VW Polo running on vegetable oil – no modification needed

For the last 600 miles, my Volkswagen Polo 1.4tdi has been running on a mixture of diesel and vegetable oil.

It's an experiment I've been wanting to run for 2 years but I'd been put off by the antiquated Inland Revenue taxation regime on fuel. That was scrapped recently so you can now put vegetable oil in your car without paying fuel duty. (Check that your car can run on biodiesel before trying this!).

Pouring vegetable oil into my VW Polo
I have done no modification to my 2001-built VW Polo so I was a little apprehensive for fear of damaging the engine. The car is designed to run on diesel, but the handbook states that it can run on up to 50% RME (Rapeseed-Methyl-Esther) mix, so I should be safe. Some diesel engines require modification because vegetable oil is more viscous and puts more strain on the fuel pump. It can also be harder to start the engine in winter.

To minimise the risk, I used a 1:4 mixture in my first tank. My mix is:

  • 80% diesel
  • 20% vegetable oil

55p per litre
The fuel tank capacity is 10 gallons (45 litres). So I put 9 litres of vegetable oil into the car, then filled it up with diesel.

The price of diesel recently rose above £1.00 per litre. Vegetable oil costs about 55p per litre in the supermarket. So, by using a 25% mix, I saved about £4.05 on a tank of fuel. On my next tank, I will use a 50% biodiesel mix, and will save over £10 per tank.

There was no noticeable change in the average MPG (miles per gallon) – I recorded 68mpg which is what I achieve with standard diesel.

Biodiesel is, arguably, better for the environment than diesel. It comes from a renewable source and the CO2 emissions are equal to the sequestrated amount when the vegetable grows, so it is carbon neutral. However, some people believe that it is contributing to the destruction of rainforest as Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing countries cut down their rainforests to plant palm oil, which can also be used as a biofuel.

Seeing as I am burning sunflower or rape seed oil, I don't think I am having a direct effect on rainforests. But if I wanted to run the ultimate biodiesel car, I would copy my mate Adam and collect used vegetable oil from the local fish and chip shop, run it through a filter then stick it in my car. It's free and it's an otherwise waste product. Everyone's a winner!

If you want to investigate biodiesel, there are lots of useful websites. I recommend this one to start with.

49 Comments »

  1. Paul Maunders said,

    November 2, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

    Jake that’s brilliant.!

    I’ve always wanted to try out homebrew veggy oil fuel, but never had a diesel car to test it out on. I also wasn’t aware that the law had changed, so they must have snuck (or is it sneaked?) that piece of news out the back door!

    2500 litres a year tax free should be plenty for most people.

  2. Paul Maunders | Web log » Blog Archive » 2500 litres of biofuel a year tax free said,

    November 2, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

    [...] My friend Jake is currently trying out a blend of 20% vegetable oil, 80% diesel in his unmodified VW Polo and has so far driven 600 miles with no side effects! [...]

  3. jakebrumby said,

    November 2, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

    Not only will it save me about £200 per year in fuel costs, I just re-taxed my Polo for 12 months for the paltry sum of £35. Fully comp insurance costs me £220 per year with 5 years NCB.

    What would be very cool is a tool to measure the total running cost of motoring for different types of vehicle. It could include fuel cost, tax, insurance and possibly even running costs (if accurate data already exists). I think the Polo would come out pretty well!

  4. jakebrumby said,

    November 16, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

    This BBC reports on why biofuels should come from a sustainable source:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7096819.stm

  5. Matt said,

    November 18, 2007 @ 12:37 am

    N.B.: Biodiesel does NOT equal vegetable oil. Wikipedia.

