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How An Ill-Fated Engine Proved The Differences Between Fuels

One of the complexities facing the alternative fuel future is safe storage using relief valves, which often require tailored and modified infrastructure and solutions.


There is a reason, after all, why putting the wrong type of fuel in your car can be so damaging, and of all the companies in the world who might understand this fact, one would assume an American manufacturing monolith such as General Motors would be mindful of the difference between petrol and diesel.


However, between 1978 and 1985, they evidently did not listen and sold one of the worst, most ill-fated diesel engines ever placed into a production car.


The Oldsmobile LF9 Diesel was an engine produced during a desperate period for American car manufacturers.


The malaise era led to sweeping, sudden legislation that required companies to maintain a certain overall fuel economy, and GM’s Oldsmobile division was tasked with making a diesel engine to get more mileage.


To get it done that quickly, GM slightly modified their Oldsmobile 350 petrol engine to ensure it ran on diesel fuel. This led to an engine designed for a third of the compression ratios it would get from the fuel, and without necessary components such as a water separator unit.


The engines were also low on power relative to the big, heavy cars they were fitted to, leading to exploding engines, failed fuel pumps and eroding fuel systems caused by GM’s awful advice to use alcohol to flush out the water.


The engine lasted seven years before being discontinued but it was so badly received that it would stop the adoption of diesel cars in the United States for decades, with a reputation for unreliability, pollution and unpleasant driving mechanics that would ultimately be unfair to the basic technology.


It highlighted the problem of trying to drop a different type of fuel into an unsuited engine, and that lesson has been learned by biofuel and alternative fuel manufacturers looking for more ecological alternatives to fossil fuels.