Motor Trend Auto Show

On Monday I stopped by Motor Trend’s Auto Show in Sandy. My sons Paul and Jake wanted to see it so I went along. In the time I was there, I wasn’t approached once by any salespeople (a positive) and I was able to check out a lot of new autos. I was interested in Jeeps and any alternative fuel vehicles.

The Nissan Leaf was interesting but with a 100 mile range it didn’t work for me. I already own a natural gas vehicle with a 200 mile range which is the minimum for me. The Ford Focus Electric was on display and looks to be similar in performance to the Leaf.

Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler on obstacle course

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf charging port

Nissan Leaf dashboard

Ford Focus Electric
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CNG Station in Kaysville

CNG Station in Kaysville

Paul filling up at the new Kaysville CNG station


This evening I heard via Twitter that there was a new CNG station opening today in Kaysville, located at 80 North 600 West, between the UTA Park and Ride and the Davis County Technical Center. The official opening celebration is planned for 2012 but you can fill up now. Paul and I drove over to the station around 9pm to check it out and fill the tank. The overhead lighting was out but the pumps were operational. Two 3,000 psi and two 3,600 psi.

Update

1 Feb 2012 — Questar Gas opens new CNG station in Ogden, UT, on Weber State University campus (4760 Old Post Rd), south of the arena.
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How to Save Money on Gas

My guest writer is Robert Lobitz of Performance Chips Direct.

There is nothing more fun than taking a leisurely drive and enjoying the exploration and excitement that comes with a new location. RefuellingThe trouble is, increasing costs have limited not just what people want to do, but also what they are actually able to do.

In today’s economy it is ever more important that we conserve on fuel and try to do things that will help to raise our gas mileage. There are several things that can be done that can save you money on gas. Some are simple changes in behavior, and others require more complex things such as installing a Honda performance chip.

Without any cost, one simple way to help add some miles per gallon is to use your brakes properly. Some people may not know that a vehicle consumes the majority of its gas while it is accelerating. Once you are moving it really doesn’t require much to keep going if you are using your gas right, but many drivers seem to need to constantly use their brakes, particularly in traffic. As a simple rule of thumb, try and keep your ride as smooth as possible, limiting both your acceleration and your braking to what is necessary and don’t get worked up by other drivers.

Another good idea is to not run your air conditioner unless you need to. Your air compressor adds to the load the motor in your car is pushing and as a consequence you need to burn more gas. If it’s a hot summer day, and it’s not too much of a burden, try simply rolling down your window.

Whenever possible, use your cruise control when you can. Unnecessary braking and acceleration lower the fuel efficiency of your car.

Try and limit your weight. It is a simple law of physics that the more weight you have the more energy you need to move your car. Don’t keep your vehicle full of items and remember it is not meant to serve as your storage. Your car is for your transportation and it needs to be attended to regularly. If at all possible, try and set aside a time once a week where you can clean out your car and do a little maintenance. It really only takes a few minutes to unload and check the fluids and tires. Low tires can add to resistance and also lower your miles per gallon.

There are some technological things that you can do as well to save money over the long run. There are smart phone apps that can be downloaded for free that can tell you where the nearest and cheapest gas station is located. Then there are performance chips which can enhance the ability of your vehicle. Tuning chips alter the function of things like timing to work your engine in such a way that is optimal for fuel efficiency.

Finally, and probably the most obvious, just try to drive slower. This may not be the simplest thing to do, but it has been proven that the faster a vehicle goes the more drag it experiences and as a consequence it loses efficiency. The faster a car is going the more this is true and you may not see a notable effect changing your speed from 65 mph to 60 mph, but if nothing else you will at least be a little safer.

Paul Straightens Out His Jeep

This little Jeep tale is best told in photos and video.

