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Using gas in vehicles: What you should know before ditching petrol

A vehicle in Kenya being filled with gas. [File, Standard]

As petrol prices continue to soar, a number of motorists in Kenya have been opting for the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in efforts to save on fuel costs.

In the latest Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) review, a litre of petrol costs Sh159.12 in Nairobi. On the other hand, a litre of LPG retails at around Sh60, a difference of Sh99.12.

It is the near-Sh100 difference that has pushed some motorists to ditch petrol and power their vehicles using LPG.

LPG-propelled vehicles are common among taxi operators in the capital city. It costs between Sh40,000 and Sh60,000 to fit your vehicle with an LPG system.

OTOGAS company located on Kampala Road, Nairobi offers petrol-to-LPG conversion services for motorists.

“LPG-powered engines save on cost. LPG is cleaner as it significantly reduces carbon emissions,” OTOGAS say on its company website.

Charles Okoth, a Nairobi-based mechanic who has specialised in petrol-to-LPG conversion, says there has been an increase in the number of motorists seeking his services as fuel prices continue to rise sharply.

“We first identify a part of the vehicle that we fit the LPG knob in. Many people prefer the valve installed in the rear part of the car. We, thereafter, fit a welded steel pressure cylinder and install two solenoids under the bonnet. The solenoids are electronically controlled and act as gate valves that stop the flow of the gas into the engine when the vehicle stops,” said Okoth.

An automotive engineer at Hashi Energy Mike Tindi said the LPG-propelled vehicles are safe, contrary to reports that they could cause harm because the system alters the industry standards of the car.

“There have been concerns about the risks that LPG-powered vehicles could pose to motorists and other road users. I guarantee you that if the LPG system is properly installed, chances of any failure are minimal. This is because they come with an automatic fill limiter that prevent overfilling,” said Tindi.

“The system also comes with pressure-relieving valves that avoid any form of pressure build-up that could damage the entire vehicle’s engine components,” he added.

Arnold Mwirigi, a 38-year-old motorist in Nairobi, has been using an LPG-powered vehicle for the last one-and-a-half years.

Mwrigi said unlike most motorists in Kenya, his vehicle, a Toyota Probox, came already installed with an LPG system.

“The gas tank can withstand extreme weather conditions. So, fears of possible explosion are allayed,” said Mwirigi.

The motorist said the tank can only fill up to 75 per cent, and allows for some space – the remaining 25 per cent –  to factor in expansion.

The downside of LPG-propelled vehicles come when their owners are seeking comprehensive insurance cover.

Two leading insurance companies in Kenya told The Standard that they aren’t providing insurance cover for the LPG-powered vehicles.

“When one alters the industry standards of a car, we become skeptical to insure such a vehicle. And this is simply because we are not certain of the safety features of the adjusted vehicle. The common principle that governs insurance practice is that any modification to an insured item is frowned upon because the altering tends to interfere with the industry-approved standards,” said Joseph Makanga, an insurance underwriter in Nairobi.

Some insurance companies have, however, agreed to insure the vehicles, though offering only third party insurance services.

The other disadvantage of the LPG system includes loss of the spare wheel or part of the trunk, since the LPG tank is usually the place where the new tank is placed. The conversion is only allowed for petrol-powered cars, and not diesel.

Mechanic Charles Okoth said LPG, unlike petrol, is not very powerful, hence a need for one to switch to petrol when climbing a stiff road.

“Petrol burns faster, giving you more power that allows you to easily climb a lane and overtake,” he said.

Experts say the incorporation of LPG system into the mechanics does not imply a major modification of the engine.

A key advantage cited, is that the second fuel tank (that of the LPG) allows the vehicle to drive longer distances, compared to a vehicle that only relies on petrol tank.

“The vehicles adapted to LPG multiplies its autonomy by two by installing a second tank. Petrol remains unchanged and the driver can use both fuels interchangeably. The average autonomy of a vehicle with LPG is 500 or 600 kilometers, double if we also use the petrol tank,” says begasmotor.com.

On whether there are higher risks when using LPG than petrol to power a car, the website said: “No. There is the same risk with a traditional petrol tank. We recommend a periodical revision after every 30, 000 kilometres.”

Refueling is carried out at a conventional petrol station using a procedure similar to that of petrol. The dispenser incorporates a safety button that must be pressed continuously while refuelling lasts.

All vehicles manufactured on or after January 1, 2001 can be fitted with the LPG system.

A full LPG tank takes in some 20 litres of gas. If a vehicle returns a fuel economy of 12 kilometres per litre, it means that the gas could take you some 200 kilometres maximum. Refilling the tank could cost you between Sh3,000 and Sh4,000.

Illegal in Kenya

Section 51 (Sub-Section One) of Kenya’s Traffic Act makes it illegal to convert a vehicle’s fuel type without inspection by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) or a change of law that allows the alternative fuel.

The Act says: “No fuel shall be used in any motor vehicle except that specified in the vehicle licence in respect of such vehicle or, in the case of a motor vehicle the motor unit of which is a compression ignition engine, light amber mineral fuel oil or a substitute therefore which is approved by the Minister by notice in the Gazette.”

Contravening this law, could result in your imprisonment.

Section 51 (Sub-Section Two) says: “If the owner or the driver of any motor vehicle uses any fuel contrary to subsection (1), or if any person sells any fuel having reason to believe that it will be so used, the owner and the driver and such person shall each be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both; and in addition the vehicle shall be liable to be forfeited.”