Why is this so hard?
February 20, 2011 5:15 PM   Subscribe

We are looking for a small, used diesel car in the U.S. What are we doing wrong?

We are looking for a second used car. (No rush). We also are looking at moving farther away from my husband's place of employment. (No chance of another job, he'll work here until retirement.)

We strongly prefer a diesel car because I know how to brew biodiesel, we have a decent source of waste veggie oil, and even if we need to buy petro diesel, diesel cars are very fuel efficient.

I am searching (or, attempting to search) throughout the midwest and southeast, and having very little luck. All the diesel websites are geared toward big trucks, and searching for "VW TDI" just gets me a bunch of gassers.

I'm starting to think that diesel cars need a different strategy, but I don't know what.

We have no preference for make, model or year. A New Beetle or an old Mercedes, I do not care, just so long as it's diesel and a car.
posted by Leta to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure that VW TDI should be Turbo Diesals, and a VW TD is a turbo "gasser" (I have a Golf TD), at least here in Canada. Maybe if you refine your search to Golf Diesel, or Jetta Diesel you will have more success.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:21 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind Carmax you can search diesel engines under "type" of car and further limit the search to the body type. They will also transfer cars (for a fee) from one location to another.
posted by statsgirl at 5:21 PM on February 20, 2011

Check autotrader.com. Tell it you want a Volkswagen Jetta, and for engine select "Diesel". I get quite a few results.
posted by wierdo at 5:24 PM on February 20, 2011

Or even better, tell it you want a sedan and select "diesel" for fuel. ;)
posted by wierdo at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2011

On the Advanced Search on Cars.com, you can select body types and fuel types in your search. I can usually find a VW diesel or two in the region, although not usually in my town. Searching craigslist cars for diesel in my city and nearby cities will sometimes pop up a few, as well.
posted by dilettante at 5:49 PM on February 20, 2011

Be REALLY CAREFUL using home-made diesel in TDI Volkswagens. Unlike older Mercedes, the VW injection pump has some sensitive electronics in it that don't play well with waste veggie oil. I've seen several TDI Jettas and Beetles go horribly wrong on that stuff. I'm a fan of waste oil diesel, having previously owned a Benz that ran on grease. I just wouldn't recommend it in a later model VW. Your mileage may vary, of course.
posted by Jon-o at 5:56 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ah, the green. Thanks everyone, great info here.
posted by Leta at 6:36 PM on February 20, 2011

We just sold our 2002 TDI Beetle. We looked into bio converting but online sources seemed down on it.
posted by k8t at 7:16 PM on February 20, 2011

I found my Beetle TDI a year ago in the southeast via Craigslist and eBay (the car was listed in both places). I used crazedlist.org (like a madman!) and used 'tdi' and 'diesel' in separate searches. Same for eBay. There were quite a few diesels in both places.

(On a side note, I *love* my car and am averaging ~43mpg in mixed driving. No urge to bother with bio, though.)

Good luck!
posted by abigredchair at 7:22 PM on February 20, 2011

I've used carsforsale.com a few times and really like it. Here's a search for Volkswagen TDIs, which you could narrow down by zip code.

Also, just a data point, our good friends have a 2003 Jetta wagon TDI that they've run on biodiesel for a long time. We've taken many great trips in it and it's well into the 150k range and running like new. These cars are known for biodeisel friendliness.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:10 PM on February 20, 2011

eBay motors let's you specify "diesel" and a body type (sedan, hatchback, etc.)...I get local hits of vehicles that you seem to be looking for...
posted by Exchequer at 8:18 PM on February 20, 2011

In my experience (I used to brew slightly over 1k gallons a month from WVO) you shouldn't have any issues with any VW right up until the 2009 diesel changes took effect for low-sulfur regulations, although it would seem that mid-90's are really the sweet spot in terms of mileage and livability. Somewhere around 2002 things got dodgy for a while, apparently VW was buying some key components from a subsidiary of Ford, and the secret word is that they were sabotaged on purpose. I can't confirm or deny this.

The other reason that "older", non-injected/non-computerized diesels are considered "better" is because the ignition point of WVO-diesel is different than that of petro-diesel, so most folks retard timing by about 3-5% when they can, otherwise the fuel load explodes too early, sending the cylinder down too soon, taking significantly from your available power and efficiency. There is also some thought that the smaller, non-cast diesel engines like those in TDI's can't take this pressure variance and wear out much faster, whereas, say, a late 80's Benz can do it indefinitely.

TDI actually stands for turbo direct injection, not turbo-diesel-something as most folks think it does. It's why VW diesels are still pretty peppy.

Your choices for CARS made for US consumption that are diesel is very limited. Basically you've got benzies and vw's. There are several options for trucks. Honda was promising in 2004 to bring their diesel civic stateside, but they elected to focus US efforts in their hybrid branch instead. Sad, because that car is pretty bulletproof.

If you go VW, and you want a commuter, the TDI-Golf is amazing. Good luck finding one. Jetta's are OK. The diesel Touareg is AMAZING, but there's a reason they retail for $70k.

Old 300D Benzies are the most overall bulletproof bet, but they tend to sell for about 75% more than they're worth, and by this point most of them have been screwed up by people who didn't realize you have to filter the WVO before you grease them, and that you really should wrap the stainless fuel line around the exhaust system as a preheater.

If you're feeling saucy, you can get a fairly late model diesel Toyota Hilux imported from the UK for ~$15-25k including shipping and import fees, and there simply is no better truck in the world. Subaru makes an AWD diesel as well for Europe, but sadly it's not available here either.

The Chrysler diesels are garbage, btw, stay away from Diesel Patriots and Grand Cherokees---hell, stay away from Patriots regardless.

And, as a word of advice if you're going to rely on a steady stream of WVO as your fuel source---make absolutely sure you're checking overall alkalinity and water content for each batch before you convert...and never pay attention to anyone who says that the Dr. Pepper method is a valid method.
posted by TomMelee at 7:15 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good place for info about diesels and veggie diesels is TDI Club forums. I believe they even list cars for sale.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 7:39 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

TomMelee- very intrigued by the Hilux idea. Do you have sources for finding and importing them?

posted by flummox at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2011

I have not imported anything, but I did do some investigation a few years ago. Ebay.co.uk has lots of items amazingly affordably (imo)

Google "import car from uk to us" and you'll see lots of resources. Looks like ~$2kish + taxes. Assuming that the car is road legal, which it may or may not be depending on myriad factors.
posted by TomMelee at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2011

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