The Phill Is Coming! - 2007 Honda Civic GX Long-Term Road Test

2007 Honda Civic Long-Term Road Test

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2007 Honda Civic GX: The Phill Is Coming!

January 11, 2008

It's like a second Christmas.

Mike, or Dr. Drain, as his business card identifies him, showed up at noon Thursday to rough-in the mounts and run the gas line for the Phill natural gas fueling unit we're installing in my garage.

If you drive a Civic GX, the home unit would seem to be a reasonable thing to lust after.

Without it, you stop every 175-200 miles to fill up, and natural gas stations aren't quite as plentiful as the regular kind.

For me, with a 116-mile round trip commute, that 's meant a stop every other day at least.

There happen to be five natural gas pump locations on my route -- Southern Caliofrnia along the 405 Freeway corridor from Santa Monica to Orange County apparently is a pretty gassy place -- but using them requires detours off the freeway and delays my arrivals at home or office.

With the Phill, I'll be able to hook up the hose when I pull into the garage at night and, presuming it works as advertised, Viola!, I'll have a topped-up tank every morning when I leave for work.

And I'll be saving money -- gas from a Phill home unit is billed at the residential rate and, last time I checked, that worked out to about $2.00 for the equivalent of a gallon. At the retail stations in my neighborhoods, compressed natural gas runs from $2.40 to $2.65 a gallon these days.

We started ordering the Phill from its Canadian manufacturer, FuelMaker Corp., back in November. (I'm using the plural because getting the Phill has been a joint effort , with Edmunds paying for it and me providing the location and doing all the ordering and scheduling to get it installed.)

After telling them by phone that we wanted one, they sent us to a website to download a form we filled out and faxed to the local natural gas utility, which had to certify that we had the proper type of gas service at the hous. That took about a week.

Then we had to contact Dr. Drain -- the only installer FuelMaker has authorized in our part of Southern California -- and set up an appointment for him to come scope out the garage. We also sent him a bunch of photos of the inside of the garage to help him give us his installation estimate ($1,800).

After he notified FuelMaker that he was good to go, customer service agent Patricia Mwita nicely asked us to send the full price of the Phill unit in advance-- less a $2,000 discount we got because we're installing it in an area in which the local auir quality agency gives two grand grants to Phill purchasers. The total rounds out to $2,200.

Add the installation fee and we'll be at $4,000, but there's a also a $1,000 federal income tax credit (which Edmunds gets, darnit!) which brings the out-of-pocket back down to around $3,000.

At a roughly 60-cents per gallon-equivalent difference between the price of home-brew and retail CNG, it will take 4,615 gallons to break even with the Phill. That's 129,000 miles at the 28 miles per gallon we've been averaging, so we'll probably not have the thing amortized when time comes to sell the longerm Civic GX.

But there's a market for used Phills, which often are sold along with the car they've been filling. So we may break even.

And if I were paying for it out of my own pocket, there'd be another rationale for the expense: the extra 10 minutes the home fill will give me for a little more sleep in the mornings, or to savor a glass of wine and a little conversation with my wife in the evenings.

Plus, I have to clean out the garage, 'cause all the junk – kayak, ladder, bike rack, dart board etc. – takes up wall space the Phill will need.  A clean garage will make my wife happy and that, as the commercial says, is priceless.

But back to business.

Patricia says FuelMaker is assembling our Phill right now and will ship it to Dr. Drain in early February. He says he can install it within a few days.

We’ll keep you posted.

John O'Dell, Senior Editor, Green Car Advisor @ 8,470 miles.

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