Damage to Jeep from sliding on ice

Paul slid on some ice on a mountain trail two weeks ago

Removing the Jeep grill

Today Paul straightened out his Jeep. Daniel removes the grill

Floor jack and chain

This contraption will pull the bumper free that is tangled in the body

A chain is attached to the Jeep bumper

A chain is attached to the bumper

Floor jack up a tree

A floor jack is attached to our tree

Video: Freeing The Bumper

Video: Removing The Bumper

Bumper is removed from Jeep

Once the bumper is removed the body can be pulled clear of the wheel

Freeing the Jeep body from the wheel

The chain is attached to the body

Video: Freeing The Wheel

Jeep Wreck

Now don’t you weep
Over your Jeep.
In just a day or two
It will be good as new.
Beep, beep. Beep beep!

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Work On The Jeep Is Winding Down

Jeep instrument panelsPaul wanted to have gauges instead of idiot lights on the instrument panel of his Jeep. The upgrade was supplied by A Howell’s Auto Wrecking in Ogden. In the photograph above you can see that the odometer is missing — and for good reason. Paul has to rollback the miles to match the odometer that is being replaced.

Stepper motorWhy not just switch the odometers? Because the replacement has a trip meter. The odometer has to be rolled back 108,866 miles (256,673.9 minus 147,807.9) and Paul explains how it is to be done.

The odometer is driven by a small unipolar stepper motor. The motor is so small it can be driven directly by the Arduino using the example code found here at Arduino. The four pins on the motor were wired to the Arduino and swapped until the motor started turning.

Unfortunately the odometer’s maximum speed appears to be only 600 mph (10 miles a minute) and so it will take about seven and a half days to rollback to the original mileage.

The trip meter has to be disabled as it will eventually halt all backwards progress.

Odometer connected to Arduino

At the equivalent of driving in reverse at 600 mph it will take 7.5 days to rewind back 108,866 miles.

This video is a little out of focus but you can see the general idea.


Everything is under control, typical of one of Paul’s projects. But he’s forgotten one important event to watch for. What is it?

Update

Paul put together this live odometer streaming video which will rollback to the required mileage (147,807.9) some time on Sunday 24th October 2010. See if you can estimate the time, assuming it is running continuously.

Since last week additional mileage has been driven to bring the mileage to 147,950. The time this was reached was 10:48am on Sunday. Live stream discontinued.
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Are You Really Driving On The Cheap?

Honda Civic GX trunk

Reduced trunk of the Honda Civic GX. Anyone for beans on toast with a glass of milk?

Are you really driving on the cheap? That’s the question an owner of a NGV may be asked occasionally. The only monetary disavantage of a NGV is the initial cost which can be alleviated by buying used. In my prior post I listed CNG advantages, many of which are monetary, which is the focus of this article.

As the owner of a Honda Civic GX, for the last two and a half months I have collected data to see how much I am saving and how much you could save.

The CNG savings I have split into two groups, fuel savings and vehicle savings.

Fuel Savings

For a period of 2 1/2 months from 23 November 2009 to 5 February 2010 I noted several metrics. At each refueling I recorded miles driven, gallons used, price per gallon of CNG, and the cost of regular gasoline. I also calculated averages over this time period.

I drove 2,381 miles, needing 18 fill ups, 5 of which were only partial. By this I mean that a NGV is dependent on how well the fuel is compressed. Lower PSI means less fuel in the tank. It isn’t a big deal, it just means you get to drive less before the next fill up.

I refueled on average every 4.1 days, having averaged 132 miles. The most I drove between refueling was 184 miles, the least 91 miles. The range was reduced by the partial fill ups. New 3,600 PSI pumps are being installed which will add 15% more fuel to the tank. My average MPG was 31 which was all city driving.

The cost per gallon was 93 cents, which includes 8 1/2 cents Alternative Fuels Tax, except for one fill up at the University of Utah which was $1/gallon. A Division of Fleet Operations & Surplus Services Gascard is required at the U of U, Utah State, and Jordan, Alpine, and Granite School Districts. The average fill up was 4.32 gallons costing $4.03 (not a typo).

The most I filled my tank was with 5.688 gallons. The rated capacity is 7.2 gallons at 3,000 psi and 8 gallons at 3,600 psi. In theory one could drive 240 miles on a full tank. Don’t ask me what you do if you run out of gas, I don’t like to think about that.

