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My Vegetarian Truck

The first thing my dad said when I told him we were powered by waste veggie oil was, “You might be a redneck if… the vehicle you convert to run on straight vegetable oil is a three-quarter-ton, crew cab, powerstroke diesel truck.”

Ultimately, playing outside often requires a lot of driving. My husband Slade and I needed a 4×4 vehicle that could take abuse from us, the dog, the boats, and the gear-and one that didn’t come with a high cost to us and the environment. We’d been hearing about a lot of people successfully using vegetable oil as fuel, and the idea of driving around for free, recycling a waste product into fuel, and significantly reducing our vehicle emissions sounded pretty good.

Oh, and we also wanted to give Big Oil the finger each and every day.

So we traded our gas-guzzling truck for a 1997 Ford F250, dual tank, 4-wheel drive, diesel truck. Slade did the conversion himself with the help and advice of a guy who regularly does veggie conversions on diesel cars like Jettas and Mercedes.

After the conversion (which took $750 and about a day’s work), the first true test was a trip up to Canada for Slade to race in the National Open Canoe Slalom Championships. Much to our delight (and relief!), we made it all the way up there without a single problem-in fact, it seemed to run quieter, smoother, and better on veggie.

When we needed to get more fuel (fuel = waste veggie oil), we’d stop in a town and start looking for grease bins. Yes, it’s true, we use the waste fryer oil discarded by restaurants as fuel, and other than the time and materials to collect it, it’s free! Slade has established a few key relationships with restaurants around town so that we can “fill up” whenever we need to. We’ve found that getting to know a few key suppliers is important because you don’t want a bunch of junk in your veggie oil. Slade says the key is having the veggie oil hot and clean.

Is it as easy as pulling up behind McD’s and grabbing some free fuel from their grease bins? Not quite. First of all, the waste oil from fast food restaurants is usually not ideal; most of them use hydrogenated oil (cheaper) and fry frozen foods (water is no good for diesel engines). We have definitely grown to become waste veggie oil snobs. We scope out the restaurants that use peanut or soy oil and those that don’t fry things to death. Once the oil is collected, it’s best to let it sit for a while so that the crumbs and junk settle out and leave you with clear oil.

Secondly, running a vehicle on waste oil does take some tinkering. I’d be lying if I said that it was all free and clear after the conversion. It’s hard to say how much, though, because Slade enjoys tinkering and tweaking the system. We haven’t had any problems during cold weather so far, but, again, the key is making sure the oil is hot and clean before sending it to the engine.

Slade’s most recent quest is to start making biodiesel. Running straight veggie requires starting and stopping the truck on regular diesel to heat and filter the oil, so for short trips, we still end up burning regular (or bio) diesel. Also, biodiesel is a more trustworthy fuel (again, you never know what ends up in restaurant grease bins). It’ll take a combination of alternative fuels and solutions to tear American’s away from our dependence on oil, and using waste vegetable oil and/or biodiesel for fuel is definitely one practical solution.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world, In our case, that happens one mile at a time.


There’s a lot of confusion about the differences between straight veggie oil and biodiesel. Here’s the layperson’s explanation of the two fuels:

Straight vegetable oil (SVO)congeals at a certain temperature, so using it as fuel requires a “conversion” (separate tank, heater, filter, pump). You have to start and stop the vehicle on regular diesel (or biodiesel) to flush the veggie oil from the engine so that it doesn’t congeal there. After the engine heats up (and heats up your veggie tank), it’s as easy as pushing a button on the dash to switch over to run on pure veggie.

Biodiesel can be used in any diesel vehicle. It’s vegetable oil that is treated so that it doesn’t congeal. The treatment is called titration-and involves waste oil, heated processing tank (old hot water heater), and some chemicals-it’s a lot like brewing your own beer. If you don’t want to make your own, check out to find biofuel filling stations near you.

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