Our Veggie Van

our veggie van

1982 veggie Westy

It has been nine years now since we transformed our Volkswagon Westfalia diesel to run on straight vegetable oil.  Back in 2004, Colin and I acquired the 1982 westy from his relatives in California, and we converted it to run on veggie oil in 2005.  Volkswagon made this diesel model for the North American market only for one year, and shipped them to California in response to the gas crisis of the late 70’s.  Hence, these diesel Westfalia’s are rather hard to find.

German engineer Rudolph Diesel patented the diesel engine in 1892.  He experimented with vegetable oils and successfully used peanut oil. Ultimately, Diesel settled on a stable byproduct of the petroleum refinement process that would come to be known as “diesel fuel.”  In contrast to the other steam engines of the era, which wasted more than 90 percent of their fuel energy, Diesel calculated that his could be as much as 75 percent efficient.

In our quest to move away from being dependent on the petroleum industry,  we saw a useful endeavor in feeding our diesel engine used vegetable oil from the local restaurants.  As long as the oil is non-hydrogenated and filtered, we have had no problems while driving around for free.   A secondary fuel tank to hold the vegetable is the first step.  Vegetable oil is very thick (more viscus) compared to diesel, and thickens at cooler temperatures, so it needs to be heated up before it is sent to the engine.   The vehicle is started on diesel (or biodiesel) in the original fuel tank, and then switched over to veggie oil after the vehicle has been running a minute or two and has heated up.  We used the coolant lines from the radiator to heat the veggie tank with a hotstick (which is a metal rod that the coolant runs down and back up and out of and sticks down into our veggie tank) and a heated fuel filter/water separator system which the coolant lines run through as well.  In this manner the veggie oil is heated first in the tank, then again as it passes through the fuel filter.  Both fuel tanks send the fuel through a 6 port valve before the engine.  This is how you switch between tanks as there are 4 ports on the incoming side (a fuel line from each tank and a return line for each, carrying any fuel not used in the engine) and 2 ports on the engine side (again a line to the engine and the return line to the tanks).  We have a toggle switch on the dash board to switch between tanks.  Just before the veggie oil reaches the engine it goes through a small inline instantaneous electric heater about 8″ before the injector.  This is only turned on when we are driving on the veggie tank.  This is very helpful in our colder winter weather, but not as necessary further south.  Colin also looped the return line from the veggie side of the 6 port valve so that any unused veggie oil coming out of the engine (which is already hot) just goes right back into the feed line to the engine, again helping keep the veggie oil nice and hot.  We did our research and bought a conversion kit locally in BC from a company called Plantdrive.com which included the hotstick, fuel filter/water separator, 6 port valve, relays, toggle switch, inline heater and some wire, clamps and other necessities.  I think it cost us around $900 at the time.  Colin and our friend Dan both converted their vehicles together over a couple days.  We had a custom tank made out of 3/8″ hard plastic that is mounted in the space under the sliding door entrance to the van.  The tank sticks up at the rear end into the storage area under the rear seats.  This is where the hotstick, and fuel filter/water separator are also mounted.  The fuel lines run from there straight into the engine compartment and into the 6 port valve.  The conversion was fairly straight forward and Colin and Dan figured it all out and completed it about 8-10 hours (for both vehicles).  We have collected used veggie oil from most of the restaurants on Pender over the years, but now collect from one restaurant, The Hope Bay Cafe, because they change their oil regularly and prefilter as they put it back into the 16L totes that we collect it in (and they are close by and are nice people!)

We did what is commonly called a ‘veggie conversion’, but this doesn’t alter the engine in any way.  To get most diesel vehicles to run on vegetable you don’t actually change the existing fuel system, but add a second tank that will hold the vegetable oil.  Biodiesel is vegetable oil that has undergone a chemical process, giving it more viscosity even at lower temperatures, and so it can be directly mixed with and put into a regular diesel engine.


our home pumping station

We have made long trips each summer, in which we carried with us the veggie oil we would need along the way.  We have often pulled into gas stations, only to fill up our veggie tank with our own little pump that runs off the car battery.  We use water from the gas station to clean the filter that we place inside the veggie oil container which is attached to the pump hose.  It feels pretty good to be one more step away from being reliant on the oil industry.  Recycling used cooking oils from local restaurants has been a huge benefit also for the restaurant owners, who normally have to pay to have it taken away, and for the multi-use availability of the veggie oil itself.  And we are happy driving around for free.

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