Dual/Alternative Fuel Pickup Conversions
Operating duel-fuel or alternative-fuel pickups will save money in the long haul, but at what initial cost?
By Peter D. DuPre
With the cost of both diesel and gasoline hovering around $4 a gallon, the prospect of using a clean, efficient and inexpensive alternate fuel such as propane autogas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) is tempting.
However, to do so requires a vehicle that is designed and setup to burn these fuels.
Today, all vehicles are fuel-injected and computer-controlled, making a do-it-yourself conversion more complicated, mainly because doing so runs you afoul of the Clean Air Act which dictates that any change to a vehicle’s emissions is illegal unless performed by certified installers.
According to Nick Fontaine, purchasing manager for Hendrix Industrial Gases, an Illinois company specializing in LPG and CNG conversions, newer pickups can be converted to run dual fuel or only an alternate fuel, such as CNG.
“With today’s computerized fuel injection systems, converting a pickup it is not a job for the inexperienced installer,” says Fontaine. “It is complicated and not cost effective for small fleet owners.
“To begin with they would have to go back to school to learn all the ins and outs of installing these systems, mounting tanks correctly, and they’d need lap tops with specific software,” explains Fontaine. “They’d also need to know all state and federal rules covering conversions and be EPA certified, which in itself is time consuming.”
Having said that, the cost of having a professionally licensed converter, such as Hendrix Industrial Gases, do the job makes it worry free, as you know when the job is done, that it is done right.
CONVERSION TAX CREDITS
How much does it cost to convert a gasoline- or diesel-powered pickup to run propane or CNG as an alternate fuel?
While the actual cost of parts in a conversion kit cost from $1,500 – $2,500 (depending upon vehicle), the cost of a conversion can push up the price, adding another $6,000 to $15,000.
Some conversions can be complicated and trained technicians are needed to ensure the vehicle complies with CARB, EPA, NHTSA, DOT, plus a host of other state regulations, while vehicle performance is optimized.
The high cost of having a vehicle converted to dual fuel ability is offset somewhat by various tax incentives. Current federal legislation allows for up to a 50 cent per gallon fuel tax credit to propane autogas users through 2014.
Additionally, the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) Conversion Tax Credit states that businesses or individuals are eligible for an income tax credit of up to 50% of the equipment and labor costs for converting vehicles to operate using alternative fuels.
Their wording states “The maximum credit is $500 for the conversion of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds (lbs) or less, and $1,000 for vehicles with a GVWR of more than 10,000 lbs. The credit is only available during the year that the business or entity converts the vehicle.”
HELP FINDING ROI
While the conversion cost is high and tax savings low, there are other cost savings in converting to dual fuel. Both CNG and LPG are less expensive than diesel or gasoline.
CNG generally costs about half the price of diesel or gasoline and propane is at least 25% cheaper.
This looks good at first glance, but when the savings in fuel costs is vectored against low tax incentives and the high cost of conversion, the breakeven point could be as much as five or six years out.
If you have a four year old work truck with 50- or 60-thousand miles, the depreciated value of your current vehicle, combined with the long time period needed to see cash savings, may not make financial sense.
My advice for fleet owners looking to convert to dual fuel or completely convert to an alternate fuel is to make the change when you buy replacements for the old trucks. You will be able to amortize the high extra cost of the dual-fuel conversion from day one and you’ll be able to finance the cost as part of your regular vehicle loan.
Make sure you do the research ahead of time to make sure the vehicle you want is available with dual fuel or alternative fuel ability.
For example, Roush Performance offers a variety of propane conversions for 2007-2010 Ford F-150/250/350 trucks but not on Lariat, King Ranch or Harley-Davidson models.
Other converters and vehicle manufacturers who offer conversions or factory-ordered alternate fuel vehicles do not offer these kits or conversions for every model.
To help sort through what is and what isn’t convertible, the Natural Gas Vehicle Institute offers a complete list of LPG/GNG conversion-able vehicles.
ALTERNATIVE FUELS: PROs & CONs
On The Plus Side:
- Fuel costs for LPG/CNG are 25-50 percent less than gasoline or diesel
- Some tax incentives to help offset the cost of installation
- Improved fuel economy
- Reduced engine wear
- Cleaner for the environment
On The Con Side:
- High initial cost of conversion
- Long return on your investment
- Not all vehicles can be converted
- No standardization of fuel-filler connectors
- Limited availability of CNG in some areas
- Propane conversion may also require turbocharging to restore power levels