  6. Ward said,

    November 18, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

    Look guys, I know it feels great to not contribute to carbon emissions, but I must agree with Fidel Castro. The idea of using food products for fuel is madness. The problem is not the fuel, it’s the internal combustion engine. We are still using a mode of propulsion that is simple outdated. We have alternatives but not the political will to develop them. Think of the person who could use that cooking oil. And while it may cost less than diesel, don’t forget the carbon emissions that were produced to grow the sunflower seeds, process that oil and to create the plastic bottle and transport it all to the supermarket and then to your home.
    I am an Australian who lives in Brazil and there is now a madness to cut down trees and plant more sugar cane for biofuels……consequence.. the price of sugar has doubled.THIS IS MADNESS

  7. Marc said,

    November 18, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

    You need to be careful while doing this in the United States of America. Here in the states, road tax is applied through gas prices. If you go completely biofuel, such as oil from your local fish and chip shop (or fastfood joint in the states), you need to pay your road taxes. If you are caught not paying your taxes, it is a large fine and jail time.

    Good idea though! Just pay your taxes!

  8. Stu said,

    November 19, 2007 @ 3:29 pm

    “That was scrapped recently so you can now put vegetable oil in your car without paying fuel duty.”
    Um, when did this happen? Could we have a citation please?

  9. chris said,

    November 19, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

    i had a VW jetta in the states, i ran it on used cooking fryer grease. it smelled like french fries when you started it up

  10. Steve Noolan said,

    November 19, 2007 @ 11:46 pm

    The problem with running on straight vegetable oil (SVO) is the polymers that form when the Glycerin molecule is burned.
    These form a kind of plastic that causes sticking of the piston rings, and coking of the combustion chamber, valves and injectors.
    This is a long term build up and will take more than 600 km to show up. Often it will take 15-20,000 km. It would be prudent to dismantle the engine after 10.000 km and assess the effects.
    Heating the oil (modifying the engine) or removing the Glycerin molecule (ie turning it into Biodiesel) is the only way to overcome the problem

  11. Luke said,

    November 20, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

    Older diesel like 80′s Mercedes-Benz can run on 100% regular supermarket vegetable oil, and if you have some patience and a basement (or other suitable place) you can even tank for _free_. Collect used deep-frying oil from fast-foods, restaurants etc, filter it with a cloth, and run your old Benz without any modification.
    Tested and working, but it may be “not exactly 100% legal ” in some countries, so check what the law of your country of residence has to say first.

  12. jakebrumby said,

    November 20, 2007 @ 10:22 pm

    As requested by Stu, the rules for taxation of biofuels were changed on 30 June 2007. HMRC removed all taxation and the requirement to fill in a tax return each month, providing you do not use (produce) more than 2,500 litres of fuel per annum.

    http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/briefs/excise-duty/brief4307.htm

    2,500 litres of vegetable oil will fuel your car for more than 22,000 miles at 40mpg. If you mix it with diesel at 50% and your car does 68mpg like mine, your annual allowance is enough for 74,889 miles.

  13. George said,

    November 22, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

    @Ward: I agree with you that current attitudes to travel (i.e. cars) are not sustainable, but I must object to the idea that someone can cook with vegetable oil thrown out by chip shops. Firstly, how would you get that oil to people that really needed it (e.g. in Africa) – how much would that cost? Secondly, the oil isn’t fit for human consumption. That’s why they’re throwing it out. The oil slowly oxidises and becomes rancid (that’s why you can smell a bad chippy long before you get there) and also the oil starts to carbonise at the very high temperatures producing some quite nasty carcinogens. Either they chuck this oil away (landfill anyone?) or we can use it for fuel (which should be mandatory).

    As the average commute takes 45 minutes in the UK, you could very comfortably cycle 7.5 miles in that time (based at on 10mph average). IMHO any commute less than 10 miles should be bike. Before people moan about hills in their area, I recently cycled End-to-End with my 60 year old father and at no point did our average speed drop below 12mph – that includes going through the winding hills of Cornwall, the peak district and the Scottish highlands. I doubt many of you have to face Rannoch Moor on your daily commute. No car = one massive saving. What would be nice to see is that vegetable oil going to power public transport for those who can’t cycle.

  14. Uriah said,

    November 24, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

    rape seed actually produces more greenhouse gases than oil-based fuel. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article2507851.ece

    not to mention is gonna cost you serious money to replace your fuel pump when that veggie oil builds up.

