Posts Tagged ‘John Nielsen’

Heather HunterNew study conducted by the AAA Automotive Research Center shows electric vehicle driving range can be nearly 60 percent lower in extreme cold and 33 percent lower in extreme heat.

ORLANDO, Fla., (March 20, 2014) – Electric Vehicles (EVs) are energy efficient and environmentally-friendly with the added benefit of reducing fuel costs for motorists. But, just as motorists need to know how far the gas in their tank will take them, EV drivers need to be aware of how far their vehicle can travel on a single charge. According to new AAA research conducted with the AAA Automotive Research Center in Southern California, electric vehicle range can be reduced by an average of 57 percent based on the temperature outside.

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“Electric motors provide smooth operation, strong acceleration, require less maintenance than internal combustion engines, and for many motorists offer a cost effective option,” said John Nielsen, managing director, AAA Automotive Engineering and Repair. “However, EV drivers need to carefully monitor driving range in hot and cold weather.”

To better understand the impact of climate on electric vehicle batteries, AAA conducted a simulation to measure the driving range of three fully-electric vehicles in cold, moderate and hot weather. Temperature made a big difference in driving range for all three EVs.

Vehicles were tested for city driving to mimic stop-and-go traffic, and to better compare with EPA ratings listed on the window sticker. The average EV battery range in AAA’s test was 105 miles at 75°F, but dropped 57 percent to 43 miles when the temperature was held steady at 20°F. Warm temperatures were less stressful on battery range, but still delivered a lower average of 69 miles per full charge at 95°F.

AAA performed testing between December 2013 and January 2014. Each vehicle completed a driving cycle for moderate, hot and cold climates following standard EPA-DOE test procedures. The vehicles were fully charged and then “driven” on a dynamometer in a climate-controlled room until the battery was fully exhausted.

AAA has initiated several projects including mobile recharging units and EV charging stations to support members who drive electric vehicles. EVs provide owners with many benefits, but every motorist needs to be aware of conditions that can impact vehicle driving range. EV drivers need to plan carefully in hot and cold weather. Mapping tools such as the AAA TripTik® Travel Planner pinpoint charging stations to keep motorists on the go.

Additional information regarding AAA’s electric vehicle testing is available on the AAA NewsRoom.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 54 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Michael Green

(WASHINGTON, November 15, 2013) “The EPA’s proposal to decrease ethanol requirements will help drivers by preventing a surge in gas prices or the premature expansion of E15 gasoline sales. While we would like to increase the use of alternative fuels, it is a plain fact that the Renewable Fuels Standard’s original targets are unreachable without putting motorists and their vehicles at risk.

“The EPA has finally put consumers first. Their proposal will support the continued development of alternative fuels, while also recognizing the needs of the millions of people that drive every day. Today’s proposal is an important step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Suggesting a range for 2014 targets does not guarantee that motorists will be protected from the risk of higher ethanol blends. We encourage the EPA to act quickly to finalize specific targets that help protect drivers nationwide.

“The vast majority of cars on the roads today are not designed to run on gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol. While ethanol has the potential to support the economy and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, it is irresponsible to mandate more ethanol than cars can safely use.”

More than 90 percent of the vehicles on the road today are not approved by manufacturers to use E15, including most 2001-2013 models. E15 is only approved for use by automakers in flex-fuel engines, 2001 and newer Porsches, and selected 2012 and newer vehicles where it is clearly specified in the owner’s manual. While new models increasingly can use E15 gasoline, previous makes and models were never designed to use the fuel. It will still take at least another decade before the bulk of the fleet will be E15 compatible given that the average vehicle remains in use for more than 11 years.

 

Ginnie PritchettAAA, the nation’s largest motor club, shares useful tips for drivers during Car Care Month

ORLANDO, Fla., (October 1, 2013) – October is Car Care Month and AAA is reminding drivers about the importance of properly maintaining their vehicles. There are a few simple things every driver can do to make sure their car is ready for the road.

“Learning how to handle common maintenance issues is beneficial to anyone who gets behind the wheel,” said John Nielsen, managing director of AAA Automotive Engineering and Repair. “Proper maintenance can extend the life of your vehicle and help prevent costly repairs.”

