Jurich: Please calm my conscienceWritten by Stacy Jurich | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Four years ago this summer I decided I was giving too much of my income to oil companies. They really don’t deserve any of the money I make, nor do they need it. I was slightly more impulsive at that time, so with little research I placed a bid on eBay for a 1981 Mercedes equipped with a conversion to use recycled vegetable oil as a fuel. A week later I had committed to buying a $4,650, 25-year-old car I had never seen or test driven. I sold my Ford Ranger and drove to Buffalo, N.Y., with my friend and brother to pick up the new ride.
That summer, I figured out how to collect used vegetable oil from restaurants and filter it to become my car’s fuel. I met other “greasecar” drivers in the area and worked out a few tweaks in the car. I made sure my car insurance included free towing, because as winter arrived the old diesel didn’t always start in some inconvenient locations and would sometimes stall because one of the two gauge-less fuel tanks (vegetable oil and diesel) ran out of fuel.
In February 2009 I drove “Vegipower” 10,000-plus miles around the country, collecting and filtering waste vegetable oil (WVO) as I traveled from city to city. This fuel is essentially free to the end user, only costing time and labor. The small amount of money I was now giving to oil companies was for my five-gallon diesel tank. This was used to start the car and for the first five miles driven while the vegetable oil was heating to a temperature that made it the same viscosity as diesel fuel. This trip lead to another trip, and this time my car was left behind.
I spent nearly a year off the continental mainland without my car. Vegipower was for sale during this time and someone bought her just as I was coming home to Toledo. During the next 12 months, I came to own and resell three more cheap diesels, seeking the right replacement for Vegipower.
Today I am wondering if Vegipower 2.0, my current diesel, a 1979 Mercedes 240 (same model as Vegipower), can live up to its predecessor, and if the process of owning a 30-year-old car that runs on salad dressing, as the latest onlooker called it, is worth the time, energy and investment.
My friend has been working on converting 2.0 to run on vegetable oil. He is very generous with his time and is also a very patient man. This conversion has been spanning the course of several months — many months were spent making preliminary nonconversion-related mechanical fixes to the car. The story has been like this — I have the car, drive it on diesel or WVO, it runs for a little while, stops, goes back to my friend, it’s fixed, I drive it on diesel or WVO, it runs for a little while, breaks, etc.
Last week I thought we were in the clear for a while. I drove nearly 100 miles, switching between WVO and diesel with only a few hiccups. At the end of a long weekend, though, I started home from Bowling Green as the sun was setting. Barely out of the parking lot, 2.0 stopped running.
Now my car sits again, this time on a side street in Bowling Green, unable to start.
I know there are easier options, but none of those feel morally justifiable. I could lease a new car or buy a newer (diesel or not) car, but then my money goes back to the oil companies, which I find politically corrupt, unethical and ecologically destructive. If I didn’t own a car, I would need reliable and efficient public transportation to supplement bicycle commuting. One option that is most realistic is car-sharing, paired with reducing driving as much as possible.
Even when I am fully driving on WVO again, I know that it is not a one-for-all solution to the oil crisis. With or without a car, our communities, our lifestyles and present-day structure of our existence is dependent on oil. From our most basic necessities such as food and warmth, to our commodities and transportation, humans are dependent on oil. As we harvest and consume this resource now, we are stealing life from another being, today and in the future.
I sigh, heart-wrenched, with a 17-millimeter wrench in hand, ready to make another attempt at “Vegipower 2.0” and wish for a solution that doesn’t exist, and for a calmed conscience.
Email Stacy Jurich at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: An editing error in Stacy Jurich’s March 21 column led to the erroneous insertion of “motorcycles” in the headline and text.