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Converting Patrol Cars to Propane

By Sheriff Stan Evans, Jackson County, Georgia and Ralph Hanahan, M&M Oil and Propane, Inc.

Fueling his fleet was becoming a pain in the neck for Sheriff Stan Evans of Jackson County, Georgia. In the summer of 2008, prices were climbing, and supplies of gasoline were getting uncertain. "The cost of gasoline was starting to wreck my budget, and was impacting the patrols of my deputies," said Evans.

Gasoline nearing $4.00 per gallon was bad enough. The final straw hit the Sheriff's desk in August 2008.

"What do you mean, I can't get gasoline for my patrol cars!?" Sheriff Evans was faced with the real possibility of parking his fleet. Of course, this was totally unacceptable, but that was the reality in northeast Georgia.

Sheriff Evans immediately hit the internet, and began to look into alternative fuels. "I looked into CNG (compressed natural gas) and other options. Finally, propane came into the picture."

The sheriff consulted his staff. There were lots of concerns and reservations, but Evans was convinced that propane was the answer to his problems. He made the decision, and started a trial conversion from gasoline to propane.

"Our fleet was ready, set and go for propane conversion. But I had to deal with the concerns of my deputies who would be driving these hybrid vehicles."

Evans started out small. Only four of the county's patrol vehicles were converted. "We got assistance from a vendor in upstate New York to provide the propane conversion equipment, and our local contractor for cruiser equipment cooperated with them."

Sheriff Evans was convinced that this was the right direction forward for his fleet, but only time and actual experience would show if this was a real answer to his supply and cost problems.

One of the biggest issues that Evans wanted to fix with this conversion was cost. "Today, propane for engine fuel is normally twenty to thirty cents cheaper than gasoline. Last August, the difference was even greater, with propane being over a dollar a gallon cheaper than gasoline. Best of all, the Federal government now reimburses my department fifty cents a gallon for every gallon of propane we buy."

After about three months of operation, the results were in. "My deputies started jockeying to pull their shifts in the propane cruisers. They liked the extra 'pep' in the propane units." Evans' local propane provider setup a local refueling site that allowed his deputies to refuel their cruisers. "Our deputies quickly and easily transitioned to propane fueling. We're going to be putting in an 18,000 gallon propane tank in the very near future."

"Propane was clearly the answer to both my cost and supply problems." Evans quickly ordered enough kits to begin converting the rest of his Crown Vics to propane. Today, the majority of the Jackson County patrol fleet runs on the propane/gasoline hybrid system, and they all will be converted by year's (2009) end.

"The propane tank sits neatly under the speaker shelf in the trunk, and leaves plenty of room for equipment. That space wasn't really used for anything anyway." Evans' deputies don't have to learn any new skills to police in the converted cruisers, since they switch seamlessly from propane to gasoline as needed.

These conversions were funded out of seized drug money. "The taxpayers of Jackson County didn't have to spend a cent on this. We have had excellent support from our county governing authority. They always like it when you save money."

Evans' cruisers start up on gasoline, and then in a minute or less, they switch over to propane. "The short delay is built in to ensure that the hybrid units will start and run in the coldest mornings that come our way." Gasoline usage is dropping in the day to day operation of Evans' fleet. His costs are way down, and even with an ease in fuel costs, Evans knows that this was the right decision.

"It's great to get a rebate on our fuel. Also, I'm now known as the 'green' sheriff in Georgia, since propane burns cleaner and is recognized as a DOE alternative fuel. I've been able to take this initiative to the voters of Jackson County, showing them a realistic solution that not only cuts costs but also ensures that county cruisers will be on patrol, and cleans the air of our community."

Propane vehicles also have longer maintenance cycles than gasoline fueled cruisers. Engine wear and tear is significantly reduced. "When the time comes to sell my vehicles, I now have the choice of taking the propane equipment off and re-installing it on new vehicles, or selling them with the kit still installed for a premium to taxi and other commercial carrier fleets that want propane fueled units."

Ninety percent of propane is produced in the United States. Another seven percent is imported from Canada, and the rest is imported from US refineries abroad. This helps to ensure that propane is affordable and widely available in America.

Myths Busted

Myth: Propane is a highly toxic and dangerous fuel. It is much more dangerous than gasoline.

Reality: Propane is non-toxic and requires a much higher temperature to ignite than gasoline. Actually, gasoline ignites into fire at about half the temperature required of propane.

Myth: Propane tanks pose a threat to law enforcement officers.

Reality: We invite you to check out the video linked in below, done by the Mythbusters crew. You'll notice that the worst damage they could do to a typical propane tank with an armor piercing round only resulted in venting the liquid propane into gas. The tank didn't explode or create a fireball.

Myth: If propane leaks out of a tank, it will puddle up on the floor of our shop and be a hazard to our maintenance crew.

Reality: If you checked out the clip referenced above, you'll see that propane that is exposed to the air will simply evaporate, will not be combustible, and certainly will not leech into the ground and pollute ground water like gasoline or diesel fuels.