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.”