By Fred Seelig/Houston
It's been about two months since we bought our 2006 Volkswagen Jetta - with a turbodiesel engine.
Our European readers will be more familiar than those in the US with what that means: great fuel economy and a motor with internals that should last twice as long as a gasoline engine, but with a higher up-front cost for features - such as turbochargers - that now enable diesels to perform comparably.
This is my first diesel car, but I've long believed that Rudolf Diesel's invention could give both the fuel-saving and environmental benefits, of hybrids, at a fraction of the cost, and with technology that has existed for the past 100 years.
Although diesel emissions are worse for people to breathe in the short run, they're less damaging for the planet in the long run. But with today's cleaner diesel, and cleaner diesel engines, emissions are much improved, and this "alternative" fuel is ready for US prime time, I believe. Green Car Journal even named the diesel Jetta as Green Car of the Year for 2009 - quite a snub to the pious Toyota Prius.
Diesel fuel, while common along US highways, is often unavailable off the beaten path. But I thought I had done my research, finding the nearest diesel-dispensing stations to our home, and even watching their price compared to gasoline.
So, I hate to admit that I didn't quite know what I was getting into. Turbodiesels, it turns out, require special (read: hard to find) motor oils that can simultaneously hold diesel's extra soot, and keep the tiny, delicate parts of the turbo nicely greased. Don't dare take one of these to a quickie lube type of place for an oil change.
And diesel has other issues - like the fact it is easily contaminated with water. Oh, and also by algae, mold and bacteria. No, this ain't biodiesel. Our regular, dead-dinosaur diesel has become contaminated (or should that be "infected"? Or "infested"?) with algae. Like a surgeon saving your gallbladder to show you, the dealership gave me a clear, plastic bottle of my very own diesel, with dark flakes of algae floating in it. The clerk at the auto parts store thought I was crazy when I said I needed a bottle of biocide to kill bugs in my diesel.
Now I know: Before we buy a flat-screen TV, I'm gonna make sure the damn thing can't come down with athlete's foot.