Letter Re: Can I Burn Home Heating Oil or Kerosene in a Diesel Engine?

Your article today about diesel vehicles still providing long term cost savings was quite interesting. The question I have, and perhaps [shared by] some of your readers is this: is home heating oil and kerosene acceptable fuel for a diesel engine? – Thanks, – Jim G.

JWR Replies: Home heating oil burns fine in any diesel engine, but in may countries it is not legal to do so in a vehicle that is driven on public roads. This is a “road tax” issue. Aside for a red dye additive, the formulation of home heating oil is almost identical to the diesel that was made before the recent advent of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD). The only significant difference between the two is the Federal standard on ash content.

Kerosene is a different matter. Kerosene has insufficient lubricity to be used just by itself in a diesel engine. I have also read that it burns hotter than diesel, so it might harm injectors. However, this is largely a non-issue in all but exceptional circumstances, since kerosene typically sells for as as much as one dollar more per gallon than diesel. But in an an emergency, it is presumably safe to mix as much as 20% kerosene with your diesel and not cause excessive engine wear. And, BTW, the aforementioned road tax is also an issue for kerosene.

To explain the road tax: In the US, Canada, the UK, and several other countries it is not legal to use dyed (untaxed) fuel in a vehicle that is driven on public roads. Of course if you are using the fuel in a generator set, or in an off-road vehicle such as a tractor, you can’t be accused of cheating on the road tax. The two types of diesel fuel are distinguished by the dye additive. In the US, there is no dye added to road-taxed diesel. Enforcement of these statutes varies widely, but the fines can be substantial, so stay legal.