Fuel: Propane
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This page is a contribution from David Eidell - a frequent traveler of the Mexican highways in a propane-powered vehicle. Thanks to David for this preparing this page.

Fred Metcalf

Baja California Information Pages

Auto Propane
Baja California Highways

David Eidell, Correspondent

1. LPG Motor Fuel

LPG is legal for use as a motor fuel and many thousands of Méxican vehicles use it rather than gasoline. "Gas" (as LPG is known in México) is dispensed to the public through private companies who are not associated with Petróleos Mexicános (Pemex) the state oil monopoly. México does not subsidize LPG (the retail price is commonly double that of spot-traded commodities market gas), but retail prices are controlled (but not uniform) throughout the country.

Méxican "gas" consists of propane or butane or a mixture of the two gasses. Essentially propane and butane are interchangeable as far as the user is concerned. No carburetor or appliance flame adjustments are necessary when switching between the two gasses. LPG is "odorized" for leak detection purposes. Méxican LPG is laced with a methyl-ethyl-mercaptan (Alert 5000®) the same odorant used in U.S. LPG gas. All LPG in Bája must be imported from the mainland (by Ferryboat) or from the United States (via Tijuána).

2. Gas Plant Locator Guide

Gas Plant Locator Guide (Ensenáda - Los Cabos)
City Location Hwy
Metered Open
All Six-wheel bulk trucks (on the road) All Yes Y Y
Ensenáda 5 miles north of town east side of hwy 1 Yes Y Y (½ )
Tecate 3 miles south on west side (hwy to Ensenáda) 3 Yes Y Y (½ )
Col. Guerrero 3 miles north of town on west side of hwy 1 Yes Y (½ ) N
Guerrero Negro 2 miles south of eagle monument on west side 1 No Y (½ ) N
Santa Rosalia 5 miles north of town on the north side of hwy 1 No Y (½ ) N
Cd. Constitución 4 miles north of town on west side of hwy 1 Yes Y (½ ) N
La Paz 5 miles south of town on east side of hwy 1 Yes Y Y (½ )
S. José del Cabo 6 miles west of town on north side of hwy 1 Yes Y (½ ) N
Cábo San Lucas 5 miles north of town on west side of hwy 19 Yes Y (½ ) N

3. Filler Fittings

Méxican bulk plants are equipped to dispense motor fuel gas to vehicles that have "Fast Fill" fittings (the same fitting as used throughout the United States and Canada). Bleeder valves and vapor escape hoses are non-existent. When plant personnel loosen the connection after filling raw liquid escapes copiously. Therefore extinguish all potential sources of ignition before driving up to the dispenser.

4. Service from Trucks

Bulk Trucks

Definition: A six-wheel tank truck, with pump, hose, and dispenser. Bulk trucks are more than happy to stop and fill vehicles with LPG carburetion (they will however refuse to fill domestic gas tanks that use POL fill valves). Simply flag the truck down and yell "Carburecion" and point towards your engine. Prices are posted on the side of the truck for Domestic fuel. "Carburecion" prices are several centavos per liter higher. You will probably be asked to follow their truck a short way to a more comfortable site in which to fill your tank (Many Méxican motorists are uneasy around propane and frown on highway-side filling). If you are going to be the area for awhile, save the receipt from the gas purchase. You can telephone the local office and have the bulk truck fill your vehicle right at your campsite (I always wait until I need a minimum of sixty gallons). This can save considerable driving and headache so I always tip the truck driver twenty pesos, and offer a cold soda. Another way to do this is to flag down a bulk truck and tell the driver to meet you at --- on such-and-such a date and time. Fork over twenty pesos as a "tip" and you can count on him showing up (but not necessarily on the exact day or time specified).

Tanker Trucks

Definition: Tankers are eighteen-wheelers (actually twenty-two wheelers) that supply ten thousand gallons of LPG to the "Bulk Plants." The trucks have no onboard pump. They unload cargo via the central pump at each plant.

5. Know Your Tank's Capacity

Motor fuel tanks are commonly fifty or eighty-three gallons capacity. Clean off the metal placard attached to the tank so that the operator can easily verify its capacity. Clean or replace the tank gauge so that the liquid level can be easily determined. Some motorists insist on "stuffing the tank" which means having it filled all the way to the top leaving no room for expansion. The idea is to use the extra room in the tank and continue driving after fill up. I "calibrated" my fuel gauge by filling the tank at a U.S. plant. When the gauge showed ¼  full, I noted the gallons pumped, at ½  tank the gallons were again noted then again at three-quarters and finally at full (until liquid appeared at the 10% bleed valve). I then had the tank (stuffed) filled to the last drop and noted the total gallons that it took. With no room for the gas to expand in the tank, I immediately drove the vehicle such a distance as to create eight gallons of room inside the tank. I drew a "plot chart" (see below) and pasted it onto my sun visor. With a pair of eighty-three gallon fuel tanks I am naturally curious about how much gas my tanks are going to hold when I pull into a bulk plant with no dispensing meter. Stuffing the tank should only be done when you intend to immediately drive a hundred or more miles before stopping.

17.6 G 35.3 G 53 G 70.6 G 83 G
66.6 L 133.2 L 200 L 267 L (full) <314 L>
<248> <181> <114> <47> <0>
Italics Indicate # Liters Needed To stuff The tank

6. Gas Shortages

The same conditions that cause periodic gasoline shortages apply to LPG fuel. Tanker trucks that encounter multiple flat tires or other mechanical problems will be delayed sometimes up to several days. "Carga Negra" arriving on the ferry from Guáymas or Topolobámpo is subject to bad weather delays (the ferry in Santa Rosalia won't enter the breakwater if the wind is blowing harder than fifteen knots). Occasionally the bulk plant will have a problem with machinery. Once I spent four days in Guerréro Negro waiting for parts to arrive to repair their "Fast-Fill" dispensing nozzle. Upon my arrival home, I added a "Fast-Fill to POL" adapter fitting to my repertoire.

7. Conversion Formulas

Liters to Gallons
[L] ÷ 4 X 105.36%
Gallons to Liters
[G] X 4 X 94.64%

I like this formula because it constantly reminds me of the relationship between liters and gallons.

8. Glossary of Terms

Bulk Plant Planta de Gas Pressure precion
Bulk Truck Pipa Chico Empty Vacío
Tanker Truck Pipa Gránde Full lléno
Pump Bomba Stuff The Tank Lléne A la ultima gota

Copyright 1999-2011 David Eidell

Baja California Information Pages - Contents Page: http://math.ucr.edu/ftm/baja.html