The ABC’s Of AFV’s
by Pat Goss
Any mechanical device with moving parts will need preventive maintenance. Sooner or later, things are going to wear out. But, if you happen to own an alternative-fuel vehicle, you may find that its maintenance requirements are quite different than a conventional vehicle.
Most people understand that it’s important to change their engine oil because it gets dirty with use and over time. But they don’t realize that it is the fuel they are burning in the engine that makes it get dirty so quickly. The combustion of gasoline and diesel produces a lot of carbon and other contaminants that can get into the oil and make it break down. But with cleaner alternative fuels, like natural gas and propane, the surprise is that not only is there less pollution coming out of the tailpipe, but there’s less that ends up in the oil as well. As a result of this, you can safely go longer between oil changes in a CNG or LPG powered car. The factory recommended interval for the Honda Civic GX, for instance, is 10,000 miles. Add it up, and you’re looking at a significant cost savings over the life of a vehicle, especially for a heavy-duty truck or bus fleet. Cars that burn E85 exclusively may require a special type of oil and will hold to the normal oil change intervals. Ethanol is a fuel with low volatility, which may cause problems at startup for spark-ignition engines. Things like misfires during warm-up are not uncommon. However, vehicles burning E85 will see higher engine power output and cleaner fuel systems.
As for electric vehicles, a lot of the typical maintenance items just aren’t there: no spark plugs, no muffler or tailpipe, no engine oil. But what they do have is a lot of very complicated electronic control modules, and a lot of very expensive batteries that are going to need replacing eventually.
One thing you want to be certain of is that the technician who works on your alternative- fueled car or truck is aware that it is an AFV, and you need to make sure that he is trained to work on your type of vehicle. It’s always important to read and understand the owner’s manual on any vehicle. But, if you have an alternative fuels vehicle, it is crucial. If you have a question or a comment, write to me. If I use your letter, I’ll send you a MotorWeek T-shirt. The address is: MotorWeek, Owings Mills, MD, 21117.