Grease-burning Mercedes makes for slick transportation

Coddings---P8040042.jpg
Coddings---P8040042.jpg

The Eric Codding family poses by the retooled Mercedes outside one of their favorite fuel stops: La Cabana restaurant in Hillsboro.

Considering that Hillsboro is half a planet away from the factory that built his wagon, it?s a given that Eric Codding is driving an uncommon vehicle for this part of the world.

But when his fuel gauge dips toward ?E,? Codding steers clear of the gas station that makes his biodiesel ride a one-of-a-kind.

Where others continue to make an increasingly steep pilgrimage to gas-station pumps, Codding derives his car?s fuel from the vegetable oil used to cook food at such local establishments as La Cabana Restaurant and the Tabor College cafeteria.

?Like a lot of people, I?d heard a lot about biofuel cars,? Codding said. ?Then one night I was watching the late news with my wife and there was a guy on there driving around in a Volvo wagon.?

?He said it cost about 25 cents a gallon, after all the expenses, and it doesn?t cost that much to convert,? Codding said. ?I thought, ?I?m a mechanical guy, I?m sure I can do whatever is required.??

Soon after, he began searching for a suitable vehicle?a process that led him to the Internet.

?I started doing a lot of research?there?s gobs of information out there?and a lot of people on there say that the older Mercedes are less discriminating about what kind of fuel you can run through them,? he said.

?Many people consider them ideal candidates for vegetable oil conversion.?

Armed with the knowledge of others? experiences with converted diesels, Codding turned to eBay.

?I found a 1979 Mercedes out of California for $1,375,? he said. ?The biggest problem for me was, when it comes to older Mercedes, you cannot find them in this part of the country. Almost every one is on one coast or another, and the one I bought happened to be located close to where my father lives, in the (San Francisco) Bay area.?

Codding?s father was able to test drive the car, and further helped by hauling the car to a family reunion in Phoenix.

?My wife and I and the kids flew down there to pick it up and drive it home,? he said. ?Maybe it was a little risky, driving a $1,300, 30-year-old car bought off the Internet, sight unseen, all that way.

?I never packed so many tools on an airplane in my life,? he added.

After Codding, who works as dean of student development at Tabor College, completed the 1,100-mile trip home, he had only to decide whether to adapt the car for the oil, or the oil for the car.

He opted to convert the oil and to leave the car unmodified.

?You can put it in a separate tank?you?d just filter the oil and put it in straight,? he said. ?Doing that, the car runs on diesel in one tank and oil in the other tank.

?So for that, you spend a lot of money converting the car to a two-tank system, but you?d have almost no ongoing cost,? he added. ?Or you spend less money converting the car and you make biodiesel. I make biodiesel.?

Perhaps the biggest factor in the low cost of using leftover fry oil is that as an unwanted by-product, restaurants frequently give it away.

?Traditionally, restaurants have paid for used oil to be hauled away, so at this point, neither the dining hall nor the Mexican restaurant is charging me for the oil,? he said. ?I went to Sonic, and they?d have given it to me, but theirs is partially hydrogenated, which isn?t good to use.?

The car has been running well on Codding?s home brew. He recently drove to Dubuque, Iowa, and said the vehicle performed very well.

?I filled the tank as full as I possibly could and brought some extra oil along,? he said. ?On that trip alone I saved around 105 bucks?I offset my fuel cost by a third.?

Fuel is not the only cost of driving. According to the Internet pages Codding consulted, the environmental cost of his transportation is also lower, as emissions from his veggie oil vehicle are ?significantly less? than is typical for petroleum diesels.

Using used vegetable oil as fuel in place of a mineral resource has another benefit: carbon neutrality.

?It mostly releases carbon into the atmosphere that the plants it?s made from pull out of the air,? he said. ?So it?s much better that way than petro-diesel.

?Then, even with the car?not far from a trash heap or a recycling center for someone else, probably?it?s one more thing that doesn?t need to go in a landfill,? he added.

Codding noted that for fuel mileage, the car gets in the mid-20s miles per gallon.

?It?s a little harder to check the mileage because there?s no easy way to measure the fuel that I?m putting in myself, but the mileage is pretty comparable between the veggie oil and the diesel,? he said. ?And the performance has been indistinguishable.?

Codding said the cost of the fuel after conversion has been around 80 cents per gallon.

?Obviously the price is right?it?s green and it?s cheap,? he said.

Beyond the obvious differences that come about from having steel where younger cousins have plastic, the ?79 Mercedes might struggle to fit in with the automotive children of the new millennium.

?I?ll probably rebuild the fuel injectors for good measure, just because it has 200,000 miles on it,? Codding said. ?But the only change I had to make was new hoses for the fuel line.?

Other than his iPod, which follows him from home to office, Codding said there are no 21st century components in his vehicle.

?I could probably put a CD player in there, but I like it better as a classic,? he said.

Additional information about converting vegetable oil to biodiesel is available through numerous Web sites, including www.biodieselcommunity.org/index.php.

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