(Updated January 5, 2023)
Consumer Reports is quick to tell us, “If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is.” So it was with that in mind that we heard the news that a new card fuel “discount” program could save you money. People were doing the social-media screaming about saving as much as 30, 50, even 75 cents a gallon when buying diesel fuel. Sure, it sounded pretty good, but where’s the catch, we wondered.
So what’s the plan all about?
The plan, called the Open Roads Fuel Program (formerly the TSD RV Fuel Program,) is brought to you by a trucking company out of Texas. Here’s the gig: TSD Logistics had a fleet of big rigs, and they negotiated with many truck stop companies to get a discount on their fleet fuel. Of course, the more they bought, the greater the discounts would be.
Now, how can you buy more fuel without increasing your investment in trucks and drivers? Somebody had a “light bulb” moment and said, why not invite RVers to become sort of a part of the fleet? Let them buy their RV fuel using company cards, then just tap their bank accounts like you would a debit card transaction. And to sweeten the deal for the trucking company, keep 10 percent of the discount the RVer received.
We checked into the matter. The biggest problem that popped up – at least in the minds of those who refused to sign up – was that the company asked for the social security number of the applicant. The explanation was that if you somehow pumped up on fuel, then skipped out on your bank, they’d be left with your most recent charge. TSD Logistics wanted the social security number to effectively run down anybody who stiffed them. In this day and age, we can understand a concern for keeping that social security number close to the vest. That’s a consideration any potential member will have to decide for themselves.
But in practice, how do you know how much money you’ll spend if you use the system? Users download a free app for iPad or Android, and it not only provides an updated directory of prices for all truck stops in the network, if you like you can enter “to” and “from” locations and the app will map out a route, and conveniently post prices at all affiliated stops along the way. We eagerly downloaded the app, but, oops, you’ve got to have a card to make the information appear.
Does it really work?
We decided to bite the bullet and apply for one of these cards. The online app is a quick fill-out. Yes, it requires your social security number and bank account information. You’re given an option of “speeding up” the process: For a $20 fee, your application will be processed and your card put in the mail in 48 hours. For an additional $50 (a total of $70) your application will get processed in 48 hours, and then sent out overnight express. We opted to go the “free” route. A few days after submitting our application we got a phone call verifying our information. A couple of weeks after that, our card arrived via first class mail.
We hung onto the Open Roads card and saved our first use for a trip from Quartzsite over to the Los Angeles area for a conference. We filled up at the local Love’s truck stop. We pumped 18.72 gallons to fill up the tow rig. The posted “cash price” was $3.09; that’s what our receipt from the fuel desk showed. But the transaction detail information provided us through our app said we actually paid $2.521 per gallon – a fact we verified the next day with our bank records. So, taking into account the “10 percent of savings” fee taken out by TSD Logistics, we saved more than 57 cents a gallon, almost 23 percent off the pump price.
Would it hold up? We fueled up on the way to LA in Coachella, California – once going over, and once on the return leg. Here the savings weren’t so grand. In the two fuel stops we were discounted an average of 36.5 cents per gallon. Based on the cash price at the pump, this worked out to about an 11 percent savings. Not as great as back in Quartzsite, but hey, nothing to sneeze at.
Can you save more “shopping around”?
Mind you, these “cost savings” figures are based on how much of a discount you receive at the pump – not a comparison to what you would have paid if you’d shopped around elsewhere in the area. So we did a “trip on paper” to see just how much money we would save if we took our rig and drove to one of our summer visiting spots – Olympia, Washington. We logged in our typical fuel stop towns, used our rig’s average fuel economy for a basis, and figured out what we’d pay using the Open Roads card versus what we’d pay if we shopped around. Here’s how it worked out.
On a one-way trip from Quartzsite, Arizona, to Olympia, Washington, we used our usual route, which swung us up north into Las Vegas, through Ely and Wells, Nevada, into and across Oregon, then following the Columbia River west into the Portland area, and north up the I-5 into Olympia.
