How to Know You’re Choosing the Right Fuel Nozzle
By Ed Kammerer
Fuel nozzles are critical components in the operation of a retail-fueling site. Too often, though, it appears apparent that retailers can be susceptible to settling for low-hanging fruit when selecting their nozzles, choosing the most convenient or cheapest option. Truth be told, there is a huge difference between selecting any old nozzle and selecting the right nozzle – and that difference can be a notable determining factor regarding whether or not the fueling operation is ultimately successful or not.
To that end, retailers must perform due diligence before deciding on which nozzles will outfit their fueling islands, much the way they look for the best dispenser or tankmonitoring system for their operation. So, there are a number of boxes that the nozzle must check if it is to truly be the right choice for the needs of the fueling location. This is especially critical because it is the nozzle that the customer is most familiar with, one that they must interact with on a tactile basis during every transaction. Therefore, any failure of the nozzle to meet the needs and expectations of the driver can play a pivotal role in whether or not that driver becomes a loyal repeat customer.
That makes it the duty of the fuel-site operator to adequately consider the following if he or she is to find the right nozzle for the fueling operation:
Before the nozzle ever finds its way into the hands of the customer, it must first pass a series of rigorous reviews regarding its operational and safety capabilities. In this case, fuel-site operators are strongly encouraged to select nozzles that have been tested and granted third-party certification from Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL)/Underwriters’ Laboratories Canada (ULc). Both UL and ULc have online directories where manufacturer certifications can be found, though the UL/ULc marking will be clearly visible on any nozzle that has been tested and approved by either organization.
Retailers can hope to get several years of reliable service from a reputable nozzle, but this means that they must also remain aware of any changes in UL/ULc listings and certifications during the nozzle’s lifetime. As fuel-handling requirements and certifications change and evolve, the site operator should always have a letter of compliance from the manufacturer on hand, and, if necessary, be prepared to upgrade the site’s nozzles to meet the new standards of use.
After the overarching concern regarding nozzle compliance, the second consideration for the retailer should be if the nozzle that is chosen is compatible with the fuel that it will be tasked with dispensing. This has become a much tougher challenge in recent years as the menu of fuel types, formulations and grades has grown.
In addition to the traditional three grades of octane for unleaded gasoline, today’s fueling sites also offer a diesel option. And while unleaded gasoline has consisted of 10 per cent ethanol for many years now, more and more vehicles are being designed to operate with ethanol concentrations up to 25 per cent. This means that retailers who cater to a large, diverse customer base must now carry multiple concentrations of ethanol at their fuel dispensers. In addition, there are also various types of biodiesel available, all of which can come from many different varieties of feedstocks and percentage blends, with each capable of raising nozzle-compatibility concerns.
Where it becomes especially tricky for the operator is knowing that only nozzle manufacturers are aware of what materials are used to make their products. Therefore, the operator must ask – and the manufacturer must acknowledge – if the nozzle has been tested and certified for use with the particular fuel formulation. The manufacturer must also offer the operator the appropriate documentation, if requested.
Expected Service Life
It was a round 15 years ago that fuel-site operators began wondering what the effective service life of their nozzles was – or should be. That led the more reputable manufacturers within the industry to work with third-party testing agencies in an effort to identify the service-life sweet spot for their nozzles. When this testing was completed, the results showed that five years was the optimal time period, though this deadline was in no way ironclad because so many outside factors (daily abuse, weather, accidents, environmental conditions, etc.) play a role in determining the nozzle’s ultimate service life.
As a guide, though, many manufacturers began placing a remove-by date on their nozzles. Much like best-by dates that are found on perishable food items, the remove-by dates are educated approximations based on past history that serve as a notice that the nozzle may be coming to the end of its useful life, but they are by no means meant to be a gospel-truth date for replacement, or a government regulation. As the remove-by date approaches, the retailer would be wise to review how the nozzle has been performing; one that has experienced no operational problems may have two or three more years of life in it, while one that is appearing worn and on the verge of failure should be replaced.
The effects of weather on fuel nozzles are constant since climactic conditions are constantly changing. Hot weather in summer quickly turns to cold, snowy, icy conditions in winter, and the nozzle must be able to confront and defeat all of the inherent challenges posed by mother nature. Especially harmful to proper nozzle operation are the deep-freeze conditions that can affect much of Canada during the winter months. That’s why some nozzle manufacturers have developed extreme cold versions of their products that are designed to function properly even in temperatures as low as -54ºC (-65ºF).
The environment also plays a role in mandating when certain fuel formulations can, or must, be used. That means that the operator must know if the nozzles in use are compatible with both summer and winter fuel formulations, both of which can have different additives.
Taking all of these factors into consideration will lead the retailer down the path to finding the right nozzle, one that will optimize total cost of ownership through a life span that includes many years of safe, reliable, trouble-free service. It will also result in a customer base that is loyal and, ultimately, a successful business.