Save the planet - and your money

Converting your car to alternative fuel can be costly. But it pays off for some drivers, says Sean O'Grady
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Worried about the planet? Reading the Motoring supplement? Split personality?

Worried about the planet? Reading the Motoring supplement? Split personality?

Well, perhaps not. We all know that the earth is threatened by climate change and global warming. We are also aware of the damage that the 32.3 million vehicles on British roads do to the environment. We would all be better off using public transport, cycling or walking.

But no one believes that the car, the van and the lorry are going to be wished away. It would be economic suicide and would send us back to the stone age. Balancing the environment and the economy is a tricky business, but fortunately in the short term there is a fairly easy answer to the dilemma; get yourself a greener car.

Ad that is where the LPG Smart car trundles on to the scene. Yes, for those of us who think the diminutive 60mpg Smart ForTwo is just a bit too profligate, there is an alternative. If you convert your Smart to LPG then its already low CO2 emissions of 113g per km travelled is cut to 90 or so, almost as low as the hybrid Honda Insight, available to special order and something of a rarity. Compare that with a Fiat Panda 1.1, rating 135; a Ford Focus 2.0 diesel on 145; and a Lamborghini Murcielago rating of 500.

Because it burns differently from petrol, the Smart LPG delivers fewer miles per gallon, but then again LPG is still about half as costly as petrol. Still, it would take you a very long time to recoup the cost of converting your Smart, which is quite high in relation to its purchase price.

Conversion costs about £1,996 with the LPG tank in the boot, or a steep £2,349 if you want to keep the tiny boot and put the tank under the floor. Note, also, that the conversion is "unofficial" and not covered by the official Smart warranty.

Expensive as the conversion is, however, it could make financial sense for drivers who commute into London, where the £5 per day congestion charge is to rise to £8 this month. Drivers of alternative-fuel vehicles are exempt from the charge. With the more expensive conversion, it would take just 294 journeys into the C-Zone for the conversion to be paid back, or about 58 weeks if you went in every working day - although that calculation applies to any car on the PowerShift Register, including the Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee LPG!

The LPG conversion would be even more attractive if and when the Government's PowerShift Grant is ever restored.

Disgracefully, there have been no grants available for any kind of green motoring since March because of some wrangle involving the European Commission and our own Department for Transport.

If the grants are restored, the LPG Smart should be eligible, and an estimate of the grant would be about £800. In which case the LPG Smart makes even more sense for Londoners.

Perhaps when the new PowerShift Register comes into force, small petrol and diesel-engined hatches with four seats will offer the same advantage as a two-seater Smart, as do hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. For now, the LPG Smart is the clever way to save money and the planet and defy Mayor Ken Livingstone. Every little helps.

To find out more go to www.c-freelpg.co.uk or call 0845 672 3733.

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