Note to readers: the following article was first published in the November issue of American Towman and is republished in full below.
For four plus decades, U.S. fleets have selected propane autogas as the fuel solution for their vehicles to lower their operating costs and clean up their communities with reduced emissions. From coast to coast, propane autogas technology is providing towing and recovery fleets with the confidence they need to make the next run.
Over the past decade, dramatic improvements in propane engine and fuel system technologies, including bi-fuel and dedicated liquid propane injection systems, provide owners with more reliable daily performance, the lowest total cost-of-ownership, and the most cost-effective method for reducing emissions when compared to any other conventional or alternative fuel.
The following companies are realizing that they can have the performance they need and the cost savings they want with propane autogas.
Apache Sands Towing Combats DEF Costs with Propane Autogas
For more than 60 years, Apache Sands towing has served Mesa, Arizona, as an automotive repair, towing and tire center. Today, the six-acre automotive complex offers several automotive solutions for its customers, including a fleet of 21 tow trucks and 23 mobile battery installation vehicles.
General manager, Brian Fredrickson, has been with the company for more than 30 years. Most recently, the company had been primarily using diesel powered vehicles in their fleet. However, when the federal government mandated Tier-4 emissions regulations requiring that particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) must be reduced, the new vehicles Fredrickson purchased came with a diesel emissions system. While Fredrickson says the diesel emissions components offered a solution, he quickly ran into maintenance issues that drastically increased his budget and reduced his profits.
“When the vehicles got over 150,000 miles, all of the sudden the check engine lights were going off,” he says. “We kept taking them to the dealer and they all needed anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 worth of repairs for the diesel emissions systems. When you have eight or nine of those trucks and they’re all hitting about the same amount of miles and they’re all needing repairs, it gets very expensive, very fast. The amount of expense for maintenance on these things changed my mind about what we were doing. That’s why we started looking at propane again.”
Apache Sands had used propane autogas in the past, so their site has a 14,000-gallon underground fuel storage tank and dispenser in place that the company used to sell propane to the public. Fredrickson says Apache Sands originally moved away from propane autogas years ago when the older vapor injection kits lacked the performance and reliability that the fleet needed. However, the newer liquid injection conversion kits are more efficient and produce more reliable performance than older vapor systems. Today’s liquid propane autogas fuel systems provide vehicles with the power and performance that is comparable to gasoline and diesel-fueled vehicles.
This time around, Fredrickson felt more confident in the fuel system and purchased four bi-fuel conversion systems that his in-house team installed on Ford F-650s. He says the process to make the switch went smoothly. He was also able to take advantage of an alternative fuel excise tax credit at the time that reduced the cost per gallon of propane.
“We already had all the infrastructure, we didn’t have to go out and buy a propane tank or rent one,” he says. “I already had relationships with all the wholesalers and the dealers. So, switching the vehicles to run on propane, finding the fuel was not a problem for us.”
Fredrickson noticed a positive change in the reliability and performance of the vehicles compared to the propane autogas vehicles in the past. He observed that the vehicles got better fuel economy and had more power. The trucks are more efficient which allows the drivers to stay on the road for 12 to 14 hours a day without refueling. The EPA certified bi-fuel systems operate on propane autogas as the primary fuel (and reap the fuel’s lower total cost-of-ownership benefits), but still have a reserve tank of gasoline to eliminate concerns about range anxiety. Each truck has an on-board capacity of 50 gallons of propane autogas and 50 gallons of unleaded gasoline, if needed.
Fredrickson was also pleased with the emissions profile as Apache Sands is able to exceed Tier-4 emissions regulations. He shared that his fleet has significantly reduced the total amount of carbon dioxide and NOx emissions per vehicle.
After testing the propane autogas engines, Fredrickson chose to install conversion kits on several vehicles, including an additional four Ford F-650 tow trucks and a combined 14 Ford E-250s and GMC cargo vans. His company car, a GMC Denali, also runs on propane autogas. Today, 51 percent of his fleet operates on the fuel.
Fredrickson says one of the biggest changes he’s noticed since making the switch to propane autogas is the amount of money the company saves on fuel costs. Each year, Apache Sands saves $8,000 using propane autogas instead of gasoline and $5,000 using propane autogas instead of diesel. On average, propane autogas costs as much as 50 percent less per gallon than gasoline or diesel. The wholesale price of propane falls between the price of oil and natural gas, the fuel’s two sources. Even as prices fluctuate, propane autogas will consistently be less expensive.
