What are CNG vehicles?
They look like a regular vehicle but operate on natural gas, which is abundant and on U.S. soil.
This fossil fuel allows Americans to reduce dependency on foreign oil.
Because there's a lot of this fossil fuel, compressed natural gas prices are low.
Another benefit is that natural gas engines produce less emissions, which makes a clean energy alternative.
Natural gas vehicle conversion
CNG cars are very similar to their gasoline counterparts, and conversion kits allow the capability to switch from natural gas to gasoline at the flick of a switch.
Because both can be ran on the same vehicle, there's a potential downfall and upside to this.
EXTRA PARTS: The engine bay will have additional components in it -- such as a regulator, more hoses, wires, and pipes.
Although these mechanical items are out of the way, they do pose a problem because they are complex and something could go wrong with them.
TRUNK SPACE: CNG conversions do require trunk space for the tank, which means groceries will be relegated to the back seat.
Even with the loss of a little trunk space, modern economy cars are still spacious. The only concern would be cross-country vacation trips due to a lack of luggage room.
PRICE: The price to convert depends on many factors.
If you are a mechanically orientated do-it-yourselfer, you could finish this project in your garage for about $1,000 dollars, which is considerably cheaper than many kits on the market.
CNG conversion around $1,000 bucks
One issue is the emissions certification for your state. Although CNG vehicles produce less emissions, the kits must adhere to requirements set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resource Board, and/or your state.
Info about emissions certification is available from the U.S. Department of Energy, and a list of compressed natural gas cylinder inspectors is available at CSA America.
Check out the laws before buying or converting.
SAFETY: Although natural gas in its pure state is odorless, suppliers add mercaptan to it. This chemical gives it that rotten egg smell, which is a safety feature for leak detection.
Most times natural gas is detected by smell long before combustion conditions can occur, which requires a range of 5 to 15 percent in the air.
That's about 16 times higher than at which you'll smell natural gas. On average, a concentration of natural gas at 0.3 percent by volume in air is easily detected by people with average smelling capacity.
Refueling can be done at the pump quickly.
This fossil fuel also ignites at a higher temp -- about 600 degrees Celsius -- compared to gasoline -- about 315 degrees Celsius.
Also, because a natural gas fuel cell is under high pressure, a loud hissing noise is detectable if there's a leak.
EFFICIENCY: With a higher combustion temperature, this high octane fuel is efficient, with less wasted fuel and cleaner exhaust gasses.
Despite the efficiency, the higher internal temp may affect the engine in the long run if it's only designed for gasoline and may require a rebuild more often.
Storage tanks for CNG range in size. Tank size affects how far you can go before refilling.
For commuters, a two gallon tank should, depending on your car's CNG fuel economy, get you about 50 miles. A larger 7 gallon tank will provide about 150 miles of travel.
For some folks, public CNG filling stations are all along their route. (There are about 500 open to the public in the U.S.) But for those not so fortunate, a CNG home filling station can be purchased.
A Phill home refueling appliance allows you to tap into your home's natural gas supply to refill your car. This device can refill your car's tank overnight.
Is a CNG conversion worth it?
The price for this new alternative energy does not provide an up-front savings.
Although there's few ready-to-go cheap CNG conversion kits, they will pay for themselves over a few years' time -- as long as you own the converted car.
Those investing in a CNG conversion kit for their car should be looking toward the future, not to save a couple bucks this year or next year.