NSW owner-operator Mick Wheeler reckons it’s easier to just pay cash now for his diesel than fight for a break at the bowser with the fuel giants.
Twice in recent months he’s had his fuel credit line abruptly cut off, first a 30-day arrangement with Caltex – now rebranded as Ampol – and more recently a seven-day plan with IOR.
On each occasion, he says the fuel giants cut him off before the payments were even seven days overdue.
Battling like a lot of smaller operators to make ends meet during the pandemic, Wheeler concedes that he did miss two payments with each supplier because of cash flow issues.
But the big-hearted operator with a long track record of carting hay to struggling farmers, quickly squared the ledger when his own clients paid up.
The frustrated owner-operator of the Newcastle-based, one-truck operation Hot Wheels Haulage said he now wants to share his story as a warning to others and to send a message to the fuel suppliers.
“Instead of cutting people off, why don’t they work toward getting the money differently,” said Wheeler, whose monthly fuel bill only ever tops out at $20,000, even at his busiest.
“Why ring someone up and say we’re no longer doing business with you and cut them off when they owe you money?
“When they put you on stop credit you are forced to use the exact money that would go towards the bill, but now goes straight into the tank, doubling up on expenditures when it’s already a fine line with income.
“What you need to do is keep the relationship open, and say ‘Hey mate, what have you got to put toward it to keep your account open?’
“And then I’ll turn around and go, ‘Yep, I’ve got a couple of thousand in the account now’, and just work on that to clean it up and keep the truck moving.”
“At the end of the day, they’re cutting their nose to spite their face. If you stop that truck from moving your bill can’t get paid.”
Wheeler said it’s unfair to blame the hard-working owner-operators in situations like this because often it’s the people who have requested the transport who are causing the cash-flow issues.
“It’s just another kick to the head for the Aussie battler.
“If you knew me – and all my contractors know I’m a man of my word – everyone knows they get their bill paid. If it’s slowed up, it’s not because of me.”
IOR didn’t respond to our request for comment but an Ampol (formerly Caltex) spokesperson did come back to us with the below:
“Ampol provides support and assistance to our customers, especially small businesses, and has done so for many years,” they said.
“The support Ampol provides covers those who are impacted by financial hardship, bushfires, drought and more recently, COVID-19.
“We offer our customers who are experiencing hardship a range of options that include payment deferrals, payment extensions, as well as other payment arrangements. For privacy reasons, we cannot comment on specific customer accounts.”