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Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

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  • Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

    I have read several posts asking "Why won't CNG ever take off?"

    I own 3 cng vehicles and I'm beginning to figure out why cng will be a passing fancy. Everything about CNG is a hassle.

    Fueling stations are few and far between AND they are tempramental. There's nothing like having a a near empty dedicated vehicle, pulling up to the pump and it's either turned off or has 1200 PSI. You then end up stopping nearly everyday to put 1/4 tank in your car. Pumps are nearly ALWAYS out of your way.

    When you grow tired of that, you decide to purchase a home fueling system. A decent one runs about $11,000 dollars, not to mention installation. You get a federal tax incentive (our state has one also) which absorbs less than half of your investment to sweeten the deal, but there is nothing $5,000 about these compressors, much less $11,000. If somthing goes wrong, it will cost you no less than $600 to fix it, even if it's something simple. Time is a problem also, because things have to be ordered, etc.

    When something goes wrong with the cng aspect of the car (and it will, no matter how well you take care of it) what we have ran into is this.
    If you take it to a dealership, they SORTA diagnose the problem (chi-ching) (They list 2-5 things that MAY be wrong with the car) then tell you the part they think you need doesn't come by itself(chi-ching), they have to order it from Timbuktu (not going anywhere for awhile?), and it will run you around 6 grand. Oh, and don't forget labor! In some cases, it's cheaper to buy another cng vehicle!!! And there's no guarantee that will fix the problem, it's just a jumping off point. Then they tell you to take it to the one cng guru in your town and he may be able to help you. 1 grand and 3 months later you get your car back.

    If you can work on them, it's a hassle. For instance, on a Ford F150, did you know that IF you can find someone to do it, it costs $1000 to have your spark plugs changed? They can even pop out occassionaly. Even the simplest maintainance can not be carried out by the consumer (MAYBE, if you have a couple weekends to do it). On technical things, even if you have the know how to work on it, you can't find diagrams, specs, information, etc.

    When things go wrong with a dedicated cng vehicle, it usually involves towing it.

    ***OTHER ISSUES***
    The things going on in Utah and California are perfect examples also. It is almost like they (government, oil industry, car manufacturers, dealers,etc.) are TRYING to make the cng movement fail.

    In retrospect, owning ONE (and we have 3) of these vehicles has turned out to be more expensive than if we had just kept our own cars and paid $3 + a gallon for gasoline. If every repair is $1000 or more and it happens even just once a year, it just doesn't justify the cost. Especially when cng sometimes ran only 10-20 cents less than gasoline.

    The whole thing is really ashame. I had such hope for it.

  • #2
    Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

    Just to clarify the $1000 spark plug change is a Ford thing not a CNG thing. Has to due with the fact that Ford thought it was wise to put fuel rails over the plugs and then $80 coils over each plug. Compuvalve? I won't even go there.

    2003 Hummer H2 bi-fuel
    2000 GMC Yukon XL bi-fuel
    1999 International 4700 dual-fuel
    2007 Chevy Avalanche bi-fuel

    FMQ2-36 Fuelmaker w/ 24 GGE cascade


    • #3
      Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

      To some degree you are correct, however, CNG can "take off" given time and the right circumstances. CNG just recently came back in favor because of last summers rise in gasoline prices. This drove up the price of the used vehicles and refueling equipment. Therefore, just about anything that could be made to run was dragged out of the barn and sold (at a large profit)---many times to people that didn't understand what they were buying. Remember in many cases you are dealing with vehicles 10 or more years old with high mileage on them. You are also dealing with technology that is older than that on many cars. The late model cars such as the later Fords, Honda Civics, and '03-04' Cavaliers use fuel injection systems that are just as reliable as the gasoline systems. And, all but the Honda allows you a choice of fuels. I own a 2006 Honda GX and several Cavaliers. The GX and my two '04 Cavaliers start, run and drive just as well as any gasoline car. The earlier Cavaliers start a little harder, but once running are just fine. Maintenance has not been any different for me on these cars compared with others I have owned of similar age and mileage.

      As far as fueling, you are correct that there isn't a CNG station on every corner. I can remember when I bought my first diesel powered car. It was a brand new 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Finding fuel was not easy and the places that you did find it were not the nicest facilities or in the nicest part of town. (sounds like CNG?) In time, as more diesel passenger cars and light trucks were produced, diesel fuel became easier to find. Most stations have at least one diesel pump and if they don't the station across the street has one. Early adopters of diesel found conditions very similar to CNG today. I lived through the early diesel, and now I drive electric and CNG. There are no CNG fueling or electric recharging stations within the range of my vehicles. I knew that going in and have a couple of fuelmakers and recharging stations for my cars. I still don't regret the choices I made. If you are driving CNG just to save money, today you are using the wrong fuel---tomorrow you might not be .

