Anthony Cimino has no idea how much gasoline costs these days and snickers whenever his friends start complaining about prices at the pump.
The last time the 30-year-old Rotterdam man visited a service station, the price per gallon had ballooned up to $2.50. And that was nearly four years ago.
“I don’t even know how much it is,” he said Thursday, hopping into the cab of his 2000 Ford Ranger EV.
The pickup is already on, not that anyone would notice without close inspection. There’s no exhaust or rattle from beneath the hood — the idling engine makes a muffled buzz that is easily overpowered by the noise of his neighborhood.
Cimino throws the truck’s shifter to ‘E-mode’ and quietly drives down his long dirt driveway. With every tap of the brake, the nickel metal hydride battery starts to regenerate.
When he reaches Fordham Avenue, he switches the truck to D-mode, a power configuration that allows more aggressive driving. The truck lurches forward with the same pickup that one would expect from any sort of gas-powered vehicle —maybe even more.
Depending on how Cimino drives, the truck’s battery will maintain its charge for about 70 miles before it needs a recharge. But what the electric-powered truck lacks in range, it makes up for in simplicity of care, he said.
The vehicle has no muffler or transmission. There isn’t a drop of oil in the engine or any moving belts to change, nor are there any spark plugs or filters to replace. However, eventually the battery does need to be replaced.
Cimino’s truck cranks up easily in sub-zero temperatures, he said. At a heavy 5,000 pounds, the vehicle easily cruises through snow or other inclement weather without four-wheel drive.
“I do everything anyone would do in a normal truck, except go to the gas station,” he said.
Cimino decided to buy the truck after gasoline prices began to spike, even though his Nissan Sentra was getting good mileage at the time.
“Pretty much when I saw $2.50 a gallon, a switch went off,” he said.
He started with a moped, which he rode to work each day. Determined to remain gas independent, he decided to go electric.
But securing an electric vehicle isn’t as easy as it sounds. Cimino found his truck on e-Bay — a former fleet vehicle for California Power & Light —and purchased it for $27,000.
He admits the cost sounds prohibitive at first. But he’s never needed to buy parts or gas for the truck and the only money he’s put into it over the past four years came when he crashed it to avoid a motorist who went through a stop sign.
“The only maintenance is plugging it in,” he said.
The high price also reflects the rarity of the vehicle. Ford hand-built roughly 1,500 Ranger EVs in Edison, N.J., of which only about 400 exist today.
In 2004, the company joined General Motors in taking back its prototype vehicles from its leasees. Ford and GM refused to resell the vehicles in most cases and instead opted to crush them.
Cimino, now an aficionado of the Ranger EV who regularly communicates with owners across the globe, claims the decision to scrap the electric models was the result of Chevron Corporation purchasing the patent to the nickel metal hydride battery in 2002. The oil giant’s patent expires in 2014, though a deal in July may have transferred these rights to the South Korea-based SB LiMotive Company, a joint venture between German car-parts maker Bosch and Samsung.
Of course, the electric-powered truck’s range is a limitation for long-distance treks, which is why Cimino purchased a 1982 Mercedes 240 diesel that has been converted to use waste vegetable oil. Instead of heading to the pumps for his fuel, Cimino heads to Mark’s Grill, where the owner agreed to supply him with all the spent fryer grease he can handle.
In his basement, Cimino strains the oil through a filter into a 50-gallon steel drum, and allows any other particulate matter to settle to the bottom. Whenever the Mercedes needs fuel, he pumps the used oil into a compartment in the vehicle’s trunk.
Unlike the truck, the Mercedes doesn’t handle well in cold temperatures and does require a small amount of diesel to warm the waste vegetable oil before it’s burned. But the vehicle still gets about 30 miles per gallon of waste vegetable oil, he said.
“Which is better than diesel,” he said. “Waste vegetable oil is also a cleaner burn.”
However, it has other, less tangible drawbacks. The exhaust from the Mercedes smells distinctly of greasy fast food.
“I get hungry every time I drive it,” he said.