Fuel shortages in recent weeks have caused a rapid loss of control over fleet running costs, says FleetCheck.

Peter Golding, managing director at the fleet management software company, said that because company car and van drivers were often being forced to buy fuel where they could get it, their employers were having to pay whatever prices were being asked.

He explained: “Petrol and diesel prices had already been rising rapidly before the onset of the fuel crisis and, since then, have only increased further. There have been some reports that prices are at an eight-year high.

“Most well-managed fleets have fuel policies that are designed to minimise costs, for example by specifying certain types of outlet or using a fuel card, but those measures have very much gone out of the window and there has been a rapid loss of control.

“We can see, for example, that company car and van drivers at some of our software users have been buying fuel from motorway services, which would generally be almost unknown. Presumably, they’ve been unable to get petrol and diesel anywhere else.

“It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that some fleets will have seen their pence per mile fuel costs increase by a 25% over the last year.”

In addition, Peter said, there was evidence that some fuel outlets had been profiteering in the wake of shortages.

“There are certainly reports of prices at individual fuel outlets that provoke a sharp intake of breath. While this might be the product of an understandable supply and demand situation, it still leaves a nasty taste. There has to be a high degree of trust between fleets and their regular suppliers, even when it comes buying petrol or diesel.”

He also pointed to advice from FleetCheck’s affinity partner for petrol and diesel purchasing, Wex Europe Services, operators of the Esso fuel card, suggesting that there were actions that fleets could take to manage the fuel situation.

“This is something that can be proactively tackled. Users of fuel cards will tend to have access to preferential fuel rates, for example, as well as being provided with more information about fuel availability. Telematics also has a potentially important role to play in ensuring that employees are driving in a style that helps to maximise fuel economy.”

Additionally, FleetCheck last week issued a five point guide to fleets designed to help them maximise fuel use while the crisis was underway.

Peter said: “The reaction we’ve had to this has been good. What we are seeing now is that the fuel crisis has become very regionalised. In some areas, it appears to be over while, in others, there is still queueing going on. Where shortages persist, fleets have been very receptive to this guidance.”

The five-point plan is:

1. Encourage more economical driving. Ask employees to drive smoothly by accelerating and braking gently, taking maximum notice of what is happening on the road ahead. Change up early and, as always, stick to the speed limit or lower – drive at 70mph and you’ll use up to 9% more fuel than at 60mph and up to 15% more than at 50mph, according to the AA. always

2. Explain to drivers how to prepare their vehicles. Some simple steps can have a positive impact on fuel consumption. Remove roof racks or other heavy items from vehicles that don’t need to be carried. Only use power-hungry devices such as air conditioning and rear window demisting when needed. Tyre pressures should checked as they can have a significant effect. Also, don’t leave the vehicle running before use.

3. Measure your fuel use. A large number of fleets simply don’t know how much fuel they use overall, per driver or per vehicle. The easiest way to put a monitoring system in place is to buy all petrol and diesel through specialist fuel cards. You can then access the data collected as software-generated reports.

4. Analyse your fuel data. Fleet software provides the means to analyse the information you have gathered – enabling you to identify drivers and vehicles that are not achieving the kind of fuel consumption that you expect.

5. Don’t be afraid to challenge employees. The single largest factor affecting fuel economy in the real world is driver behaviour. A disparity in fuel economy of more than 30% is not unusual between drivers in identical vehicles on similar routes. Let drivers know that they are being monitored, especially if you are using telematics, and talk to those who seem to be using excess fuel, and offer help and advice.