Sustaining your Sustainable car [video]

Utah Biodiesel Supply posted this youtube video of Dr. Dan’s presentation at last August’s Collective Biodiesel Conference.


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Inga at Alpental
Dr. Dan’s trusty Volvo 240 Diesel regularly spends the night at Snoqualmie pass during the winter and runs on fuel from Dr. Dan’s pumps

It is important to remember that 24-hour average temperature is usually what to take into consideration. When you drive your car regularly or it warms up enough during the day it is far less likely you will have problems.

Adding a mix of petroleum diesel and winter additives to your fuel will reduce the gelling temperature and reduce the risk of your having problems.  Keep in mind that a typical Seattle winter does not typically see cold enough weather for long enough for there to be serious issues with this method.

It is always good advice to keep track of temperatures during cold snaps, if you park your car outside for any long periods of time and use B99/100.  One trick is to keep a small sample in a re-used plastic drink bottle inside your car.  If the small sample has gelled, chances are the fuel in the tank has too.

Some B99 users have problems with running a blend during the winter, and this is mainly a problem due to using dirty petroleum diesel.  DON’T BUY DIRTY DIESEL!

The chemistry of biodiesel can be complicated, and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cloud points and cold-start capabilities.  Where one user may experience drop-out and a clogged filter, the next may have not an ounce of trouble.  As always, If it is going to be well below freezing for an extended period of time where you keep your car, take appropriate action.

Mind your mix and watch the temperatures!

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October TDI Check-Up Special

Greetings from Dr. Dan’s!

As the leaves and seasons begin to change, this is our friendly reminder that it’s that time of year again to make sure your TDI is ready for the cooler months ahead, and get caught up on your scheduled maintenance.

Prepare your Car for Colder Weather

TDIs need a strong battery to start well in cold weather! Every time the temperature drops we get cars towed in that started fine all summer, then refuse to start on the first cold morning. If your battery is more than six years old, it’s probably time for a new one. Diesels also need a healthy glow plug system to start easily and smoothly when it’s cold outside. If you have had a check engine light on for faulty glow plugs or glow plug harness, your car’s operation will not be affected in warm weather, but when the temperature drops below 45F or so it can cause hard, smoky starting — and for those of us who drive a diesel for its green virtues, big smoky clouds of particulates are something we try to avoid making! A good battery, a good fuel filter, and a functional glow system are the keys to making your winter starts quick, easy and clean. Getting those items checked and sorted out *before* the cold weather hits is the best way to make sure you don’t end up dealing with the hassle and expense of a breakdown and tow on a frosty morning.

Through the month of October we are offering our annual Fall Service Special that includes a battery and charging system test, new fuel filter, glow plug system check, brake check, and full vehicle look-over for $99.00 plus tax. Call us for an appointment to bring your car in for its fall check-up to ensure your winter travels this year are trouble-free!

Cold Weather and ULSD Fuel Leaks

Another cold-weather issue that comes up particularly for owners of 1996-2003 TDI’s are fuel leaks from the injection pump. TDI’s from those years are prone to pump leakage if the pump seals have not been replaced. The original seal material is not compatible with ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, which has been at fuel stations since 2007. Exposure to ULSD over time will make older pump seals shrink and begin to leak fuel out of the pump, which can lead to various problems ranging from starting difficulties to cooling system damage as well as making a big mess. Fortunately, one cheap temporary solution that takes care of this issue during warmer months is biodiesel, which is effective at swelling the old seals up again and curing leaks when used in high blend percentages. (You can watch Dr. Dan demonstrate this effect in a YouTube video.)

However, if you are one of the people who is relying on B99 to keep your pump from leaking, the winter can be a difficult time. When the weather gets cold, you may end up trying to walk a fine line between keeping your bio blend percentage high enough to avoid fuel leaks, but at the same time keeping enough diesel in the tank to make sure you don’t end up with gelled fuel. Erring too far in either direction can result in a dead car and a tow! The permanent fix for this is replacing the injection pump seals with an updated seal material that is compatible with ULSD fuel. If your car still has its original pump seals and you have been delaying getting them fixed, now is a great time to do it so that you can enjoy greater flexibility in your fuel choice this winter — especially if you are planning any out-of-town travel. We charge about 20% less the VW dealer for this repair and feel we offer a much superior product. Give us a call to discuss options if you haven’t had your pump seals upgraded yet.

