SVO Conversion: 1 Year update
I posted this a little while back over at the infopop forum, but it doesn't seem like many folks read that. Thought this might be useful. I'd also love to hear any thoughts on the questions in here. Thanks!
Well, I have hit one year and nearly 30k SVO miles on my '96 7.3 Powerstroke conversion and I thought it was time for an update. I've learned SO MUCH in the past year!
Last October, I purchased a '96 F-250 7.3 with two stock fuel tanks. The truck had 160,000 miles on it. The truck was a steal...and then wasn't. Within a few weeks the transmission and mechanical fuel pump went out. Doh! That E-40D is EXPENSIVE to have rebuilt and I kick myself for not sticking to my own rule of insisting on a manual transmission vehicle. Live and learn.
For my kit, I purchased a Goldenfuel kit with their 60 gallon Trekker tank. That kit included the 60 gallon tank (poly with an aluminum heat exchanger in it), racor 1000 heated filter, hot fox pickup for the stock tank conversion, 3b hose (their name for hose on hose wrapped in sheath--great stuff), accessory fuel pump for the veg side, 6 way pollack valve, wiring, vacuum gauge, fuel gauge for the 60 gallon tank, and instructions.
To that kit, I added a second Racor filter, veg-therm mega, and a temp gauge for the oil.
I installed the kit with a friend who had done several conversions and is a mechanical whiz. There is no way I could have done this myself and would not recommend undertaking a project like this without significant mechanical know-how. However, over the 3 days that we spent installing the kit, I got a crash course in diesel mechanics. With a lot of flailing, and tons of help, I have been able to successfully troubleshoot and maintain the system.
Notes on installation:
Everything was actually pretty straightforward (as long as you know what you are doing and what is what under the hood) except for retrofitting the stock tank. It is a HUGE PAIN to drop that tank, install the hotfox, and get the tank reinstalled. This was by far the most time consuming part of the process.
Charlie at Goldenfuels was helpful both during the installation process and in helping me through the various problems that came up during the months afterward.
What did not work:
The little accessory pump that I got crapped out in less than six months and only came with a 90 day wararnty from Goldenfuel. They suggested a raptor pump. It was quite expensive, but I have had zero problems since then.
For the second Racor 1000 (I'll explain below), I bought it separately. Turns out the thermostats that Racor installs are setup for an anti-gel function, and turn the heater off at a low temp (I don't know exactly what). Goldenfuel was great and installed their thermostats on the heater for me. This was a very nice gesture. Racor, however, claims that putting in these thermostats set to 160 will quickly burn up their heaters. After a year, both are still running fine, but I don't have a sense of how much I am overworking the heater.
My alternator is MAXED out. I have two Racor 1000's, a Raptor pump, and a veg therm. My alternator can not quite keep up and I'm not sure what to do about that. I may be able to install the "ambulance version" alternator, which is a bit stronger. I have not fully researched this so I'm not sure if I can just drop it in. I have also considered adding a solar panel to provide a top off charge while the truck is parked. Does anyone have thoughts on this?
Purge time is a bit long (about 5 minutes). This is not a big deal, but I would like to be able to use less diesel to purge.
What does work
The conversion! It works great! While many people panned the Pollack valve and Goldenfuel switched away from it shortly after selling me the kit (damn), I have had no problems there.
I have a three tank setup and I love it. The trekker tank in the bed holds "dirty" oil. Sometimes this is straight from the dumpster. Usually, it comes out of a 300 gallon holding tank in my garage. My trash pump filters to about 130 microns and then I let it settle, often for 4-6 weeks in that holding tank. Fuel is routed from the trekker tank, through a Racor (10 micron filter), through a pump (tuthill 10 gpm) and into the "clean" oil underbelly tank. I control that pump through a switch on the dash. This setup is worth every bit of effort and expense. It is a HUGE advantage to be able to filter oil on board. Also, when the oil goes from the clean tank and through the 2nd racor (2 micron) it is already very clean. That means that that 2 micron Racor filter lasts about 10,000 miles or more. I just change that filter every other oil change and I never run into the problem of a clogged filter while driving.
