There is a clear and vocal demand – not just in Minnesota and North Dakota, but nationally – for a reduction in air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. This demand is driving the current market for alternative fuel vehicles. are out there on the road today, with many more being developed. Each of these vehicles has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
At Kennedy Transmission Brake & Auto Service, we believe auto owners should carefully research and understand the care required before buying an alternative vehicle, as it may or may not coincide with the standards they’re used to for gasoline vehicles. You should consider cost and fuel efficiency as well; these vehicles may help save our environment, but that might not represent a significant savings to your wallet. You’ll need to decide what you can afford, and what will work with your lifestyle. Also, your choice of vehicle may be affected by the fuels that are readily available in the Minnesota and North Dakota area. Switching to an alternative fuel vehicle is not a bad decision, but it should be a carefully considered one.
Types of Alternative Fuel Vehicles
Flex Fuel vehicles can run on traditional gasoline or E85 fuel. E85 is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol is a substance made from corn. The benefits for motorists are in using less petroleum and therefore producing less pollution. However, E85 vehicles get lower gas mileage on average, and when gasoline prices are low, E85 can be more expensive. Since the vehicle can run on either fuel, this isn’t a huge disadvantage, but filling up with standard gasoline eliminates the benefits of lowered exhaust emissions and lower consumption of fossil fuels.
Pro Tip: Drivers should only use E85 fuel if they have a Flex Fuel-compatible engine. These vehicles have special seals and gaskets which can stand up to the high alcohol content of E85. Using E85 in a regular engine can lead to gas leaks and fires.
Diesel engines have been around for a long, long time, but only recently has the technology been refined to make them sufficiently economical and fuel-efficient. Diesel fuel can be made from certain renewable sources like vegetable oil, too. In fact, diesel fuel made from algae is reportedly close to being commercially viable. However, harmful emissions are still an issue, and often normal diesel fuel at the pump can be more expensive than normal gasoline.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
There are also several natural gas vehicles out on the road currently. They use gasoline engines that have been adapted to run on compressed natural gas, which is less expensive than gasoline and burns very cleanly. It’s even possible to connect a special pump to your home gas line to fuel your vehicle.
Natural gas engines don’t make as much power and don’t get as good of fuel efficiency as a gasoline engine, but they cost drivers less per mile to run. The biggest inconvenience, literally, is the tank that holds the compressed natural gas takes up a lot of room – even your whole trunk! Also, refueling stations are still few and far between in some Minnesota and North Dakota areas, if they’re even available at all. If you’re interested in converting your gasoline engine to run on CNG, ask your Kennedy Transmission service advisor about it.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Another breakthrough technology from automakers is the use of hydrogen fuel cells. These vehicles use hydrogen to generate electricity, which is stored in fuel cells. Several global auto manufacturers have prototypes on the road at the moment. The appeal of these vehicles is in its emissions – all that comes out of the tail pipe is water vapor. In other words, hydrogen represents a truly clean-burning fuel. But hydrogen vehicles won’t come into widespread use until refueling stations become widely available around the country.
Electric vehicles were all the rage some years ago, but their limitations were quickly realized by car owners. Currently, full-electric cars have a short range before their power runs out, and can only be realistically used close to home. However, they are easy to recharge, since they can be plugged in at home, and there are many researchers working on improving battery capacity to increase their range. They may yet be the vehicles of the future.
Hybrid vehicles have been one of the most successful alternative fuel vehicles here and throughout the county. A hybrid gets its name because it has both a gas or diesel engine and an electric motor. There are two types of hybrids:
- A full hybrid relies on an electric motor for power, but the gas (or diesel) engine generates power for the battery. Thus, while still consuming fossil fuels, it uses far less of them than a standard automobile, while also reducing harmful pollutants. Its design helps it overcome the range problem of a strictly electric vehicle.
- In a mild hybrid, an electric motor assists the gas (or diesel) engine in powering the car. Therefore, it uses more gasoline or diesel than full hybrids and has higher emissions. But mild hybrids are available in larger body models like full-size pickups and SUVs, and help these typically gas-thirsty vehicles deliver city fuel economy similar to their highway ratings.
Kennedy Transmission is on the Cutting Edge of Auto Technology
A quick word from Kennedy Transmission Brake & Auto Service about safety around hybrid and electric vehicles. Hybrids are not do-it-yourself vehicles, unless you’re specifically trained on hybrid systems. Unlike the battery in your current family car, these carry enough voltage to kill you. Never mess around under the hood or with the batteries or electrical wiring. Contact your local trained service technician at Kennedy Transmission before performing maintenance or repairs on your hybrid vehicle.