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Mechanic builds hybrid converters

• SCV man hopes to solve problem of high gas prices

Posted: June 21, 2008 10:52 p.m.
Updated: August 23, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Auto Service Plus employee Ray Pruitt works on a hybrid converter. The device fits on the back of a car's front bumper. Auto Service Plus owner Larry Totter hopes the device will help break drivers' dependence on gasoline.

At first glance, it looks like a standard part of the car: a tall black cylinder that fits neatly in the back of a car's front bumper.

But to Larry Totter, the fuel cell symbolizes a new type of technology that will let the average consumer break their gasoline habitat.

Known as a hybrid conversion, the owner of Auto Service Plus in Newhall is tinkering with a technology that turns the everyday car into a "Hybrid Hydrogen Vehicle" by using hydrogen and less gas.

His inspiration to research the concept stems from the daily record-breaking gas prices in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"I went to fill up gas for my own car one day and I couldn't believe it was four bucks a gallon," he said.

He soon turned to the Internet to figure out what he and his mechanics could do.

"I went on the Internet to see how to squeeze more mileage from a car," he said.

While he came across the common pointers about performing routine tune ups on the car, Totter was looking for a method that would enable a car to get 30, 40 and even 50 miles on a single gallon.

He soon came across a technology referred to as "HHO," that allowed a car to use hydrogen and oxygen, along with gasoline, to run.

While still researching the concept, Totter began playing with the process on his own car, a 2007 Dodge Magnum. He bought the electronics and parts from the Internet and local shops to get the concept into motion.

"We have to build interfaces to talk to the computer," he said. "A lot of the stuff we have to build ourselves."

By understanding the chemistry and relationship between the use of gas and the fuel cell, Totter also has to understand the different types of cars.

"The problem is that every car is different. Every part of the country has different humidity, a different sea level," he said. "We have to figure out the best one for this part of the country."

So far, Totter has the hydrogen fuel powered by an on-off switch located inside the car near the driver's seat or dashboard.

"You control when you want to use it," he said.

When the switch is on, the hydrogen and oxygen work together to lower emissions and increase the gas mileage by using one of the computers that has been built into the car.

As for any problems, Totter said the hydrogen is not stored in the car.

"If something were to go wrong, the worst case scenario is you'll pop a fuse," he said.

As for the logistics of actually installing the fuel cell, Totter said his shop needs to examine the vehicle and research its fuel use before anything can be done.

From there, the fuel cell takes about a day to install and then around four days for the car to be monitored.

The overall costs for the installation amounts to around several thousand dollars, he said, and it can be installed on just about any type of new or old car.

Mike Stanger, an Auto Service Plus customer, said he is interested in having the fuel cell installed on his car, a 2006 Chrysler 300.

"I think it's a great idea," he said. "I'm sick of paying high gas prices."

As for the technology, Stanger, a Castaic resident, believes the concept is "very interesting" and "it can go a long way."

"It's got a great future," he said.

Stanger said he does not have any concerns about the installation.

"I trust him with everything," he said, adding the business employs very honest people.

However, Steve Mazer, manager of the Automotive Research Center for AAA of Southern California, is not completely sold on the concept.

While there are obstacles, Mazer said, "It's not impossible."

Mazer, a Castaic resident who built a hydrogen car while studying at UCLA years ago, said that while gas prices are at an all-time high, ideas like Totter's begin to pop up everything gas prices rise in late spring and summer.

"This year is hydrogen," he said.

In the past, Mazer said he's heard of inventions like putting magnets on a fuel tank and dropping pills in the gas tank to increase fuel efficiency.

"Generally, the inventors of these products really believe their products work," he said. "They're not trying to pull a fast one."

Until the ideal technology is available, Mazer said the best thing for drivers is to watch their driving habits.

"Basically the best thing is to drive more conservatively," he said.

Mazer said that from his perspective, drivers in the Santa Clarita Valley are always in a hurry.

"Doing that wastes a significant amount of gas," he said, later adding, "Eco driving does save gas and it doesn't cost a penny in extra technology."


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