    But hey, as long as you feel better about yourself by using vegetable oil, go for it.

  15. Pritesh Hirani said,

    January 14, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

    Hi Jake,

    Just have a few questions I wanted to ask regarding using vegetable oil in this car with no mods. How many miles have you now covered? Have you experienced any mechanical problems and lastly have you increased the mix to above 50:50?

    thanks

    Pritesh

  16. jakebrumby said,

    January 14, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

    Hi Pritesh,

    I discovered during winter that the air temperature is a critical factor. When the outside temperature in the UK fell to between 3 to 10 degrees Celsius, the fuel pump started making a quiet squeal (using a 50:50 mix). This was because the fuel was more viscous and it was harder to pump the fuel through the thin tubes. I moved back to a mixture of 80% diesel and 20% vegetable oil and the car was fine. I had successfully been using 50:50 mix without problems in warmer weather.

    This suggests that during summer, I could probably run it on 75% vegetable oil and possibly even 100%.

    My car has done 106,000 miles of which the last 3,000 have been using biodiesel, so my experiment is by no means conclusive. So far there have been no mechanical problems and I am comforted by the fact that VW state that you can run the car on up to 50% RME.

    If I were you, I would start on a mix of 25%, see how the car runs and then increase it gradually.

    Good luck,

    Jake

  17. andy mole said,

    April 18, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

    I have a rover diesel and have run it on a 60 diesel 40 veg with no problems, but the supermarkets have decided to cash in, so veg oil is now nearly the same price as diesel, so the government gives and the supermarket take.

  18. D.Thomas said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

    I run a 1994 1.4 diesel Ford Escort Van for short runs, (not business). I tried veg.oil in normal diesel for years.

    For a short period it ran on pure veg.oil, but it was slow to start, and once I had to use an ‘easystart’ spray in the air-intake. It was also sluggish power-wise,(how much the tired engine counts,I can only guess).

    Starting on 50% veg.oil with regular diesel seems to be OK, but because it is outside all the time I use pure diesel in winter because of the slow-starting.Veg.oil is available in 3700 kj and 3400 kj (see energy value on label):I’m careful to use only the 3700 stuff.

    Because of the old engine, four years ago I fixed a Broquet fuel-catalyst in my fuel line.(It improves engine-performance by improving fuel quality). This may help the use of veg.oil too; I’m no technician but it seems reasonable.

    Cheers,

    D.Thomas

  19. Gary Matthews said,

    June 12, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

    I run a Vauxhall Cavalier 1.7 Turbo Diesel. I wanted a diesel for some time, just so I could try out vegetable oil. I was very lucky that someone wanted to get rid of this car & I got it for free. So I was in a great position to experiment as I still had my petrol Ford Mondeo to fall back on.

    I initally put one litre of Rapseed oil in. Over a period of 8 months I have gone up as high as 95% oil, although both times, the air temperature was cold, the last time was when in snowed in Brighton, I think from memory that was in April.

    Each time I went this high, the car broke down after a couple of miles. Sensibly, I always carry 5 litres of diesel in the car, and both times it broke down I poured the diesel in the tank, left it 5 minutes & the engine re-started.

    I am currently using 90% oil with no problems. My latest venture is to now try the car with filtered only waste vegetable oil which I have sourced from my local kebab shop for free. I have filtered the oil down to 5 microns as I understand the fuel filter on the car only filters it to 10 microns. I have not used caustic soda & methanol.

    I hope this information is of assistance to anyone thinking of giving it a go.

    Wish me luck, as I have now got rid of the Mondeo (Too expensive).

    Gary

  20. Paul Bartlett said,

    August 17, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

    Actually, I am an owner of a kebab / take-away shop and waste around 20l a week of veg oil for cooking. What’s the best procedure to run my Polo TDI Sport (03 model with the 75 BHP engine) on used chip fryer oil?

