By on June 29, 2013

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One of the consequences of Canada’s high gas prices is the prevalence of propane conversions. In the Greater Toronto Area, a fair number of vehicles, typically in fleet use as taxi cabs, airport limos or construction vehicles, get converter to run on propane gas. The conversions are expensive, running approximately $5,000, and if you want to see any return on your investment, you better run the car well into the six-figure range of the odometer.

On the other hand, these cars make some great used car buys. With the conversion already done, you get all of the benefit of filling up for approximately $2.50 per gallon, and the vehicles are typically robust, hard wearing cars like Ford Panthers, full-size pickups and W-Body GM cars.

Amid the million kilometer Town Cars and Caravans (ex airport taxis, no doubt) there is a diamond in the rough. A beige one. For $1,800, there’s a 2000 Grand Marquis with 487,000 km. I’m one of the few dissenters when it comes to Panther Love on this site, but the price is right – both for the car, and for the sub-$50 fillups. Not that I’m considering it or anything. It’s for a friend…

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20 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: Propane And Propane Accessories...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    When I was a Fleet Mechanic for LAX in 1985 , the entire fleet ran on propane .

    Lower power but they lasted almost forever and the oil came out clean looking after 7,000 miles or so .

    The down side was : no one knew anything about how to set up , maintain or adjust any of the various parts , by the time I arrived there many vehicles were barely running .

    Simple and cheap to repair , these systems bear looking into .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      Nate, what were the fundamental weaknesses of the system? The contractors used to convert them by the hundreds for fleet use in the Canadian oil patch. They would disappear for 36 months, then return without the propane conversion, which I assumed was re-installed on the new vehicles. The fact that the dealers weren’t screaming about warranty costs told me someone in the field was maintaining them. I also assumed that a knowledgeable field mechanic could keep them working, but your comment makes me wonder if I was just another insensitive suit.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        I can’t speak for other shops but we got terribly filthy fuel , all the safety valves , pressure regulators , heat exchangers and “carburators” were often filled with rust silt until they’d simply stop working .

        The fix was always simple : take everything apart and blow/wipe out the accumulated red dust / chips , replace the seals & O-Rings then re assemble ~ then came the fun part :

        The air flow wand in the carby is *very* sensitive and although it had a 5″ long adjustment travel , more than 180° a turn of the screw off the “sweet spot” meant the engine refused to start no matter what .

        So , you’d have to find the spec. of how many turns from one end & adjust it *carefully* , start it up and warm it up then connect to the smog machine and dial it in ever so carefully , then the power was in fact pretty good , no idling issues and easy cold starts own into the 40° F temps .

        These were almost entirely Dodges W/ 318 or 340 V-8′s , light & medium duty trucks and a few older police cars , all were slush boxes ~ not a stick shift in sight .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I’ve thought about getting a used one to commute solo in LA’s car pool lanes…but the expensive tanks have a limited lifespan and eventually need to be replaced.

  • avatar
    niky

    5K is frigging huge. Out here you can get a sequential gas injection (electronic, with a piggyback ECU with tunable maps) kit for a V8 for aroudn 3.5k, and a kit for a four-cylinder for around 1k.

    Payback time is far shorter, obviously.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I worked with a guy in the mid-80s who had a Dodge van that had been converted to propane.

    That thing was a bear to start the minute temperatures started to drop.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Most propane conversions ive seen are dual fuel, gasoline and propane. That one must not have been. Start the cold engine on gasoline for easy starting, then switch over once some heat is in it.

  • avatar

    I wonder which one would be more economical:

    A Propane car or a plug-in EV that compresses air and uses compressed air for propulsion?

  • avatar
    mikey

    Twenty years ago they tried to convert the Oshawa police cars over. The Cops didn’t like the lack of power. Initial cost was high. The Taxi people used to buy up the old cruisers. The Cabbies would not go go near the propane vehicles. I don’t know why. I do know that the Region scrapped the whole idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      Back in 1980′s one of the towns near where I lived converted all of its city vehicles to propane. For several years afterwards their police department was stuck running propane fuled, LTD Crown Vics. This particular set-up would probably cure even the most loyal case of Panther Love.

  • avatar
    racer193

    In the mid ninties I worked as a delivery driver for a bakery that had a 77 gm van with a 250 six converted to propane. I remember driving up some if the grades in the Oakanagon vally would requirw dropping down to second to maintain 50km/h. I was never so happy when it tossed a rod, because of lack of matenence on the owners part. the next delivery vehicle was a 91 b2600 mazda, huge difference in driveability and comfort, but three days later that had a rod bearing fail because of lack of matenence as well. The owner told me he had just had the oil changed which was funny cause it didnt read on the stick when I checked it shortly after this happened.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Mechanic who works real near to my house had a purple citation he called barney. Start on gas and run on propane was his mantra but, of course, it doesn’t get very cold in the houston area. He loved it and he loved the increased time between oil changes.

    He got married and needed a new car for his wife. And so it goes….

  • avatar
    niky

    Cold is an issue for regular flow, but the lack of power is mostly down to tuning. Since modern kits use fuel injection, you can adjust the fuel maps to remove most of the power loss. If you have the ability to change the ignition advance, then you can adjust your car to the higher octane of propane, making stock gasoline power or higher.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    Ford Falcons in Oz are available with injected LPG as a factory option. They are slightly more powerful than the petrol version and at last look petrol cost about $1.40 a litre where LPG costs about .62c. Unfortunately, the dropping popularity of large cars have seen all Ford production planned in Australia to cease in 2015.

    see: http://www.caradvice.com.au/129513/ford-falcon-ecolpi-lpg-review/

  • avatar
    Neb

    One disadvantage with propane is if you use these vehicles in extremely cold weather (think -30 C or below) you have to avoid parking garages. The sudden temperature change of going from -30 to +5 can cause the propane to gain pressure so rapidly it activates the propane tank’s safety valve, which is not only wasteful but also (duh) dangerous.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      It’s a law in Ontario that you can’t park them indoors as well. Propane is heavier than air so it can linger along the ground should a leak occur.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    A LPG conversion goes for around $4K here… or more, depending on the system chosen. Then you have a government rebate of (IIRC) $1K this FY.

    I ran the math for my car, and the system would pay itself in a bit over 2 years. So no need to run the mega miles. I drive roughly 20K kms a year. The LPG vendors seem to agree with my “simulation”.

    I’d go vapour injection. LPI is overkill for my car and the old style vaporizer systems are rubbish.

    If I choose the CNG route, I’d lose the government rebate and refueling becomes an “issue”… that can be solved with a compressor at home. I’d be looking at using a cheaper gas and an unknown hit to the electricity bill.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I worked at a small furniture store chain in Southern Ontario in the late 90s. The delivery van was a 1989 Dodge Ram van that ran only on propane. It wasn’t the most powerful van ever (I think it was the 3.9L engine), but it did its job and since that part of Ontario is extremely flat, hills weren’t a problem. I had to fill it up once at the cardlock and had no idea what I was doing, but I’m glad I had gloves on when the fill valve got extremely cold even though it was summertime. If only Hank Hill was there to coach me on proper propane vehicle fueling.


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