      Last point---don't rely on government incentives to make anything happen over time. Incentives come and go but in the end the free marketplace determines what sells and what doesn't. CNG will find it's place, it may be limited for now, but remember oil that went to $147 a barrel and is now back to $35, can and will go back up again. It is low now because of the world economic crisis (which was fueled in part by high energy prices) caused a drop in demand. When we come out of this recession/depression $147 oil might look cheap because demand will return and production might not.


      • #4
        Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

        Very fair assessment.

        We were fortunate enough to hop on the bandwagon right before vehicle prices rose. We have an 01 Cavalier, a Ford F-150 and a 1999 GX. We are happy with the GX for the most has approx. 200K miles on it. The only problem we have with it is the transmission is slipping, non cng related. It runs like a top. The Cavalier only has 20K miles on it, yet has become the least reliable car we have. The gas gauge always shows full when running on cng, and after filling, the inlet always blows out some of what you put in. I hear those are common complaints. The truck falls in the middle. It has 50K on it. Last year it started stalling. You would just have to sit for awhile and pray for it to start, which it eventually did. Can you say compuvalve (or whatever that expensive part is that they are known for)?

        On another note, do you know how much it would cost to recondition an entire cng system?


        • #5
          Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

          You have some valid points.

          It seems that every CNG system has its own Achilles heel. With Honda it is the price of the HPR, fuel sender, and the difficulty of diagnosing 'coil pack' problems, not to mention the CVTransmission which is not strictly CNG-related but is found only on the GX and a few other Hondas. With the Fords it is the Compuvalve and other things. With the Cavalier it's the Gas Mass Flow sensor. Yes, one repair can cost you more than a whole year's fuel savings. California requires a 15/150k warranty on CNG-related GX parts, so that helps a lot.

          Home fueling is definitely the way to go for convenience, although in California the stations are reliable and not that far apart. And most of them are run by CE now which has reduced the savings compared to gasoline.

          HOV access may be on its way out with a federal law change. Let's hope our 'Prius' connected allies will help us out here.
          02 GX
          01 GX
          03 Crown Vic
          06 GX
          Home Fueler


          • #6
            Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

            $3,000 part for a system that in its entirety costs $10,000 to begin with is another reason cng will never take hold.

            I can't wait until I get to replace a compuvalve in our other vehicle! Is that the Ford equivalent to a Chevy gas mass sensor?!


            • #7
              Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

              Get a newer Cavalier and you will never have to deal with the GMS/MCV again 'cause it doesn't have one. The engineers got smarter as time went on and the complexity of the system has been reduced. Again, there are plenty of servicable units out there. Check for completed listings on E-bay and you will find a couple of guys that sold them--at about a 99% discount from the dealer. Or ship the thing off to Lancer and see if they can fix it .


              • #8
                Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                It's true that the older CNG cars were not the best technology, newer conversions are much better, but the whole EPA cert thing is a pain. I have an 04 F150 that it digital injection and no crapuvalve, but ford dropped production anyway. I also have an older SUV that is aspirated, more power loss on that one, but it has been VERY reliable. All in all I'm happy with CNG and will probably always drive an NGV as long as it doesn't cost MORE than a gas vehicle.

                I've been able to recoup my costs within the first year, but I got my vehicles as decent prices, closer to what they normally should be (which you can get right now anywhere, people are scared and selling to cut their losses. Their loss is your gain, get on it!!).

                I'm fortunate to be able to work on my vehicles and have taken some conversions classes that has given me a decent knowledge of these systems, that and this site I feel I can fixt most things myself. I had a gas leak on my f150, I found it with soapy water in a hose on the low pressure side of the high pressure regulator. Ford wanted $250 for the part and $100 to install it. I grabbed $3.50 of CNG hose from a conversion company and clamped it on in 20 minutes. The new hose is much higher quality than the ford one, I was glad I was able to do it myself, I also know 2 CNG mechanics that I had inspect the repair to be sure it was 100% correct.

