Greasecar Questions from the Mail Room

I answered some greasecar questions recently over e-mail and thought other people might enjoy reading the answers…

How has it been working out for you?
Well, I ended up selling my greasecar last year so my husband and I could share one car.  He can’t drive a stickshift and my VW was expensive to maintain so we kept his Mazda.  Generally the car was good but I had trouble finding the time/motivation to collect and filter grease.  My car also had a lot of maintenance issues unrelated to the greasecar part that were expensive (brakes, shocks, etc.).  I also think greasecars really only make sense for long drives and I just don’t take very many long drives.  We decided it was cheapest to keep his car and since it has pretty good mileage and we don’t drive very much, the environmental impact seemed acceptable.

I’ve heard there is a fried food smell.  Does it just come out the tailpipe, or can you smell it inside the car?
The smell just comes out the tailpipe.  If you have the windows down and are stopping a lot you can smell it in the car but I actually kinda liked it.

Is it difficult to find all of the oil you need for free?
Depends a lot on where you are.  I think the tricky part is trying to find relatively high quality oil so if you have some connections in restaurants and can talk a staff member into collecting it for you, that’s the best.  You don’t really want to be getting it out of big greasetraps.  In Bloomington, there was a bit of competition for oil but it also meant I could bum oil from other greasecar folks who had a stockpile.  I also knew a couple people who put together drum systems that restaurants could have out back for collecting oil that made everyone happy – it was clean and easy and the system worked well.

About what percentage of diesel do you end up using?
I used a lot more diesel than oil because I was lazy about getting oil and I did a lot of short drives that weren’t good for oil.  However, I had a friend who biked for short distances and used her car with vegetable oil for long distances and she probably used only 5-10% diesel.

When you filter the used oil, does the remaining junk have to be properly disposed of?
Yes, although I would feel comfortable putting it out with my regular trash.  It’s very gross but not really dangerous beyond being slightly flammable.  I did learn that vegetable oil will eat through rubber and asphalt if left to sit there long enough.  And it also is attractive to raccoons but gives them terrible diarrhea.  Really, filtering was probably my biggest challenge and one I never quite mastered although I think if I had been willing to put either more time or more money into development, I could have had a nice system that was easy to use.

Did you loose trunkspace for the additional tank?
Yes, I basically gave up my trunk because my tank lid did not seal quite right at first and it sprayed the trunk with a fine coat of oil.  If that hadn’t been the case, I still would have lost about a third of the trunk to fit in the tank.  I’ve seen some different systems that used a lot less space and were a lot cleaner.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I think I would.  Like I said, I think it makes the most sense for people who take long drives (more than 10 minutes) on a regular basis and who are committed to setting up a good oil filtration system.  I know in Louisville there’s a business that does greasecar installations and also that sells filtered used oil to folks; if I had that around, I’d be way more tempted to get back into the greasecar groove.  Right now I’m transitioning into a job where I can work from home or bike to the office and so I’m not that worried about what car I use on the few occasions when I drive.  But if I ever start driving regularly again, I’ll have to reconsider.

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andy said,

    July 3, 2009 @ 12:14 am

    I’ve seen a variety of greasecars on both ends of the quality spectrum. One reeked of rotten onions from far away and was nearly black on the back end from whatever was burning out of their tailpipe. Another was a very clean VW that had a tank that fit in the spare wheel spot in the trunk so it was completely out of the way, although he said he spent several thousand on the kit.

    The one problem I’ve seen from most greasecar owners is that once they have the converted car, places to collect grease, and a filtering system, they tend to drive a lot more and be more connected to their car. I can imagine that it takes a lot of time to set up all those parts of the system. Then winter comes and they are burning more regular diesel again.

    I wonder if anyone has a grease-moped? I’m sure it must exist but I haven’t seen a diesel engine that small yet.

  2. 2

    Carl Broady said,

    November 22, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    I would love to make or convert a car to run on used vegetable oil but I would have to look at the ROI, return on investment to see if I would ever recoup the cost of the conversion.

  3. 3

    Maggie said,

    November 30, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

    Yeah, it’s good to do an ROI analysis although I often jump into projects just because they sound cool. :) My main thought for a greasecar conversion is that it only makes sense if you have an old car, you drive a fair amount, and you’re willing to put some work into it. I have some friends who drove a greasecar around the country for a few months and they felt like they definitely earned their money’s worth. I think the big trick is being willing (and able) to do a lot of maintenance, tinkering, and grease filtering yourself. It does take more work than just pulling up at the nearest gas station.

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