Below are four simple car care practices AAA recommends every motorist perform on a regular basis:

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Check the Air and Wear of Your Tires

83% of American do not know how to properly inflate their tires, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association. The pressure on all tires—including the spare— should be checked monthly, with a quality gauge when the tires are cold. Proper pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker most often located on the driver-side door jamb. Do not use the pressure stamped on the sidewall of the tire. Note that the pressure levels on some cars are different for the front and rear tires.

Check the tread depth on each tire by placing a quarter upside down in the tread grooves. If the top of Washington’s head is exposed at any point, it’s time to start shopping for new tires. Also, look for uneven tire wear when checking the tread. This can be an indication of suspension, wheel balance or alignment problems that need to be addressed.

Every driver at some point deals with a flat tire. Click here for a step-by-step video that shows how to prepare for and repair or replace a flat tire.

Ensure Your Car Battery is Properly Charged

Extreme temperatures break down car batteries internally and can accelerate the rate of corrosion on battery terminals, leading to insufficient electrical power and the risk of being stranded without warning.

At every oil change, check the battery cables and ensure they are securely attached to the terminals. Clean the terminals if there are signs of corrosion. Disconnecting the cables to clean the hidden areas where they contact the battery terminals is the best way to remove external corrosion.  Most car batteries have a three to five year service life, depending on local climate and vehicle usage patterns. If your battery is getting old, have it tested at a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop or by using AAA Mobile Battery Service to determine if it needs to be replaced.

Keep Those Wipers Working

Inspect the wiper blades monthly. Check to see if they are worn, cracked or rigid with age.  Damaged wiper blades won’t adequately remove debris, compromising the driver’s vision and safety. The life of a rubber insert is typically six to 12 months depending on its exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight, acid rain, and ozone.  Streaking and chattering are common clues that the rubber is breaking down and a replacement is needed.  Click here to learn more.

The windshield washer fluid reservoir should be checked monthly. Top it off with a solution formulated to aid in the removal of insects or other debris. In winter, use a solution that will not freeze at low temperatures. Also, test the washer spray nozzles for proper operation and aim before leaving on a trip.

Work with a Local Repair Shop You Trust

Every car requires routine maintenance and repair. The best time to find a mechanic or auto repair shop is before you need one. Start by asking friends and family for recommendations of repair shops and mechanics. Visit www.aaa.com/repair to find nearby AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, take your vehicle to your top candidate shop for routine maintenance. While there, talk with the employees and take a look at the facility and consider the following questions:

  • Does the facility have up to date equipment?
  • Were you offered a written estimate?
  • Does the shop offer a nationwide warranty on parts and labor?
  • Are customer areas clean, comfortable and well organized?

Click here for more on finding the right automotive repair shop for you.

When having your car serviced, follow the factory recommended maintenance schedule to avoid under- or over-maintaining your vehicle.  Oil changes, tire rotations, changing transmission fluid, and replacing an air filter are the types of routine maintenance recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. The maintenance schedule for these services and more can be found in the vehicle owner’s manual.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 54 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Ginnie PritchettAAA’s top vehicles list for growing families driven by space, comfort and dependability

ORLANDO, Fla., (September 4, 2013) – AAA has released its latest list of top vehicles, targeting expanding families needing more room, easy handling and dependability in their next vehicle.  Whether looking for the practicality of a minivan to carry more cargo, or the sportier side of an SUV to take the team to soccer games, AAA’s list highlights a variety of vehicles growing families should consider during a new car search.

“There are many options available for families needing extra cargo space or room for additional passengers,” says David Bennett, manager, AAA Auto Buying Programs. “A new vehicle is a major financial investment for many families. By taking steps to be an educated and informed buyer, you can avoid having to replace your vehicle sooner than expected.”

Crossover or Sport Utility Vehicles

Toyota Highlander: Available in various drivetrains that include a four-cylinder, V-6, and gasoline-electric hybrid, the Highlander delivers a large interior with a tight yet child-friendly, third row. The ride is quiet and comfortable and fuel economy with either the four-cylinder or hybrid drivetrain is very good for the class. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Toyota Highlander is $34,955, 6.15 percent less than the MSRP*.

Subaru Outback: Standard all-wheel drive and a capable four-cylinder engine working through a continuously variable automatic transmission set the Outback apart from its competition. In this case, the differences add to the Outback’s appeal. Performance is good, while fuel economy can be very good for the class. Although seating is limited to five, the back seat passengers enjoy a roomy interior while the cargo area easily stores the items growing families often carry. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Subaru Outback is $28,021, 7.87 percent less than the MSRP*.

