Methods to Identify Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 On Scene
Methods to Identify Alternative Fuel Vehicles

A first responder has the important responsibility of identifying whether the vehicle(s) at the scene of an incident is an alternative fuel vehicle.

This task may be difficult if the vehicle has experienced extensive body damage or has major panels blocked by obstructions, as this could make it difficult to identify the vehicle through badging. The first responder should be prepared with alternative methods of identifying an alternative fuel vehicle other than vehicle badges and labels.


These methods may include:

  • badging and labels (primary means of identification);
  • non-standard dashboard layout and/or gauges;
  • multiple or non-standard fueling ports;
  • special underhood cables, warning labels, or equipment; and
  • external fuel tanks (usually on heavy duty vehicles and light-duty pick-up
    trucks).
Propane tanks on underside of vehicle.

These propane tanks are visible from the outside of the vehicle and would alert first responders that the vehicle is fueled by something other than conventional gasoline or diesel. Credit: Propane Education and Research Council.


Once an alternative fuel vehicle has been identified at the incident scene, the first responder must inform all other emergency personnel of their findings so that they can safely and effectively perform their duties.


Design/VIN


Identifying an alternative fuel vehicle through the vehicle identification number (VIN) is possible, but not recommended. The content of the VIN varies by manufacturer and interpreting the information given in the VIN is difficult.

Another method to identify the vehicle is to look for characteristics of an AFV that are typically not found on non-AFV vehicles, such as a charge indicator on the dash, other AFV dash marking, or nonstandard or multiple fuel gauges.

First responders may also use an alternative fuel vehicle’s distinctive vehicle profile as a method of identification. Many manufacturers such as Nissan, Chevrolet, and Toyota give their alternative fuel vehicles a unique look to separate them from conventionally powered vehicles.


Fuel Ports


Alternative fuel vehicles usually have either non-standard fueling ports or charging outlets, or multiple fuel doors and ports, if it can operate on more than one fuel source. Looking into the fuel doors on a vehicle can often help identify the fuel or fuels that a vehicle is equipped to use.

This can be especially useful if the vehicle is an aftermarket conversion because the fueling ports may contain non-standard receptacles.


Honda Civic Natural Gas fueling port.

This natural gas fueling port would clue first responders to the alternative fuel inside the vehicle. Credit: NAFTC.


Electric Drive Vehicle Identification


Many manufacturers produce both an electric drive and conventionally powered version of the same vehicle. Both  ersions may look identical from the outside. The Ford Explorer, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry are some examples of vehicles that are identical in appearance. Note that they may have an emblem or model number identifying them as an EV.


Hybrid Syndergy Drive emblem

Some hybrid vehicles have a badge or emblem that indicates the presence of an electric vehicle system. Credit: NAFTC.


Some models do not use traditional EV emblems and may, like the Lexus, use only an “h” to signify the vehicle is a hybrid. Other makers use a badge emblem that could be easily removed by the owner. EV logos are usually found at the rear of the vehicle or on the front or rear doors, but on models where the logo appears only on the trunk or hatchback, the potential exists for it to become destroyed in a rear-end collision.

Emblems or high-voltage stickers may be found under the hood in the engine compartment. However, the fastest way to identify an EV other than badging is by the presence of orange and blue cables that may be visible under the hood or along the chassis outside of the passenger compartment. Another less obvious identification method includes finding visible battery vents. Because the continual discharge and recharge of the high-voltage battery system produces excess heat, designers have installed vents to help cool the batteries. Typically, only older models have visible vents. The early version of the Toyota Prius had a vent in the driver’s side “C” post. The Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner have vents on the driver’s side rear quarter glass.


Compressed Natural Gas Vehicle Identification


CNG badge on Honda Civic

Some CNG vehicles may have a sticker or badge indicating their fuel. Credit: NAFTC.


Many CNG vehicles have a diamond-shaped blue decal with the lettering “CNG” on the side, trunk, tailgate, or cylinder areas, identifying the vehicle as capable of using CNG. Some manufacturers such as Honda have used an “NGV” emblem on the sides and trunk such as that of the Civic GX natural gas vehicle.


Liquefied Natural Gas Vehicle Identification


Close up of LNG badgeing on UPS truck

Often fleets that are proud of their cleaner transportation choices will use badges alterting customers of the fuel inside. Credit: NAFTC.


To help first responders and others accurately identify LNG vehicles, many such vehicles have a diamond-shaped blue decal with the lettering “LNG” on the side, trunk, tailgate or fuel tank areas, identifying the vehicle as capable of using LNG as a fuel source.


Liquefied Petroleum Gas Vehicle Identification


Rear view of propane bus

Many school districts use propane for bus fuel to cut down on local emissions and particulate matter. Credit: NAFTC.


Like CNG and LNG vehicles, many LPG vehicles also have a blue diamond-shaped decal with the lettering “Propane” on
the side or trunk, identifying it as being capable of being propelled by LPG.


Hydrogen Vehicle Identification


Hydrogen powered vehicles can also be identified by the blue diamond-shaped decal with the lettering “Hydrogen.” Also as hydrogen vehicles are very new to the marketplace, manufacturers may have them branded with large, often flashy labels that help identify them.


Biodiesel Vehicle Identification


There are no standards for the labeling of biodiesel powered vehicles. However, some manufacturers such as Volkswagen have used the letters “TDI” to denote that the Jetta runs on diesel. Ford uses the “Power Stroke” wording
or emblem and the F-250 label on the sides of its Super-Duty series trucks to denote that the truck runs on diesel
or biodiesel. Dodge uses its BlueTec emblem on its diesel powered vehicles.


Ethanol Vehicle Identification


Buick flexfuel badge.

Flex fuel vehicles are some of the most common alternative fuel vehicles and can run on higher percentages of ethanol. Credit: General Motors.


Many ethanol, or flexible fuel vehicles, have a symbol or emblem on the side or trunk of the vehicle showing that the vehicle is capable of utilizing ethanol. The emblem style and size can vary by manufacturer. Ethanol vehicles can sometimes be identified by the color of its gasoline tank cap. Many ethanol vehicles come equipped with a bright yellow cap, usually labelled with an “E85” statement.

This information is drawn from the Firefighter First Responder Safety Training course. Call the Mark Kemp at 304-293-5315 or email mark.kemp@mail.wvu.edu to learn how to schedule a first responder training in your area.



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