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Red Diesel

The risk of saving a few dollars at the pump using red diesel could leave users with large fines down the road

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 10:57 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 11:49 a.m. CST
Caption
(CNA photo and illustration by JAKE WADDINGHAM and BROOKE McINTOSH)
Red-dyed diesel is used in tractors, combines and other equipment and is not taxed for highway use. Using it in vehicles for highway travel can lead to large fines from the Iowa DOT and IRS.

he temptation for diesel users to save a few bucks at the pump by filling up with red-dyed diesel could lead to major fines if they are caught red handed by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Red-dyed diesel should only be used for agricultural purposes in tractors, combines and other equipment that is typically not used for highway travel.

Clear diesel is used in semitrailers and trucks and has a highway tax of 47 cents more per gallon.

“They put a dye in the red diesel so a person can easily look at it and see if it is legal or illegal,” said Iowa DOT Captain Dean House.

If a driver is caught illegally using red-dyed diesel in a semitrailer or truck, the fine is $10 per gallon with a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first penalty by the Iowa DOT.

The individual or trucking company is also subject to investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The IRS reviews fuel records and checks to see what onsite equipment can legally use red diesel. If the fuel usage record does not match up with the equipment, the individual or company is subject to more fines.

In Creston, the new fuel pumps at Farmers Cooperative on Osage Street offers red-dyed diesel for agricultural use and clear diesel for highway use.

Darin Schlapia said the pumps are clearly marked to prevent any confusion for diesel users that need to refuel.

“The pump has a sticker that has road master for the clear and the dyed is called ruby field master,” Schlapia said.

He said the pump is also labeled under the price, which should be another indication of the difference in dyed and clear diesel.

Higher temptation

House said the temptation to use dyed diesel is greater when farmers are in the field planting or harvesting, but he added violators typically run on red diesel year round.

“We’ve caught them all 12 months of the year,” House said. “during regular DOT inspections, during special enforcement projects or if we get a report. It is not uncommon for us to get a call and complaint.”

The Iowa DOT uses a long, clear tube — similar to a straw — to probe the fuel tank. The officer holds his or her thumb over the straw to trap the fuel and withdraws the tube.

If there is any red tint, he or she then uses a pump to take a sample of the fuel in a sealed container and sends it off for testing.

The reason it is sent off for testing is to make sure the red tint is not from red transmission fluid that is used to clean fuel injectors.

The Iowa DOT also makes random checks at the co-op when farmers are bringing in their crops from the fall harvest.

“They will show up about once a year (randomly) and probe and test everybody’s tanks,” Schlapia said.

House warned there are no special circumstances that allow road vehicles to use red diesel.

“Sometimes they will put it in if they have an emergency and they are low on fuel,” House said. “That still won’t work, they can’t have it in there.”

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