Very interesting report in the Los Angeles Times about an L.A.-based eco-conscious gearhead DBA Lovecraft Biofuels, converting old diesel cars (specializing in '70s and '80s Mercedes diesels) to run on pure vegetable oil–costs around $700, takes around four hours, and produces a set of hip, planet-friendly wheels with exhaust fumes that, we are assured, smell pleasingly of tempura.
According to John Millett, spokesman for the EPA, "No motor vehicles have been certified by the EPA to operate on vegetable oil," and neither has it certified conversion kits. Millett adds that the Clean Air Act prohibits converting a motor vehicle to operate on any fuel other than the one the manufacturer used to obtain its EPA emissions certificate. Violations can bring fines of $2,750 for individuals and $32,500 for manufacturers or dealers. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel that has passed the EPA's testing standards that study emission components and their health effects, allowing it to be a registered, and therefore legal, fuel.
[Converter Brian] Friedman is working on a way to add diesel to the converted car tanks to, in effect, create a legal, but dirtier, fuel. Devotees of the vegetable oil concept continue to navigate in a legal gray area. On online forums, including [his company] Lovecraft's, owners of converted cars discuss emissions, road taxes, oil rancidity, lubricity, flash points, biodegradability, particulates and hydrocarbons. They debate how and if they should pay fuel taxes, register to haul waste oil, and locate the correct tax forms.