Chevrolet Equinox: A family crossover that rides nicely, handles well and has a generous rear seat that is perfect for growing teens and young adults. The four-cylinder engine is adequate; the V-6 is livelier but is nearly 20 percent less fuel efficient in AAA testing. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Chevrolet Equinox is $27,793, 1.78 percent less than the MSRP*.

Mazda5: Mirroring a compact wagon rather than a true crossover, the Mazda5 packs a great deal of practicality into a small footprint. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is not the most powerful and that can be apparent in hilly terrain or when carrying a heavy load but, it is surprisingly economical and its around town performance is more than adequate. Handling is very good; the Mazda5 is fun to drive, though noise levels are higher than average. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Mazda5 is $22,047, 2.38 percent less than the MSRP*.

Honda CR-V: “Practical” and “levelheaded” easily describe this crossover utility vehicle. The four-cylinder engine delivers more than enough power, along with respectable fuel economy. The passenger cabin is roomy for the compact crossover field and the cargo area in the five-passenger CR-V can hold a wide range of family items. The ride is comfortable. Rear visibility is aided by the standard backup camera. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Honda CR-V is $26,340, 3.12 percent less than the MSRP*.

Dodge Durango: Offered with either a V-6 or V-8, the Durango has more room than the Jeep Grand Cherokee on which it is based. The stretch in both wheelbase and overall length have not diminished this vehicle’s ride, its silence on the highway or towing capacity. Third-row seating has plenty of room. While the price can quickly rise, opting for the lower, yet still well-equipped SXT or Crew trim lines will help keep the price in line. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Dodge Durango is $36,567, 4.37 percent less than the MSRP*.

Sedans

Honda Accord: This mid-size sedan has long been a favorite of families. Its four-cylinder engine is powerful and economical, the handling is very good and fuel economy could encourage longer family road trips. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Honda Accord is $25,322, 5.21 percent less than the MSRP*.

Ford Taurus: A smooth and quiet highway ride, roomy passenger cabin and impressive trunk room all suggest the Taurus was designed with family use in mind. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Ford Taurus is $33,098, 4.90 percent less than the MSRP*.

Hyundai Sonata: A low price in no way diminishes this model’s performance. The 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine delivers adequate power and very good fuel economy. The ride is pleasing and handling is good. The warranty is generous, too. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Hyundai Sonata is $24,023, 4.09 percent less than the MSRP*.

Minivans

Honda Odyssey: The Odyssey is roomy, rides comfortably, features supportive seats and has a first-class drivetrain. Child entertainment options include an optional built-in DVD system. Handling is good and maneuvering this relatively large minivan in tight parking lots is easier than one might imagine. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Honda Odyssey is $32,447, 11.44 percent less than the MSRP*.

Chrysler Town & Country: This minivan offers a quiet and composed ride and a smooth and powerful V-6 engine. It stands out for its interior flexibility. The “Stow-n-Go” package allows quick and easy conversion from passenger to cargo hauling duties as both second and third row seats stow easily into wells located in the floor. When the seats are raised and in use, those wells provide additional storage. Unfortunately, these folding seats fall short on comfort. Nonetheless, this flexibility and frequent retail discounts make the Town & Country attractive. Adding to its appeal are the many safety features that are available. TrueCar reports that the Average Paid price of the 2013 Chrysler Town & Country is $32,925, 4.11 percent less than the MSRP*.

AAA Auto Buying experts test drive and evaluate hundreds of vehicles each year. AAA provides free vehicle reviews, localized pricing information and more online at AAA.com/AutoMaker. Additional information on AAA Auto Buying is available at AAA.com/AutoBuying.  The AAA Auto Buying Tools App is available here to access information on the go.

TrueCar, Inc. is the AAA preferred supplier for new car pricing information for the motor club. TrueCar is an online automotive information and communications platform focused on creating a better car buying experience for dealers and consumers. Consumers want a hassle-free car buying experience and dealers want high-quality sales velocity. TrueCar helps achieve these goals by providing unbiased market information on new and used car transactions and by supplying an online communications platform through which dealers and consumers can communicate with each other. TrueCar’s market-based information provides both consumers and dealers with an accurate and comprehensive understanding of what others actually paid recently for similar vehicles, both locally and nationally.  If you are in the market for a new vehicle, you can configure a virtual vehicle with the specifications you want, see the Estimated or Target Price for that vehicle in your area, and then connect directly with local TrueCar Certified Dealers at AAA.com/AutoMaker.  Once you submit a request, TrueCar Certified Dealer representatives will get in touch with you to discuss vehicles in their inventory.

