profitability as well as your reputation for customer service. Nothing is more frustrating than to find that your equipment supplier is unable to deal with a simple pump malfunction or the serviceability of your fuel or tank management systems. A planned approach to maintenance will ensure 100 percent availability – in other words – ready to go at all times.
Don’t risk your reputation by entrusting this to freelance repair services. They may appear cheaper on paper but very few invest fully in the diagnostic knowledge or the correct level of spares needed to achieve prompt first time repair.
A “mix and match” approach to purchasing does not take into account the differing design and business aims of each component manufacture. Furthermore, situations often arise where one or more of the individual equipment manufacturers could withdraw its support for certain components, long before the overall package itself becomes unsupportable.
Fleet operators can protect themselves by purchasing only from a recognised supplier. More specifically, one which designs and manufacturers a full range of equipment that has been purposely conceived to be fully interchangeable. This built-in compatibility is by far the best insurance for long life and reliability.
Consider what your options are when equipment fails
Even the best made equipment will fail eventually. Taking advantage of the manufacturer’s extended warranty scheme entitles the owner to all the protection that was offered with the original product. The equipment manufacturer has a vested interest in ensuring that the equipment it provided continues to meet customer’s expectations and will therefore provide the best possible service.
Extended warranty schemes are also a great way to ensure that a fleet operator can budget a fixed price for service availability – thereby removing any unscheduled costs and sometimes extortionate, emergency call out rates.
The best extended warranty schemes will offer additional benefits such as reduction in charges for work outside of warranty or for the purchase of further equipment and ancillaries.
If you choose not to purchase an extended warranty, there is an option to commit the original manufacturer to provide this support on an ‘as required’ basis. Most manufacturers will commit to providing the same level of service as you would expect to be provided under an extended warranty scheme, provided that such a commitment has been agreed. Whilst this removes the fixed cost protection element, the fleet operator can be certain of receiving first class diagnostics and genuine manufacturer approved spares.
Regular service and calibration
There is a growing appreciation that to achieve 100 percent availability, the equipment has to be serviced regularly and maintained to the best possible condition. And this includes regular calibration. For some instances, this may even be a legal obligation.
As equipment wears in normal service, then adjustments to the mechanisms, especially the meter units, will be essential in order to compensate. All equipment should be serviced and calibrated on a regular basis. The general recommendation for Merridale equipment is once per year. Clearly very high-volume throughput situations may require more frequent adjustment. Similarly, low quality equipment should be checked more frequently, perhaps even to the point of being six monthly or quarterly to ensure optimum performance.
Components, such as drive belts which have a designated life cycle would normally be replaced during servicing. This would also include checks on other key components in order to identify any potential weakness. Clearly a timely replacement will cost far less that emergency call out. The aim is to reduce unscheduled service calls. Your service provider will be happy to recommend a planned maintenance programme that will minimise any inconvenience of downtime to your facility.