From all of us at Dr. Dan’s and the Sustainable Fuel Co-Op, we wish you a happy fall season.

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Sprinter and Liberty CRD Service

Dr. Dan’s is your local specialist for Sprinter and Jeep CRD service and repairs!

Owners of Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter vans and Jeep Liberty CRD’s know that finding someone competent to work on their vehicle without spending a fortune can be a challenge. Sprinters and CRD Jeeps are great, efficient, useful vehicles and great choices for biodiesel use, but they are unique and require a specific skill set to diagnose and fix properly. Few independent garages have the necessary equipment or experience to do anything but the most basic repairs, while dealership service is expensive and sometimes not any more effective.

Let us be your superior alternative for Sprinter and Jeep CRD service. We offer years of specific experience and expertise with the Sprinter and Liberty platforms and diesel engines, and are equipped with the latest enhanced diagnostic equipment, special tools, and OEM-quality parts to keep your truck performing at its best. Sprinters and CRD Jeeps each have a handful of common issues that we see regularly and are experienced with fixing quickly and at a minimum cost. However, these same familiar problems can often take a less-experienced shop hours of diagnosis and replacement of unnecessary parts to (maybe!) fix, meaning expense and inconvenience for the customer and less likelihood of a successful repair. Not all dealership service departments have a mechanic that is trained and certified for diesel repairs, and those that do often charge high prices for labor and parts.

From check engine lights and routine maintenance, to Sprinter fuel filter upgrades and transmission rumble strip noise fixes, to Liberty FCV/EGR problems, alternator pulleys, and timing belts — we have the equipment, parts, and know-how to keep your diesel Sprinter or Liberty on the road and trouble-free with minimal downtime and at a price you can afford.

Questions? Call us at 783-5728 to learn more or schedule an appointment!

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TDI Tech: Surviving Summer Heat

Summer has officially begun, and warmer temperatures are finally headed our way here in Seattle (we hope!). Summer weather makes for great travel conditions, but it puts stress on your cooling system that can bring any weak components to their breaking point. A thorough check-over of your TDI’s cooling and air-conditioning systems at the beginning of the summer travel season is a good idea to ensure reliable, trouble-free operation through the warmer weather.

1996-2003 TDI’s are prone to fuel leaks from the injection pump caused by use of ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel. In many cases these leaks are intermittent (leaking more when running diesel, and generally leaking less or not at all when using biodiesel as shown in our YouTube video here), and the leaks may not be severe or consistent enough to make a noticeable difference in the car’s operation. However, over time, the occasional drips of leaking fuel can damage and weaken the coolant hoses that run directly beneath the injection pump, putting them at risk for rupturing just when it is most inconvenient. It is critical to catch a failure like this before it happens and results in an overheated engine, which can lead to major damage and repairs. If your hoses show any signs of flaring, blistering, bulging, or softness like those shown above, or you can smell fuel odor under the hood, make sure you repair the compromised hoses and get the source of the fuel leak fixed before this comparatively minor problem turns into a much more serious one!

The water pump on most TDI’s is driven by the timing belt and hidden from view, making it difficult to detect any coolant leakage there and take preventive action unless the leak is already severe. A new water pump should always be installed whenever the timing belt is being replaced as a preventive measure, and good-quality pumps usually last at least the lifetime of the belt (40 to 100k depending on model), but we have seen pumps leak as early as 60k so there are always exceptions to the rule. A thorough pressure test is the best way to reveal any hidden problems while they are still in their early stages, and ensure that the system is healthy and leak-free. TDI’s are also susceptible to failures of the original-style coolant temperature sensor, which can cause a variety of problems from poor starting to a check-engine light. An updated part is available (recognizable by its green color, compared to the black of the original-style sensor) that is more reliable, and the part is cheap, so if your car still has its original sensor it’s a good idea to have it replaced preemptively if the coolant has to be drained anyway for another repair.

