Maintenance Savings–One Fleet Manager’s Story

Maintenance Savings: One Fleet Manager’s Story

Kyle Schmidt has been the fleet manager for the Ithaca City School District for about three and a half years now. Before that, he worked as an automotive mechanic when the Trumansburg Central School District was in the process of converting its diesel buses over to propane autogas.

So he knows a thing or two when it comes to comparing diesel-fueled buses to those powered by autogas.

While the cost difference between the two fuels constantly fluctuates with the market, propane usually comes out as the winner. But the biggest savings Kyle has seen appear on the maintenance side.

“Here’s a good example. Through experience with our diesel fleet, we’ve found that we usually have to replace the VGTs during the five-year warranty period,” says Kyle. “But after that, we’re replacing them about every 15 months on average. And that costs the district $2,600 a pop.”

Kyle says there is also less downtime for an autogas-powered fleet.

“If you send the filter for a diesel-fueled vehicle out to be cleaned, the vehicle could be down for days at a time. With propane, you don’t have to deal with any of that,” he says.

The environmental and health benefits of using propane as a motor fuel can also not be ignored

“You can leave the autogas buses idling in front of the school, and there’s literally just water and air coming out of the tailpipe,” he says. “Before, especially with the older diesel engines, some of them just billow out a lot of smoke. Who wants their kids around that?”

The World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency have identified diesel engine exhaust as a carcinogen, which can cause adverse short- and long-term health effects.

Even with the new “clean” diesel buses, new propane school buses can reduce NOx emissions up to 75% over new diesel buses.

Propane auotgas refueling is also more budget friendly than many alternative fuels. For example, you can install 10 propane autogas refueling stations for the price of one compressed natural gas station.

Refueling with propane auotgas is quick, quiet and safe, says Kyle.

“It’s basically the same as refueling fleets with diesel or gasoline,” he says.

In the driver’s seat with autogas—one propane company’s story

In the driver’s seat with autogas—one propane company’s story

As propane autogas has evolved and improved over the years, so has Mulhern Gas of Hudson, N.Y., which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary in 2018.

“Back in the day when I was a kid, we ran a lot of our trucks on propane. That was the first generation of propane carburetion,” says Rick Cummings, the owner of the multigenerational family business. Rick is also a past president of the New York Propane Gas Association.

“Frankly, it was problematic, because the technology wasn’t there yet. We ended up going to diesel and gasoline for our fleet.”

Rick admits that this experience left him “a raging skeptic” about autogas as a viable alternative to motor fuel for years afterward.

“It wasn’t until the advent of the new technology of the last 10 years or so that we took a look again at propane engines. So in 2010, we took a new Ford F-150 and had it converted to a bi-fuel system just to see what all the hubbub was about. Well, we loved it.”

Rick says he continues to drive that same truck today.

“The newer autogas systems marked the beginning of electronic fuel injection. It is so much superior to what I was familiar with decades ago. Since then, we’ve converted three other trucks, and I suspect that, as we retire more of our service trucks, the new ones coming in will be bi-fuel with propane.”

Types of propane vehicles

There are two types of propane vehicles: dedicated and bi-fuel. Dedicated propane vehicles are designed to run only on propane, while bi-fuel propane vehicles have two separate fueling systems that enable the vehicle to use either propane or gasoline.

According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, propane has a higher octane rating than gasoline (104-112, compared with 87-92 for gasoline). Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) offer dedicated engines optimized to take advantage of this higher rating, which can result in improved performance and fuel economy over non-optimized engines.

The potential for lower maintenance costs is another reason behind propane’s popularity for use in light- and medium-duty vehicles. Propane’s low carbon and low oil contamination characteristics often result in longer engine life.

Propane also performs well during cold weather because the fuel’s mixture—propane and air—is completely gaseous. That’s why propane-powered vehicles avoid many cold-start problems associated with using liquid motor fuels like gasoline and diesel. “I really like the autogas benefit of easy cold-weather starts,” says Rick. “I spent my youth underneath the hood of trucks trying to get them started in the winter.”

Rick says that the team at Mulhern Gas is completely sold on propane autogas.

“We have the dual-fuel engines, so it’s a touch-of-a-button type thing. The guys who use these trucks really like them, for the improved range, the easy start-ups, the clean-burning aspect and the low maintenance.”

Rick says the savings he’s seen with autogas, compared with gasoline and diesel, also make him smile.

“We’ve had really good luck with propane autogas trucks, and we’re going to keep moving forward and embrace new technology, just as our company has done for 100 years.”

Good grades for Autogas—one school district’s story

Good grades for Autogas—one school district’s story

About five years ago, the Trumansburg Central School District reached its goal of converting half of the 24 buses in its fleet from diesel fuel to propane. Today, 20 out of the now 27 buses in the fleet operate on propane power.

“The transition started before I arrived, but we continue to keep building on our success with propane auotgas,” says Joe Magliocca, who has been the director of facilities and transportation for the school district since 2014.

Joe says that the school bus drivers were against the switch to autogas at first because they thought driving performance would be lessened—a common myth about autogas-powered vehicles.

But that all changed once they started driving the new buses. Drivers discovered, to their great pleasure, an uptick in engine power—especially when they were navigating hilly terrain.

“It’s a little punchier,” Joe says. “With a lot of stop and go, the drivers appreciate the power they’re getting from a propane engine. They also appreciate the quieter ride—and I’m sure our kids do, too.”

There is another important benefit to converting to propane-fueled buses. Diesel exhaust gives off harmful particulate matter, which poses a problem for children, especially those who suffer from respiratory-related health issues. Using propane as the main fuel for a vehicle produces 80% fewer smog-forming hydrocarbon emissions than older diesel engines.

The propane-fueled buses for Trumansburg also come equipped with a variety of new safety features. The propane tank itself is made of quarter-inch-thick carbon steel, which makes it 20 times more resistant to any sort of puncture along the fuel line.

A protective design feature is that critical valves are strategically placed away from potential damage in an accident and also include an automatic fuel shut-off valve in case of a rupture in the fuel line.

“We’ve also seen a big reduction in costs, for both maintenance and fuel,” says Joe. “And it certainly helps that we have a local supplier who is very reliable. They get good grades from us.”

A green fuel for green thumbs: one landscaper’s story

A green fuel for green thumbs: one landscaper’s story

Tony Elmore, the president of Elmore Enterprises, Inc., in Ithaca, switched two of his businesses’ mowers to propane autogas about three years ago. Today, he continues to enjoy the positive change this has brought to one aspect of his diverse business.

Besides landscaping and property maintenance, the company also offers tree care and arboriculture services, excavating services and sidewalk snow removal in Tompkins, Schuyler, and Seneca Counties.

And while it’s just autogas lawn mowers at the moment, Tony has his eye on future improvements with the help of propane autogas.

“As we start replacing our trucks, I plan to replace them with propane-fueled models,” he says. “A big part of this decision is knowing I have a reliable propane supplier who is always there to give me support when and where I need it.”

Significant improvements in the bottom line cannot be emphasized enough, Tony goes on.

“Look, propane is cheaper to run your mowers on,” he says. “The gas mowers we use burn up about three gallons an hour. Meanwhile, the propane mowers I invested in use less than one gallon an hour. That alone saves the business a significant amount of money.”

Tony says it’s also been proven that motors powered by propane autogas have longer life spans than gasoline motors, and that means an additional savings.

“You can’t ignore the environmental impact, either,” he says. “Propane is simply cleaner and greener and produces fewer emissions. I feel good about it because I want to leave this place a little bit better for my kids than where I started. I think propane autogas is one of the ways I can accomplish that.”