“The cost of propane itself is less volatile, it doesn’t jump up and down as much,” Fredrickson says. “And the cost of propane is a heck of a lot lower than the cost of gasoline. I save enough money to make the car payment for the vehicle every month.”
As for the main reason he made the switch, Fredrickson says he hasn’t had any issues with the maintenance of the vehicles. He has a full-service team on site that has been able to easily handle all of the oil changes and maintenance on the engines. Since most of the trucks were still new at the time of publication, none of the propane autogas vehicles had reached 150,000 miles, the point at which Fredrickson originally experienced issues with the diesel emissions and DEF systems. However, he’s confident the engines will last longer and won’t face the same maintenance costs the diesel systems had because propane autogas is a clean burning fuel. .
“Most tow trucks run about 500,000 miles before we get rid of them,” he says. “I’ll be curious to see how long the trucks hold up. But the amount of money we’re saving on fuel and maintenance will hopefully supersede that.”
AATR Towing & Recovery Eliminates Range Anxiety with Propane Autogas
Adam Karim Ayed, the owner of AATR Towing & Recovery in Orlando, started the company as a one-man show in 2004. He came to the United States as an exchange student and started the company by himself with a single tow truck. In the 15 years since, his operation has grown to 60 trucks ranging from light- to ultra-heavy-duty tow trucks to handle the company’s transport and relocation operations.
When he started in the industry, Ayed was using gasoline-fueled tow trucks to travel the Orlando metro. However, Ayed soon realized his drivers often had to stop during the day to refuel the tow truck, costing precious time and money for the fleet. That’s when Ayed began searching for a new option and discovered the benefits of propane autogas.
In 2017, Ayed converted three Ford F-550 V10 6.8L to an EPA-certified propane autogas bi-fuel system. Prior to the conversion, the total gasoline capacity for his light- and medium-duty tow trucks was about 26 gallons. With the bi-fuel system, the trucks have tripled capacity with the addition of a 50-gallon propane autogas tank, eliminating the need to refuel during a shift.
“We run these trucks on a daily basis more than 300 miles a day in traffic,” Ayed says.
For propane autogas refueling, Ayed worked with a propane supplier to install a standard private propane autogas station with a 2,000-gallon propane tank at the company’s headquarters. Drivers returning to base at the end of the day can easily refuel their vehicles before their next shift. Ayed works with his propane retailer to customize scheduling of weekly tank refills. On average, each truck consumes about 200 gallons of propane per week.
Prior to the conversions, ICOM North America provided hands on training for Ayed’s technicians which ensured the staff knew how to properly install and maintain the propane autogas engines.
“They gave us all the tools,” Ayed says. “We incorporated the three vehicles smoothly into our maintenance schedules.”
AATR’s drivers say they have noticed a difference in how the trucks operate since transitioning to propane autogas. They say the trucks run smoother and the engines stay cooler. Plus, they aren’t stopping as often to refuel.
As the benefits increased over several months in operation, Ayed chose to incorporate two additional F-550 trucks into the fleet with plans to transition all of his 30 light- and medium-duty trucks in the future. Ayed says he’s confident in the fuel moving forward.
“The cost of operation is cheaper when everything is factored in,“ Ayed says. “Plus, the trucks run smoother and it’s cleaner for the environment. I think it would be a no-brainer for anybody in the towing and recovery industry to use propane.”
Towing and recovery fleets interested in using propane autogas can take advantage of the experiences realized by AATR or Apache Sands. After real world tests performed on daily routes, propane autogas outperformed gasoline and diesel. Propane autogas provides low fuel costs, reduced maintenance, reliable operation, customizable refueling options, and is the most cost-effective solution for reducing emissions. Both fleets are pleased with the economic and environmental benefits of propane autogas, most notably the overall lowest total cost-of-ownership.
Fredrickson says he thinks others should take the time to research propane autogas.
“Propane will save you money, especially if you’re tired of the diesel emissions and DEF problems.”
For more information on propane autogas vehicles, visit Propane.com/Fleet-Vehicles.
Michael Taylor is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at email@example.com.