*The Average Paid price is a proprietary mathematical calculation based on actual recent anonymized transaction information in your regional area, and includes destination and delivery charges after incentives that are subject to change, but does not include tax, title, licensing, documentation or processing fees, other state and governmental charges and/or fees, or any other charges or fees allowed by law. Your actual savings may vary based on multiple factors including the vehicle you select, region, dealer, and applicable manufacturer incentives. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is determined by the manufacturer, and may not reflect the price at which vehicles are generally sold in the dealer¹s trade area as not all vehicles are sold at MSRP. Each dealer sets its own pricing. Your actual purchase price is negotiated between you and the dealer.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 54 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

 

Ginnie PritchettAAA alerts drivers that extreme summer heat can push vehicles to limits if not properly maintained

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ORLANDO, Fla., (July 25, 2013) – With temperatures soaring to record highs around the country, AAA cautions motorists not to underestimate the ways in which extreme heat can wreak havoc on vehicles.  With an estimated eight million automobiles in need of AAA’s roadside assistance this summer, heat will take its toll on vehicles and their occupants.

“Prolonged exposure to high temperatures is not only a threat to passengers, but a vehicle concern as well,” said John Nielsen, AAA Managing Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “Knowing the dangers and preparing your vehicle for extreme heat can help keep your vehicle running smoothly during the hot summer months.”

To keep your vehicle running smoothly this summer AAA recommends motorists address the following common heat-related car problems:

Over-Heating Engine

Automobile engines work extra hard in the summer, and it is the cooling system’s job to protect the engine from overheating. In addition, additives in the coolant protect the radiator and internal engine components against wear and corrosion. Without proper cooling system maintenance, the odds of long term engine damage, and a summer time boil over, definitely increase.

Over time, engine coolant becomes contaminated and its protective additives are depleted. That’s why the system should be flushed and the coolant replaced periodically as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Older coolants required changing every two years or 24,000 miles, but most modern formulations are good for at least five years and 50,000 miles, and many do not require replacement until approximately 100,000 miles. See the owner’s manual or maintenance booklet to determine the service interval appropriate for a vehicle.

Between flushes, make sure the coolant is filled to the proper levels by checking the overflow reservoir. If necessary, top off the reservoir with a 50/50 mix of water and the coolant type specified by the vehicle manufacturer. CAUTION! – Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot – boiling coolant under pressure could cause serious burns.

Other fluids help keep vehicles running cool as well. Most vehicle fluids don’t just lubricate, they also serve as coolants by helping carry heat away from critical components. When fluid levels are low, this cooling effect is reduced, and the possibility of overheating increases. Drivers to should check all vehicle fluids including motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid to ensure they are filled to the appropriate levels. If any fluids need to be topped off, be sure to use the type of fluid specified in the owner’s manual.

Battery Failure Due to Heat and Vibration

Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies, leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure. While drivers cannot do much about the heat, they can make sure their battery is securely mounted in place to minimize vibration.

If a car’s battery is more than three years old, it’s a good idea to have it tested by a trained technician to determine how much longer it will last. This test can be performed at any AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, or AAA members can request a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician come to them and test their battery free of charge. Should the battery need replacement, the technician can usually replace it immediately on location. For more information on the AAA Mobile Battery Service visit AAA.com/Battery.

Blown Tire

Driving on under-inflated tires not only affects the handling and braking of a vehicle, it also can cause tires to overheat and increase the likelihood of a blowout. This problem becomes even more of a concern when road temperatures are extremely high.

Tires should be checked when the car has not been driven recently, and they should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer—not the number molded into the tire sidewall. Recommended tire pressures can be found in the owner’s manual or on a tire information sticker normally located on the driver’s door jamb. Drivers also should inspect the tire treads for adequate depth and any signs of uneven wear that might indicate a suspension or alignment problem.

