Wrong Fuel Emergency – Cooking Oil Catastrophe

wrong fuel emergency biodieselAs we have established in previous blog posts, the internet can be a gold mine or a minefield when it comes to useful wrong fuel or general motoring related information. As car ownership becomes more and more expensive, we have been aware for a long while about the huge array of cut price motoring advice websites out there. Many of them offer sound advice about driving safely and efficiently, how to source the best value insurance or warranty and how to do simple maintenance yourself to save money. But, every so often, one of our wrong fuel engineers will come across a site which tries to take things a step too far by trying to make a complex and potentially dangerous job sound like something that just about anyone could do.

One of our engineers was recently called out to an unusual wrong fuel emergency in Birmingham. The car in question, an expensive premium model, had broken down at the side of the road about 2 miles from the owners home. The owner explained that he thought the car might have some bad fuel in it but didn’t elaborate until our engineer had reached him. The first thing our engineer noticed when he arrived on the scene and opened the car bonnet, was the strange smell coming from the car. The owner then went on to explain that he had found a website describing how to make your own diesel from used cooking oil. This is a perfectly reasonable and legal idea and diesel vehicles can indeed be made to run using used cooking oil, but the cooking oil needs to be chemically treated before it can be used as fuel and the additional chemicals required can be extremely hazardous if handled incorrectly.

Diesel fuel made from cooking oil is referred to as “biodiesel” and most website explanations of how to make it do stress that biodiesel manufacture should only be carried out by trained, experienced chemical engineers under carefully controlled conditions. Firstly, the process requires a lot of methanol which is a highly flammable and volatile chemical, even more so than petrol. It is also extremely poisonous if ingested. Secondly, caustic soda is used in large amounts which, upon skin contact, will cause severe chemical burns. These two hazardous chemicals need to be mixed together as part of the biodiesel making process and so it is fairly plain to see that great care is required when doing this. The process is also quite complex and exact quantities of chemicals need to be used at the right point in time. If something goes wrong then you may very well end up with a barrel of completely useless but highly dangerous chemicals.

It transpired that our wrong fuel customer had attempted to make his own biodiesel in his shed as he was fed up with having to pay ever increasing diesel fuel costs. He also confessed that the process had been very difficult and time consuming as he wasn’t really 100% sure what he was doing. The process appeared to be successful but the resulting biodiesel had not got his car very far and so something must have gone wrong during manufacture. Thankfully, our expert wrong fuel emergency engineer was able to drain the substance in question from the clients fuel tank without too much trouble. He then went on to thoroughly flush out the car’s fuel system to remove all traces of the biodiesel and refilled it with professionally refined diesel fuel. The car started and the engine ran smoothly. Our client had had a lucky escape.

Further investigation into biodiesel revealed that biodiesel made from waste cooking oil will freeze in cold weather and so even if our client had been successful with his attempts, he may very well have encountered this problem on particularly cold days. Also, biodiesel can often be more viscous than regular diesel fuel and so may transfer debris and sludge from the bottom of the fuel tank, to the fuel pump, eventually causing a blockage and consequent running problems. Fitting an inline filter is recommended if you are seriously considering the biodiesel route for your car. If you are adamant that you want to use biodiesel to run your vehicle, please only source it from a verified and certificated supplier and during winter months make sure you source specially blended biodiesel to avoid the fuel freeze problem.

Happy green motoring!

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