In 2003, as an act of energy independence during the beginning of the 2nd Gulf war, we purchased a slightly used 2003 VW Jetta with a diesel Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) engine and fueled up with 100% biodiesel (B100) at a station in Seattle (Dr. Dan's Fuelwerks). The car has been a source of great satisfaction. Not only is it much safer than our previous wagon (Subaru Loyale), with 9 airbags instead of 1, but also it feels GREAT to be powered by American farmers instead of terror-promoting Saudis.

Subsequently, we have explored the home production of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil (WVO) salvaged from local restaurant dumpsters, and thereby diverted from the local landfills. By splitting the capital costs and labor 3 ways (with 2 like-minded households), we have been able to produce high-quality fuel for about $2/gallon. You can read a bit about the experience of BioDiesel Tres Familias (BDTF) and examine some photographs here.


This page presents a comparison of the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of automobiles, with the residential, family user in mind.

Emissions comparison table


car      	fuel   		CO       HC         NOx      CO2       PM

Honda Prius	gasoline	1.0      0.0100     0.02     166       0.01 (0.05?)
Honda Insight	gasoline	2.1      0.0550     0.07     129       ?
VW Golf TDI	biodiesel	0.065    0.0019     0.71      54       0.338
VW Golf TDI	fossil diesel	0.135    0.0267     0.63     243       0.483	
Relative to fossil diesel Biodiesel reduces CO by 50%, HCs by 93%, and PM by 30%, while it increases NOx by 13%.

There are outstanding questions about PAH emissions and adsorption onto particles. Perhaps we (and EPA?) need a column for mutagenicity?


Used family car comparison table

Maker		Model		Yr	Mileage	2003_Cost	Airbags	4door	ABS	0-60	Cyl	Vol  Trans	Drive
					CTY HWY  k$  (mi)	DVR PAS

VW              Jetta GLS wagon 03      42  50   19.5(10k)      Std Std Y       Std
VW		Jetta GLS wagon	03	37  46	 21  (2k)	Std Std Y       Std
VW              Jetta wagon 	02      42  50  ~19k (? ) 
VW		Passat		96				Std Std	Y	Avl
VW		Passat wagon	96	37  45	<10k						4	1.9	M5	Front
VW		Passat wagon	97	38  47			Std Std Y       Avl		4       1.9     M5	Front
VW              Passat wagon    98      39  50                                                  4       1.9     M5      Front

Mercedes	300TD wagon	90s?
Mercedes        300TD wagon     87 	23  27 	8-9						6	3.0	A4	Rear
Mercedes        300TD wagon     87      22  25  5-9                                             5       3.0     A4      Rear
Mercedes        300SD?
Mercedes        300D?
Mercedes	E300		96	28  35							6	3.0	A4	Rear


Before you decide to import a car or car parts into the United States, you should ensure that the car or car parts conform to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. These agencies have very detailed requirements that can make importing a vehicle difficult, if not impossible, for some vehicles that were not originally manufactured for the U.S. market.

Nonconforming vehicles less than 25 years old entering the United States must be brought into compliance, exported, or destroyed. Cars over 25 years old are exempt from EPA and DOT requirements, although you will still need to obtain and prepare EPA and DOT paperwork to provide to a Customs inspector in order to clear your car through Customs.

From a Customs standpoint, you must file an entry on the car to receive the entry summary document CF 7501. Filing an entry is initiated by declaring the car to a Customs inspector when you enter the U.S. If your paperwork is in order, the inspector will help you file the entry at the border. If you are not prepared, the inspector may advise you to file the entry at a Customs port near your residence - however, in many cases the closest port could be 1-3 hours from your home, so it is in your best interest to be prepared to file the entry when you initially bring the car into the U.S. Without a copy of the Customs entry form, you will not be able to register the car in the U.S.

Prior to filing your entry with Customs, ensure you have valid proof of ownership, which is an original certificate of title, or a certified copy of the original. Ensure you have documentation, such as a manufacturer's letter, stating that the car conforms to EPA and DOT standards, as well as a completed EPA form 3250-1 and DOT form HS-7. (If the vehicle has stickers on the engine (EPA) and inside the drivers-side door (DOT) stating that the car was manufactured to U.S. standards, you will not need a manufacturers letter. Some vehicles are listed by make, model, and year on the DOT and EPA web sites as conforming. If your vehicle is one of those, that would also negate the need for a manufacturers letter.)

If the vehicle has not been in your household for at least one year, you will be required to pay 2.5% duty, which is assessed based on the purchase price or blue book value.

It is illegal to bring a car into the U.S. and sell it without first entering it through Customs. If you purchase a car that was brought into the U.S. and sold without being properly entered through Customs, that car is subject to seizure. NEVER purchase a used car in the U.S. if the owner cannot show that it is currently registered in the U.S. and demonstrate that it conforms to DOT and EPA standards. If purchasing a car from a dealer, they should handle registration for you, if they don't the purchase should be contingent on your successful registration of the vehicle. (Customs gets many calls from people who unwittingly purchased a vehicle that had been brought into the U.S. and then illegally sold. Buyer beware.)

The EPA has a detailed automotive facts manual describing emission requirements for imported vehicles. You can get a copy of this manual, entitled the Automotive Imports Facts Manual, (order #EPA420B94006) or other information about importing motor vehicles by calling the EPA import hotline at (202) 564-9660. You can also communicate by fax at (202) 564-9596 or by writing to the Environmental Protection Agency, Manufactures Operations division 6405-J, Investigation/Imports Section, 401 M Street, SW Washington, D.C. 20460. You will need a copy of EPA form 3520-1, which is available from their web site, to enter the car.

DOT enforces safety standard for vehicles. Nonconforming cars must be brought into conformance before they are eligible for entry. This process can be extremely expensive. Contact them for more information at 1-800424-9393, or visit their web site at You will need to obtain form HS-7, which is also available from that site.

For additional information on how to bring a car or car parts into the U.S. for personal use, please reference our brochure, "Importing a Vehicle" viewable in the Publications section of our web site.

If you intend to import cars and car parts for resale, you should read our publication entitled "Importing Into the United States" available in the Publications section of our web site.

The form 3520-1 can be obtained at www.epa/gov/otaq/imports and the form HS-7 may be available at the port of entry, or it can be downloaded at or by calling the Auto Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9393.

The future: Tier 2 emissions standards


"The USA will be phasing in "Tier 2" emission limits over the next few years. These emission limits are considerably stricter than the Tier 1 limits, and existing TDI engines emit more than the allowable NOx and particles under the Tier 2 limits. On the other hand, the USA will also be phasing in requirements for truly "low sulfur" fuels, which may open up additional options for the auto manufacturers, since sulfur contained in fuel prevents the use of catalysts that can deal with NOx and particles more effectively than at present. Also, the North American auto manufacturers have a number of diesel engines of their own under development. Whether the improvement in emissions technology will outpace the tightening of regulations, is presently anybody's guess. It has been noted elsewhere that by the year 2007, proposed emission limits in certain geographic areas cannot be met by any known diesel technology. If the USA, through its own legislation, shuts out the use of engine technology that cuts consumption of petroleum by 40% and emission of greenhouse gases (CO2) by a similar amount, it will be a tragic loss. CO2 emissions are directly in proportion to fuel consumption, there is no escaping this fact."

Back to ecohome...