In summary, I spent $72.62 on CNG to drive 2,381 miles while regular gas would have cost $220.89. Regular gas varied from a low of $2.49 to $2.71 a gallon, the average being $2.57. My savings was $128.27, the difference between CNG and gasoline.

Vehicle Savings

There are vehicle savings because of my switch from a 2007 Honda Accord V6, rated at 18 mpg in city driving. By driving the Civic GX the savings amounted to $141.20 over the same time period. This is the difference in the cost of gasoline the V6 would have required.

EMPG

A coworker and I use Equivalent Miles Per Gallon (EMPG) as a fun measure of the value CNG delivers. EMPG is the mpg you would get if the extra cost of gasoline was converted to mpg using a NGV thus:

Cost of gasoline / Cost of CNG x CNG mpg = Equivalent mpg

Using our formula I came up with an average of 86 EMPG. This will easily exceed over 100 EMPG this summer.

Summary

The total savings is $269.47 over 2,381 miles or 11.3 cents a mile. Or put another way: it cost 3 cents a mile. The savings will increase this summer when gasoline rises. CNG prices will likely be fixed at 93 cents even when gasoline crosses $4 a gallon. At least for a time.

The biggest downside is the reduced range and sparse filling stations. A minor inconvenience is the reduced trunk as shown in the photograph. But these are not monetary disadvantages, it just means a few more minutes to stop and refuel.

If you live in Utah it is well worth it for 93 cents gas.

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Owners of NGVs please comment on your experiences.

Driving On The Cheap

Honda Civic

Take a look at the car in my driveway. It appears to be just a plain 2005 Honda Civic. I purchased it last Friday to help me drive down the cost of transportation. With only V6 engines in my other vehicles I decided to make a change, ready for higher gas prices next summer.

How much cheaper is this Civic for me to drive? Well this is Utah and this Civic is a Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV). With Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) at a subsidized 93 cents GGE throughout the state I really am driving on the cheap.

CNG Advantages

Natural Gas Vehicle

Natural Gas Vehicle

These advantages potentially affect me directly or indirectly economically:

  • Park for free at Salt Lake City parking meters with a Salt Lake City “Green Vehicle” parking permit.
  • Use the Express/HOV Lanes for free while driving alone.
  • Subsidized fuel at less than a dollar GGE.
  • $2,500 tax credit on a first time registration in Utah.
  • CNG is free from adulteration and theft.
  • Less maintenance costs as compared with other fuel-powered vehicles.
  • Fuel system is sealed, preventing any spill or evaporation losses.
  • Increased life of lubricating oils.
  • Mixes easily and evenly in air.
  • Less likely to auto-ignite on hot surfaces.

These advantages affect the community directly or indirectly:

  • Non-toxic and free from benzene.
  • Produces significantly less emissions of pollutants as compared to gasoline.
  • Produced in Utah.
  • Delivered to the service station by pipeline.
I test drove and filled a Cavalier.

I test drove and filled a Cavalier.

CNG Drawbacks

  • Fuel storage needs a greater amount of space.
  • Limited availability of refueling stations.
  • Reduced driving range.
  • Higher vehicle cost.
  • Less choice of vehicles.
  • Converted vehicles have 5% — 10% reduced power.
  • For CNG only vehicles running out of fuel can be very inconvenient.

Summary

CNG_Pump

Me by a CNG pump,

I filled up for the first time last night. It was straight-forward though a little different. The pump was the old style non-digital readout type (not the one pictured). The car gas gauge (interesting that it is still called a gas gauge) was reading 1/4 left. It cost $4.56 to fill and took about the same time as filling a gasoline tank with the same amount of fuel. That is probably enough for about 150 miles. I expect to get 200 miles out of a tank. If there is interest I will post my mileage and CNG use in a future post. I’m used to larger cars but this Civic surprised me with quite some zip. It was a gas to drive.

If you are interested in a used CNG car yourself, check out the CNG Utah website where I purchased my Honda. The folks there were low pressure and friendly. Perhaps you already own a CNG powered vehicle. How do you like it? What have been your savings? Would you purchase another CNG?

