By CARL SMITH
Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan fell in love with using propane to fuel a car the moment he stepped on the gas pedal.
“That gas is hot,” Bryan said jokingly.
While most people think of propane as a gas used for cooking and heating, many law enforcement agencies around the nation are embracing it to fuel patrol cars.
Fourteen patrol cars out of the sheriff’s department’s 26-vehicle fleet were modified to run on a dual gasoline and propane fuel reserve system three months ago. Funding for the conversion, priced at $6,000 per vehicle, was covered by a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant, Bryan said.
When approached about the idea of taking on propane-fueled vehicles, Bryan asked for a test drive before committing.
“I’m a car nut and I’m not kicking gasoline, but that car runs better on propane than 87-octane gasoline; I’m tickled to death by it,” he said. “When I first drove one, I felt that punch. I asked how many I could get after that drive.”
Besides adding additional performance, the dual fuel system allows patrol cars to have a range of almost 600-miles when completely full, almost doubling its coverage area, Bryan said.
While Bryan could not say exactly how much the SO has saved on gasoline since the conversions — the SO does receive federal reimbursements for using propane — he did say propane has consistently run between $1-1.50 cheaper than regular unleaded gasoline over the past 30 years.
“I’ll put it this way: Since we converted my car, I’ve only filled it up three times. Every time I’ve filled up is because I was at half a tank, and that’s our rule,” Bryan said. “Now a days when we travel in state, we rarely have to buy gasoline.”
From the outside, converted patrol cars look almost exactly like their gasoline-only counterparts. Only an extra fuel intake on the side of the vehicle visually distinguishes between the vehicles. Obvious overhauls were performed under the hood to allow the engine to run seamlessly between the fuels, and two large propane tanks were installed in the trunk of modified vehicles.
On the dashboard of a modified SO patrol car, a separate gauge reading the tank’s level and a switch to manually change between the two fuel sources were installed. An orange light shows the driver when the car is running on propane, and four green fuel indicator lights show how much propane is left in the tanks.
Gasoline is required to crank the cars, but the automated system switches over to propane once the engine is warm, Bryan said.
“If you run it almost slap out of propane, you’ll put about 26 or 27 PSI worth in there when you refuel,” he said. “We have a large propane storage tank here that we’re working to get covering over.”
While more than half of the SO’s fleet has been converted, additional low-mileage cars will receive the same treatment in the future.
“I am going to start converting at least one or two cars per year — how ever many they will allow with the budget each year,” Bryan said. “We’ve got some cars with high mileage we haven’t switched and probably won’t be switching. If they gave me four more, then I could get a new one each year to stay on top of the game.
While the SO has embraced propane-fueled patrol cars, Starkville Police Chief David Lindley said there are no current plans to augment his department’s vehicles due to the amount of equipment individual officers carry with them while on patrol.
“We carry shields, stop sticks, weapons and all kinds of things; those things take up space in our cars,” he said. “What we try to do is make each officer independent so they don’t have to rely on going back to the station to get anything they need if they have to handle a crime scene.”
While Lindley said the department would not consider switching patrol cars to propane until the space issue was resolved, Bryan said the dual-fuel system has impressed him so much he’d like to see it utilized at home.
“I’m so tickled to death with it that if wouldn’t cost me $6,000, I’d go ahead and put it on my wife’s Lincoln,” he said.