  21. Jake said,

    August 19, 2008 @ 9:15 am

    Paul,

    Check your Polo manual and it should say that it can run on 50% RME (Rapeseed-Methyl-Esther). It’s a different engine to mine, but I suspect you’ll be able to run it on biodiesel.

    Filtering oil takes a bit of time to set-up but it is worth it for the free motoring! There are lots of options for filtering the used oil (known as WVO – Waste Vegetable Oil). Have a look here:

    http://www.biodieselcommunity.org/filteringoil/

    A friend of mine used two oil drums – one of top of the other – and filtered the oil through old socks and rags. Very enterprising and low cost.

  22. Dennis said,

    December 27, 2008 @ 1:48 am

    You should be careful though. Running a mix in the summertime should be safe but sometimes a rich mix would cause the injectors to “coke” up. This is carbon that would take up space in the combustion chamber and would require major engine work to get it right. Personally, I dont think you would have a problem.

  23. Jon said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 12:13 am

    OK – as I live in Norway, where the outdore tempratur goes as low as -20 degrees celcius, I shouldn’t use Vegitable Oil at all in the wintertime? I work at a local fastfood chain – generally known as McDonald’s =/ In the frier we use some organic oil – don’t remember what, might be sunflower, might be rapeseed, idk. Is this suitable for making WVO?

    In the summertime though the tempratur will be approx. 10-30 degrees – and I’ll be able to run on vegtable oil. To process the WVO I only need to filter it, heat it to get rid of water, and then it’s ready to use?
    Am looking for a car now, so the most important question is; the only thing needed for driving on up to 50-80-100(?) % Vegetable Oil is that the car is “50% RME (Rapeseed-Methyl-Esther)”-ready, in other words able to run on biofuel?
    Does it make any difference if the car is old or new? Would suspect that new cars have a very wounderable tecknique… Anyone who has had any problems with new cars compeared to old, or visa versa?

    Was thinking of running at up-to 80 % WVO in the summertime, and then to “clean up the engine” run at 0-20 % in the wintertime – would that be a problem? Anyone had any problems with the car/engine actually been destroyed by using Vegetable Oil?
    Sorry for the long post =/ total noob…

  24. Jake said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 6:14 am

    Jon – that’s a lot of questions!

    In summary, yes, you can make biofuel from the waste oil from your employer. You can use it in winter time too, though you would have to heat the biofuel so that it is fluid enough to be pumped. I don’t know if that is economically viable. I would choose an old car because if something goes wrong it’ll be cheaper to fix. Your plan of 80% WVO in summer and 0-20% in the winter sounds about right, though it depends on the vehicle so try that and see how you go.

    For much better, more in depth information, read the excellent article Make your own biodiesel.

    Once you’ve read that, read this article Biodiesel and your vehicle.

    If you still have questions, ask the experts on a biodiesel forum.

    Good luck!

  25. shal said,

    January 21, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

    i have a micra sport 2005, can i just use cooking oil and put in the tank? am new to this thanks

  26. Jake said,

    January 21, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    Shal, you should find out if other people have used vegetable oil in the Micra Sport before you try it yourself.

    Also, read the links I posted in my reply to Jon above, then you’ll have a good idea about using biodiesel in your car.

  27. sunilkumar kallu said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 7:17 am

    Superb! We at BVB College of Engineering and Technology are trying the same with an Escort engine.

  28. Andy said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

    At present I run a toyota landcrusier with 20L of bio and 80L of used cooking oil in a standard car.
    Every time I fill up, I also add a bottle of redx to my tank to keep the injectors clear and I change the fuel filter every 1000 miles.
    Have not found any problems.

  29. Jake said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

    Andy – what is the total mileage you’ve done on that mix in you Landcruiser?

    Do you filter the used cooking oil before putting it in the tank?

