Driving on Gas: The LPG Conversion Experience

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My father is not at all a car guy. But he is, without a doubt, a penny-pincher. For many years he wanted to convert his daily driver to run LPG. The allure of the rising price-per-liter gap between gasoline and kalan fuel was something that really resonated with him.

During the late part of the noughties, LPG conversions were a craze in the Philippines. But the demand for Auto LPG has plateaued. Only taxis prevalently use the fuel. Private users are afraid of the conversion. The “taxi smell” of LPG fumes that emanated from poorly-fastened vapor lines of cheapo LPG kits turned a lot of ordinary motorists away. Rumors of engines running hot and getting ruined also got spread around.

These thoughts were probably on the minds of car guys when I went asking around for opinions on LPG conversions. They told me to steer clear of it. The advice was well-meaning, but, as they had no prior experience in doing so, unfounded.

And besides, I wasn’t footing the bill on this one. I just found an installer offering a cheap LPG kit and brought the old man’s 2009 Nissan Sentra GS (N16) to their premises for the installation.

The installers did a minor faux pas by installing vapor nozzles too small for the larger 1.6L engine our Sentra had. (The “airport taxi” N16s they usually convert have 1.3L engines.) But once the appropriate nozzles were fitted, there was no discernible difference between gasoline and LPG modes.

Afterwards, I sent Project “B” Car to have it converted. It currently is an “autocross missile“, but with the addition of the LPG kit, it stands to be a great coding car.

We’ve lived with these LPG converted cars for more than two months now, and let me tell you about what you have to keep in mind when considering an LPG conversion to your car.

If you have a sedan, and if trunk space is important to you, then the cylindrical LPG tank will eat up a good chunk of it. You also lose the ability to increase storage space by folding the rear seatbacks down, if your car is capable of doing so like our Elantra.

If you value your trunk acreage, or if you have a hatchback, you can always opt for a toroidal (donut-shaped) tank that would fit where the spare tire goes in these cars. But you will probably lose space for your full-sized spare.

Based on research, running on LPG will result in mileage loss of 10-20%. The Sentra was a 7 km/l car on gasoline and is doing a bit better than 6 km/l now. So, it’s within the band of expectation. Given this mileage loss and LPG being 50-60% of the price of gasoline in today’s market, there’s still a lot of savings to be had. Worse case scenario – 33% savings. Best case – 80%. LPG kit seller’s claims of 50% savings is credible, I think.

LPG kits of known brands may tend to be a bit pricey. While the fuel itself is cheap, one ought to look at the return on investment of the conversion. If you drive a lot of kilometers a year, you may recoup the cost of the kit in about a year or so. If your annual mileage is low, you may not be able to justify the conversion cost.

For us, converting our cars to run LPG means being able to affordably drive our beloved yet aging cars instead of trading them off for new ones. It really is a case-to-case basis if the numbers and/or emotions will work for you.

If you are installing a bi-fuel LPG retrofit kit, like the ones we have, remember that you still have to refuel with gasoline from time to time. The car starts on gasoline, then shifts to LPG after a short while. You must have at least half a tank of gasoline on board lest you cause failure to your engine’s stock fuel pump.

Also, you have to consume your gasoline tank regularly as well, before it becomes stale and spoils your stock fuel system. Running on pure gasoline in order to deplete old fuel would be good once every three months or so. With these bi-fuel kits, you can switch back to gasoline at anytime by pressing a button on the supplementary fuel level indicator provided with the kit.

By the way, there is no detectable power loss with a properly installed and tuned LPG setup. We’ve driven the Sentra poorly tuned, so we know what that is like. Any shiny new add-on you put to your car is useless if things have not been optimized for your setup. That goes for turbos, superchargers, nitrous, LPG kits, whathaveyou.

LPG and motorsports are not anathema to each other. We are aware of a number of converted cars being safely raced in amateur and even endurance competition. A typical “gentleman racer” would consume fuel not only while racing but also going to and fro race venues. Any way to cut fuel costs on a racing weekend sounds sweet for us, and now we are equipped to do so with our Elantra “missile”.

Finding an auto LPG station might be a challenge for you. If you live in Metro Manila, you should be able to go to one or two stations that dispense the fuel. Near the Garage in Sucat, Paranaque, there is a Petron that sells auto LPG and a Regasco that sells it cheaper not too far away. We would like to support Cleanfuel who supplied and installed our kits but they do not have a branch very proximate to us. They have a growing network of stations, however, so you can try a branch of theirs nearest you.

So far my dad has no complaints and is thrilled at saving monies at the pumps. I’m thrilled I have given Project “B-car” a new lease on life. And both our cars haven’t blown up and haven’t reeked of gas. Perhaps by reading this you’d be assuaged on doing something similar to your own vehicle. Do let us know what your experience is like.

Note: We bought and had installed LPG kits at normal promotional prices and enjoyed no compensation or other benefit by writing this article. We also do not install LPG kits at the Garage. But should you want an LPG kit for your own car, we would like to refer you to Cleanfuel Philippines. Look for Irene at (0998) 8472644, or check out their site at http://www.cleanfuel.ph.

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