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 August 1, 1999

HOW TO BUY AN ALTERNATIVE FUEL CAR

Shopping for a car that runs on alternative fuel is much like shopping for a regular gasoline-fueled automobile except these newer models generally must be ordered from a dealership.

In fact, few dealerships even have a natural gas-powered car on site. Some may have one model allowing you to test drive the car before ordering one.

Clean emissions are the selling point for this type of car. In fact, a natural gas car emits only 1 percent of the pollutants that regular cars emit.

One pint of spilled gasoline, which can be lost during filling at a gas station, emits more unburned hydrocarbons than a natural gas car does in its entire lifetime.

These cars also appeal to some shoppers who don’t want to be dependent upon foreign oil and escalating gasoline prices. In contrast to gasoline, natural-gas prices have been stable for the last few years. A gallon of natural gas costs about 85 cents.

Because only 35 filling stations in Colorado even carry natural gas, drivers of these cars must know in advance where the stations are located. In Boulder, an Amoco station at 30th Street and Baseline Road offers pumps for natural gas as well as for regular gasoline.

Lists of filling stations that offer natural gas can be obtained from the Natural Fuels Corp., a division of the Public Service Co.

A credit card, not cash, is used to pay for natural gas. The car owner actually is billed for the fuel through his Public Service home-heating bill.

Car salesmen say they generally recommend that an alternative fuel car be purchased as the second car for a family and not used as primary transportation because of the limited number of gas stations available to fuel it.

These kinds of cars were designed to be used for by business fleets to meet government regulations for fleet operations. Meter reader, for example, can use alternative fuel cars in an effort to cut down on pollution.

Chevrolet, Ford and Honda make alternative fuel vehicles, but not all dealers are

authorized to sell them.

Fisher Chevrolet in Boulder is the only Honda dealership in Boulder County that sells alternative fuel cars. It offers a Honda Civic GX that runs on natural gas.

The car is equivalent to a Civic LX that is gas-powered. The natural gas-powered car gets about 150 to 200 miles on a tank of gas while the regular Honda Civic gets 350 to 400 miles per tank.

The Honda Civic GX has an incremental cost of $4,500 over a regular Civic, but the federal government provides a $2,000 federal tax credit to the buyer during the first year of purchase.

Generally, these cars have more horsepower and offer a peppier drive than a gasoline-powered car.

Next fall, Honda plans to introduce the Insight, which will be powered by gasoline and electricity. The car will start up on electricity but then run on gasoline except during acceleration periods.

This electric hybrid will sell for about $20,000.

Most of the interest in alternative fuel cars have come from salespeople who do a lot of driving. They tend to range in age from 25 to 35.

Shopping for a car that runs on alternative fuel is much like shopping for a regular gasoline-fueled automobile except these newer models generally must be ordered from a dealership.

In fact, few dealerships even have a natural gas-powered car on site. Some may have one model allowing you to test drive the car before ordering one.

Clean emissions are the selling point for this type of car. In fact, a natural gas car emits only 1 percent of the pollutants that regular cars emit.

One pint of spilled…

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