  30. kenny said,

    January 5, 2011 @ 1:49 am

    Oh what a laugh that was. Just come back from the cash and carry bought 20ltrs of cooking oil done a 20/80 mix in diesels favour and hey presto my vw polo 1.9 is running fine. Been cold here so will keep the mix like that till it warms up a little and then go upto 50/50. Does anyone know the best way to filter oil from the chippy other posta are stating cloths and rags i was thinking them big coffee filters you get any ideas would be great. With the prices in the uk on fuel now and the 20% VAT this looks like they way forward i hope.

  31. Graeme said,

    March 10, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

    What a great site with good information. Could someone tell me if I could run my Ford Escort Diesel 1.8 TDI on vegetable oil please.

  32. DRS said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 7:09 am

    “Rudolf Diesel invented the engine over 100yrs ago, he designed it for farmers to use running on peanut oil.”

    I do not know if this is true though.

  33. DRS said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    I did buy this vegetable oil for cooking: http://www.jjfoodservice.com/product.cfm/KTC%20Pure%20Vegetable%20Cooking%20Oil-1x20L/OIL013

    It is very viscous – I thought too viscous. Indeed on the webpage it says:

    “Selling Points: Can be used as a cooking agent for deep fried food. Can also be used as a dressing to compliment salads or mezes.”

    It also includes anti-foaming agent E900 – I do not know what the ramifications of this is.

    It is almost as runny as diesel itself….

    Maybe this is ideal.

    I await feedback.

  34. Jake said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    Rudolf Diesel invented his engine in 1893 and it did indeed run on peanut oil.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Diesel#Legacy

  35. jessica said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 7:31 am

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  36. Mitza_003 said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

    This is just awesome! Right now i’m on the verge of buying a VW Golf Mk 1 just for this kind of stuff. It’s going to be my eco way to drive to school. I also have some friends that own restaurants and some that works in fast food places, so i guess they will help me with some cooking oil. I heard that winter brings problems for those that use large quantities of biodiesel in their tank. I guess that if you fix the ratios and add some pure petro-diesel the engine will start as normal, right?

    At the moment i’m still searching for reviwes, photos and videos on this subject. When my car will arrive i’ll put some oil in the tank and a eco sticker on the bumper. I just can’t wait!!!

  37. Jake said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

    Yes, as the temperature gets colder, the oil becomes more viscous, so you should alter the ratio (put more diesel). The alternative is to warm up the fuel before starting the engine. You can buy kits to do this if you are keen!

    Good luck.

  38. murray said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    I just read that Rudolf Diesel’s “original design” ran on powdered coal. But maybe when he actually built the thing, he used peanut oil?

  39. DJ said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

    Hi there guys, i have a 1999 seat ibiza 1.9 TDI, car was bought second hand, adn i reckon i am averaging 45MPG. with fuel prices soaring it is getting less viable to use straight diesel. any suggestions if i can run waste vegetable oil in my car, if yes, what should i do , ie , filters and additives etc.

    many thanks. dj

  40. SAM said,

    January 25, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    I’m running my peugeot partner 1.9 hdi on a a 50/50 mix and have been doing so for several weeks , I just buy 20 litre drums from the cash and carry at approx 90p a litre as to regular diesel is 1.40 a litre.
    runs fine no ulterior effects

  41. Andy said,

    February 16, 2012 @ 12:27 am

    running a mk3 tdi golf…. can i just add some veg oil to the diesel 80 /20 mix and no other additves?

  42. Jake said,

    February 16, 2012 @ 1:32 am

    Hi Andy,

    Yes, you’re probably fine to run your VW Golf Mark III on biodiesel. It’s worth checking the manual first (if you have it) as it probably states in there that you can. But most models from the 1990′s can run on biodiesel.

    Start low with the mix e.g. 80% diesel to 20% vege oil and gradually adjust. Vege oil is viscous, so put less oil in when the weather is cold (more oil when its hot).

    Using biodiesel does have risks, so do more research online regarding the Mark III. You could start with this thread:

    http://www.honestjohn.co.uk/forum/post/index.htm?t=40812

  43. Josh said,

    July 19, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    Hey dude,
    I am also interested in saving money by using straight vegetable oil. I have an VW polo 2003 sdi. I guess there is no need to modificate anything, but on long term it will destroy the engine? So how is this car today? Do you still use it? how it works?
    Thanks for the info for all of us.

