The fuel dispenser flow rate on your forecourt is one of the most important elements of your c-store business to monitor. It’s relatively easy to check, has a direct impact on your revenue, and it can tell you a lot about the health of your fuel system. Yet with all of the other business and maintenance issues that c-store owners and managers have to think about on a daily basis, sometimes flow rate can slip by the wayside.
A slow flow rate at the pump can mean a lot of things. But first, it’s important to acknowledge the direct impact it can have on your business. Put simply, if your fuel is pumping too slowly, you’re losing customers. Even one instance of a customer having to wait for a slow pump to fill up their tank can cause them to drive off to another location across the street, never to return.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for monitoring your flow rate and troubleshooting sluggish fuel dispensers.
Measure Your Flow Rate at Peak Time
Keeping tabs on your flow rate can be as simple as timing how long it takes a customer to fill up their tank, then dividing the amount of gas they pumped by the time it took to see how many gallons per minute your pumps are dispensing.
But measuring your flow rate when only one or two dispensers are active can give you a drastically different reading than when your forecourt is busy. Make sure to measure your flow rate at peak time, when several dispensers are being used, to ensure that fuel is flowing adequately while the system is under stress. Otherwise, you risk losing customers — or at the very least having them stop short of a full fill-up — during your busiest times.
How to Maintain High Flow Rate
Change your filters often
If you find that your flow rate is dipping below acceptable levels, the most common culprit is a clogged filter. Fuel dispenser filters need to be changed regularly — typically every 4-6 months or 300,000 gallons. Customer complaints about slow pumps are also an indication that it may be time to swap out filters.
A proactive approach to consistently keep your dispensers flowing fast is to establish a preventative maintenance program that includes regular filter changes, hose and nozzle changes, and, of course, annual calibration. As always, preventing problems is better than scrambling to troubleshoot them when they arise.
However, if your filters are becoming clogged more quickly than you expect, or if changing them doesn’t fix the problem, this may indicate deeper issues.
Monitor and maintain your underground system
There are several different issues related to your storage tank and piping that can contribute to reduced dispenser flow.
First off, poorly maintained storage tanks can lead to clogged filters. This can happen when excess dirt or rust accumulates in the tank. It can also result from microbial contamination, the byproducts of which can plug your filters up fast or even cause fuel spoiling. If either of these issues are left unfixed, contaminants can eventually make it into your customers’ vehicles where they can damage the engine (and eventually your reputation).
Slow dispenser flow can also be a sign of phase separation, a form of fuel contamination that occurs with ethanol-blended fuels. In phase separation, water binds to the ethanol molecules, causing them to fall out of solution with the gasoline, so you end up with a layer of gasoline over the top of a separate layer of ethanol and water.
Phase separation is a serious issue, as it can cause severe damage to an automobile’s engine, even causing engine failure. Some fuel dispenser filters are designed to intentionally slow fuel flow when they detect phase separation.
Tank wall deterioration and leaks in the piping are two more potential causes. Regular maintenance and monitoring of your fuel delivery system — from the tank all the way to the dispenser — can help to spot issues like these before they reach the catastrophic stage and truly damage your business.
Follow best practices when constructing your fuel system
If you’re building your fuel system, it’s critical that you employ an experienced and knowledgeable contractor. A poorly designed system can lead to performance issues that are much more difficult and more costly to fix.
For instance, right-sizing your Submersible Turbine Pumps (STP’s) is critical. A variety of factors have to be considered when sizing your STP, including the number of fueling positions, piping diameter, pipe run distance, and the overall anticipated volume at peak times. Undersized sSTP’s will naturally limit fuel flow at the dispensers, leading to the undesirable choice between living with slower fuel flow or investing in a costly upgrade that could have easily been avoided.
Because of all the variables involved, every fuel system install is different, and that’s what makes designing an effective system challenging. Even the way your piping is laid out can have an impact on fuel flow — having too many turns can slow down your fuel flow and lead to chronically sluggish dispensers.
Have any questions about maximizing your forecourt flow rate or maintaining your fuel system for optimum performance? Contact McCon today to speak with an expert.