CALUMET - Jerry Mitchell owns the kind of car many may wish they had - the kind he doesn't have to take to the pump.
"I knew I was going to get one sooner or later," he said of his 1983 Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel that runs on used vegetable oil. "Compared to diesel, it gets a couple of miles to the gallon less."
For Jerry, who has owned Carmelita's with his wife Sandra for the past seven years, it's a win-win situation. He's been saving used vegetable oil since their Calumet business opened with intentions of purchasing a vehicle that would put their restaurant's waste to good use.
Kelly Fosness/Daily Mining Gazette
Carmelita’s restaurant owner Jerry Mitchell stands beside his 1983 Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel car that runs on used vegetable oil. The car, which Mitchell purchased in California in May, gets about 25 miles to the gallon.
"I've got about 800 gallons of it," he said, noting the oil is stored in the same five-gallon jugs it came in. "I've got it in the basement here (at the restaurant) and I've got it in the basement of our house (in Sedar Bay)."
At first, Jerry was in the market for an older Dodge diesel pick-up truck, a model between 1989 and 1997 that had a Cummins engine. He heard it would burn fry oil without too many modifications. Then he learned there were cars that could convert from fuel to fry oil.
"I heard from this guy who works at Little Brothers (Friends of the Elderly) ... he had a Mercedes diesel just like the one I have," he said. "I called him up and he had just sold it."
Searching online, Jerry said they found a similar vehicle 30 miles south of San Francisco. The Mitchells purchased one-way tickets and drove the black four-door with its signature star hood ornament back to Calumet May 1.
"These old Mercedes diesel motors, they say they'll get 500,000 miles no problem on a motor," he said. "Mine has 215,000 miles on it now."
While Jerry doesn't consider himself a bio-fuel expert, he knows the vehicle must be a diesel in order to burn alternative fuel.
Additionally, he said, the used vegetable oil, once it's ready to be disposed from the fryer, must go through a filtering process to ensure it's clean enough to put in the fuel tank.
With one full month behind the wheel of his eco-friendly automobile, he said he has yet to experience any problems.
"I think it's going to be better on oil actually because diesel fuel has lots of sulfur in it, which makes the engine oil get dirty really quick," he said. "I'm thinking this vegetable oil won't have any of that in there so the oil in the engine might last a lot longer."
Not only that, Jerry said his Mercedes runs smoother on oil and gives off a lighter odor compared to diesel.
"It has a different smell for sure but it doesn't smell like French fries to me," he said with a chuckle. "It's definitely as green as you can get."
Burning waste oil is a plus for the environment, he added, because no fossil fuel emissions are released into the atmosphere.
He's also saving himself on the cost of disposing waste oil.
"Lots of places will have companies come and get their fryer oil and they usually charge them to get rid of it," he said. "Not only do I not have to pay somebody to get rid of it, I get to not go to the gas station and save $3.50 or $4 for a gallon of diesel fuel. It's not a bad situation."
While Jerry also owns a Ford pick-up truck, he's planning on driving his Mercedes throughout the summer.
"If I was driving my truck, I'd be burning about $30 to $40 a week," he said. "I estimate I'm saving $1,200 to $1,500 a year in fuel just on that car."
Sandra currently drives a Buick, Jerry said, but that won't be for long. He's back in the market looking to purchase another car like his for her from the same seller in California.
"He had rebuilt 50 of these old Mercedes and he had 12 for me to choose from," Jerry said. "He has a Mercedes station wagon that I really want. We have a couple of dogs and it will be big enough for the dogs to get in the back and have a lot more room."
As for winter, Jerry said diesels are traditionally hard to start in cold weather. Because he's unsure how the Mercedes will react, not to mention it's rear-wheel drive, he assumes they'll switch back to gasoline motors when snow starts to fly.