The problem isn’t just down to drivers picking a convenient location or filling up for the sake of gaining loyalty points rather than purchasing quality fuel at the best price.
Drivers could also be using their fuel stops to stock up on other items, such as cigarettes and food, which they hide on their claim forms as fuel costs.
The startling findings are part of a new study by fleet and fuel management group Arval, which surveyed more than 600 company car drivers at petrol stations.
The research showed that almost 60% of drivers could not recall how much they had just paid for their fuel.
Of the remaining drivers, almost two-thirds gave the wrong price.
The worst culprits were those at motorway service stations, where 64% failed to recall the price of fuel.
The most price-conscious drivers were those who refuelled at supermarket sites, although 48% still admitted they did not know how much their fuel had cost.
Where company car drivers choose to fill up also determines how much they are likely to spend. The average driver using motorway service stations spends on average £29.69, compared to £25.37 at supermarkets. However, this would be much higher for business drivers.
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at Arval, said it was up to fleet managers to keep drivers in line.
He said: ‘Companies need to ensure drivers are properly informed about rising fuel prices and to get serious about fuel management.
‘Drivers will need to change their fuel purchasing habits from a ‘distress purchase’, when the fuel gauge is on red, to a ‘planned purchase’ at price-competitive forecourts. Companies must help their drivers implement their own personal target pricing initiatives, plan their fuel purchases to avoid motorways and, if all else fails, part-fill their tank at expensive forecourts with just enough fuel to get themselves to a cheaper location.’
According to the report, 78% of drivers fill up with a full tank of petrol at an expensive outlet rather than part-filling and then topping up later when they find a cheaper forecourt.
Waters said: ‘This research proves British drivers are still trapped in the mentality of putting ‘20 quid in the tank’ without regard for the price at the pump. At a time of rising fuel prices, this is like opening the driver’s side window and throwing money out.’
When drivers top up with fuel, they can also be in the habit of topping up with other extras, which could be at the company’s expense.
The survey showed that more than a quarter of company car drivers buy non-fuel items when filling up. The most popular additional items, according to the study, are newspapers (58%), confectionary (32%) and cigarettes (21%).
The battle for fleet managers is to ensure that those costs do not end up hidden in the fuel bill, especially on pay-and-reclaim and corporate credit card systems, which do not itemise items on receipts or monthly statements.
The survey found the rate of purchase was much higher at motorway site locations (36%) than at other locations. Younger company car drivers were also more likely than older drivers to buy non-fuel items. Waters said: ‘In the past few years, motorway forecourts have added cafes and more produce. To safeguard against employees sneaking packets of cigarettes on to their fuel bills, fleet managers can introduce a system identifying the detail in each transaction rather than just a final price.’
The study highlights the importance of fleet managers keeping a tab on what is traditionally one of the highest costs on budget.