Biodiesel Cars

Switching to biodiesel, part III

I’ve gotten quite a few questions about my progress on getting my diesel Land Rover into the country and running on biodiesel. Well, some things have gone well and some haven’t :).

port_hueneme.jpgIn my last installment I described how I had found a diesel Land Rover from an outfit called UK LandRovers in, you guessed it, the UK. They shipped the car in early July and it arrived in Port Hueneme, just south of Santa Barbara about 5 weeks later. The UK LandRovers guys sent me all the necessary paperwork and I called the port people who recommended Soo Hoo Customs Broker to get the car through customs. The Soo Hoo people were super friendly and efficient and 10 days and $400 ($200 to Soo Hoo and $200 for import taxes) later, I got a call that my car was ready for pickup. I checked with the DMV and they said to just drive it home from the port and then bring it to the DMV to get plates (sounded surprisingly relaxed for a DMV).

So far so good. Next I went down to Santa Barbara, spent a truly fun weekend with my brother in law Sean, then the two of us drove down to Port Hueneme for the pickup. I was slightly shocked at how easy it was. They waved us in, we enjoyed the sight of a couple of giant freighters being unloaded and brand new Minis and BMWs shooting out of a warehouse, I handed over my paperwork and 3 minutes and an additional slightly mysterious $100 unloading fee later, the guy pointed to the parking lot and said “You’re all set”. We walked past a couple of old Mercedes, a Smart Roadster and a nice old Jaguar. For a second I was tempted to grab a brand new Range Rover Sport and drive it off the lot (they were all open with keys in them!). Range Rover, Land Rover, close enough :). I finally got to my Land Rover which I had been eying in the distance. It looked very nice, though quite dirty from the trip. To my further surprise, the car fired right up (we had brought jumper cables just in case) and I cautiously started driving it off the lot.

land-rover-2.JPGUp to this point, things had been going way too smoothly, so it was now time for the troubles to begin. Before we drove off the lot, we had looked at the engine and were concerned that the fan was not looking like it would cool the radiator enough. The car drove pretty well though and did not get overly hot at first. I did notice that there was something wrong with the steering (heavy and lots of play at the same time, bad combo) and that the instruments were not working. Without a gas gage, we had to first find a gas station (with diesel) to make sure there was enough gas in the car. After a couple of false starts we found one, probably just in time because a full 12 gallons went in. Then we started off up the coast towards Santa Barbara. Aside from the terrible steering the car drove well and got up to a whopping 65 miles on the freeway! But when we pulled off the freeway and headed up the hills in Santa Barbara it started to overheat. We pulled into Sean’s driveway, inspected the car some more and decided that it had gone as far as it could for now…

The next morning I headed back to San Francisco (in a rent a car…) and Sean dropped the Land Rover off at Winning Makes, a nice classic car shop in Santa Barbara that was recommended by the Rover shop as the best guys for old Land Rovers. They promptly fixed my cooling problem (new electric fan), steering (partially seized up steering column and worn out bushings), gages and added some lap belts to the back benches for good measure. Then they were nice enough to offer to drop the car of at my sister’s and… on the way to the house the timing belt broke on the engine. As I am writing this, the car is back in the shop waiting for the belt to be fixed…

Despite the troubles, this has actually been a pretty fun adventure so far. I’ll give UK Landrovers credit for the smooth shipping and importing, but their claims about the car’s condition were definitely off the mark (they claimed is was a solid daily driver, yeah right). I’ve written them about the troubles and they apologized but have not offered any remedies.

Update: Part IV is here, or check out this summary page with biodiesel info

9 replies on “Switching to biodiesel, part III”

Terrific story! Since I went to college I've broken down on the trip from SB to SF many times…it's definitely not fun on the weekends.

I also used to live a few blocks from Port Hueneme. You were lucky to have gotten out of there before the vehicle started giving you trouble. 🙂

Eagerly awaiting the rest of the story. Also, could you give your attentive readers a breakdown of your costs? That'll either inspire us to follow in your footsteps–or a be a compelling reason why not to! Thanks!

I just bought a Series III from UK Land Rovers. I wish I had seen your blog before I did. You said it took 5 weeks to get your car? They told me 20 days!

They did not tell me anything about a customs broker. Do you have to use one?

I also just bought a Series III 109 from UK Land Rovers. They have been great so far, I have added on a few extras like a bush bar, roof rack, over-drive, and rear seats at extremely reasonable prices.

My truck will arrive at Port hueneme on 4/9/2007.

I also went through the same thought process of buying a vehicle that can run on either bio-deisel or pure vegetable oil.

Please write me at if you have questions or want to check in my progress. Jim

I have been thinking about swapping the 2.5 petrol motor in my Series III for a diesel and adapting it for biodiesel. Does anyone know where I might find a LR Diesel engine in good nick here in the states. I don't want to just get another truck as my SIII is a known evil.

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