Friday, August 07, 2009

Journeying with Veronique. Now our life is a gas, gas gas.

So we embark on a new and, I hope, interesting journey.

Not long ago, our 'lean, green, Junkk machine' met an untimely end (the insurance nightmare, incuding the 'economic repair' consequences are another story).

Of course, it was green in colour only.

And while its unexpected exit from the roster was not what the doctor ordered, as one door closes (or should that be 'as one bonnet crumples'?), another opportunity arises.

Cutting a complicated series of circumstances short, meet our new main method of transport: Veronique, a Volvo V40 Estate (again... kids, safety, reliability, space etc), 1.8 (no more 200BHP... life does involve compromise)....... bifuel.

Yes, we figured that this was the best opportunity we'd get to practice what we preach (though we had planned to convert the previous one, at around £1500, which ironically would have made it 'worth' about what we ended up paying for our 'new' car... lpg inc. And imagine if we'd done all that and then 'lost' it?), and see what the pros and cons are of trying to be greener as we travel. And, with luck, save some money too, to further inspire the 'save green, make green' mantra.

I'll append this as a story under the Auto>Fuel>LPG section as well, but the aim is to be an ongoing 'living with' story, warts and all, of the personal journey we take with our new workhorse. It's not going to be a comprehensive view of the genre, as it is but one (2nd hand) model being used by one person, but the process and experiences may, I hope, be instructive.

The Purchase

Anyone who buys new must be rich, or bonkers. Or both. I know. I was... am. My last Volvo was purchased for £25k 12 years ago. It lost 1/3 of that as the wheels left the forecourt. And now, after much haggling (not an experience with a major insurer I expected, or enjoyed), it was deemed to be worth £1650. That was what I had to put towards the new one.

But if the market was dire for my 'selling' (or at least getting compensated), so was/is it once becoming a buyer. Except, of course, when it comes to bi-fuels. Despite everything, they are still pretty rare, and no one seem to have a real idea of 'worth'.

However, they are out there. There are sites. Such as the one that made the connection, ecocars.

We chose the Volvo mainly because it is factory fitted. A few garages we had spoken with did that teeth-sucking thing at the prospect of a conversion. No idea if that's fair or not, but it swung us as reliability was... is... key.

However, whatever you do, the law of sod will get you. Small tip on buying... it is worth having a possible purchase checked. If you can (not practical in our case as I had to train to Nottingham to see/get it. Though now I hear you can get an AA check at the purchase location). No problem with the engine (crossed fingers), but a lot of other twiddlies... tyres, brakes, suspension... that totted up to another £800. Caveat emptor.

Fuel Economy/Range

First impressions are good... and bad. I had a much more powerful model, and it gave me 32mpg on average. This has managed 34mpg on petrol and 25mpg on gas so far. Hardly inspiring. Now at 50p a litre (though it seems to be as low as 37p in some places I am nowhere near!!) that 'equates' to 50mpg, which is heaps better for sure, but somehow disappointing still. A 1.8 turbodiesel I suspect would deliver a lot more. However, there is what comes out of the pipe to consider. But I may just have the tuning looked at by an expert in case it's drinking too much for a reason other than my lead foot.

I was told that it would do 200 miles on a tank. Yeah, right. I'm looking at 150 if lucky. But so far I have done mostly motorway cruising and it's possible that is thirstier than a combo cycle, but I doubt it. There is of course an entire petrol tank there to use if you want, at the flick of a switch (seamlessly automatic when the tank runs dry), but lugging extra weight around is not a great idea if you can help it. You do need some to fire up, so I aim to keep a 1/4 tank in there, but we are resigned to stopping to fill up a lot more often.

There are pluses and minuses to this, and they are many and varied.

Of course there are not as many LPG stations around as other fuels, but nowadays plenty enough, spread evenly all round the country. And at the price you tend not to be so worried at variations, even at motorway premiums, though even these seem less hiked. They are easily found and or signposted. The internet is worth using to check the home area and destination (a trip to London will now require a fill before and there to get back), and there is a guide or online options:,,

I have also applied for a local scheme via countrywide, that may be more economical, and will report on this as it takes shape. (Addendum - It's all come through, and so far is proving more than worth it. Sadly the scheme is only regional, but at 39p a litre (vs. 10p more elsewhere) what's not to like? And it does rather offset the rather woeful consumption. In financial terms at least I'm getting about the equivalent of 60mpg).

