Things I learned while switching to biodiesel (in San Francisco)
More and more people are discovering the benefits of biodiesel. Typically made from soybeans, biodiesel burns cleaner than regular diesel, it’s renewable (no greenhouse gases), non-toxic and biodegradable, it works in regular diesel engines without any modifications, and it can be mixed in the same tank with regular petro-diesel (crucial when you can’t find a biodiesel station).
The easy way to switch to biodiesel
It’s really quite simple: Buy a diesel car model 1995 or newer, find a biodiesel pump near you and you’re done (diesels 1995 or newer require no modifications to run biodiesel).
Companies who specialize in finding/selling used diesel cars: TDIcars.com.
The slightly harder way…
Buy a pre-1995 diesel car. This saves you money, but you might have to replace the car’s fuel lines with newer rubber ones to prevent them from degrading. It’s a simple job (I did it myself on my Landcruiser in 90 minutes). Popular older diesel cars on Craigslist: Mercedes 240, Mercedes 300.
The car enthusiasts way…
If you are a picky car nut (like me), your choice of diesel vehicles is limited (diesels never sold well in the US, so they are hard to come by today). One option is to buy an imported diesel or import one yourself from Canada or Europe, where they are plentiful. I’ve imported two, a Land Rover from the UK and a Toyota Landcruiser from Canada. I’m now doing all my driving around San Francisco in my Landcruiser using biodiesel. In California it’s easy to import a car that’s older than 25 years because they require no inspection or smog. Newer cars are more tricky and typically require the help of a professional importer.
Some domestic choices:
- Diesel Land Rovers can occasionally be found here: Rovers North, Reborn Co, Copley Motorcars.
- Even more rare are diesel Landcruisers, they sometimes show up on the IH8MUD Landcruiser forums.
- Another potential choice is the Mercedes G-Wagon which was originally sold as a diesel in the late 70s/early 80s: Clubwagen.
- There are lots of diesel Land Rovers in the UK, check out Land Rover Centre. I purchased one from UKLandRovers (it was in worse shape than they advertised, so I can’t recommend them – looks like they either went out of business or changed their name) and shipped it in through Port Hueneme near Los Angeles (I do recommend SooHoo customs broker to get the car through customs). The car was older than 25 years, so the California DMV import process was easy. Once your car gets here, take it in for a vehicle registration appointment (with the original title and bill of sale), they will do a quick inspection and issue plates (make sure they realize it’s a diesel).
- I also bought a 1985 Landcruiser from Chevrolake Motors in Vancouver. They were great to deal with. They brought the car to Seattle and titled it for me (since this car was younger than 25 years I did not want to deal with the importing myself). Zander’s biodiesel page got me started with lots of useful info.
PS: Do not confuse biodiesel with vegetable oil. Both run in diesel engines, but vegetable oil requires more serious modifications including a separate fuel tank and fuel delivery system (the benefit of vegetable oil is that you can often pick up free used oil at restaurants).