Keeping your engine cool is not much good if you can’t stay cool yourself. TDI’s are equipped with great air conditioning systems, but they depend on air flowing across the car’s radiator and condenser to function effectively. This means your car’s radiator fans are a critical part of the system, especially when you are stuck in traffic. VW’s have two dual-speed electric fans to pull air through the radiator and A/C condenser. Oftentimes those fans will fail in such a way that they still work on the high speed, which keeps the engine coolant from overheating, but no longer function on the low speed, which means your air conditioner has to work overtime to keep cooling at low vehicle speeds when there is no air flowing across the condenser. The high temperatures and pressures that arise in the system under these abnormal conditions can cause the compressor and other A/C components to fail prematurely, resulting in expensive repairs. Having the radiator fans’ operation checked and, if necessary, fixed can go a long way towards keeping both you and your A/C system comfortable and happy this summer.

Finally, if you suffer from seasonal allergies, you can rest easy knowing that your TDI is equipped with a pollen filter that is designed to keep allergens out of the cabin. But… when was the last time that filter was changed?? As the charcoal pollen filter ages, it loses its effectiveness and gets plugged with organic debris. Replacing the filter with a new activated-charcoal element will make your travel experience much more pleasant.

Give yourself some extra peace of mind and avoid potential trouble on the road this summer by giving your TDI a full seasonal check-up and making sure all cooling components are up to the task of whatever the weather may bring. A cool, happy car means cool, happy travelers!

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TDI Tech: Life After 100 (Thousand) — Part One

As time goes on, our TDIs that were once shiny new cars are now beginning to age and accumulate miles. Many of our customers have over 100,000 miles on their TDIs, quite a few have over 200,000, and a handful are even pushing 300,000! TDIs can continue to be dependable, safe, efficient, and great to drive as they rack up the years and miles, but there are a number of important items to keep on your radar for the long haul. In the coming weeks we will be putting up a series of posts related to helping your TDI stay healthy, efficient and reliable as the odometer climbs towards six digits and beyond. Read on!

Timing belt intervals.
In Part One of this series, we are covering timing belt replacement interval for TDIs. This can be a complicated subject, since VW’s recommended interval has changed many times over the course of TDI production. There is a different interval for almost every year of TDI, and sometimes even within the same year depending on transmission type! To make matters worse, in the case of some models Volkswagen updated the interval after the cars were produced, so even your owner’s manual may not give you the current correct information.

All of this can make it difficult to know exactly when your car needs its belt done — including for VW dealers themselves, who we have known to commonly replace belts too early or too late. Fortunately, we have made this part easy for you. To find the most up-to-date interval for your particular car, just check out the handy PDF table we have compiled here, and look up your year and model.

Not all timing belt jobs are equal.
A proper timing belt replacement on a TDI involves more than just changing the timing belt. In addition to the belt itself, the belt tensioner roller, all idler rollers, the water pump, and the serpentine belt should be replaced, as well as a handful of seals and hardware bits. Installing the new belt correctly is a complex task that involves a large number of special tools and procedures, including a computerized injection timing adjustment. Cutting corners on any of these steps can result in the car running poorly, having difficulty starting, getting worse mileage, or in extreme cases experiencing internal engine damage.

Many mechanics and most VW dealers tend to replace only some of the required timing belt components or skip steps in the installation process, compromising the car’s operation or longevity. We have repaired many incorrectly or incompletely done timing belt jobs, some of which were on the brink of a major failure! The timing belt and its associated parts are critical components that can cause serious damage if they malfunction or break, so skimping on parts or procedure in this area is not a smart idea.

An opportunity for savings.
In addition to being one of the most important parts of maintaining your TDI, timing belt changes are also an opportunity to perform other work that involves labor that is duplicated during the timing belt job. If your 1996-2003 TDI has a leaking injection pump, or if your 2004-2006 PD TDI needs work on the camshaft and lifters, timing belt time is the ideal time to do those repairs, since much of the labor involved with injection pump or camshaft work overlaps with the timing belt replacement. This allows for significant savings if they are done at the same time.

A tip for the long term.
A broken timing belt is one of the few things that can bring a TDI (or older VW/Audi/Volvo diesel) to a sudden early demise. Repairs after a broken belt on a TDI can range from $2500 to $5000 or more depending on the extent of the damage… this is not an experience you want to go through! The trick to economical long-term ownership is avoiding surprises and taking preventive action. If your car is due for a belt, or you don’t know when the belt was last done, don’t wait until a routine service turns into an expensive repair — get it done, and get it done correctly.

