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Buying a small used gas-saving car

June 2006

I want to buy a small used gas-saving car, ideally with back seats that fold down to increase cargo area. Do Prius and Honda Insight have fold-down back seats?

My mechanic recommends that I buy a Honda or Toyota, no older than 3 or 4 years old, from the person who owns the car and has maintenance records to prove that periodic maintenance was done and the oil was changed every 3,000 miles. I welcome any information about buying any of these models used: Toyota Echo, Matrix and Prius. Honda Insight.

Especially, does anyone have advice about the best ways to find owners selling these? ann


I had the same question as you (Prius, Insight, Matrix, Echo) and in the end wanted something that felt safer to me and that could use biodiesel, so I bought a used 2000 VW Golf diesel -- and I couldn't be happier! The back seat goes down in two places, so I can leave one seat up with the baby in it and have the rest of the back down for cargo space. It's a 4-door, I feel it has as much room as a station wagon, and I love it! I also feel safe because it's such a solid car. It gets 42-45 mpg and I use biodiesel pumped at Biofuel Oasis at 4th and Dwight Way in Berkeley. I have two 5-gallon containers of biodiesel that I keep in my garage in case I don't have time to go down to Biofuel Oasis, and when I'm traveling I just pump diesel into it. I bought the car off of Craigs List from a guy who had kept all service records, and I took it to my mechanic first for his go-ahead. Love my car! Linden

How do you like your biodiesel?

March 2006

We are beginning the search for a new vehicle. I want the car to run on biodiesel. I am interested in hearing from people who are driving cars that have been retrofitted for that fuel. Specifically I would like to know:

What car did you choose and why?
Who did the conversion for you, and was it expensive?
Where do you get fuel - what is your mileage like?  Have you had 
any issues finding reliable fuel sources?
Repairs and running - does the car run well - problems, issues, 
etc. Do you need anyone special to do repairs because it runs on 
a different fuel?
Where did you go for information to get yourself started?  
Any info is greatly appreciated. Thanks. LR
We're running biodiesel in a 2002 VW Jetta Wagon. We debated getting an older model that would need some minor updating (mostly hoses as biodiesel is a terrific solvent) or a newer model that we could just run the biodiesel in. We went new as the older models were hard to find (mid/late 90's VW wagons) or they were 80's Mercedes wagons and we just didn't want a car that old.

Diesels are over blue book in the Bay area due to high demand. We bought ours from the Green Car Company in Seattle (greencarco.com). There's a great fuel source at the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley (biofueloasis.com). Folks are great there and have lots of info on this subject. Mechanics: Griffin Motorwerke (g-werke.com), Terry Griffin is very knowledgable, honest, and affordable.

The only problem we've had is that a fuel hose corroded. This should not have happened on a 2002 VW. What we found out was that at some point, someone installed non-manufacturer hoses. Any vehicle you buy should have the fuel hoses checked out regardless. For more general info on this subject also check out the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective (berkeleybiodiesel.org). Chris


Hi there's a lot of info out there, like the berkeley biodiesel co-op, there's one in SF, and the Biofuel Oasis (biofueloasis.com) filling station in berkeley. But here's the short version: Buy a diesel car, and it runs on biodiesel. no conversion needed.

That's said with one caveat, and that if you buy an older diesel, such as a Benz, the fuel lines will eventually have to be changed to ''viton'' material hoses, which are BioD resistent (the old rubber used on old cars will break down eventually - especially the little hoses that go to the fuel injectors). These are easy to change, and can be done in an hour or so. The only other thing to keep an eye on is your fuel filter. BioD is a solvent that cleans the heck outta yer engine, so all the old dino fuel buildup will eventually end up in yer fuel filter. Fuel filters are less than ten bucks and take about 5 minutes to change. Berkeley biodiesel co-op even has a free class on it. You really only have to watch this in the first 6 months or so, and after that, the fuel filter doesn't really need to get changed too often.

You hear about ''conversions'' and that is for a car running on Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO). You need a 2nd tank to heat up the oil before it will work in yer engine. If it's too cold it can clog it up. Check out sites like greasecar.com, or greasel.com for more info.

I bought a used 300SD MBenz, 84'. It's a tank and the MB's made from 82-86 have diesel engines that are sometimes referred to as being ''overengineered'' since they are so tough and reliable. That's why I got the benz, plus it was cheap ($3500). If you got a benz, I would recommend a Turbo over a non-turbo, as it doesn't have too much affect on mileage, but getting up to 65 in a 240 on the highway might start to feel frustrating. Also keep in mind, that a well maintained diesel can run up to 500K, quite easily. They are more efficient than combustion engines, and can deal with more mileage. Mine has almost 300k.