By now you may have figured out that my purchase of this CNG Civic was purely economic. As far as the environment is concerned I am against Cap and Trade. The threat from CO2 (plant food) has been greatly overstated. The earth has enough and to spare. Just relax and use the resources God has given you and go out into the world with a little less fear and trembling. You will do just fine in your stewardship despite what Al Gore says.

Updates

14 Dec 2011 — There is now a CNG station right in my hometown.
1 Jan 2012 — Without the 50 cent a gallon federal subsidy the price has risen to $1.50/gge in Utah.

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Utah Gas Tax Hike Possible


Yellowstone National Park.

Will cars be taxed off the roads?

Gas Tax Increase

State officials in Utah are looking at a tax increase to pay for transportation projects. Instead of a set 24.5 cents per gallon Utahns would pay a percentage of the price at the pump. An alternate would be an increase of 1/10 of a cent in the state sales tax toward paying for the nearly $4 billion in road projects that have been suspended. Projects like the Mountain View Corridor connecting Salt Lake and Utah counties and 20 miles of I-15 reconstruction in Utah County.

Drivers Opposed

Almost all of the commenters to the Deseret News story “As gas prices plunge, gas taxes may rise” were opposed to any tax increase. One rickety respondent felt that “the Legislature should implement congestion pricing instead.” Regular readers of my blog already know I am opposed to a congestion tax. However David Miller has reasonable arguments in favor of congestion pricing.

How Does A Percentage Gas Tax Work?

I can make a few guesses. The idea is that as the price of gas rises, the gas tax rises at a set percentage. Suppose if the price of gas is $1.50 a gallon (which it soon will be), the state gas tax is 24.5 cents and the percentage the governor takes is 16.33%. If the price of gas rises to $3.00 a gallon then the percentage to the state falls to 8.17%. If Utah wanted to maintain the percentage 16.33%  tax when gas costs $3.00 a gallon then the tax would rise to 49 cents. Gas at $4.00 a gallon would need a tax of 65.3 cents.

The attraction of this method is that it counters the problem of rising gas prices causing reduced consumption that cuts money to fund road projects. The negative for drivers is that when gas prices increase you get beat up at the pump by the oil sheiks and the governor.

Gas Tax Base Rate

As well as a percentage tax rate the state would need a base gas tax rate at which the percentage switches to a fixed amount. For example, a gas tax rate of 16.33% could have a base set at $1.50 a gallon so that if prices fall below that amount a fixed gas tax of 24.5 cents would kick in until prices rose above $1.50 a gallon. One would hope that there would also be a maximum amount of gas tax per gallon set but I wouldn’t be holding your breath on that one.

How I See It

I think that it is very appropriate to raise funds for road projects with a gas tax. Other sources of funds that are currently used are sales taxes from the state’s general fund, vehicle registration fees, and federal funds. I would like to see the funding from the use of sales taxes reduced and the slack picked up by increases in gas taxes. This would alleviate the funding shortfalls that come from reduced sales tax collections.

I am not in favor of a percentage based gas tax. When gas is rising in price the last thing the government should be doing is helping to raise the price even higher. If funding is needed for road projects, increase the gas tax. It is probably one of the fairest taxes around, if there is such a thing.

Update

4 December 2008 — Deseret News

The governor scrapped — at least for now — the suggestion that the gas tax be shifted from a flat 24.5 cents a gallon to a percentage of the sales price, but said he’d be supportive of a similar proposal from lawmakers this session.

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FrontRunner versus Legacy

Legacy Parkway on a Sunday afternoon
With the opening of Legacy Parkway and FrontRunner now in service for a few months it is instructive to compare some numbers. Note that my rickety figures are approximate, if there is interest I will spend some time to produce more accurate numbers. However, there is such a large difference between both sets that the conclusions would still be the same.

Each project cost approximately the same amount to build. FrontRunner carries 7,800 passengers a day and Legacy Parkway around 30,000 vehicles a day. In addition, over 1,000 FrontRunner passengers previously rode buses. I don’t have any numbers for how many Legacy Parkway riders are in carpools.

FrontRunner made a slight dent in congestion by removing a small percentage of the traffic from the 140,000 daily car trips along I-15. Legacy Parkway cleared I-15 congestion on its first weekday in operation.

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