How To Pay Less For Fuel (Maybe)

Diesel is expensive. E10 is expensive. Regular gasoline is expensive. Electric cars and hybrids aren’t exactly cheap, either. Unless we all want to hop on a bicycle for dozens of miles a day, we may all be (financially) screwed. Or there are other fossil fuels – liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) are gaining popularity as potential new fuel sources. It’s possible to get an otherwise normal car to run on either, but the question is whether or not the immediate cost will be offset in the long run.

Step One – If It Ain’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

The first question is whether you should convert your existing car, buy a new car, or stick with what you have and just use your own two feet to offset rising fuel costs and carbon emissions. If you’ve got a diesel, you might as well either keep it or sell it and buy something else; diesel is difficult to convert and expensive. From now on, we’re just going to assume you’ve got a bog standard gas-powered something and that you’re not looking for anything with massive batteries in.

A number of CNG-powered vehicles are also available straight from the dealer; for example, Honda’s had a CNG Civic for a couple years that looks great, can be filled up at home (with the proper equipment), and really has only one minor issue (if you’ve seen any of Gas2’s Chicago Auto Show Honda posts, you know what it is). CNG is fairly inexpensive, and fairly common – for American drivers, there are a couple of easy options when it comes to finding fuel.

Step Two – So You Want To Convert Your Car

Conversion can be a lot less expensive than buying an entirely new car, so if you’ve decided to go with that option you can still choose either LPG or CNG. CNG conversions are difficult in the United States, requiring EPA and/or CARB certification. NGV America has a list of the cars with approved conversions. It should be noted that you can still get a shop to convert your car if it’s not on that list, but it can become a legal issue. If your car is on the list, congratulations – you’ll pay around $3/gge (as of Thursday, 4/19/2012) for an initial $8K-$16K conversion cost.

You could also go for the LPG option; the most expensive part of that is the fuel injection system (less expensive than a CNG conversion). The car keeps its gas tank (it needs gas to get going and then automatically switches over to LPG after a couple minutes) and adds an LPG tank. Unfortunately, there aren’t many LPG kits for the U.S. either due to EPA regulations (it’s way more popular in Europe). The up side is that it’s only $3k-$4K to do the conversion, and LPG is still cheaper than normal gas.

Do not try to convert your car to CNG or LPG at home, by the way, unless your job also involves alternate fuel conversions. DIY conversions to electric are both much easier and won’t put you on the wrong side of the EPA.

Step Three – Maybe The Bicycle Is Easier After All

There isn’t an easy answer to rising transportation costs; I’m particularly fond of the EV option (especially when it comes shaped like a DeLorean and that I cannot afford one is utterly tragic). But there are also hybrid cars, super efficient cars, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, public transportation, and your own two feet – most of which also have the awesome side effect of lower emissions.

What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Image: Wikimedia Commons


Charis Michelsen

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.