Rule the Fuel

In the face of rising fuel and vehicle operation costs, many municipalities are shifting to automated fuel management systems to mitigate fleet expenses and support environmental policies. These computerized systems improve vehicle data and fuel accountability, which pose an ongoing challenge in the diversified municipal fleet that may include transit vehicles, fire trucks and vehicles, garbage trucks, snowplows, street sweepers, police cruisers, buses, ambulances, and other specialized vehicles.

An automated fuel management system can be implemented with existing vehicles and pumping stations. The system consists of a module installed in the vehicle and a fuel control terminal located at the fueling station. The in-vehicle module is a small, vehicle-mounted computer that obtains and stores vehicle data such as the system and fleet number, the vehicle number, odometer, tank capacity, fuel type, and engine hours.

Data Input at Fueling

To obtain fuel using the in-vehicle module, the user simply drives up to a hose module equipped fuel dispenser, stops the engine, flips the dispenser hook switch, and inserts the dispenser nozzle into the vehicle's fuel filler neck. The information from the in-vehicle module is automatically passed to the fuel control terminal via the radio frequency link of the hose module. When the user has finished fueling,the fuel control terminal attaches the current time and date to the transaction data collected from the user, along with the total amount of fuel dispensed. The fuel control terminal will store this fueling transaction until it is transferred to the fuel management software.

Fuel reports on excessive engine idling, speeding, maintenance requirements, and general fleet activities help reduce fuel consumption and harmful emissions. The data can also be used to schedule maintenance services such as vehicle inspection and oil and filter changes. The timeliness of preventive maintenance is improved as a result of receiving critical vehicle data after every fueling.

Capturing this data also provides a significant opportunity for a city to support its sustainability and environmental initiatives by reducing fleet fuel usage and vehicle emissions. Emissions from engines that are not properly maintained are 20% to 50% higher than engines that are properly maintained. Automated fuel management systems provide measurable results that may be used to qualify for air credit allocations.

System Scalability

The trend in fuel management systems is scalability the ability to integrate fuel management, vehicle tracking (GPS), and tire pressure management with fleet maintenance systems and other operations, such as human resources, accounting, and GIS. Not only can municipalities access fuel data with each fueling, but they also can receive vehicle tracking and tire pressure data. This scalability approach maximizes a fleet's resources while providing critical preventive maintenance data at every fueling.

Fuel is often the single greatest expense in any fleet's operation. By incorporating an automated system to monitor usage, emissions, and maintenance, fleet managers can implement best practices that will yield significant cost savings, risk reduction, fleet optimization, and utilization requirements.

Troy Goldhammer is chief operating officer of E.J. Ward Inc., San Antonio,Tex.