Posted September 14th 2010 at 10:39 am by
in Adventures in a Vegetable Grease Car

Continuing to Run on Veggie Grease

Dayna's husband fills the car with veggie grease.

I have been driving my grease car for about two weeks. It is a really different experience.  The car itself is so big and old and it smells like diesel and hamburgers.  I painstakingly practice the fuel switching routine my husband demonstrated to me.  To the far left is the fuel toggle for start-up on diesel, which is used while the engine is cold and in the center of the car is the toggle for veggie waste oil, which is used when the engine is warm.  Before I turn the car off, I purge to get veggie waste oil out of the fuel lines so I can start the cold engine on the less viscose diesel, and this fuel toggle is to the far right.  The engine is so efficient that I’ve only filled each tank – veggie and regular diesel, once!

Whenever the window is open, my stomach starts to growl, and when I told my sister this, she nearly dropped the phone because she was laughing so hard (she drives a sleek, late model Volvo).  Also, something seems to be wrong with the new $1600 suspension.  The slightest bump in the road sends me rolling and shaking.  Still, I really like that so many people stop me and ask about the logo on my back window. It makes me feel that I’m on the cutting edge of something for once in my life.  I have never been an early adopter!

My husband has affectionately named the car Crisco; Crisco has no AC. One hot sticky night, I took my friends Burt and Derrick for a ride.  The windows were wide open and a light mist was cooling our outstretched arms.  I love the pure summer smell of rain on asphalt – a scent I have missed in the confines of my air-conditioned Toyota.  We were bucking all over the street with my bad suspension and I apologized for the bumpy ride. Derrick laughs and reminds me that the fuel is free.  “Free fuel makes this the smoothest car I’ve ever ridden in.”

My mother and my favorite aunt and uncle came from New York for a visit and I took them to the Institute of Contemporary Art in the veggie car (very hipoisie).   We got lost and ended up touring the whole city in the bucking bronco.  My family graciously complimented me every few miles of this rough ride, and told me how smart I was to buy a veggie mobile.  At this point, I  was feeling smart and smugly resigned to dealing with old car problems as part of the greasecar bargain.

Suddenly, the car began acting very strange. It became really sluggish and one day barely reached speeds of over fifteen miles per hour.  The next day, on the way to the airport rushing to catch a flight, my husband couldn’t push it beyond five miles per hour.  He ditched the car on a side street, caught a cab and barely made his plane.  I called AAA and, dejected, drove the reliable Toyota over to wait for the tow.  Two passersby noticed the greasecar logo and asked me if it really ran on veggie grease.  I was in no mood to talk. The tow truck guy was the third to inquire about grease fuel that day.  By the look on my face, he knew not to dwell on the subject, but he did manage to ask whether I planned to drive the car long distances.  He coyly suggested that I get platinum AAA service: “The towing is free from almost everywhere.”

We hauled the car to the Green Grease Monkey’s diesel guy.  From there, it went to the veggie conversion guys.  I realized that I may need to have three different mechanics for Crisco.

Several days later, it turned out that the problem was a pilot error: my husband and I reversed the fuel switching routine. We had been starting the engine cold on veggie, running it until it warmed up, and then switched to diesel.  This was completely backwards; we would never have gotten away with this in the winter. The car simply would never have started.

The car came home, but somehow during all of the repairs, someone had knocked the Mercedes hood ornament akimbo.  The car is almost thirty years old, rusted in patches, rides like a country truck.  None of this really bothers me, but I was flabbergasted to learn that what I really cared about was the crooked hood ornament.  I came inside whining to my husband.  Insult upon injury; salt in wounds.  Baffled, he patiently went outside and twisted the thing around and miraculously it popped back into place.  All was right with the world.  Crisco was redeemed.  We were back on the road again and feeling fine.

Photo by Dayna Cunningham

Dayna Cunningham is the Executive Director of the Community Innovators Lab.  She has over twenty years of experience working in democratic engagement and social justice as an attorney, in philanthropy and in development.

One response to “Continuing to Run on Veggie Grease”

  1. Dayna, this is so cool! i’ll be keen to learn about your experiences over winter. i have a 2002 Jetta that I’ve been thinking about converting, but I’m worried about two things:

    – The possibility of blowing out the cylinders in a few years because veggie oil can be harder on the system

    – Overwintering the car – I don’t have a garage in Vermont, where it can regularly reach -10 degrees or more

    The burger smell is clearly not a plus, but yes the lower emissions, low cost fuel, and potential fuel economy gains are very attractive. Small detail question: how convenient is the fuel collection routine?

    Very best,