Free Fuel!

by James Menzies

DRURY, Mo. – Several years ago when Illinois-based trucker Ray Hudson hit the road in his 1999 Mack 460, his wife would usually stay behind.

She could often be found wandering through back alleys, peering into grease bins. At first glance, she may have looked like a confused transient looking for a meal, but in reality she was searching for food for her husband’s rig – vegetable oil to be more precise.

It’s a little-known fact that Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) can be used to power even large bore diesel truck engines. Since restaurants have to pay to dispose of their waste SVO, most are pleased to let you take it for free, provided you ask first. Essentially, waste vegetable oil can provide a free alternative to expensive diesel fuel.

In the summer, it’s possible to run SVO without any sort of conversion kit. However, given our harsh Canadian winters it’s advisable to purchase a conversion kit such as the ones provided by Greasel (

“Our system uses engine coolant and 12 Volts to heat the vegetable oil up to around 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit where the viscosity is similar to diesel so you don’t have to worry about the stuff gelling up in cold weather,” explains Charles Anderson, owner of Greasel.

With the conversion kit, heavy-duty trucks can be operated in temperatures as cold as -40 F, he says. No chemical modification of the vegetable oil is required and once the kit is installed there are no further enhancements required for the engine or fuel system.

Truckers who use SVO to power their vehicles have reported no loss in power and typically they get the same miles per gallon as they do with diesel. However, diesel is still required in a separate tank for starting and shutting down the engine.

Using vegetable oil to power your rig isn’t without its risks. For instance you can expect some trouble if you take your SVO-run truck into the shop to get a fuel issue fixed that should still be covered under warranty.

“He who giveth the warranty can also taketh away the warranty,” admits Anderson, adding manufacturers will often nullify a warranty once an operator has begun running veggie oil through it.

However, he says the industry is slowly gaining acceptance of alternative fuels such as SVO.

“Generally speaking, they’re a little bit wary but people are warming up to the idea,” Anderson insists, adding the lubricating qualities of vegetable oil are as good as, if not better than diesel.

It’s a risk worth taking for Hudson, who has run 200,000 relatively problem-free miles since beginning to use vegetable oil as his primary source of fuel. When he converted his Mack, it had already accumulated 610,000 miles so he hasn’t attributed any glitches over the past year with the use of veggie oil.

Despite the start-up costs and the ongoing cost of filters, Hudson told Truck News he’s still managed to save a substantial amount of money.

“It cost quite a bit to get started because I had to buy tanks and vats I use for collecting, storing and settling the oil,” he says. And because he uses it up as quickly as it can be collected, he doesn’t have the luxury of allowing the oil to settle as long as he should which causes him to go through a lot of filters.

“But I think it’s worth it,” he insists.

“He’s really happy,” Anderson adds. “He’s had his truck serviced and everything is coming up good. There have been no problems with anything and he’s getting some miles on there.”

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for truckers is accessibility of the oil. Because it’s not readily available at truck stops, truckers either have to collect it themselves or find someone to do it for them. It’s a time consuming process.

Understandably, Hudson’s wife eventually got sick of collecting the oil herself once usage increased from about 100 gallons per week to about 400, and Ray has since had to hire someone to collect it for him while he’s on the road.

“She got tired of that really fast,” chuckles Hudson.

And then there’s the issue of storage for long-distance haulers. The larger the tank, the more weight you add to the vehicle.

Hudson uses his Mack’s two 135-gallon fuel tanks (one of which is heated) to store the veggie oil. He has also added another 100-gallon tank, which also contains SVO, as well as a 60-gallon tank to store diesel. As a result, he estimates he has added about 3,000 pounds to the vehicle, thus reducing his payload by the same amount.

For that reason, SVO is a more realistic alternative for local haulers or those who return to their home base on a regular basis.

With 370 gallons of veggie oil on-board, Hudson says he can run about 2,000 miles before needing a refill. His routes give him a chance to return home once a week to refill, so it’s not a problem for him. As well, he says there’s a supplier in North Carolina and more are bound to crop up as the oil becomes more widely used.

A part-time driver or someone with a partner who doesn’t mind collecting waste oil stands to gain the most from running veggie oil. In fact, Hudson is so confident in its future that he is considering becoming a commercial provider of the alternative fuel when he retires.

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