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Sustainable Fuel Co-op Kickoff Event

As you may or may not be aware, a group of loyal Dr. Dan’s customers and others in the community generally concerned with sustainability have formed the Sustainable Fuel Co-op in an effort to keep Dr. Dan’s Biodiesel business running and offering the most sustainable fuel from the nearest reliable source possible.

This process has been, at times, slow and difficult, and it has truly been a “grass-roots” effort of people who have given their time to help get this idea off the ground.  But we are happy to announce that we are prepared to offer memberships to people looking to help build this exciting new business from  the ground up along with us!

SFC Fundraiser and Membership Drive

On Sunday afternoon, February 20th, from 1:00 to 5:00 at Agua Verde Cafe, the new Sustainable Fuel Co-operative, Seattle, will be hosting its inaugural membership sign-up and fundraiser. Formerly Dr. Dan’s Biodiesel, the Co-op was formed as a means of keeping sustainable biodiesel available to Seattle customers while better serving the community, and promoting the transition to a green future. If you have been a Dr. Dan’s customer, have a biodiesel vehicle, or are interested in switching from gasoline to cleaner, environmentally responsible fuel, come and get involved. There will be information, food, beer, free music, custom cars, and more. Agua Verde is located at 1303 NE Boat Street, west of the UW Medical Center and at the bottom of 15th Ave. NW on the water.

What will be your contribution to a greener future? Thousands of responsible car owners have switched to biodiesel from petroleum diesel or gasoline. While alternative fuels offer a mixed blessing for the environment, some fuels are more sustainable than others. For nearly two decades, biodiesel from local sources, either recycled oil or regional seed crops, has been available to Seattle customers through Dr. Dan’s Biodiesel in Ballard. Dr. Dan’s loyal customer base has now formed the Sustainable Fuel Cooperative, Seattle, to assure a more constant source of high-quality, sustainable biodiesel. The Co-op will provide jobs and a democratic, truly co-operative framework for marketing alternative fuel and will help educate the public about energy issues.

Any diesel engine can run on biodiesel, which is simply oil from biological sources, such as seeds, animal fat, or recycled cooking oil. Only minor modifications are required for most diesel engines to use this alternative energy source. Compared with petroleum, it burns more cleanly, is better for the engine, is non-toxic and non-flammable, and can be locally obtained. Although not as green as riding your bicycle or the bus, using biodiesel in your car is a big step away from dependence on foreign petroleum and an easy step toward a more sustainable lifestyle. The Co-op’s fuel sources are exclusively from the Northwest, including a farmer grain co-op in eastern Washington that produces biodiesel oil and high protein animal feed from camelina, which is also a soil-building rotation crop that helps maintain farmland for wheat production. How green is that? Joining the Co-op is the high road on your drive to sustainability, reducing your environmental impact and promoting the local economy in many ways. Come to the membership event to keep it up or to get started on your petroleum-free ride!

To contact the Co-op or for more information:
ph (206) 659-8530

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Cold weather follow-up

A lot of biodiesel customers had trouble with our recent freeze and cold fuel in their cars. With overnight temps in the teens, and over 48 consecutive hours of sub-freezing temps a lot of people’s fuel gelled despite their adding petro-diesel to their tanks. Here are some things to keep in mind:

– When in doubt, add diesel.
In can be discouraging for the individual concerned with sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint to have to burn petroleum in their cars, but unfortunately this is going to be a fact of life this winter with our supply of waste-oil derived biodiesel (keep in mind that the canola-derived bio we have had in the past is unfortunately not available at this time).

The cold hard fact is that a lot of people with too high a blend of bio in their tanks had problems. If you had B99 and you topped off with B80, then you likely had problems because your mix was closer to B90. If you don’t fill up your car very often you need to be aware of what is in your tank.

But you also have to be aware of the source of the petro-diesel. Buy from a high-volume source that stringently filters their fuel, as diesel that isn’t well-filtered, can cause problems for your car..

Adding a winter additive to the fuel helps. It is unlikely that local retailers will have winterized diesel, and using the right additive can make all the difference.

