How to Use Vegetable Oil to Fuel Your Car

Transitioning to biodiesel – first steps: B20

The long-term objective is to run my Hyundai i30 entirely on biodiesel, to completely remove the dependency on fossil fuel there. Not sure about B100 users, but I know there are several B50 (that’s 50% biodiesel) users for the same model that have been going for a few years now. So at least that’s possible.

The “nasty” is that the warranty on the fuel system of a car can become void when using more than B05 (5% biodiesel). That’s the Australian Standard baseline currently, but for instance Freedom Fuels has B20 which is also fully compliant. So I asked my prospective service dealer (Westpoint, Indooroopilly), and the verdict so far is that they’d be fine with me running on B20 from FreedomFuels. That’s great news!

I did make them that specific “promise”, to get my B20 from FreedomFuels. Since you can make biodiesel at home, safely and legally, there’s the issue of quality control and that’s probably why the car warranty is phrased the way it is.

The things to look out for with diesel is water, and dirty fuel. There’s a filter for both, and the most important thing is to make sure they get checked/changed in time. Now here’s the funny thing. Pure biodiesel is much cleaner than fossil diesel, however putting it in your tank will loosen deposits from the previous fossil diesel and thus clog up your fuel filter. So, you transition more slowly and check/replace the filter. Once you have a clean filter and run on pure biodiesel, you’re all clear.

At this stage I’m only going for B20 since that’s the most I have found readily available so far. I may find other local sources for higher biodiesel % or actually make my own later, but another point is of course that running B20 for a while will show the service centre in practical terms that it’s ok, as they’ll be able to see the fuel filter for themselves. So I’m quite happy with taking the “slow path”.

While talking to the service centre this morning I also learnt something else. I already knew that a regular checkup for a Hyundai is about $200 versus $400-500 for my old Subaru. So I’d already figured a 50+% savings on basic maintenance. However, it turns out that Hyundai only wants a service once a year rather than every 6 months, so that halves the cost again! I might go in more often for fuel filter checks, but it’d still be cheaper.

PetrolMonkey – track your fuel consumption and compare!

Some time ago friends of mine built the PetrolMonkey site. You can enter a basic profile/name for any car you own, and then input refills. The system then shows nice stats in both numbers and graph, and you can compare with other similar cars. There’s a minimal mobile version also.

By comparing Tiger (it’s the diesel growl ;-) with Otto (“the auto”), I already know that I’m spending about 40% less fuel now per km. Eat that, Kevin Rudd PM, with your pathetic 5% emission reduction over too many years proposal!

The new car, going greener

Just before christmas I finally managed to get the old Subaru Outback all fixed up and shiny ready to sell. Dealers weren’t offering much but it sold within a week on for a decent price. This was to a couple at the North coast, after a few others had called about it and several had had a test drive. The process was actually pretty painless!

So the next day I went car-hunting at dealers in Brisbane who had the cars I was interested in. I’d done my research, and decided I wanted

  • a smaller car – obvious, the Outback was just massive and not really necesary;
  • second hand – couple of years old, good safety features but not paying for the “new”;
  • good fuel economy;
  • something with less environmental impact… this lead me to diesel, because you can run cars on 100% biodiesel which means it’s no longer dependent on fossil resources at all. Hybrids generally use petrol, and with 100% electric (which is unaffordable as yet) it depends on the electricity source;
  • price below $20k. That was a bit more than I got for the Outback, but within decent range of what I could pay cash (I don’t borrow for this kind of expenditure – if I can’t afford it, I wouldn’t buy it) and also realistic in terms of finding something within budget.

With the diesel option, the choice was actually severely limited for the simple fact that most small cars just don’t come in a diesel variant. For instance, the Toyota Yaris has fantastic specs and fuel economy, but no diesel (at least not in Australia). Mazda 2 is great but again no diesel. Serious fail, dear AU car manufacturers/distributors!

The few I did find were Volkswagen Polo (tiny), Volkswagen Golf (expensive), and the like. However, someone pointed out the Hyundai i30 to me. I’d been disregarding Hyundai because the Excel is known as a “crumplezone” – bad safety. But the i30 is of a whole new generation, you can tell they’ve been looking at the design of Opel, Mazda, Volkswagen, Ford… the 2008+ models have a 5 star ANCAP (safety) rating which is top-notch. I hadn’t driven one yet, but at the first testdrive I was sold. Very nice. So, within a day I had a “new” car – I don’t mess about! ;-)

I’m still re-adjusting to the manual gears (the Outback was an automatic) but I’d learnt in manuals so fundamentally I do know how to do it and my license allows. More on the diesel and fuel economy in a following post.