Did some more maintenance on my car this week. I stopped a small oil leak, checked all fuel levels and replaced the car’s starter battey. For all of these tasks, I am grateful to the makers of my Chilton repair manual. I have found their detailed directions to be exhaustively thorough and to assume little about the experience level of the reader. Almost all the steps for a procedure are illustrated by thoughtfully composed photographs. This manual has been worth its modest price many times over. The manual’s section on battery maintenance and replacement was far better than the extremely basic one that came with the car. In my car, the actual battery is not accessible by simply popping the hood. Instead, it is located directly forward of the driver side front wheel. One has to turn the wheels all the way left and then remove a panel to access the actual battery. Provision for easily jumping or recharging the battery is made via terminal posts that are easily accessed by popping the hood, but any replacement or servicing of the actual battery is more involved.
The battery was in definite need of replacement. The car has not been turning over as easily as it used to, the alarm system’s “activation beep” has barely been audible and when listening to the radio, more alternator noise can be heard. Surprisingly, the carputer, with its highly regulated power supply hasn’t had any issues. I am really hard on my car batteries. I have emptied the battery at least a half dozen times by leaving the lights on, as well as subjected the battery to the dual parasitic loads of the carputer in suspend to ram mode and the alarm system. I probably should have replaced the battery with a deep cycle marine battery, or gone to a two battery system with a battery isolator to prevent the starter battery from being drained, but I chose to spend some money on fish, instead. I ended up buying a generic battery from Costco. It only cost me $46, so I won’t feel too bad if I prematurely kill this one as well.
I have dumped a lot of time and money into this car, so I will likely drive it till it drops, but I am already giving thought to what I would like for a future vehicle. I have given it a lot of thought and have determined that my next vehicle will run on Biodiesel.
Biodiesel is a fuel extracted from either waste (already used as cooking oil, for instance) or virgin (brand new) vegetable oil. Biodiesel, like the name suggests, will run in any vehicle with a diesel engine with little to no modification. All of Volkswagon’s vehicles are available with a TDI diesel engine that can run 100% biodiesel or any mixture of biodiesel with petroleum based diesel fuel. Older diesel engine powered vehicles, such as those commonly found in many european luxury cars have no difficulty running on Biodiesel, but need a few minor parts replaced, due to the natural rubber hoses, gaskets, feed lines, etc. in use back in the 80’s, which can corrode when in contact with Biodiesel. Older vehicles that have been running on petro-diesel for ages will probably also need their fuel filters replaced a few times at first, as Biodiesel has a cleaning, detergent effect on nasty sulfur deposits that the burning of petro-diesel can leave behind. All in all, Biodiesel is a fuel that has tremendous advantages over gasoline. Briefly:
* Biodiesel is a 100% renewable fuel source. We can make it from surplus plant oils. The current main source for industrial Biodiesel production is soy bean oil, which has few other commercial uses (soy beans are harvested for the husks, the oil is a largely unsaleable byproduct).
* Biodiesel production would give farmers another source of revenue, keeping more of our country’s money in the US economy, rather than sending it oversees to buy a Saudi prince their 101st Golden Roll’s Royce.
* Biodiesel reduces our dependence of foreign petroleum, strengthening our national security. I say the best way to fight middle east terrorism is to decrease the deep economic hold the whole region has over us.
* Biodiesel can run in many existing vehicles and the diesel engine is a well known quantity that has a long history. Diesel engines typically have much longer useable lifetimes than gasoline engines and can be rebuilt many times.
* Biodiesel can be distributed through existing gas stations with little or no modification. Other alternative energy ideas such as hydrogen powered cars would require high pressures and/or low temperatures to transport and existing gas stations would require hugely expensive retrofitting in order to offer hydrogen. Hydrogen may make sense for fleet vehicles in the near future, but I see too many chicken and the egg type problems for it to be adopted by a significant number of people in the near future.
* Biodiesel burns very clean and has beneficial effects on engine life. Because Biodiesel is produced from carbon fixating plants, there is no net increase in carbon (greenhouse gasses) emissions into the atmosphere, unlike petroleum based fuels which take carbon fixated in the earth since the time of the dinosaurs and spew it into the atmosphere.
* Biodiesel can be produced on a “cottage industry” scale from waste cooking oil thrown out by many restaurants. There are many people in the Seattle area who manufacture their own fuel and have not had to fork over their hard earned $ at the pump for years. Others still modify their engines to run on the waste cooking oil directly, so that no reprocessing has to occur. They literally go to McDonalds to fill up their cars.
* Biodiesel is available NOW at several gas stations in the Seattle area. I plan on visiting one or more of these stations in the next few days. If anyone is interested in joining me, I would welcome the company.