After our article on natural gas conversions for pickup trucks, many of you had questions about where to get kits for specific trucks and how to go about the whole process. I'll try to answer some of those questions and lay out the information in a series of articles so you can decide what will work best for you. This information will apply to cars, as well, so you might want to bookmark us now and follow along no matter what you drive.
The actual process of installing a CNG system is within the capabilities of an experienced and knowledgeable vehicle technician, BUT, there are regulations regarding the process you need to be aware of. I would hope this process is going to get easier in the future as natural gas becomes more popular, but right now, it's cumbersome.
Dedicated or Bi-Fuel
To begin, compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles are of 2 types, dedicated and bi-fuel. It's pretty easy to figure out what that means, a dedicated CNG vehicle runs on CNG only, a bi-fuel system allows you to run on CNG or gasoline at the flip of a switch. This is important because tax credits to offset some of the cost look at each type differently, something we'll get into later.
EPA and CARB emission rules
CNG conversion systems fall under vehicle emission rules from both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). EPA rules apply to everyone in the U.S. while CARB rules apply to California and those states which have decided to adopt those rules for their own use. (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington). Only EPA and/or CARB certified conversion systems can be installed on vehicles manufactured after 1994. Although non-certified systems are available, the EPA considers installation of those systems to be tampering with emission controls and punishable with very hefty fines.
Who and what gets certified?
Small Volume Manufacturers (SVM) offering retrofit conversion systems must go through the certification process for each model year and engine family they are going to sell kits for, a time consuming and expensive procedure, so, though many engines will run fine on natural gas, kits are only offered when certified on a particular engine.
Who handles the installation?
EPA and CARB certified systems are not sold to unapproved installers. A qualified system retrofitter (QSR) is someone who has been trained to properly install the components and who has all of the documentation necessary. Some kit manufacturers do the installation themselves, others use a QSR. Any service facility that would like to become approved can contact the kit manufacturer for details.
The next part in our series will cover costs and tax credits, ... stay tuned.