  44. jake said,

    July 19, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

    Hi Josh, you should check out the manual for your Polo 2003 SDi. It will probably say what types of fuel the engine was suitable for (mine did).

    I just found this official statement from VW. It looks like your car can run on 100% Rapeseed Methyl Ester (RME), which was the same as my diesel engine, so you should be fine. Start with a mix of 20% vege oil and increase it from there. You can run a lot more in summer and less in winter when it is really cold.

    http://www.volkswagen.co.uk/assets/common/pdf/general/biodiesel.pdf

    My uncle has used the car for the last 4 years. It still runs well though he has been running it on regular diesel, not biodiesel, so I can’t offer any insight into the long term usage of biodiesel in Polo’s.

    Modificate. I like that.

    Jake

  45. Paul Teti said,

    February 1, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

    Have run several cars on VO and WVO (waste veg oil)A Citroen Xantia up to 80% veg oil , a Pajero 2.5 on 60:40% (diesel to VO) mix in summer 50:50 winter mix that returned 36 mpg against 28-30 mpg on diesel, a mondeo TD and lastly an S reg. Polo that ran best on a 60:40 mix most did better mpg than on straight diesel and all sounded smoother and ran a lot better.

    There was no diesel fuel available when Mr Diesel ran his first engine, only refined veg oil.

    Bosch pumps are best, others may develop probs with the seals, Fords don’t do too well on it.

    Rule of thumb; the bigger the engine the better BIG NO! NO! on common rail type diesels, dont use it on them as it will finish them off big time.

    Important!! have a spare fuel filter handy as veg oil removes all the crud that builds up in the system lines and tank and one day it wil just block and definitely not go. Fill the new filter with carb cleaner and drive like you just stole it! I changed the fuel filter for a SUV type with a glass bowl as it was easy to clean and prime as smaller systems Polo etc: may produce a lot of frothing so the mix can be crucial but all are a bit different and often quirky. Dont be put off just experiment with the mix.

    If you really want to go for 100% VO in your tank, an in line fuel heating system needs to be fitted which heats the line via the cooling hoses and uses a block next to the pump that utilises a glow plug to heat the fuel before it goes into the pump. The fuel is usually ready to go as the device is linked to the preheat system and the engine should start OK.

    Hot VO is more viscous and runs more efficiently, hot diesel does not!

    Some cars have been proven to run on chip fat-literally!

    If you buy old Used cooking oil from a chippie etc. you can train it through filter (off Ebay) down to about 20 microns, I believe diesel bought at the pumps is only filtered to about 10 microns. best of luck!!

  46. peter said,

    June 5, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

    Any news on how this car is going? is it still a runner?
    I have the exact same car/engine and its advised not to use SVO or WVO as its a PD engine and can cause a mass of problems. Yes the manual states that you can run using 50% RME, but RME is Biodiesel, not SVO or WVO.

    Could you please give an update? If this car has broken since then please let people know as they may be misled into thinking they can do the same with their car

  47. jake said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 3:36 am

    Peter – I sold the vehicle 4 years ago. It is still running well, though the owner doesn’t use biodiesel.

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  49. Johann said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

    Hi Jake. I live in South Africa and own an Audi 400 , 1800, 1991 petrol which is in excellent condition. What I would like to do , is to fit either a VW 1600 diesel motor from the 80`s or 1900 5 cylinder Audi diesel motor. I would just like to know which would be the most suitable to run on a pure sunflower oil mixed with diesel. The 5 cyl diesel motor is very scarce here though and would require another radiator while the 1600 Golf/Passat motor is available and should fit without too many changes. I am just concerned about the gear ratio and weight of the Audi 400 body which is identical to the Audi 500 for that 1600 diesel motor. Rather sell the car and purchase a Merc 240D or 300D from the 80`s?

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