                CNG has a logical future as a fuel, but as long as government is powered by money, it's hard to make the changes that are needed. I've been happy to see Utah help promote CNG and actually stop legislation that would cripple it's growth. It's been scary owning only CNG vehicles when some new crazy law or price increase pops up, but I've been impressed with this community banding together and getting it done. Now if we could just get conversions to be a simpler process will be well on our way!!
                Last edited by Yroc; 02-19-2009, 01:16 AM.
                2000 Escalade (option 3 conversion) FOR SALE
                2004 F150 XLT (OEM conversion)
                2000 Camry (Awesome Car!!)


                • #9
                  Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                  The current conditions are perfect for farsighted consumers- the cng industry is depressed in the East now that gas prices have fallen to cng levels.

                  FWIW, I recently bought another 2001 bi-fuel pickup at a reasonable mid-bluebook price (less than the tax rebate). This one was about 1/3 the price I paid for a slightly nicer unit bought a year earlier.

                  Even with the higher Utah pricing (0.88) now in effect, cng is still about 1/2 the cost of gasoline, and we all know that gasoline prices will go up again this summer, as will the cng premium for converted vehicles. I expect cng to gain a bit of popularity now that the ridiculous ethanol fiasco has lost its luster. Battery cars will eventually take over, but availability and cost are still critical issues that will be with us for a while.


                  • #10
                    Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                    Don't be so terrified about the Ford spark plug thing, I have accomplished it in my driveway, it just takes want to see difficulty, then work on a japanese front-drive car. You will be singing Detroit praise afterwards...


                    • #11
                      Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                      Originally posted by marty600 View Post
                      You will be singing Detroit praise afterwards...

                      I still find many reasons to complain about design engineering choices.

                      ?Innovation is driven by having access to things.? -- Gleb Budman, CEO of


                      • #12
                        Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                        Originally posted by jblue View Post

                        I still find many reasons to complain about design engineering choices.
                        I own 6 vehicles, and have not taken anything to a shop for over 20 years..and the things are always 'older'. I have plenty of wrenching experience, also, co-owner of a machine shop.
                        1 thing that is a huge component of vehicle repairs is the materials used---and the related ease of dissasembly. In this aspect, Mercedes could be the king, they are actually made so you can work on them, I have 210,000 miles,
                        and the fasteners/design are topnotch.
                        Converesly, the truck I had before the F250 was a japanese-made b2600, thats mazda. You could not do anything to it without breaking fasteners and fighting interference fitment of it's parts, and there was a LOT of working on it required! The F250 was gov't auction...had a smashed bumper/front end...I am not a body man, but it took me 1 afternoon to take apart the whole front end, and because it was made in detroit, the parts to fix it cost under $50.
                        ( around here, the junkyards keep very few japanese cars, because nobody actually works on them, mainly because of extreme difficulty of repair. They come in and it's off to the crusher!)


                        • #13
                          Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                          It looks like even Boone Pickens has thown in the towel on cng for regular cars. In last week's alternative energy summit, I think he said something like the plug in hybrids will be the solution for smaller cars. But he continues to insist that cng will continue to be a better choice for heavy duty vehicles and trucks.

                          In less than 2 years we will probably have a plug in Prius that will get 40 miles on a charge, and then 50 miles a gallon after that. For a lot of commuters, going to the gas station might be a semi-annual event. Plus, the Prius will be a car that Toyota wants to sell, compared to the GX that Honda has to sell.

                          Yes it will run on dirty coal, but consumers won't see that. Yes, it might cost more, but rolled into your regular electric bill, it won't be noticed. Home refueling? Hmmm. 8 grand for a Phill or 2 bucks for an extension cord.

                          Convenient refueling is the key to acceptance. What are the prospects that in the next 2 years we will have a dramatic increase in commercial refueling stations? Just about zero. And without convenient refueling options, we will continue to be a boutique sideline.

                          To be honest, I had hoped that a sensible pro-environment, anti-terrorist, buy American administration would come up with something meaningful in this year's budget or quasi-state of the union speech. So far, it looks like peanuts.

                          Say, maybe we should make expensive, energy intensive, government subsidized biodiesel from peanuts!


                          • #14
                            Re: Candid opinion on CNG vehicles

                            I am optomistic on CNG. I dont really care if I remain the .03% of cars on the road burning CNG. The trucking industry, transit and school bus fleets are all going to CNG/LNG and that is enough for me to believe I will have an unlimited supply of fuel, at least here in So CA. I have my own reliable fueling station 4 miles away open 24/7 and rarely ever see anyone fueling there, I have seen only one vehicle fueling there this year (local trash truck). Every fill this year has been 3700-3800psi. I eventually will install a fuelmaker for convienience and fuel savings.
                            Let's hope Honda will continue to make the GX when their next generation comes out.
                            BLUE 09 GX