Air Conditioning Failure

During extreme summer heat, a properly operating air conditioning system can be more than just a pleasant convenience. If a car’s air conditioning is not maintaining the interior temperature as well as it did in the past, it may mean the refrigerant level is low or there is another problem. Have the air conditioning system checked by a certified technician.

Many automotive climate control systems today are equipped with a cabin filter that prevents outside debris from entering. If present, this filter should be inspected and replaced as needed to ensure maximum airflow and cooling during the summer months.

If you think your vehicle is experiencing problems due to the extreme summer heat, have it checked out by a trained automotive technician. The AAA Approved Auto Repair program is a free public service that helps motorists identify high-quality auto repair facilities they can trust to work on their vehicle. AAA Approved Auto Repair shops must meet stringent professional standards and maintain an ongoing customer satisfaction rating of 90 percent or better. To locate a nearby AAA-approved repair shop visit AAA.com/Repair.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Michael Green Contact TileBob Darbelnet Will Testify Regarding E15 Gasoline to Congressional Subcommittee

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 23, 2013) – AAA President & CEO Bob Darbelnet will testify today to a Congressional subcommittee that the EPA should consider whether target volumes to the Renewable Fuels Standard can be met without putting consumers at risk.

“I would urge Congress to keep American consumers front of mind when reviewing the RFS requirements for 2014,” continued Darbelnet.  “If the only way to meet the RFS requirement is to introduce E15 gasoline before consumers are educated and consensus is reached on which vehicles can safely use the fuel, then the RFS should be modified.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power is conducting the hearing to examine the Renewable Fuels Standard, a program created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to establish a renewable fuel volume mandate. AAA has urged regulators and the industry to stop the sale of E15 gasoline until motorists are better protected due to the strong likelihood of consumer confusion and the potential for voided warranties and vehicle damage.

“The number of states where E15 is sold has doubled in recent months despite continuing evidence that drivers are not aware of the fuel and could be unknowingly putting their cars in jeopardy,” continued Darbelnet. “AAA is not opposed to either ethanol or the RFS, but we remain very concerned with the way that E15 has been brought to market and is being sold to consumers.”

The subcommittee hearing is scheduled for July 23 at 10:00 AM in 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.

AAA believes that ethanol-blended fuels have the potential to provide motorists a clear choice at the pump that supports jobs, promotes energy independence and reduces fuel costs.  Both E10 and E85 provide options for consumers at this point, and AAA would support a motorists’ right to choose E15 once basic thresholds have been met regarding consumer protections. More than 95 percent of the gasoline sold in the United States is E10, which contains up to 10 percent ethanol. E85, which contains up to 85 percent ethanol, is designed for use by flex-fuel vehicles.

A AAA survey last fall found that only 12 million out of the 240 million light-duty vehicles on the roads were approved by manufacturers to use E15. Thirteen manufacturers stated that the use of E15 may void warranty coverage. AAA’s automotive engineering experts believe that sustained use of E15 could result in costly problems such as accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false “check engine” lights in some cars. An overwhelming 95 percent of consumers surveyed by AAA were not familiar with E15, indicating a strong likelihood of consumer confusion leading to misfueling.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Michael Green Contact Tile(WASHINGTON, July 16, 2013) AAA’s Chris Plaushin (director, federal relations) is testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today during a hearing “to explore the effects of ongoing changes in domestic oil production, refining and distribution on U.S. gasoline and fuel prices.” Chris Plaushin’s testimony is available here.

What is Vehicle-to-Vehicle Technology?

June 10th, 2013 by admin

Now in development, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems use a GPS receiver, a radio/antenna and a computer to share automobile location and movement information with other V2V-equipped vehicles up to a quarter mile away. That information is then analyzed and used to alert the driver to potentially hazardous situations. Warnings can be provided in a variety of ways, including sounds, visual icons, control feedback and seat vibrations.

More advanced systems may also employ vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that allow the car to receive driving condition information from traffic lights, road signs or even the highway itself. Common notifications might include traffic congestion, speed limits, or height restrictions on bridges and tunnels. The combination of V2V and V2XI technology is often referred to as V2X.

When V2X capabilities are integrated with advanced driver assistance systems, the vehicle could take control of the brakes and/or steering to avoid a collision if a driver fails to react in time. Unexpected emergency situations combined with ineffective driver reactions result in millions of crashes every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projects that V2X systems could help prevent up to 81 percent of collisions involving drivers not impaired by drugs or alcohol. As V2X-equipped vehicles begin to appear on our roadways, shared information could also be used to smooth traffic flow, reduce congestion, improve fuel economy and cut emissions.

