A Brief Note on Alternatives

One of the things I love about this job is that I learn something new with every issue. This month’s lesson was about GDiesel, a promising alternative fuel that raises mpg and power while reducing pollution. You can read more about it—along with a brilliant F-650 4×4 used to promote it—in “Showboat—This Feature Ford F-650 Spotlights New Fuel.”

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Diesel fuel prices are plummeting as this issue goes to press, and they are expected to continue dropping through the spring. Those of us with large-capacity tanks (42 gallons in my old ‘Burb) are going to save some serious money on fill-ups. Cheap fuel prices, even temporary ones, make it easy to forget one of the chief advantages of diesel engines: Their flexibility when it comes to fuel.

EDITI once owned a Detroit 6V71 (installed in the back end of a GM bus that I was thinking of converting to a motorhome). I got my hands on the list of approved fuels, and was amazed at the variety. Jet fuel was on the list, with a warning to expect a 20 percent reduction in power. I always thought that would be worthwhile trade-off for the reactions I would get by driving to my local airport, pulling up next to a Gulfstream V, and asking the attendant to fill ’er up. Actually, the reactions from pulling my 35-foot coach up to a regular fuel station were amusing enough. I’d usually answer quizzical looks with, “What do you expect? These things don’t run on toothpaste.”

Dr. Rudolph Diesel originally built his engine to run on peanut oil, though he later converted to coal dust (that must have made for some fun fill-ups.) Diesels retain this fueling flexibility, though new emissions regulations have certainly limited our choices. But it’s still relatively easy to find an older diesel that will run on biodiesel (made from vegetable oil and sometimes blended with petroleum-based diesel), and with some conversion, most diesels will run on pure vegetable oil. This (relatively) easy conversion to biofuels is yet another advantage that gasoline engines cannot claim.

Flexibility is just one of the reasons we love our diesels. Power is another one, and we’ve got our usual set of articles in this issue exploring all the options available to help you get all the power you want out of your diesel, and keep it running well enough to drive your rig around town at the same time. Plus, we’ve got some edu-taining features on steering and suspension upgrades as well. The bottom line is always the same—your diesel started off great, and you can make it even better. DW

-Aaron