Indiana district sees maintenance savings with propane buses

Posted on April 21, 2014

Tippecanoe School Corp. has a fleet of 160 school buses, five of which are powered by propane autogas.
Tippecanoe School Corp. has a fleet of 160 school buses, five of which are powered by propane autogas.
LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A school district here is finding that its propane school buses are providing significant savings, including in the cost of maintenance.

Tippecanoe School Corp. (TSC) has a fleet of 160 school buses, five of which are powered by propane autogas. The district purchased the five 78-passenger propane Blue Bird Vision Type C school buses in spring 2012. They are equipped with ROUSH CleanTech propane autogas fuel systems and Ford 6.8-liter engines.

TSC's Alan Fidler — who won the title of America's Best School Bus Technician in 2011 and 2012 — discussed the propane buses with the Propane Education & Research Council.

“Overall, it’s been very simple and we’ve only had to perform routine maintenance on the propane autogas-powered buses,” Fidler said. “It’s been much easier than working with diesel because of all the emission controls on new diesel engines, which seem to have a lot of problems.”

TSC has seen savings with propane on routine maintenance. Fidler reports using 32 quarts of oil per oil change with the district's diesel buses versus seven quarts for the propane buses. Also, the diesel engines call for two fuel filters that cost $40 each, while the propane units use a single filter that costs substantially less.

“In sum, the school district could change the oil in a propane bus almost five times before matching the price of what it costs to change the oil once in the diesel bus,” Fidler said. “When you tally the cost of oil and what we spend on fuel filters, the savings really add up with propane autogas.”

During winter months, TSC has to contend with the cost of fuel additives for diesel, while propane requires no additives.

“You have to either blend your diesel fuel with kerosene to avoid gelling, which can add up to $3,000 to $5,000, or you have to use an anti-gel,” Fidler said. “The kerosene has a tendency to dry up the diesel, but if you don’t blend, the anti-gel is even more expensive and can put the bus out for a longer time period. We don’t have these issues with propane.”

All of TSC’s technicians went through training before working on the propane buses. They learned how the ROUSH CleanTech fuel injection systems work and how to drain the tank in order to change the fuel pump. However, Fidler noted that the training was very simple, and he said he liked that the district did not have to make any adjustments to garaging or maintenance facilities to accommodate the alternative fuel.

“We service both our propane and diesel buses in the same area,” Fidler said. “We didn’t have to add any special equipment or make any adjustments to the maintenance shop for the new propane autogas buses. It was a very turnkey process.”

Related Topics: alternative fuels, Indiana, preventive maintenance, propane, winter

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