Two years ago, Adams Mora was judged as someone who plays with fire. Now, he is painted as a sage.
The resident of La Garita de Alajuela had a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) system installed in his gasoline-guzzling truck and has been saving money at the pump ever since.
His decision was based on pure economics. Super and regular gasoline sell for about ¢300 ($0.56) more per liter than LPG, which sells for about ¢350.
“Gasoline is very expensive,” Mora said, as he waited for a tune-up at Eurogas in La Uruca, a northwestern San José neighborhood, one of several locations that install the LPG systems.
As the price of petroleum soars on the world market, Ticos have begun looking for ways to keep driving their cars without breaking the bank. Some have turned to installing LPG systems alongside their gasoline ones, according to companies that specialize in the service.
Pump sales have not yet reflected a trend. The National Oil Refinery reported a 6 percent drop in demand for LPG from June 2007 to the June this year.
But Eddy Mora, general manager of Romano Autogas Costa Rica in Curridabat, an eastern suburb of San José, said his company has installed about 70 LPG systems a month recently. During low demand in January and February, Romano had 25 to 30 such requests.
Eurogas president Joseph Sacchetti said they had installed at least 80 systems in the month of July – a 60 percent increase over May, when mechanics installed about 50 systems.
“We could install more, but we don’t have enough personnel trained,” said Sacchetti as he chomped on a cigar.
Beside him, four men were installing an LPG tank into the rear compartment of a Ford Explorer. The location has six stalls designated for LGP conversions. The company plans to build another nine in coming months.
Installations take a day at both Romano and Eurogas. The LPG system is designed to run parallel to the vehicle’s existing gasoline system. Mechanics install an LPG tank, usually occupying extra space in the car’s trunk, and run copper tubing alongside the gas line leading to the engine.
Converted vehicles start on gasoline and, once the engine heats, the car switches over to LPG.
Sacchetti dismissed the idea that driving on LPG, or propane, posed any greater danger than running on gasoline. An LPG tank is five times thicker and 20 times less penetrable than gasoline tanks, he said.
“Some calibers of bullets won’t go through this tank,” Sacchetti said. Plus, he said, “there’s a hermetically sealed chamber on top of the tank which allows gas to exit the vehicle in the case that there’s any leakage.”
The private company Riteve SyC, which performs mandatory inspections on vehicles, has no specialized inspection program for LPG systems, said Berlioth Herrera, a Riteve spokeswoman.
The National Insurance Institute does not keep statistics on the number of accidents involving LPG vehicles.
LPG systems are better for the environment as well, emitting 90 percent less carbon into the atmosphere, Sacchetti said.
Mora, of Alajuela, said he is proud his car is “a friend of the environment.” He also likes the fact that his maintenance costs have decreased. Oil changes moved from every 2,000 miles to every 4,000, and his spark plugs lasts twice as long.
Installations at Eurogas range from $1,100 to $2,100, depending on the car’s age and type of fuel-system, according to Omar Calderón, Eurogas’ administrative manager.
Diesel cars cannot be converted.
Romano charges ¢500,000 to ¢1,100,000 ($926 to $2,037) for the same job, Mora said.
With a price difference of ¢300 per liter, Calderon estimated that customers with LPG systems save 40 to 45 percent at the pump. But potential clients should be aware that tanks automatically fill to just 80 percent for safety reasons, as the gas expands when heated. Also, LPG-converted cars consume more liters than those running on gasoline.
“You’re not going to see the difference in quantity of liters, but in the price of fuel,” Romano’s Mora said.
Although he drives his car only on the weekends, Eurogas’ customer Adams Mora said he recovered his investment of ¢550,000 ($1,000) in about a year and a half.
Mora has overcome any fear he had originally about LPG. His assessment so far: “I am happy.”
Looking for LPG
Romano Autogas Costa Rica publishes a list of all LPG stations throughout the country at the following Web address: http://www.romanoautogascr.com/dispensadores.htm