Take the Fast Lane With Biodiesel
How's this for eco-friendly bragging rights? A simple dashboard switch that, when you flip it on, converts your car into a green dream machine that gets up to 45 miles a gallon on the used canola oil you siphon from your local Thai restaurant's deep fryer.
That's precisely what Kevin Natapow did to his family's 2003 Volkswagen diesel car. "Wow, I'm really hungry for pad Thai," his wife, Jenny, said the first time the Boulder, Colo., couple took a drive in the newly converted car, which tends to smell like the foods cooked in the grease it burns.
Golden fuel. To get in this biofuel fast lane, you first need a diesel car, preferably a moderately used model like the Natapows' 2003 VW. (Converting a new diesel car to run on vegetable oil will void the warranty.) Then you install a conversion kit available through websites like Greasecar.com and Goldenfuelsystems.com. At about $800 to $1,000 each, plus installation, the systems add a second stainless-steel tank and a heating element that warms your favorite cooking oil so it flows properly into the engine. (Light oils like cold-pressed canola are better than, say, peanut oil, which becomes unsuitable at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)
A temperature sensor Natapow installed on his car shows when the oil reaches the optimal temperature. "Then I flip the switch on the dash, and people get really disappointed," he says of the test drives he regularly offers to potential converts. "They're expecting bells to go off and fireworks, but all you really notice is the smell of egg rolls."
That, along with the taste of sweet satisfaction as he thumbs his nose at the gas stations he passes on the way.
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.