Gas, Diesel, Electric, etc, etc



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1963 Chrysler Turbine
The next question is what fuel do you use to power your vehicle?Most people do not even ask this question, but for those who do, it shall be addressed.The question of how to power vehicles has been considered since the early 1900s when the Stanley Steamer was offered.Chrysler made 50 gas turbine cars in the early 1960s, which could theoretically run on almost any fuel, but their slow throttle response and extremely high exhaust temperatures (hot enough to melt pavement) ended that experiment.


Fuel was not seriously considered until the early 1970s when the gas crisis hit, and the price of gasoline shot into the upper stratosphere, you know, to around 70 cents per gallon.At that time, only the big trucks and a Mercedes or two ran on diesel, and the price of diesel fuel was still in the range of around 45 cents per gallon.Also, the reputation of the trucks and the Mercedes diesels was that they ran for well over 200,000 miles without major surgery where the normal gasoline powered car was starting to experience serious maintenance at around 70,000 miles.Not only that, the diesels got decent fuel mileage.Suddenly, everybody wanted a diesel engine, and General Motors, in an effort to comply, converted some of their car engines from gasoline to diesel.The experiment was a dismal failure, and resulted in a class action lawsuit against GM.What we found is that the big diesels went 200,000 miles because they were designed to go 200,000 miles, not because diesel power had any inherent engine life enhancement properties.


The trend towards diesel pickups continued, though, since the big, gasoline powered pickup trucks, Suburbans, and vans got horrible gas mileage.The next diesel engines from GM got fair mileage, but they were not recommended for towing or hauling, which hit the public as strange, so they were not very popular either.The diesel engines of todayís trucks are designed to work, and they offer an alternative to gasoline power, especially for work related purposes.The only major problem so far is locating a source of diesel fuel in remote areas, although more gas stations now offer it, so that problem is slowly disappearing.


Although diesel power is an alternative, there are down sides to that type of power.Diesel engines run by compressing the fuel to the point that it explodes.This means that the compression, and therefore the stresses inside the engine, is much higher than in gasoline powered vehicles.For a diesel engine to last, it must be made heavy, and it must have more maintenance than a gasoline engine.Diesel engines are rougher and slower than gasoline engines, and most are quite noisy.Up until very recently, your neighbors would not be your friends if you drive your diesel pickup down the street at 5:00 am.Fortunately, the engine manufacturers are addressing that problem now.Hopefully, in the next few years, diesel engine noise will be seriously reduced.


Also, if you have ever stopped at an interstate highway rest area in the winter, you might have noticed that the big trucks have their engines running even if the drivers are asleep.Diesel fuel tends to gel (partially solidify) when it gets cold, so if you live in a cold climate, you might want to stay away from diesel power.Fuel additives are available to help with this problem, but you do have to buy them in addition to the diesel fuel.


On the environmental front, diesel power is not clean.While it is true that diesel emissions were not governed until a few years ago, it was mainly due to the power of the trucking lobby and the fact that there are far more cars sold in this country than diesel trucks.Diesel fumes are just as harmful to your health and the health of the environment as are emissions from the old (non-emissions governed) gasoline engines.If you ever travel to the poorer countries, you will note that the pollution in those cities is worse than in American cities and the predominant smell in many of those cities is diesel fumes.In the next few years, the new, low sulfur diesel fuels promise much cleaner burning in diesel engines.


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	General Motors EV1

The next trend has been towards developing electric powered vehicles.There have been several experimental vehicles in the last 30 years or so, but the viability of purely electric power has been hampered by the cost, weight, and storage capacity of the batteries to the point that they have not been popular except in golf carts, which only have to travel a few miles before charging.In the late 1990s, GM introduced an electric vehicle, the EV1, to the California and Arizona markets.20,000 were made, but GM decided to lease them, not to sell them.The idea was to limit the air pollution in environmentally conscious California, and although the car was popular as a political statement, its limited range between charges and the basic fact that most of the charging duties were still usually performed by coal or petroleum fired power plants caused most of the buying public to stay with gasoline power.In the last few years, Tesla, Chevrolet, Nissan, and BMW have introduced electric-only vehicles.Balance how many miles per day you drive versus the range of the vehicle to see if they make sense for your purposes.


Currently, several manufacturers are offering hybrid power, that is, a gasoline engine powering or assisting an electric motor, a setup which has been successfully used on diesel trains for half a century.This negates the need for lots of batteries, but there is a cost in additional drive systems, computers, weight, and general complexity, which makes these vehicles cost more than comparable gasoline powered vehicles and require more in maintenance.Their gas mileage is higher, but the real money savings just isnít there unless the owner drives over twice the average number of miles per year.Of course, if we have to go through another gas crisis where we can only get a few gallons of gas, the highest mileage vehicles will be kings.Here are some current samples of current hybrids:


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        Toyota Prius                                          Toyota Avalon                                                  Ford Fusion                                                        Toyota highlander












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FFV symbol on the fender of a Ford Taurus indicates that it is a Flexible Fuel Vehicle
The last current trend is the conversion of gasoline powered vehicles to propane, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), hydrogen, alcohol, etc, etc.These alternate fuels do a better job of limiting pollution without the necessity for emissions control systems, but the new fuel systems (and the fueling stations) are still experimental and complicated, fuel availability is definitely limited, and some of these fuels (the alcohols) can limit the life of the engine.Alcohol has been used in racing vehicles for years.It has also been used as an additive in gasoline since the 1970s.Today, there is a fuel made from gasoline and corn alcohol called E-85.E-85 only costs 3/4 of the price of gasoline per gallon, but it only yields 3/4 of the fuel mileage, also, so fuel costs are approximately the same as for gasoline.It is only available in a few states, and only the FFVs (Flexible Fuel Vehicles) can use it, but using it supports American farmers and lessens the need for foreign oil purchases.FFVs are basically gasoline vehicles that can use either gasoline or alcohol fuels.You have to look in the vehicle owners manual to find if a specific vehicle is an FFV.Currently, there are only about a dozen vehicles that are certified as FFVs.


Where does all this leave us?In all practicality, we are currently limited to gasoline, gasoline/electric hybrid, and diesel power for most driving purposes, simply due to fuel availability and maintainability.


The environmentally conscious buyers can take heart that some of the currently available gasoline powered cars are approaching zero emission levels.The pollution levels that are attributable to vehicles are mostly spewed from older diesel trucks and older gasoline vehicles that are out of tune and out of repair.Specifically, 5% of the vehicles on the road are responsible for 95% of vehicle emissions.Simply buying a newer vehicle is an environmentally friendly thing to do.


Bottom line:Gasoline power is currently the best option for most vehicles.Diesel is an alternative in larger vehicles, which will become much more viable in the near future.Hybrid gas/electric power may be an option for very high mileage drivers or seriously crowded commuting.The other alternate fuels will either fade away or become viable as technology develops.Of course, if there is the aforementioned gas crisis, the whole game will change.


For those people interested in dependence on foreign oil, please remember that we choose to purchase foreign oil.We are not dependent upon it.Domestic oil is available, but we use more foreign oil due to its lower cost.While there are less domestic oil reserves, America sits on one of the greatest natural gas reserves in the world, and if foreign oil dried up, domestic natural gas could run everything we have with lower pollution for many hundreds of years.And that time should be enough for us to develop nuclear power that runs on nonradioactive chemicals and produces ozone and clean water as byproducts.