** I don't fully understand how this works, but apparently I have created a gravity feed from the dirty tank to the clean tank. After I fill the dirty tank, I run the pump for a couple minutes, then oil feeds through the filter and into the clean tank on its own. This means that my clean tank is always topped off for me. Anyone understand why / how this works?
Oil temp does not seem to be an issue. I was very worried about that going in, and during the winter, my oil is barely above 100 degrees as it hits the stock filter (where my temp gauge is). Charlie at Goldenfuel teased me for installing a veg therm and insists that it is impossible to inject cold oil into a powerstroke. I believe him, and I imagine the vegtherm is unnecessary.
Cross contamination is not an issue. The truck spits some veg back to the diesel tank every time I purge (because of the 6 way valve, the systems are not isolated from each other). I have never noticed problem with starting up on diesel that could be attributed to veg contamination / gelling.
I went through a couple $100 Tuthill pumps before I realized I needed to drop some coin and get a real pump. I bought a Redline MP2000RSG Heavy Duty 12 volt DC Waste Oil Transfer/Filtration System. It set me back nearly a grand (ouch) and is so worth it. The pump will suck nasty, cold oil (only have to filter to 1000 micron on the vacuum side) for hours on end (continuous duty motor). Also, the various parts of this pump are all replaceable. I can replace the motor, the pump, or the gearing if one of them blows out. The pump also came with two washable basket strainers. These things are great and I bought a series of strainers ranging from 600 micron to 130 micron. That way, I can adjust how fine I filter the oil based on temperature, my mood, and the alignment of the stars.
I also got two 300 gallon totes from the local petroleum distributor. They give away the ones that have damaged cages, lids, etc. These things are also priceless. I keep one in my garage to store oil for filling up the truck. When I go collecting, I put the other in my truck. Once every 6-8 weeks, I make my rounds and collect 300 gallons of oil. Back at home, I run it through the strainers (130 micron), and then it settles in the garage tank. Any water settles to the bottom, most solids settle to the bottom. I generally run about 300 gallons through my dirty tank and filter between filter changes. At some point, this will be a huge pain to clean.
**For anyone considering getting into this, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND getting a high quality / high capacity pump and storage setup. This has vastly increased my SVO quality of life and greatly decreased the amount of time that I have to invest in oil gathering and filtering.
The stock filter is a point of restriction. My truck has an Edge Evolution power programmer (I keep it on "tow" setting, which is the most mild of the power settings. I like the extra power because it keeps the truck from prematurely down shifting on a steep grade. However, sometimes I don't think I get quite enough fuel through the filter. I can hear the mechanical lift pump start whirring away (makes a clicking noise), I lose a bit of power, and if I don't back off I can wind up starving the engine. I'm not sure how to go about this. My mechanic tells me I need to run fuel through that stock filter bowl because it contains monitoring equipment such as fuel pressure and temp gauges. Also, the filter bowl outlet and subsequent inlet for the stock lift pump are ridiculously close together. I don't think it's possible to splice in to bypass the filter bowl for veg.
My idea (actually my mechanic's): Take the filter out of the stock filter bowl and just run fuel through there. Install another filter housing / filter in the diesel line. That way, it only filters diesel and it eliminates the veg restriction. That leaves a quart of fuel still in the filter bowl that has to be washed through during purge, but oh well.
Anyone have other ideas about how to tackle this problem?
I am more than pleased with this project! I invested a bunch of money into the conversion (about $4500), but have already recouped that cost in fuel savings. Also, money is not the big issue for me. It is hugely important to me to reduce my environmental impact, avoid giving money to oil companies, and to recycle a waste product. With my work, I have to drive a 4x4 pickup and I have to drive a lot of miles. This allows me to do so with much less impact.
If you are considering taking on an SVO project, please consider that in order to make it sustainable in the long run, you will likely need to make a significant investment in terms of time, money, and personal commitment.
I would absolutely do this again, and would not hesitate to buy the same kit again.
I'm eager to hear any thoughts those more experienced than me have on my questions / problems and I'm happy to be a help to anyone thinking about getting into SVO.