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6 min read.

What Is Cardlock Fuel and How Does It Work?

Aug 1, 2022 1:59:11 PM


Business owners and truck drivers often ask the question, "What is a cardlock gas station?" Maybe they heard the term in conversation with a co-worker or saw a location while on the road. Unlike retail gas stations that are open to the general public, cardlock stations are designed for business fleets and trucking companies to access. If you drive a commercial vehicle, then you know how difficult it can be to fit that vehicle into certain gas stations. The fuel island might be too narrow, and dispensers might run too slowly when filling up a large gas tank, wasting valuable driver time. Plus, a retail station doesn't always offer the best price or the most control over fueling. Cardlock locations are a great alternative because they're built for commercial vehicles. Fleet managers gain greater control over card transactions. Accounting teams gain greater insight into company spend. All of which makes this type of fueling a convenient and cost-effective option for companies.

How is a cardlock different than a retail gas station?

A retail gas station primarily sells unleaded and diesel to the general public for use in motor vehicles. Unlike a retail station, a cardlock fuel station sells unleaded and diesel, among other fuel products, to business fleets that often include commercial vehicles. In general, consumers don't have access to these locations because they're intended for commercial use and require a fuel card to make a purchase. Sites are designed to make fueling larger vehicles easier, and they're normally part of a fueling network to accommodate fleets that operate locally, regionally or nationally.

What are the benefits of a cardlock fuel system?

Convenience and Efficiency

The problem with retail gas stations is they're not meant for commercial traffic. Larger vehicles have a harder time maneuvering in and out of gas stations, and some have truck restrictions prohibiting commercial vehicles altogether. Plus, it can take longer for drivers to fuel. There might be multiple cars in line, and there are fewer diesel pumps than unleaded pumps available. Pumps are designed to fill up cars and SUVs, not commercial vehicles with larger tanks. And the lure of the convenience store might prolong driver fueling as well. The more time that's wasted, the more it impacts a company's bottom line.

Cardlock fueling offers greater convenience and efficiency. Sites are often located where commercial traffic is expected to be, near highways and industrial parks. Unlike a retail station that might close at night, cardlock fuel stations are accessible 24/7 for fleets that operate around the clock. Sites are built for large trucks, offering wider fuel islands so that entering and exiting a site is easier. They enable more efficient fueling to save driver time. There normally isn't a convenience store to distract drivers because the goal is to help drivers fuel quickly so they can get back on the road. Filling up trucks is easier because of high-speed dispensers that release diesel fuel at a faster rate than gas station dispensers. This is especially important for drivers that need a significant amount of gallons with each transaction.

Purchase Controls

Because cardlock locations require a fuel card to make a purchase, fleet managers can take advantage of card controls to manage company fueling and minimize expenses. Fleet fuel cards, even those that provide access to retail gas stations and truck stops, typically have purchase controls available, but what makes cardlock fuel systems more appealing is that their purchase controls are more robust. Unlike a gas station that has unleaded and diesel products accessible from the same card reader and pump, a cardlock has designated pumps for unleaded, diesel and dyed diesel, among other fuel products. This gives fleet managers greater control of driver activity and allows product restrictions (e.g., diesel only, regular unleaded only) to be implemented. In addition to fuel type, fleet managers can also set limits for transactions per day, gallons per transaction (to match tank capacity), time of day and days of the week when fueling should occur. They can even get notified by email when a specific driver makes a purchase. All of which is designed to manage employee fueling and prevent misuse.

Cost-Plus Pricing

Fuel prices at cardlocks are based on OPIS (Oil Price Information Service). Customers pay wholesale prices for unleaded and diesel, and rates adjusts daily based on what the wholesale market is doing. This benefits customers long-term and especially on days when the cost of fuel drops because retail merchants are generally slower to adjust their prices. With cost-plus pricing, customers tend to pay less than what most gas stations and truck stops charge, depending on market conditions. And because unleaded and diesel is unbranded, customers aren't paying extra for unnecessary fuel additives that some retail brands use.

Online Account Management

Most cardlock fuel systems give customers online access to manage their account. This provides a number of benefits. Customers can view and download transactions, invoices and reports. This is useful for accounting teams that need to track company expenses or prepare fuel tax refund filings that require the exact number of gallons purchased, for which vehicle, and where and when those purchases occurred. For fleet managers, online management allows them to monitor, update and order fuel cards, as well as track driver usage. They gain greater insight into fuel activity to prevent misuse or even theft.

Which fuel products are available?

Cardlock locations offer several different products that can be purchased by cardholders. The fuel is usually unbranded, but the chemical composition is the same as what you would buy at gas stations and truck stops. It's just generic and doesn't contain branded additives that some gas station chains use for marketing purposes. The available products can vary by location, but many sites offer the following:

  • Unleaded (regular, midgrade, premium)
  • Diesel
  • Biodiesel
  • Dyed diesel
  • DEF
  • Oil

Which types of fleets are a good fit?

Cardlock fueling can benefit fleets of all sizes, whether you operate a single truck or manage a mixed fleet of vehicles with multiple drivers. Because sites are designed for commercial vehicle access, trucking companies are an obvious fit (no pun intended), but there are many fleets that can benefit from the use of cardlock locations. Any company or organization that operates large vehicles, like semi trucks or buses, for example, will be able to fuel more efficiently with access to larger fuel islands and high-speed dispensers. Construction companies that need to fuel off-road equipment can access dyed diesel which is a helpful way to reduce fuel expenses. And even if you don't have large vehicles or equipment, cardlock fuel systems enable companies with cars, SUVs and vans to implement thorough controls over employee fueling. In short, there many fleets and industries can benefit from cardlock fueling, but here are a few:

  • Trucking
  • Transportation
  • Distribution/Delivery
  • Moving
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Landscaping
  • HVAC
  • Plumbing
  • Agriculture
  • Government

How do I get started?

If you think cardlock fueling would be beneficial for your business, you'll need to sign up for a program like the CFN fuel card, that is accepted at cardlocks. Start by contacting a vendor that can issue the card to you. Because accounts are commercial and not for consumers, you'll need to be operating as a business, sole proprietor or owner-operator. Your vendor will have information about fueling locations so that you can check coverage in cities and states along your routes. (As a customer, you can download a mobile app to locate nearby sites or request a driver map book with a list of site addresses.) Your vendor can also provide a price quote for current unleaded or diesel rates in specific cities where you plan to refuel. Once you're ready, you'll need to complete an application to get approved for an account.


Cardlocks are a convenient and cost-effective option for businesses that need to refuel vehicles efficiently, especially large trucks. Sites often include larger fuel islands, high-speed dispensers and various fuel products that aren't always available at retail gas stations. Plus, they're located near industrial parks and highways, ideal for commercial traffic. In addition to site amenities, cardlock fuel systems improve how purchases get managed. Fleet managers and accounting teams gain all the benefits of a fuel card program program, including driver controls and reporting, and companies can reduce fuel expenses with cost-plus pricing. If you're looking for a better way to fuel your fleet, consider cardlocks.

Learn more about CFN →
Topics: CFN
Kira Odlozil

Written by Kira Odlozil

Based in San Diego, CA, Kira Odlozil is the Digital Content Coordinator at P-Fleet. She writes about fuel management, the trucking industry and business-related topics. When Kira isn’t writing, she’s cooking up new recipes, doing yoga, traveling or all of the above.