Why IFTA is like a trip to the dentist

by Sandy Johnson

Does anyone like going to the dentist?

Every visit means getting poked and prodded and then lectured about flossing. Lord help you if they bring out needles and drills. And once you’re done, you’re told to make an appointment so you can do it all over again in six months.

As I lie there in the chair listening to the hygienist chip away at my plaque build-up and extoll the virtues of soft-bristled toothbrushes, it hit me: ‘I’m the dental hygienist of IFTA,’ (International Fuel Tax Agreement).

This isn’t about your pearly whites. I’m talking about the message I preach about the need to collect distance and fuel information from your drivers every day so your fuel tax return will sparkle – the IFTA equivalent of a floss-and-brush regimen, if you will.

The thought made me laugh – out loud, with the hygienist’s fingers in my mouth.

Most people listen politely and promise to follow good habits after they visit the dentist, and fuel tax management is no different. It’s only the subject-matter wonks like the dental hygienist and me who make a big deal out of how much better things would be if only you could stick to a routine.

If only you would brush your teeth for two minutes in the morning and two minutes at night. If only you would floss with fervor after meals so nasty bacteria can’t take hold.

If only your drivers would collect fuel receipts and turn in accurate trip reports each day without fail. If only you could complete your IFTA return on time, every quarter, with absolutely no anxiety or fear that an auditor is going to find holes in your data.

It’s easy to listen to advice about what’s good for us, but it takes discipline to actually follow it.

You may start out with good intentions, but then life gets in the way. Pretty soon you stop flossing because you’re exhausted at the end of the day and just want to lie down.

Or you lose track of that trip sheet or fuel receipt because the load was late or the driver forgot to turn it in and you figure you could always chase down that information tomorrow.

Stick to the plan

The only way I get things done in my life is to make jobs as simple as possible. I have floss stashed in every drawer under the sink. Even my Sonicare has a two-minute timer.

With IFTA, the easier you can make it for yourself and your drivers to maintain records, the more likely it is that you’ll stick with your plan to get your work done on time and reduce errors and missing data.

For starters, review your processes. Do you train your drivers as to how you want them to complete trip reports and receipts? Do you set a schedule with deadlines to turn them in – say, at the end of every trip and no later than a specific day?

Is your trip report form easy to use and are the lines big enough for drivers to write down the information you need? Are blank trip reports readily available when drivers need one?

What about communications? Slip a notice into their pay envelopes or put up a sign in the driver’s room reminding them of the date you need their trip reports handed in. Change the message each and every month so it looks fresh. Tell your drivers what you expect.

Have you told your drivers the critical role they play in your work managing fleet tax compliance? Thank them when they do a good job, and provide more training when they don’t.

I could flap my gums all day, but ultimately it’s your mouth we’re talking about (so to speak). IFTA compliance is far easier when you look after it day by day than to have someone else drill away at a system that’s rotten after months or years of neglect. Major repair work is always more painful and costly than regular maintenance: the reason dentists call a particular repair a crown is because it costs about as much as what the Queen pays for the jeweled ones she wears on her head.

If you need help with your fuel taxes, ask an expert and then schedule regular follow-up appointments to make sure you’re getting results. Focus on creating good habits and sticking to them.

It’s tough, but I know you can do it – and that’s not the Novocain talking.


Sandy Johnson has been managing IFTA, IRP and other fleet taxes for more than 25 years. She is the author of the e-book 7 Things You Need to Know About Fleet Taxes and operates FleetTaxPro.com, which provides vehicle tax and licence compliance services for trucking operations. She can be reached at 1-877-860-8025 or FleetTaxPro.com.

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