Yves Chartrand of Quebec converted his 2021 Ram 3500 HEMI gas truck to run on propane. Here’s his report on the conversion, costs and loaded truck camper performance. Full-time on the road, Yves is all-in on propane power.
Way back in 2007, we modified a 1998 Ram 3500 12-valve Cummins diesel to run on vegetable oil. The conversion allowed the truck to burn diesel, straight vegetable old (SVO) and processed waste vegetable oil (WVO). The installation went well and the truck immediately ran smoother and quieter with WVO.
In the end, the veggie fuel system clogged up our truck something terrible. I later admitted it was the stupidest thing we ever did to our rig. And that’s before we reported the installer felony, multi-unit fire and… oh, just read the article. It’s quite the odyssey.
Our vegetable fuel experience gave me some initial pause about the propane-powered story we’re presenting today. The idea of converting a truck to run on an alternative fuel had lost its luster. Fuel me once, as they say.
Then I started researching the concept of running gas engines on propane. First and foremost, the propane fuel burns clean. In fact, it burns cleaner than gasoline. That alone should eliminate the number one problem we experienced with the veggie fuel system. It also helps to explain how there are over 10 million vehicles worldwide running on propane.
Second, unlike filtered Waste Vegetable Oil, propane is widely available. As we quickly discovered, it’s no use having an alternative fuel system if you can’t source the fuel. With the propane conversion, that challenge is largely taken off the table. Propane will never be as accessible as diesel or gasoline, but there are 1,200 automotive propane filling stations in North America. In fact, the US Department of Energy has a map (pictured below) showing where Auto-Propane is available to the public in both the United States and Canada.
Above: A map showing Auto-Propane stations in the United States and Canada
With my interest piqued, I took another pass at the propane fuel conversion; the technology, the conversion process, the conversion costs, the implications to power and torque, and the required maintenance. Long story short, it’s compelling. I’m not about to have the conversion done to our own Ram 3500 HEMI, but I’m not ruling it out either.
There’s no better way to get a handle on a new – at least to truck camping – idea than to talk to a fellow truck camper who has embraced it. Lucky for us, we were contacted by Yves Chartrand of Quebec. Yves not only converted his 2021 Ram 3500 HEMI to propane, but he’s living full-time on the road in his propane-powered rig. That’s what we call going all-in on the technology.
To find out about Yves’ decision process, conversion experience, involved costs, power and torque results, propane access success, and more, we sent Yves a ton of questions. Thank you, Yves, for pioneering a new fuel concept for truck camping, and sharing with us how it’s going.
Did you choose a 2021 Ram 3500 HEMI specifically to convert to propane, or did that idea come after purchasing the truck?
I had plans to convert a truck to propane before buying our Ram.
The gas version of the Ram 3500 gave us 500-pounds more payload than the diesel variant. That was worth it for us. Plus, the diesels were significantly more expensive. When we also discovered that we could convert a gas engine to propane, but not a diesel engine, that sealed our decision for the gas HEMI.
We ordered both the truck and the Lance 960 on my birthday in March of 2021. The Ram was delivered in July 2021 and the Lance in December of 2021.
Now that’s a happy birthday! What were the advantages of the propane conversion that convinced you it was worth pursuing?
There are three advantages that convinced us to convert our truck to propane. First, running on propane saves money over gas. Second, propane burns cleaner and is easier on engines. That should result in less wear and tear, and lower maintenance costs. And third, running the truck on propane produces less pollution. That’s important to us.
How did you select a propane conversion kit company?
That decision was all about availability and convenience. We already needed to go to JP’s Garage in Moncton, New Brunswick to switch from our winter to summer tires. JP’s Garage also specializes in propane conversions, and at a better cost than other conversion companies we checked into.
We ordered the propane conversion kit in March of 2022 and it was installed in May. For the three day installation, we stayed in our off-loaded truck camper in a Moncton campground.
How much did it cost to install the propane kit and tank?
The total for the kit and installation in was $7,309 CAD plus tax (15 percent).
We had companies in Montreal that could do it for $10,000 and $12,000 CAD, but they were fully booked. We could get it done sooner, and for less money, in Moncton.
Above: Dauphinais Campground in Hemmingford, Quebec
How big is your propane tank and where is it located on your vehicle?
The propane tank is 120-liters (31.7-gallons). The tank is located under the truck box where the spare wheel used to be. Propane tanks can be filled 80-percent, which means that we have 96-liters (25.3-gallons) of propane on board.
Were there any unexpected challenges with installing the propane tank?
One challenge was figuring out where to relocate the spare wheel. It now resides behind the passenger’s seat. We also had to re-install the hitch extension that would not fit anymore due to the propane tank being in the way. It was an easy fix by cutting one-inch off of the extender.