I fill up at BioFuel Oasis in Berkeley. They're great, very helpful, always happy to answer questions, but only take cash and checks, so don't show up with a credit card. Right now it's about $3.60/gallon. The other nice part of BioD, is you can take it with you, and I keep a 5 gallon carboy container in my trunk, just in case i'm too far from the fillup station. It's not flammable like gas, so you can keep it in the trunk, in your garage, basement etc.

The Berkeley BioD co-op has a BioD 101 free intro class they do once a month, and you might go check that out. Get there early, as they won't have enough room for everyone.

Oh, mileage doesn't change with the use of BioD, at least not significantly. My MB gets about 25 mpg, and diesels in general get great mileage. The best is probably with a newer Jetta or Passat from VW, which get 45 or so! It's hard to find those sometimes, as CA won't let the sales of new diesels occur anymore. There's a place in Oregon that posts to craigs list with their new diesel/biodiesel ready cars - they post to the Bay Area craigslist, so just do a search on craigs for diesel cars.

I get oil changes anywhere, and the berkeley biod co-op has a list of bioD mechanics, but a lot of the work can be done by any german repair place.

okay...hope that hlps
dren


Hi. I looked into a biodiesel car, too, but decided against it at this time. I also just heard the ''Car Talk'' show with Click and Clack, those car mechanic brothers, on NPR this morning basically stating the same thing that I found out. Here it is: even though there is a plentiful supply of fast food grease right now, if more people went Biodiesel there would be a shortage. The problem is that fast food grease is not something we want to encourage, it is not sustainable, and because we are environmentalists, ''greenies'' etc. we would like less people to be eating this garbage and less and less of the grease produced in the first place. The second is that your car has to have 2 fuels, diesel and biodiesel. To start the car, you need the regular fuel to heat the engine up and start heating the grease, as it is too sluggish to use in a cold car. So, you are still tied to the gas station, only a very few stations as not all of them carry diesel. Plus, you have I think 1 or 2 places to fill up in the whole East Bay for the Biodiesel. According to my research and the Click and Clack guys, ethanol is the wave of the future and this will be available in about 2 years. I am hanging onto my old car waiting for this. It is a sustainable product, being an alcohol generated from soybeans, corn, beans etc. which will support agriculture, too, not the KFCs and Burger Kings! I am sure that the Biodiesel activists will not like my response, but there it is, our family wants to be responsible but doesn't have extra money to waste on a fuel system that might be obsolete in a few years. But please get other opinions and do your own research. I am pleased that people are tyring to make changes, and kick the oil industry in the butt!
decided against a french fry car
I just bought a 2000 VW Golf TDI 4-door and I LOVE it! It gets 45 mpg, awesome power, very sporty and SAFE, super smooth ride, the backseat goes down to almost- station wagon space, and it's totally cute. And guess what - you don't have to convert diesels to use bio-diesel fuel! You just pump it in and it can mix with your diesel fuel! Refueling is easy at Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley www.biofueloasis.com. You can also join the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective www.berkeleybiodiesel.org. I just got a once-over at Karmakanix in Berkeley -- I liked that he was working on another VW with a biodiesel bumper sticker! (I can give you the name of the private dealer in San Jose I bought it from - call me at 650.868.3900.) Go biodiesel!
You should check out the news group '' burnveggies'' or TDIclub.com, both are great resources. It appears you are slightly confused about a biodiesel car. There is really no conversion needed. The car must be a diesel and then you can use either Bio or Dino diesel. It might be better if you contacted me directly or the Biofuels Oasis in Berkeley. We bought a VW Jetta wagon. Mileage 33-47mpg
Tim
I am a mom and a biodiesel activist, so I am really excited to respond here. First, I want to say that my last job was at the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative so I know how many people in this area want to stop or cut back on driving their cars. A motto popular with the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective right now is ''Driving Still Sucks'' and I agree. Biodiesel is not perfect, but it is the best available fuel choice we have now.

I've been using biodiesel for over two years, and I enjoy buying fuel from the locally owned Biofuel Oasis. If going there seems inconvenient for you, home deliveries of biodiesel may be an option to consider. Biodiesel is not explosive or toxic, and can be safely dispensed from a tank in your garage. Imagine never having to go to the gas station again! Biodiesel is more expensive per gallon and diesel cars cost more to buy, but if you drive a lot the increased fuel efficiency and engine life can pay back the difference over time. I'm not advocating that everyone go buy a car, but if you are in the market anyway, consider going biodiesel. You need not worry about the technology becoming obsolete. Due to changes in petroleum diesel regulation in California, many new diesel passenger vehicles will be coming onto the market soon. Keep your eye out for the sexy new Audi Quattro!

If you would like to meet me, I will be representing the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective at our monthly Biodiesel 101 this Monday the 6th and the first Monday in April and May at the Ecology Center in Berkeley. http://berkeleybiodiesel.org And feel free to contact me directly through my work at Green Means Go. http://www.greenmeansgocars.com Sienna


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