Letter Re: Biodiesel, Retreat Vehicle Fuel Flexibility, and Power Generation

Hello Jim,
I am a prepper who is trying to do so on a very tight budget (wife, four kids, and two jobs just to make ends meet-you get the idea). Here are some random ideas that others might find useful.
1) Try drying your own fruits and vegetables for food storage. Whether homegrown or bought. This can be done inexpensively and dried food takes up very little storage space.
2) Consider making your own biodiesel. I am in the early stages of doing this myself. It’s not that hard. Just pay attention to detail and do it right. Besides saving a lot of money now this will also allow you to build up a large amount of fuel storage for vehicle and generator use inexpensively. This will become much more critical as fuel prices skyrocket in the future.
3) You need a diesel vehicle to use the biodiesel in. In addition to a diesel truck, think about getting an older Mercedes Benz diesel car for an everyday driver and second BOV. Don’t laugh. The W123 chassis cars, specifically the 240D and 300D models made from 1977 to 1985 are built like tanks, lots of space and they are fairly simple to work on. I am not mechanical at all and plan on doing all the work on mine. DieselGiant.com has great pictorials and do-it-yourself DVDs to help you. These cars have no computers so they should be EMP-proof.
4) If you have a high quality roto-tiller such as a Troy-Bilt or BCS brand (and you should if your serious about food production) it could be used to earn money/barter. If things get really hard gardening will make a dramatic comeback. Most people don’t have tillers and there should be a good market tilling ground for people. Assuming you have enough fuel/spare parts this could make you indispensable in a small town.
5) A recent [SurvivalBlog] post talked about a vehicle as an improvised generator. While probably somewhat inefficient in terms of fuel consumption versus electricity produced it sounds perfect for someone on a budget.

I have two questions: Will running the inverter straight from the battery prematurely wear out the starter battery in the car or should the inverter be wired directly to the battery cables? Will using this set up overwork the alternator and cause early failure?

Some Useful Web Sites:
Look at the eBay Motors listings if you want to see what these Mercedes vehicles look like.

This is just my little contribution to the blog and I hope others find it useful., – Jeff S.

JWR Replies: I recommend having at least one diesel tractor, one utility pickup or quad, and one diesel car at every retreat. Although they are fairly scarce, in my experience, a pre-1986 Mercedes diesel 300D series station wagon (on the W123 chassis) is worth looking for. These share a common drive train with the much more common 300D series four-door sedans, so parts are readily available.

Ready Made Resources (one of our most loyal advertisers) offers an affordable small-scale biodiesel making system. The recent spike in diesel prices will give you a big advantage in bargaining for a price when buying any diesel vehicle.

In answer to your questions: As long as the engine is left running at low to moderate RPMs, then using a vehicle’s alternator as a power source–for either DC loads, and/or to run a small 120 VAC inverter–will not cause excessive wear and tear on your battery or alternator. You may have to rig a manually-controlled set-throttle. Just keep in mind the usual safety precautions, such as carbon monoxide venting, and making sure that the transmission lever does not get bumped into “drive”. To conserve your precious fuel, it is probably best to buy a bank of deep cycle (“golf cart”) type batteries that you can charge whenever you run the engine.

Rather than using jumper cable clamps, for safety it is best to attached heavy gauge battery cable and terminal lugs, Use a detachable high-amperage-rated 12 VDC polarity-protected “Pigtail” block connector, in parallel with your vehicle battery cables. That way you can quickly disconnect and still be able drive your vehicle without a time-consuming cable un-bolting procedure. Ideally, your battery bank will be the heart of an alternative power system that will also–as your budget eventually allows–include some photovoltaic panels. (This online primer is a good starting point.) As previously mentioned, in SurvivalBlog, for 12 VDC devices “downstream” from your battery bank that draw 30 amps or less, I recommend standardizing with Anderson Power Pole connectors rather than flimsy cigarette lighter plugs and jacks.