Above: The Prins button and LED lights show the status of the propane system
Tell us about the Prins button on your dash. What does that do and when do you use it?
When the truck starts up the Prins logo starts flashing white, showing that it is booting up and not quite ready to run the propane. When it’s ready and the engine is warmed up (about 2 minutes) it stops flashing and shows a steady white light.
The five blue lights around the button show how much propane is in the tank. Those are steady blue or off except for the last LED that goes yellow when it’s running out of propane.
When the logo is red, there is no more propane in the tank. We also hear a loud beeping noise. It only goes through the empty-beeping cycle once. The red light continues to flash until it is shut off.
We can also shut the propane fuel system off at any time by hitting the Prins button once. We can then turn the propane system on again after we have filled the propane tank, or we can just leave it off.
Did you have your gas tank removed, or did you add the propane tank to your gas tank?
The original OEM gas tank remains in the truck. With the propane system, we always have the option of running on gasoline. Going full propane is not a good idea as there are areas of Canada that don’t sell auto-propane. When traveling through those parts, we use gasoline.
Now that the propane system is installed, has it worked as you hoped it would?
It has been great; smooth running and has had no problems.
Do you notice any changes to power or torque?
There is no loss of power at all.
Do you notice the engine sounds different, smells different, or behaves differently compared to running it on gasoline?
There are no changes when running on propane.
Above: Wynona State Forest Park, New York
Has it been cheaper to fill the truck with propane?
Yes, it’s much cheaper to run the truck on propane. Propane fuel sells at about .74 cents a liter here. It’s probably a lot cheaper in the United States.
Ram recommends burning mid-grade (89 octane) gasoline in the 6.4L HEMI for the best performance and fuel economy. Mid-grade gas sells for about $1.82 a liter here.
What kind of fuel mileage are you getting on propane?
With the truck camper loaded, the best we got running on propane was 15.5 liters per 100 kilometers. That’s about what we get running the truck and camper on gas.
City driving brings the numbers down to 24 liters per 100 kilometers. We have not run the truck on propane without the truck camper loaded.
Editor’s Note: The above translates to 15.19 miles per gallon highway, and 9.9 miles per gallon city. We also have a 2018 Ram 3500 HEMI (gas) and we get 11-12 mpg on average with our truck and camper.
Has the propane system needed any maintenance?
No maintenance has been required yet. We will get a check-up before the winter. According to the manufacturer, the propane system needs service after 5,000 hours of running. There is no filter to watch.
Do you see the conversion and fuel costs being recouped versus using gas?
Yes. We should be even within a year. We have driven 35,000 kilometers since the conversion. I have kept track of our fuel costs and we have already saved over $6,500 on fuel. I think we will recover the cost of the conversion quickly once we start traveling more.
Every time we fill up we note the price of 89 octane gas at the pump. We then compare that to the price we paid for the propane and note how much we saved by filling up on propane.
Above: Propane filling stations near Quebec City as listed on propane.ca.
Have you been able to source propane while traveling?
The biggest headache is planning our trips around auto-propane stations. Here in Québec, it is relatively easy. We are members of a propane distribution network which means we can go to stations and fill up 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But that is only in Québec and New Brunswick.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia do not have a lot of auto-propane stations. We use the Propane Fueling Station Locator on propane.ca which shows us where the stations are located.
In Ontario, we filled up at some stations that charged a lot for propane; almost as much as gas. But that was only a short trip. Auto-propane was expensive in Alberta! Who knew?
Getting propane in the United States was more complicated and expensive than I thought. At some points, it was even more expensive than gasoline. I think it was a combination of lower gasoline prices and the recent rise in propane prices that meant that it was not worth it financially wise to run on propane. We have found that in some places it is quite difficult to find auto-propane.
Above: Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
How does the truck perform on the highway, on mountain passes, off-road, etc.?
There have been no problems at all. The power is great and, if needed, we can quickly shut off the propane system and burn gasoline. But we have not needed to do so.
We are both retired and are tired of rushing from one place to another. So we have a rule to travel at 80 kilometers per hour and to not do more than four hours of traveling a day. It works well for us so far.
Above: Chicoutimi, Quebec, our new trailer for our Spyder
Is there anything else you want folks to know – pros and cons – about converting a truck to propane?
Converting to propane adds autonomy giving us about 300 kilometers more range for our rig. Yes, we need to plan our routes taking into consideration where we can find auto-propane, but we feel it’s worth it. We did have to relocate our spare tire, but it is now much easier to get to should we ever need it.
Yves and Marie-Germaine Chartrand’s Rig
Truck: 2021 RAM 3500, Hemi 6.4L (Propane and Gas)
Camper: 2021 Lance 960