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Diesel fuel woes

I live in Ohio. I was born in Colorado when my dad did his stint in the Air Force, but my folks decided to move back to their home state of Ohio when I was just a pup. This never made sense to me... move from a spot where you can see the Rocky Mountains, back to the flatlands of the Midwest? Oh, well. Living in Ohio has its charms. It’s a hotbed of automotive enthusiasts, and racing venues, including drag strips, road courses and oval tracks, plus there’s a heavy concentration of street rods and muscle cars. There are also enough precision machining, specialty coating and fabrication facilities to keep me happy.

However, aside from being a dyed-in-the-wool gearhead, I love to fish, primarily fly fishing. Since Ohio has a limited number of decent trout streams, I generally drive to Pennsylvania or upstate Michigan to indulge my passion. Of course, my bass boat is always at the ready when I’m in the mood for lake fishing. Yes, there is a point to this rambling.

My primary vehicle is a very clean and well-maintained 2002 Ford F-350 dually crew cab equipped with the 7.3L Navistar turbo diesel (2002 was the last full production year for the 7.3L, which is the reason for my model year choice).

I love this truck, to the point where I’ve developed an emotional attachment. It’s reliable, it rides great and generally runs well, and tows anything in sight. It also gets what you would consider acceptable fuel mileage, considering its size and weight. On average, I get around 14 to 15 mpg commuting and around 16 to 17 mpg on the freeway. Since it’s common for fuel station in-ground tanks to sweat and create condensation, occasionally she’ll stumble or surge, prompting me to change the fuel filter and add a bit of diesel fuel stabilizer treatment to reduce moisture and to help lube the injectors.

Of course, due to the drop in high pressure lubricants in today’s engine oil, I also try to remember to add oil treatments to help lubricate and cool the high pressure oil that runs through the Navistar’s high pressure oil pump that provides the muscle for the fuel injectors (learned that the hard way with my previous 7.3L).

At the end of a recent trip to northern Michigan for a couple of days of fly fishing on the pristine Au Sable River, I topped off the tank just prior to my return trip. Almost immediately after filling the tank, the truck woke up and ran better — I mean substantially better. Improved throttle response, more power, quieter, smoother, etc.

Hmm. The further I drove, the more I began to notice better fuel economy as well. Upon returning home, I refilled and calculated my fuel use, only to be surprised at an eye-opening 23 mpg. Hmm.

During the ensuing weeks, I continued to add fuel at several different stations in my home state, noticing that the bonuses experienced on that return trip had quickly vanished. She was back to her old self, running decently but not with the unbridled zest experienced on that trip. Mileage had also returned to 17 mpg at best.

About two months later, I returned to my sweet spot on the Au Sable, refilled the tank before heading home, and presto — back to running like a hungry cheetah chasing a gazelle and miserly sipping fuel at 23 mpg. Hmm. It became quite obvious that northern Michigan (as one example) carries a better grade of diesel fuel than the mystery soup offered here in Ohio.

After discussing this with a handful of my diesel-owning buddies, it seems that we’ve all experienced much the same scenario in different parts of the country. Without any scientific proof to back our claims, we’ve naturally surmised that diesel fuel quality (cetane level, lubricity level and moisture content) varies widely across the U.S.

Now, why is that? Shouldn’t there be a federal standard for diesel fuel? Especially considering the ridiculously elevated cost (as compared to gasoline), and that fact that the entire world runs on diesel? Consider that everything we purchase is at some point transported by a diesel truck or tractor. It should be obvious that the quality of diesel fuel is rather, shall we say, “important.”

I realize that I’m simply ranting, and I’m sure that if I were to spend time researching the facts of the matter, I’d find the reasons (or should I say “excuses”).

Regardless of what anyone tries to tell me, I’m convinced that there is no consistency in diesel fuel. Perhaps this is simply one more reason to remind the folks who “work” in our nation’s capital to wake up and do something productive. Hmm. As soon as I wrote this last sentence, I realized that I may have a future in stand-up comedy.   ●

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