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When pulling up to a gas station, you’re most likely familiar with the diesel fuel option that’s commonly available at the pump. That fuel is mainly used in cars and trucks with diesel-powered engines in addition to the occasional larger commercial trucks that use it. But what about red diesel fuel? Why does that exist and why is it illegal to use in passenger vehicles?

Red diesel fuel is only a little different than the regular stuff

A diesel fuel petrol pump is seen at a gas station
A diesel fuel petrol pump is seen at a gas station. | Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The diesel fuel that you normally see at the gas pumps is commonly referred to as “No. 2 diesel fuel.” According to Kendrick Oil, “this chemical compound holds the highest amount of energy components and lubricant properties in one mixture and offers the best fuel performance.” That’s why it’s most widely used by commercial trucks, busses, and some passenger cars.

According to MotorTrend, red diesel fuel has the exact same chemical compound as its well-known No. 2 counterpart, but the biggest difference is that it’s mainly used in off-road vehicles, tractors, and bulldozers. The fuel’s red color is provided by a red dye called “Solvent Red 26” and its crimson hue is put in place so that this fuel can be identified more easily over the regular No. 2 swill.

You could pay a hefty fine for using red diesel

Close-up of text on green background reading Diesel
Close-up of text on green background reading Diesel | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

While red diesel is essentially the same as regular diesel, the powers that be prohibit it to be used in street-driven rigs. Why? Because red diesel is typically much cheaper than regular diesel fuel and as such it’s subject to a rebated tax, notes MotorTrend. In fact, it’s not uncommon for certain fuels to be dyed different colors so that they can be distinguished from other fuel types and thus be taxed differently.

For example, the fuel used in airplanes can sometimes be dyed blue, purple, red, or green. Also, other types of diesel fuel around the world are dyed blue. Again, it’s the same stuff, it’s just dyed differently for categorization and taxation purposes. That all being said, while you can technically use red diesel fuel in a road-going car with a diesel engine, you may want to refrain from doing so. If you get caught pumping the red stuff into your car, you could face some hefty fines in some states and even be charged with tax evasion.

Where is red diesel found?

A Total gas station thats equipped with diesel fuel.
A Total gas station that’s equipped with diesel fuel. | Getty Images

According to Nationwide Fuels, you will need to go to a specialist fuel supplier if you want to get your hands on some red diesel fuel. So, don’t expect to pull up to your local Chevron station and be able to pump the red stuff into your Volkswagen Jetta TDI. It’s for commercial use only.

Besides, it’s the same stuff that you’ll get out of the green-handled pump that you normally use, so you’re not missing out on anything special. But now you know what red diesel is and why it’s colored that way. It’s no wonder why it’s sometimes referred to as “cherry juice.” Just don’t try to drink it either.


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