Your best bet is to get fuel from Dr Dan’s, where we have high-quality and well-soured petro-diesel with the correct winter additives. It is available during normal office hours (10 am until 6:30 pm) and a good way to go would be to bring by a fuel can and fill it up so you have some available at home. Keep the can in your garage or basement, somewhere it’s at least a bit warmer than outside. This few gallons to add to your tank can make a huge difference (keep in mind that diesel is not volatile like gasoline, and not dangerous to keep stored)

– 24-hour temps and thermal masses:
As we have mentioned, it is important to keep in mind a little bit of physics and thermodynamics. Your car is a thermal mass, and running your car warms up the entire car, including the fuel system. When your car sits, it starts to cool down, and how long it sits and how cold it gets will determine how big a problem you can have.

What we saw last week were 24-hour average temps barely above 20 deg F, if at all, and once all the heat from running your car dissipated, and the fuel system reached ambient temperatures, there was no way for it to warm up. If your car sat for any length of time without running, there wasn’t enough heat energy, even after temps climbed back above freezing, for the thermal mass of your car and the fuel system to warm up and thaw the fuel.

Cold-weather fuel issues are a function of both TIME and TEMP!

– What to expect.
Forecasts for the coming week call for 24-hour average temps right around 40, which for the most part shouldn’t be a problem. Long-range weather models are calling for an unusually cold winter, however, and it’s probably best if we all heed the warnings from this last week.

Be prepared. Mind the mix in your tank. Pay attention to weather forecasts. None of us want to burn more petroleum than we have too, and its unfortunate that we are in this position, but this is probably going to be the case for this winter.

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Winter Fuel

Dr. Dan’s will be offering a WEATHER APPROPRIATE FUEL BLEND during the winter months, to ensure that there are not problems with cold-weather gelling of the fuel.

We have been blending our fuel since Tuesday (11-16) for the winter weather. The Fuel we have in our station should be okay down to 20 deg. F. Before Tuesday it was good down to 30 deg. It is also important to remember that 24-hour average temperature is usually what to take into consideration. When you drive your car regularly or it warms up enough during the day it is far less likely you will have problems.

Adding a mix of petroleum diesel and winter additives to your fuel will reduce the gelling temperature and reduce the risk of your having problems.  Keep in mind that typical Seattle winter weather does not typically see cold enough weather for long enough for there to be serious issues with this method, despite the fact that forecasters tell us to expect a particularly cold winter this year.

Our supplier tells us that the recycled-oil biodiesel we have available at this time is good down to 30 deg. F.  It is always good advice to keep track of temperatures during cold snaps, if you park your car outside for any long periods of time and use B99.  One trick is to keep a small sample in a re-used plastic drink bottle inside your car.  If the small sample has gelled, chances are the fuel in the tank has too.

Canola/camelina biodiesel we have had in the past is good down to 18 deg. F, according to our supplier; but Dan himself will testify to its cold-start abilities down to single-digit temperatures!

Some B99 users have problems with running a blend during the winter, and this is mainly a problem due to using dirty petroleum diesel.

Last winter, we had no breakdowns as a result of people using our fuel!

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MkV Jetta TDI DSG Transmission Service: Every 40k!

As a conscientious, caring TDI owner, you’re religious about having your engine oil changed every 5,000 miles (with proper diesel-rated 5W40 synthetic or 505.01 PD oil, of course!), having the timing belt replaced on schedule, and keeping up with filter changes and other routine engine maintenance. But what about your transmission??

If you have a 2005-2010 Jetta TDI with an automatic transmission, you need to make sure you are keeping up with your fluid changes. The “DSG” dual-clutch automatic VW began using in the fifth-generation (2005.5+) Jettas and Golfs requires a service every 40,000 miles, consisting of fluid replacement, a new filter, and a computerized calibration. DSGs are expensive to fix, and the best way to keep yours happy and trouble-free is to keep it serviced on time! These cars are now reaching the age where almost all of them are due or overdue for their transmission service. However, we have noticed that many owners who have not read their maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual (have you?) are cruising past 40k without having their DSG service done. The DSG service at the VW dealer costs over $400! We are able to perform the full DSG service for more than $100 below the dealer’s price, using the same OEM filter and fluid.

Routine preventive maintenance is the key to a reliable car, low ownership expense, and a mutually positive relationship with your TDI! If you’re over 40k and you haven’t had your DSG serviced, or if you bought your car used and aren’t sure if it was done or not, call us for an appointment to make sure you are caught up and avoid expensive trouble down the road.

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