Automakers, technology providers, research institutes and governmental agencies are all engaged in developing V2V and V2I technology. The Department of Transportation is expected to decide some time in 2013 whether V2X systems should be among the safety features built into our vehicles. Given its potential benefits, there is a good possibility your next new car will employ V2X communications to help you be a better driver.

Gasoline or Compressed Natural Gas?

June 10th, 2013 by admin

Consumers face competing priorities in making automotive decisions. They want to save money on fuel, and they appreciate protecting the environment by reducing greenhouse gases, but their primary concerns are most often cost and convenience. An example is the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as an automotive fuel, which offers both advantages and challenges.

An August 2012 AAA study found 39 percent of AAA members were interested in vehicles that used two or more fuel sources, such as gasoline-electric hybrids or “bi-fuel” vehicles such as those that can run on either gasoline or CNG. However, trade-offs that include higher vehicle prices and limited refueling options are holding them back.

“Consumers want to make the right decision for the environment, but they also need that decision to be economically sound,” says AAA’s Managing Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair John Nielson. “Vehicles powered by alternative fuels such as CNG have the potential to meet those requirements, but the extent of the benefits varies with the vehicle and how it is used.”

CNG is up to 40 percent less expensive than gasoline for the equivalent amount of energy. On the other hand, converting a vehicle to run on CNG can cost $10,000 or more, an expense that can take years to recover in fuel savings. CNG fueling stations are also rare in most areas and unavailable in others. The Department of Energy says there are just 578 public CNG fueling stations in the U.S.

Most CNG vehicles on the road today are large trucks that get relatively poor fuel economy and travel tens of thousands of miles per year. Under these conditions, the time needed to recover the higher price of a CNG vehicle can be as little as two years, with ongoing fuel cost savings thereafter. As a result, most current CNG vehicles operate in commercial service, and large fleets often install a private CNG fueling station to meet their vehicle fueling needs.

The only CNG vehicle currently targeted at the average motorists is the Honda Civic Natural Gas – a dedicated CNG vehicle with no provision to use gasoline as a backup. With a list price of $26,465, the Natural Gas costs $5650 more than a comparable gasoline-powered Civic. In addition, the lower energy content of CNG combined with limited storage tank space gives the Civic Natural Gas a driving range of just 190 miles versus nearly 400 miles for a gasoline Civic.

“CNG vehicles can make sense and save money in some commercial applications,” says Nielsen. “However, for the average consumer, the added cost and greater inconvenience of using CNG to power a passenger car doesn’t pencil out right now – although that could change in the future.”

Every spring gas prices seem to skyrocket to the highest prices of the year. Why does this happen? In explanation, we hear the experts say that many of the refineries are “down for maintenance while transitioning from winter-blend to summer-blend gasoline,” but what does this mean?

The difference between summer- and winter-blend gasoline involves the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of the fuel. RVP is a measure of how easily the fuel evaporates at a given temperature. The more volatile a gasoline (higher RVP), the easier it evaporates.

Winter-blend fuel has a higher RVP because the fuel must be able to evaporate at low temperatures for the engine to operate properly, especially when the engine is cold. If the RVP is too low on a frigid day, the vehicle will be hard to start and once started, will run rough.

Summer-blend gasoline has a lower RVP to prevent excessive evaporation when outside temperatures rise. Reducing the volatility of summer gas decreases emissions that can contribute to unhealthy ozone and smog levels. A lower RVP also helps prevent drivability problems such as vapor lock on hot days, especially in older vehicles.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says conventional summer-blend gasoline contains 1.7 percent more energy than winter-blend gas, which is one reason why gas mileage is slightly better in the summer. However, the summer-blend is also more expensive to produce, and that cost is passed on to the motorist.

The switch between the two fuels happens twice a year, once in the fall (to winter-blend) and again in the spring (to summer-blend). The changeover requires significant work at refineries, so oil companies schedule their maintenance for those times when they will already be “down” for the blend switches.

As a consumer, the main thing to understand is that there are real reasons for the switch from winter- to summer-blend fuel, even if it results in some pain at the pump.

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