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Monday, May 31, 2010


Imagine you had to evacuate your area. Doesn't matter from what. It could be anything from a wildfire to a toxic gas leak to a hurricane. If you left now with only the fuel you had in your vehicle and at your home, how far could you get?

I'm guessing most vehicles could not get all that far. Right now, think about your vehicle. How much gas in the tank? Is it close to full? For most vehicles that'll give you 300 - 400 miles. I'll bet most people don't have a full tank right now. Do you have more than half a tank? Is it closer to a quarter tank? Sucking fumes and hope to get to the gas station down the block without pushing?

Remember now, the rules of this little exercise state that you can't gas up along the way. Maybe every gas station is out. The grid could be down and there's no power to pump fuel. Heck, since it's a thought experiment, let's say we are having a domestic crisis and the government has commandeered all fuel for the military.

During the 2005 hurricanes, gas stations soon went dry or lost power and couldn't pump fuel. I've friends in northern Florida. They said the highways were littered with abandoned cars from south to middle Florida. Those people didn't even have enough fuel to get out of their home state.

The number one lesson is to have enough fuel in your personal possession to get out of harm's way. Do not rely on being able to fuel up along the way.

Some considerations. Gasoline must be stabilized using special additives. Most auto parts store should carry it and the people there will be able to help you out. Only store gas in approved containers. Those containers should be kept in a safe place, like a locked metal out building with good ventilation. Personally, I'd hesitate to store more than 10 or 20 gallons at one time. Gasoline is dangerous stuff. Every six months or so, use the stored gasoline in your vehicles and replace with fresh. Stored gas, even when stabilized, loses its more volatile compounds. That's usually not a problem in a car. However, in small engines like chainsaws and generators, the old gas might not be able to start the engine.

Let's say you don't have any specially stored gasoline and don't have quite enough in the car to get where you want to go. Maybe you have some gas that's been mixed with oil to be used in something like a chainsaw. Can you use it in your car? Yes. It might smoke a bit and you won't want to do it all the time, but it'll burn. Coleman camping fuel will also work in gasoline engines. In an unopened container, Coleman fuel keeps a good seven years. Back when I drove a gas car, I almost ran out of fuel during a big snowstorm in Pennsylvania. Poured in camp stove fuel from two stoves and a storage bottle. It got me to an open gas station.

People with diesel vehicles have other options. Diesel can also be stored with additives. Even untreated diesel lasts better than gasoline does. It has the added advantage of not being as volatile as gasoline. In a pinch diesel engines can run on a variety of fuels. Now this is technically illegal as no road tax has been paid, but these diesel substitutes work. In the northeast many houses are heated with #2 fuel oil. It burns fine in diesels. The average house fuel tank is around 300 gallons. It's possible to shut the tank valve off, disconnect the fuel line to the furnace, and put a container to catch the fuel when the valve is reopened. Don't mess with this unless you are very comfortable with the house's heating system. Maybe you could get your furnace service guy to show you how to do it.

Diesel engines will run on kerosene. Some people keep a couple of 5 gallon containers of kerosene around for space heaters. As a fuel, it's a bit on the light side, but its lower viscosity is an advantage during sub zero temperatures. I've talked to guys who've run diesels on transmission and hydraulic fluid. Haven't tried that myself, so I'm not sure how well it works. At one time it was common to get rid of old motor oil by straining it then burning oil in a diesel engine. That really doesn't work very well these days. Modern motor oils have additives that make them hard to use as fuel. Really don't recommend it.

My diesels have been converted to run on waste vegetable oil. I never have less than a 100 gallons of WVO stored at one time. I've some in a special storage tank that can hold 200 gallons. There's a 12 volt pump and battery pack for pumping it out. Also have plenty of WVO fuel in 4.5 gallon plastic jugs stored on a special rack in my basement. Last big trip I went on I went 2500 miles with the WVO I carried in the bed of my truck. That my friends, is range.

Could an unaltered diesel engine get away with burning vegetable oil? Yes . . . and no. Like many things, it depends. Let's say you've been keeping that much vegetable oil around for deep frying a turkey. For example, say your vehicles has a 20 gallon diesel tank that's about half full -10 gallons. You could probably put in 5 gallons of clean vegetable oil. On a summer day, it'd probably run well enough that you wouldn't notice much difference.

During a cold winter day, the veggie could gum things up and you wouldn't get much further than the end of your driveway. Even in the summer, it's possible the vegetable oil could loosen gunk out of the vehicle's fuel lines and tank. That gunk would then plug up the fuel filter, stalling the engine. Do you have spare fuel filters and know how to change them? If you do, you might want to chance it in an emergency.

I did hear of a guy with a VW diesel Rabbit who ran out of diesel on his way home late at night. There was a grocery store open, but no gas stations. He bought a few gallons of vegetable oil and poured it into the fuel tank. Since the engine was still hot, it started up and he drove home. The next morning, after the engine had cooled down, the car would not start. He had the tank filled with diesel, then the car was towed behind a big truck until it eventually started on compression. That's not really the safest way to go about it, but it's what the guy did. Probably would have been safer to change the filter and have the fuel lines blown out. Had that done myself once after getting a bad load of diesel.

If you ever have to head out of Dodge, I hope you've got enough fuel to go the distance. Hope these ideas help.


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