Monday, December 2, 2013

Alternative Fuels: Is there a Solution? Chapter 4, Working in the CNG Business

The summer of 2008 was very busy for me. I was hired on as an amateur student mechanic/installer for a plumber (let's call him Tim), who wanted to start a side business installing CNG systems onto mostly work trucks for industrial drivers. He found me through the university which I was attending. I was recommended by my professor. I should’ve followed my instincts on this one.

Note to self: if you want to be a mechanic, don’t work for a plumber, especially a shifty one. He promised me a decent hourly wage, (more than what I was making through Jiffy Lube at the time) plus health benefits (which I never saw). When I told him I was a still a student and hoping to learn more as an apprentice for a while he said that I could use his new business partner as a reference if I ever had questions. His business partner (let's call him John) was a self-employed company of one for a mobile brake business and specialized in brakes steering, suspension, and front ends. I was young and convinced that this was a dream come true. John and Tim, the shifty plumber, decided to call their business ECO MOTORS. Catchy isn’t it?
The shifty plumber sent John and me to train and buy two different kits, tanks, and products from two different companies.

All sorts of businessmen at this point were investing in installing different kits and systems onto any vehicle that wanted to run on CNG. Some shifty websites offered to sell you simple install-it-yourself kits for cars at much cheaper prices than the patented kits were selling for. Magellan, I believe, was the name of the cheap do-it-yourself kit. I have heard bad results from people who have bought and tried this.

A week after I was hired on, John and I went to Denver. We spent three days learning how to install a patented system and learning how it worked. This was very expensive but it was EPA approved. EPA approved means that the Environmental Protection Agency approved that this kit was safe to run in our atmosphere and eligible for a tax credit. I have discovered with most kits that I was trained on that the only difference between an EPA approved kit verses one that wasn’t was whether or not the inventor/supplier of the kit paid an extra hefty fee to the EPA. Thus, they would have to charge the consumer thousands of more dollars to turn a profit for themselves. The training and supplies purchased from this company was way up in the $30,000 range which the plumber seemed to have no problem at that time with forking over that huge chunk of change.

Installing my first CNG tank in Denver
2008 Ford F-250: My first installation

John and I then went to Mesa for more training on a different kit that was not EPA approved but was cheaper. So we spent three days down there and bought all the tanks and supplies they were willing to sell to us.

2nd installation CNG fuel injectors on a Tundra
2nd installation CNG regulator

Meanwhile all of this carefree spending by Tim was starting to catch up to him. Since the inexperienced and slightly immature family member who was Tim's sales representative for ECO MOTORS was not doing a thing, when it came to selling our kits to potential clients, I didn’t have any work to do for the six months that I stayed with them. Tim was generously willing to keep me busy around his shop doing all sorts of complicated odd jobs that were way out of my league. He had me fix his diesel trucks which was something I was unfamiliar with. He had me do all sorts of other mechanical jobs that you would normally give to a technician with at least three years of experience off of an apprenticeship. He also had me paint his office, and do other tasks around his warehouse. While I was working for him I actually got to install a CNG kit onto one of his friend's delivery truck. That was it. So, our profits were not even close to covering the huge overhead that my boss created.

I suppose Tim and I were expecting something else out of each other when my employment started with him. He started blaming me for his loss in revenue and thus he demoted me (on my birthday) by giving me a major pay cut and cutting my hours back to an on-call situation.

To make things even more complicated, my boss then got called by a shifty salesman that duped him into buying yet another kit. They decided they would train me in Utah and would provide us all the tanks and equipment we would need providing that we sign on to only sell and maintain their product and drop all the other kits from other competitors. Since the kits and training was reasonably cheaper than what he paid for the first two, Tim quickly signed us up with them to sell only parts provided by them. We then had to figure out how to sell almost $100,000 worth of other kits which were now useless to us.

When I went to this third training I saw that I was being trained with 32 other mechanics, representatives from other shops, and other crackpots who worked from home. We were the third of more than one group that they were casually training. They were apparently attempting a monopoly by training anyone and everyone on this new system. I saw this as a major bad sign and I wanted out before the crap hit the fan for my boss’s business.

I painfully negotiated a way out. After I  had trained a replacement for me, I  officially resigned in October of 2008. Luckily for me (not so much for them), my pessimistic prediction was accurate. A month later, gas prices unexpectedly and dramatically dropped from 5 bucks a gallon to 1.50 a gallon. ECO MOTORS's only angle for selling was gone. The last place I was trained at realized they no longer could sell either and also closed their doors at the end of that year. Everyone who bought their system could not get any replacement parts or anything else associated with that former company. Nobody from their company would ever answer the phone or return messages for the hoard of angry mechanics and customers they sold their system to. CNG was finished!

Also, at the end of this year I completed my degree in Automotive Technology and I realized that I did not want to be mechanic any more.

Have you ever gotten to work for a shifty company?  


  1. I have worked for a shifty company - Firstline. I think I got told daily that they were going to report us to the BBB....good times, good times. It wasn't surprising to me when I heard they closed down. Good riddance to shifty people/companies I say!

  2. Nothing that bad, but your stories are excellent!