ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

Our gratuitous burnout ripping the tires to shreds demonstrates this ROUSH F-150 burns petroleum-based rubber. However, this very special pickup doesn't fuel up with pedestrian dinosaur juices like gas or diesel. Instead, it's powered fully by propane, the same thing powering a backyard grill.

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

ROUSH Propane-Powered F-150: First Drive

Recently, ROUSH gave us a shot behind the wheel of an F-150 converted with the first ever propane kit system —a new complete plug-and-play propane conversion kit for 2007.5 and 2008 model years equipped with the 5.4-liter V8 engine. The installation kit includes a fuel pump, fuel injectors with matching fuel rail, a reprogrammed ROUSH ECU, all of the proper fluid lines and wiring and either an under-bed 25-gallon tank or the one pictured here that sits in the bed and holds 59-gallons. Installation can be accomplished at home with a reasonable set of tools in about eight hours.

So how does driving the propane-powered F-150 differ from the gasoline or diesel-powered model? It doesn’t. ROUSH's earth-friendly Ford drives, stops and steers exactly like its conventional cousin. Since this truck runs off liquid propane, starting the engine is as simple as turning the key. This is vital, as models from other manufacturers burn gaseous propane, resulting in issues with turning over in the cold; that wouldn't cut it up here in the Dirty Glove (Michigan, for the uninitiated) with our freeze-your-ass-off winters. Horsepower and torque numbers are supposedly identical to the gasoline-fed model, but we noticed a bit more pep. Cargo loading and tow ratings remain unchanged.

Mother Earth is all "Hell Yeah" about this truck as much as Hank Hill would be if he got his hands on one. Propane touts a much lower carbon footprint than gasoline, diesel, heavy fuel oil and even ethanol; the exhaust contains virtually no toxic compounds. Safety actually improves over the gas-fed truck: The propane storage tank is tested at six times the usual pressure to ensure you don't turn into a mushroom cloud on your way back from Best Buy. Try saying that about the fuel tank in your Camry.

All this namby-pamby greenwashing is fine and all, but let's talk economy. With propane producing fewer BTUs per gallon than gasoline, it's only logical to expect a hit in fuel mileage. After 615 miles of mixed driving, our truck returned a calculated 9.6 MPG, albeit with significant and prolonged hoonage practiced. Reports from other drivers agree highway mileage sits around 12-14 MPG when driven gingerly. Fuel is astonishingly easy to come by on the open road as every U-Haul, Airgas and the like all have the proper nozzle to dispense some clean burnin' goodness.

So, if it eats a bit more fuel than its conventional brother per mile, where are they hiding the savings? The cost of the complete kit starts at a suggested retail price of $8,595.00. Obviously, nobody's saving a buck there. Well, propane must be mighty cheap, right? Not quite: We paid $2.11 a gallon from the local U-Haul, which offered the most competitive pricing in the Detroit area. The simple fact is that, just like voting Republican, this truck doesn't make sense for Joe the Plumber and it isn't supposed to. If you take a look at the math from a fleet perspective, the numbers start lining up in attractive little rows. First, propane rings in at about $1.00 a gallon once you start purchasing at the wholesale level. Then, factor in the $0.50 per gallon tax credit offered by the Fed for using propane as a fuel in a road-going vehicle. The cherry on top of that financially-delicious sundae is the whopping $2,500 maximum tax credit allowed for each ROUSH Propane-fueled F-150 purchased. Suddenly, this mathematically-approved messiah brings the promise of flipping your bottom line from red to black while Joe gets to keep his job fixin' the pipes. [viaROUSH]

Photo Credit: Alex C. Conley