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The Pros and Cons of Buying a CNG-Powered Honda Civic

October 5, 2006

Consumer Reports analyzed the pros and cons a Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). BENEFITS
  • Cost. The cost of CNG is still less than gasoline and can be as little as half that of a gallon of gas if you use a home refueling device. Gas mileage is about the same.
  • The driving experience. Performance transparent to the driver compared to gas-powered vehicle. In some states, drivers of CNG vehicles can use the HOV lane.
  • Air quality. CNG is much cleaner burning: carbon-monoxide emissions reduced by 90 to 97 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 35 to 60 percent. CNG produces little or no particulate matter.
  • Tax and other incentives. The federal government offers a tax credit to buyers of CNG-powered vehicles, $4,000 for buyers of the Civic GX. States may offer additional credits for both the vehicle and a home-fueling device. COMPROMISES
  • Purchase cost. Suggested retail for the Civic GX will be $24,590 plus $550 for freight when it goes on sale in New York, compared to a comparably equipped, gasoline-powered Civic LX for $17,760. A Phill refueling unit runs $3,400 plus the installation cost, upwards of $500.
  • Refilling Stations. There are only about 1,300 refueling stations in the U.S., and many are operated by fleets and not open to the public. Only 700 to 800 stations available to consumers, on par with the number of ethanol stations. Special fitting to seal to the vehicle required when pumping. Miles-per-fillup drops from 400-plus miles to between 220 and 260 miles.
  • Using Home Refueling. Refueling stations using pressurized gas can fill tank in minutes. Phill, home fueling device, takes overnight to fill tank. Refueling at home costs half, though recouping investment takes time.
  • Trunk space. At only six cubic feet, trunk space of Civic GX is roughly half. Extra space given to fuel tank. OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
  • Safety. The Department of Energy says vehicles powered by natural gas are as safe as conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles, and their pressurized tanks have been designed to withstand severe impact, temperature, and environmental exposure. Phill’s manufacturer, the FuelMaker Corp. of Toronto, says that the unit will not operate if it is not connected properly and that a built-in sensor shuts it down if the system senses a methane leak or any other kind of malfunction.
  • Don't want a Honda? There are companies that specialize in converting other models to run on CNG. The Department of Energy says you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $4,000 if you chose to go that route.
  • No promises of cheap fuel. Natural-gas prices have been volatile lately. After reaching a historical high in December 2005, natural-gas prices had fallen by 50 percent by July 2006. The Civic GX was initially offered as a 1998 model to fleet customers, but Honda began limited sales to California consumers in 2005 and now is expanding the car’s retail reach to New York.
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