The process takes a wee bit of getting used to but is not too bad, if a little off putting. The input nozzle is standardised in the UK (though not abroad, so some conversion pieces are required - keep them safe!), though the delivery mechanism can vary a tad. Basically you present a bulky nozzle to the input, slide it over a bayonet fitting (like a lightbulb), twist and then pull a big lever to 'connect'. This is all necessary because you are dealing with a pressurised gas in liquid form, so the seal needs to be tight. The delivery then is easy, involving simply pushing and holding down a button. It is disconcertingly quiet, and I have yet to try anything other than a complete top up, which cuts out automatically when full. Not really an issue when you are looking at £25 tops.

The removal is a bit of a palaver, and again disconcerting. You know the blowback hiss and spray you get after charging a lighter with gas, or disconnecting the camping bottle? Try that plus a few thousand %. It's clean, but smelly, nosy and visually 'exciting' . Many pumps do provide a shroud, but I have already found they make connection tricky as they interfere with the fuel cap flap. So I have been removing these.

Addendum 7 Aug : Good news everyone, though the cost per litre has risen in line with fuel prices, the government has increased the tax differential period from 3 to 5 years.

Living With a Bi-Fuel

The one immediate compromise, and hence negative, is the reduction in space. You buy a car like an estate not just to shift you and yours, but 'stuff'. Many is the early morning at the NEC when I have been unloading stand materials from a packed, floor to ceiling boot with the rear seats folded down.

Trouble is, now there is a dirty great bump poking up, swallowing a good 50 litres of space (well, much is down in the spare wheel well... another issue). This is the LPG fuel tank.

And the lack of a spare is worth noting in its own right. What there is, is a rather innocuous looking can of foam with a tube. I am prepared to be convinced, but I am none too sure about this. Maybe it will work fine as a 'get you to the tyre place', but I can think of a few of the few punctures I've had where that may not cut it. And especially whether my wife will cope. That said, while she may still be able to manage the jack, the wheel nuts have always defeated her, so this may be better. I am also told that using this stuff renders the tyre unrepairable, which could be expensive and wasteful. We'll see. I am wishing the insurers would have let me take the 'get you home' from the old car.

Congestion Charge

One bonus is this car should permit me to swan about London free of the CC. Not going to happen a lot, but the other night I had few choices but to drive as the event ended at midnight. Sadly, I entered before the evening cut-off and still had to pay. Why? Well, there is one heck of a lot of hurdles you have to jump first, and 'they' don't make it easy, because 'they' are pencil-pushers. For a start you have to apply, in writing, with all sorts of forms, which require you to access all sorts of silly websites that are poorly designed and/or don't work. And there are many departments, from Transport for London through the Congestion guys to the Energy Trust, all of whom point, and contradict each other. Plus you have to fork out a £10 'fee'.

Why all this, I don't know. If I drive in with a 'naughty' car, the cameras send the registration to the DVLA, who say it's naughty and they fine you. Can't the same be done with my 'nice' car, whose registration document clearly states its niceness. All I can say is I am glad I have factory fitted, as the post-conversion hoops look even longer and more arduous, involving Certificates of Compliance and other fun stuff.

Watch this space. I have not been 'approved' yet. It takes up to 10 days, apparently.

Addendum - Well, we knew this wasn't going to be easy. I have been rejected, because my make is not on the list. No matter that bigger bi-fuel Volvos that emit more, the S60 and V70, are. Or a backstreet conversion guy can manage it. So now I am in a nightmare between TfL, the Congestion Charge guys, Volvo and the Energy Savings Trust.

Addendum -

Volvo Car UK challenges the Mayor of London to Emissions Equality - via hat-tip tweet and tweet


Maybe we should have checked with others, but when you are one car down and need another pronto you tend to go with the easiest, fastest option. And we were.. are.. hostage to the no claims protection. Yes it is newer, but a lot less quick, so I was again disappointed a bit to only see a £30 drop.

Come renewal, with more time to think, we may start looking at the eco-options that abound, and report back.

Car Tax

As we will with this. With the crunch, one suspects the heavy impositions on gas-guzzlers will not be happening, though one still hopes for an eco-concession. It will inevitably be relatively less.

That's it for now. As with all the blogs, this is meant as a journey, and one I'll share as and when.

First posted 16 Jan 09.

Also check Junkk - Auto, which has a section there

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