Interested in converting your car to run on WVO? Check this out!

The first assumption that many people make regarding biofuels is that while they are neat in theory, their use is reserved for mechanics or crazy environmentalists. People constantly ask, “if it really is so easy, why don’t more people do it?”

The answer is largely one of awareness. Converting your car to run on waste vegetable oil (WVO) requires no modification to the engine of your car and is something that you can do in a few days in your own garage. If done properly, it will not damage your car, shouldn’t significantly affect the resale value, and can be used in virtually any climate. As you are probably aware by now, there is some work involved in collecting the used vegetable oil and filtering it- personally, I have found that a few hours every few weeks is enough, and walking into a restaurant asking for used fryer oil is a pretty entertaining way to start a conversation.

This section is intended to be a resource for people interested in converting their car to run on vegetable oil. It is by no means a definitive resource, and please do not attempt to work on your car without adequate research/experience. If you have questions, drop an email to the bus account. The greatest lesson that we learned was that there is a tremendous amount of knowledge out there, and that a few minutes spent googling will save a lot of time later on. Furthermore, the veggie-oil community tends to be open and excited about helping new people joining, so take the time to make some phone calls or emails.

For structure, this section details the process we underwent in converting the chase car, and lists some of the resources that used. So, without further ado…

Step One: Does it make sense?

The important factors to consider are:

1. In six months, will I still be interested in driving a WVO car? Of course, you could always ask, “do I need a car at all?”
2. Is there vegetable oil available in my area? Just stop in and ask at a few local restaurants. Oftentimes in densely populated areas, franchises will contract their grease to rendering plants or biodiesel manufacturers. Just make sure.
3. Does WVO make sense in my climate? WVO can be used in virtually any climate, but the colder it is the more work there is. Cold climates require extra heating and insulation, and may make filtering the oil difficult. Of course, there is no reason you can’t run on WVO in the summer and diesel or biodiesel in the winter.
4. Am I capable? Have faith in yourself, but be realistic. You don’t need to be a mechanic by any means, but you should have some familiarity with your car, i.e. be able to identify all the major components, trace all the fuel lines, change filters and oil.
5. Do I mind getting dirty? …'cause you will…

Step Two: Look at the Budget

Do you have the time and money to work on a project like this? Do some research into the potential costs of a conversion. In late April we decided that we wanted a chase car to follow the Big Green Bus, but no one had a diesel vehicle suitable for conversion. Since Doug was interested buying a car for life after school, he looked online for a small diesel car. By the time the car was bought we only had a month or so to get it ready which was a tight timespan, but not unreasonable.

Item Cost Description
Used ’84 Mercedes 190D ~$3,500.00 Ebay purchase
Misc. car related expenses ~$1,000.00 Safety check, registration, emissions, etc.*
Greasel conversion kit ~$650.00 Two-tank basic installation kit

*The insurance, registration costs, maintenance costs, etc. are no different than purchasing, registering, and using any used car.

Step Three: Get the Right Car

Hopefully you already have a diesel car, because that will save you a lot of time and money. If not, start looking around- diesel engines have extremely long lives if properly maintained, so purchasing a twenty-year-old car may not be a bad investment. Doug ended up purchasing a 1984 Mercedes 190D from Ebay Motors, and has been very satisfied so far. It had 180,000 miles on itit should get anoher 100,000 or so. He actually met a man in Nashville who was driving the same make/model/year and had 425,000 miles, with the car still running well. This is a characteristic of diesel engines...not only do they use about 30% less fuel as their gasoline counterparts, but they also regularly last many hundereds of thousands of miles.

Here are a few good resources you may want to use:

• Online classifieds, such as AutoTrader or Autonet Classifieds.
• Local newspapers, friends, etc.
Ebay Motors

If you find one that looks promising, check out the car’s history using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which should be listed with the advertisement. Several companies perform these online background checks and tend to be relatively cheap.
Carfax
Autocheck
• But most importantly, talk to the seller!

Step Four: Research WVO Systems

At this point, you have essentially two options: designing and assembling your own WVO conversion system or purchasing a pre-made one. Either way, you should spend some time online researching what the experts have to say. By looking at various systems and talking to the people that use them, you will get a better idea of what makes sense for you. You should also be comfortable with theory behind how the systems work, since you are going to need to install whatever kit you buy. A sampling of good online resources includes:

Journey to Forever
Frybrid
No End Press
The Big Green Bus!!
Greasel Conversions
Greasecar

Premade conversion kits offer several advantages over trying to design your own. For one, you are given all the parts and fittings that you need; the threads match, you won’t be missing that one last hoseclamp, etc. They also have installation instructions, which are probably going to be a pretty important resource even if you are a mechanic. Frybrid, Greasel, and Greasecar all manufacture custom conversion kits with a range of features for a variety of prices. Charlie Anderson, of Greasel Conversions, does a lot of biofuel education and outreach, and was excited by the potential impact of the Big Green Bus project.

Step Five: Install the Kit!

The old adage, “measure twice, cut once” definitely applies here. Do the research, read the instructions, open up the hood of your car and poke around. Trace the fuel lines back to the injector pump, look for places to mount your new filters, etc.

Essentially, all you are doing is adding an extra fuel tank, heaters for the tank and fuel lines, and a switch to change which tank you are drawing fuel from. In warm climates it may be possible to use only one tank for both diesel and oil-- For this project we wanted to be able to show the tank to people for demonsrations and Doug wanted to be able to switch to diesel running occasionally as well, so we went with the two tank option.

It took 14 hours (one long day) for three of us to install the kit on the chase car. Depending on your level of expertise, the kit, and the car you are working on, that figure could be high or low. It is certainly a job that one person can do alone, but it was easier and more fun to be able to bounce ideas around as we worked.

Step Six: Living with a WVO Car

If you have made it this far, you are probably pretty excited to be running your car on vegetable oil. Owning and operating a WVO car isn’t really any different than using a normal car; you still need to fuel up, perform routine maintenance (like oil changes, tire rotations, etc), and pay the insurance bills. The chase car has not needed any more maintenance now than it did before- in fact, it seems to run better on oil than it does on diesel.

Gathering oil may seem like a daunting task, but it is actually quite easy and is actually be fun. Other WVO resources (such as those listed previously) have written extensively about the etiquette and procedure of oil gathering, so check the links above if you have questions. Additionally, if you purchase a premade kit, the included instructions will probably give you some tips about getting oil. The main thing, though, is to always ask the manager on duty before mistakenly gathering oil that is contracted to a rendering company or biodiesel producer...and wear old clothes, because it can get pretty messy.

Enjoy the ride- converting and maintaining a WVO car is an exciting project. In addition to being a fantastic learning experience, it is environmentally responsible and can save you quite a bundle on gas costs.

Good Luck!

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