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LPG? The Sheriff approves!
Force 911 was launched not as a workshop that converts cars to run on autogas, but as a company adapting “civilian” cars for the police. In this branch you can achieve a high level of specialization quite quickly, because there are only 4 car models (including the legendary Ford Crown Victoria that has been used for many years in countless Hollywood action movies) officially approved to be used as a chaser police car (they got a “pursuit rated” status). For many years, Force 911’s job was to install special lighting, sirens, police radios, cages for police dogs, partition walls between the cab and the space for detainees, etc. 2009 saw the start of a new collaboration with Alliance Autogas (a network of associated assembly plants that adapt cars to gas supply) and American Alternative Fuel (American distributor of a Dutch company, Prins). Of all considered alternative fuels, LPG was chosen as the most appropriate for the needs of law enforcement officers, who expect the same performance as on petrol supply and the ability to switch back to petrol when the cheaper fuel runs out.
In the first two years after taking on new tasks, the company changed “the diet” of about 200 cars. This includes a small number of private cars, but the vast majority of them were police vehicles. Of these, Crown Victorias (Police Interceptor version – the so called P71 in the police nomenclature) are the ones converted most often. It’s the last full size sedan and still favorite among American police officers, but its days are numbered. But other models were also converted – pick-ups manufactured by Ford (F-150) and Chevrolet (1500 and 3500). They were all equipped with Prins VSI sequential gas injection systems, thanks to which the cars’ functionality and parameters remained unchanged. The advantage of the additional tank with new type of fuel is that it extends the total range of a car. Despite the fact that it gets more expensive when LPG runs out, it may happen that the officers won’t have to stop to refill for safety reasons when they’re transporting prisoners. Stopping to refill the gas tank may provoke a situation when someone will try and free the prisoners, so unless it’s absolutely necessary, the convoy does not stop at any time.
Buying LPG is not that simple in the States anyway. Due to the poorly developed infrastructure, refueling is done at the headquarters. This involves extra investment at the beginning, unless the city whose police forces want to convert their fleet (and which is the beneficiary of federal funds) participates in the costs of creating appropriate facilities that will be used not only by officers, but also by city authorities. Force 911 uses large tanks so that the police cars don’t have to interrupt their daily tasks and go back to the base for refueling. Regardless of the model, the tanks are always steel cylinders made of carbon steel, ¼ inch thick (6.5 mm), with the capacity of 24-35 gallons (about 90-132 l), sometimes dual. All approved by the Department of Transportation.
But because the safety of the driver and passengers is equally important in this case, the tanks were thoroughly tested for resistance to popular types of firearms. While the polyethylene petrol tank is damaged after being shot at from any pistol or revolver, not to mention heavier “artillery”, gas cylinders stood the tests with small arms, such as the 45 (0.45 inches caliber – 11.43 mm), 40 (10.01 mm), 38 (9.65 mm), 357 (9.07 mm) and 9 mm. 16 consecutive shots were not able to go through the cylinder wall. The tank was damaged only after being shot at from an AR15 automatic rifle – the early version of the well-known M16. Luckily, even in the States hardly anyone carries a gun like this on the streets.
Since cars are so tough, we can easily focus on the savings. The cost of conversion ($6,000 per vehicle on average) pays back after 18-20 months, assuming the mileage of 50-60 thousand miles (approx. 80-100 thousand km) and average fuel consumption of almost 17 l/100 km (that’s how much fuel Crown Victoria needs). Fuel market analysts claim that the increase in petrol prices that American drivers face recently is a long-term trend, so the depreciation time may be even shorter soon. But it’s worth the trouble anyway. According to Force 911, one of the company’s customers who has a sizeable fleet of patrol cars, saved over 100,000 USD in 2010.
Indeed, the company receives a lot of positive feedback about their performance and some more overall opinions that confirm the officers’ satisfaction with LPG. But at the beginning, it was not so simple. First, they had to convince the policemen that gas supply technology had been tested, is safe and approved by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). But the traditional attributes of autogas quickly made any skepticism go away, just like pep of the criminals does when they hear a policeman shouting “freeze”. Now, law enforcement officers praise the performance of their cars, which is comparable to that of petrol-powered vehicles but at incomparably lower costs. I wonder if our police here in Poland – who had some experience with using autogas in the past – would be willing to go back to LPG. If this was possible on the fledgling American market, it should work elsewhere, as well. But we won’t place any bets, just in case. But thumbs up to the thrifty sheriffs. We wish you cost-effective patrols and successful pursuits!
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