By Joe Stephens
The first time I was introduced to a waste oil heater was more than 20 years ago while I was working for Toyota. The heater burned the waste oil that accumulated from oil changes and transmission flushes to produce heat for the shop. It was a great way of getting around the high costs of natural gas used in conventional heaters, plus it got rid of all the used oil that the shop produced.
So, if your shop creates waste oil from oil changes or other repairs, and you don’t already own a waste oil burner, better think twice. I’ve turned off our natural gas supply and saved thousands of dollars since installing two burners, one for each end of my 6,000-square-foot shop, two years ago (see installation sidebar for more details).
When we looked at the numbers, it only made sense to invest in these heaters as a way to cut down on our heating costs, which can be sizeable here in the Chicago area.
We wrote a small article at that point for ImportCar magazine and this is my update on how things have gone.
The heat is clean and smells fine, and the burner burns the oil at such a high temperature that there are very little pollutants going out the exhaust stack.
The one down side of these burners, though, is having tanks to store the waste oil all summer to burn in the winter.
My shop has four 200-gallon tanks outside behind my building that we fill all summer long, and then transfer that oil to our oil burner tank in the winter when we’re ready to burn it.
The cost of those used tanks for storage was $125 apiece and the cost of an oil transfer pump was $450, including the hose that we installed to go through the wall for ease of oil transfer.
Between the stored oil and the oil we collected during the summer, we had enough to run the burners all winter, and being near Chicago I don’t need to tell you what a relief that was with the nasty winters we get here.
The burners themselves can be a little temperamental and I’ve found through experience that you can keep them running well and your costs down by having only one or two main guys who are familiar with how they work to repair them.
Make sure if you’re purchasing a new waste oil heater to ask if tech support is available. I have an 800 number from the company I purchased my heater from, and the tech support people are on the ball and know how to help you get things running when it’s down.
Diagnostic procedures are something you will learn quickly. Is it an oil delivery issue from a pump, or a clogged filter? Or, is it an electrical issue? We’ve found that keeping filters and injection nozzles in stock help with getting the heater back on fast.
When they don’t work, your techs will start complaining quickly. I keep a torpedo heater around with kerosene, just in case of a major breakdown.
So far, we haven’t had to turn our natural gas supply back on at all. Knock on wood; waste oil burners still get a big “thumbs up” from Stephens Automotive.
Joe Stephens is the owner of Stephens Automotive in Palatine, IL. In business for 16 years, Stephens runs a large fleet repair service and specializes in the repair of Toyota and Lexus vehicles at his 6,000-sq.-ft. shop. He will always make time to talk with a fellow shop owner and can be contacted at [email protected], and invites you to check out his website at www.stephensautomotive.com.