Total miles: 1376
Total gallons fuel: 131.1
Discount price paid throughout trip with Open Roads card: $325.90
Price paid by shopping around, NOT using “Cash Only” pumps: $391.12.
Savings by using Open Roads card: $65.22, or close to 20 percent less.
Mind you, the apparent discount prices in Oregon look very attractive. But the app is showing the “big truck” price – and in Oregon, “light class” pickups and motorhomes will pay 36 cents more per gallon in fuel tax. We calculated that into our figures.
All in all, we’d save $130 on a round-trip. Mind you, we’re relative “fuel sippers,” averaging 10.5 miles per gallon. If we drove one of those fuel-guzzling motorhomes, we can only imagine how much more we’d save. Motorhomers – Please don’t sent us hate mail! Those big old Class A’s are nice – just out of our price range!
Real world observations
Aside from waiting for a seemingly long time to get our card in the mail, we haven’t found any real hitches in the application process. We have found that if you’re in a hurry on the road, you’ll no doubt find your frustration tolerance tested using the Open Roads card. How so? YOU MUST fuel up your rig at the “big truck” lanes, or you’ll see no discount on price. Pumping on the Love’s RV lanes also forfeits the discount. So expect you’ll need to figure setting aside 15 to 20 minutes to fill up when you pull into the truck lanes and wait your turn with the big boys.
If you’ve never filled in a truck lane, there are a few hoops you’ll need to get used to. Aside from waiting for your turn, when you get to the pump you’ll be asked to swipe your card, and enter a “control number.” Don’t forget that number and your PIN code (they are different, and the latter is used to log into the app). Then you’ll need to select “tractor” fuel; you’ll likely be asked if you want to purchase DEF and/or other products. Don’t hit “cancel,” hit “skip” or “no” as appropriate. If you’re pumping into a pickup, you’ll need to make sure your fuel port for the pump nozzle is a “big one.” If you can only fill your pickup with the standard nozzle on a car island, you’re out of business here – the fuel pumps on the truck islands dispense at a fast rate and use a bigger nozzle.
We’ve found that pumping into a pickup tank with a bigger nozzle can be a messy business. You’ll not likely be able to fill at a full-blast rate. In fact, you’ll likely be stuck holding the lever open by hand and gingerly pumping fuel in. Meanwhile, you’ll likely find a fine spray of diesel fuel peppers your hands (and your clothing if you stand too close). Take along a pair of work gloves. Filling up should take maybe a little less time than at the little car lane, but largely because you have to fuss with the nozzle.
And a note on etiquette: At least at Love’s, you’ll need to go inside to the fuel desk if you want a receipt. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your rig in front of the fuel pump while you handle the inside work. PULL AHEAD like the big boys do, take your keys and go inside. That’ll let that busy working man in a Peterbilt behind you get up to the pump and get started on his fueling.
And another word: Love’s offers a flat 30 cent discount. But we’ve found even larger discounts at other brands in the network. On a road trip we saved 71 cents a gallon at a TA truck stop. Using the Open Roads fuel app on your phone or tablet, you’ll be able to see prices at any participating station.
If you get stuck in an area and need fuel but there aren’t any truck stops in the network, we’re told that out-of-network stops will accept the Open Roads card, but you’ll pay full pump price. This DOESN’T apply to Pilot/Flying J–the Open Roads card doesn’t work at these stops at all. Do beware: Some stops will charge a 65-cent transaction fee–this isn’t from Open Roads, but the fuel network system.
And here’s a self-serving pitch: If you decide to apply for the program, you’ll find a “referred by” question. If you put down Russell DeMaris as your referral, then when you’ve saved $500 using the program, we’ll see a $25 credit on our account. Of course, the same works for you: If you sign up for the program and “draft” all your friends, you, too, can see big discounts accrue! Here’s the link to the application. Just want more information about the program? Follow this link.
Revision note: Updated information regarding program name, participating stations, and associated fees. 1/5/2023