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Kicking the Oil Addiction

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One Couple's Experience with the Honda GX

February 20th 2008

Honda CNG
Getting Off Oil


We really thought we were being the “good guys” when we purchased our CNG car.  After all, Honda raved about its performance, gas mileage, and the fact that you could easily refill it in the comfort of your home. Well…that’s not exactly true.  Our journey began at the Santa Monica Alternative Car and Transportation Expo in December 2006. On display were many different “green cars” but only a few of which were actually available for purchase.  A major Southern California Honda dealer had a fleet of Honda Civic GX’s for sale at the Expo.  We were given an amazing sales pitch by their CNG “experts.” A few weeks later we came to the conclusion that buying a CNG car was the right thing to do.  Even though we both work at home and drive only a few miles per week, we decided that we would contribute to a cleaner and safer environment by buying a CNG car. Steve went to the Honda dealership and purchased the car. The following day, the car was delivered right to our door by two young, good looking sales people. They treated us like royalty – complimenting us for being such good citizens.  They drove off and we never heard from them again.  In fact, when things started to go wrong – when we tried to fill the tank for the first time – we were unable to speak to a “real” person at the Honda dealership.  We left repeated messages and never received a reply. We called Honda of North America and they said that we would have to deal directly with the dealership. We were told to drive there and confront them in person. Instead, we went to the “big guns”.

In a nutshell, here is what we experienced:
• We were told by the Honda dealer that we could not get a quote for installing a FuelMaker “Phill” unit in our garage until we purchased the CNG vehicle.  We learned later (from FuelMaker) that it is possible to get a quote without an actual purchase.
• The first two FuelMaker installers told us that we could not install the unit in our garage.  It would be possible to install it outside the house but we could not find a suitable location.  Also, the cost would rise from the Honda dealer’s guess of $1500 inside the garage to $3,000-$4,000 outside the garage.
• The third installer told us that we could easily install the unit in our garage and gave us the paperwork to start the process.
• The Southern California Gas Company refused to issue a permit and stated that the natural gas that reaches our home did not meet CARB standards (i.e., the gas quality is not good enough to fuel our car). 
• The Gas Company person in charge of permits for home CNG fueling was rude and abusive and said that there was nothing we could do to rectify this situation.

Problems with the CNG car:
• We have to drive four miles each way to reach the closest CNG filling station.
• The tank should hold 8 equivalent gallons of CNG but we can only fill it to 6 ½ gallons.  After refueling, the gas gauge does not register 100% full.  The Honda technician who inspected our car told us that the fuel tank will not fill above 85% when a 3600 p.s.i. pump is used.
• The fuel empty light goes on between 80-100 miles.  The Honda dealer said we should be able to drive between 200-250 miles before we need to refuel.
• We are averaging around 15-17 miles per gallon – IN A CIVIC!!!!!**
• Fueling at home would cost less than $2.00 per equivalent gallon but the price at the closest filling station averages around $2.60 per gallon.

What to do next:
• Keep the car and deal with all the hassles.
• Trade the car for a Honda Civic Hybrid – one dealer offered us $17,000 trade in (we paid $23,000 new).
• Donate it to an organization and write off the value of the car.

So, as stated above, there are unintended consequences of going green.  Perhaps in the future all of the above mentioned problems will be resolved, but in the meantime, we have this decision to make.  Early adopters, according to Everett M. Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations” theory, are the first people to select a new technology.  After these early adopters get the “bugs out” then the majority will follow.  Well…these bugs have a nasty sting!

**The car was completely examined by a Honda technician and no problems were found.

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