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What Is Off-Road Diesel and Who Gets to Use It?

What Is Off-Road Diesel and Who Gets to Use It?

Do off-road diesel trucks get their own special fuel? You may have seen off-road diesel advertised at fuel stations, and a lot of times it’s much cheaper than regular diesel. So can any diesel engine use it? You must know how, when, and where using off-road diesel is acceptable. If not, you could face severe legal consequences.

We use a lot of off-road diesel and today we answering some essential questions regarding this specially-designated fuel. Let’s get started!

What Is Off-Road Diesel?

Off-road diesel is fuel for vehicles and equipment that don’t use the roads. These are typically tractors, generators, construction equipment, and marine vessels. It is chemically identical to on-road diesel. However, manufacturers inject it with a red dye to make it easy to distinguish it from standard fuel. Off-road diesel will run fine in any diesel engine as the only difference is the intended use.

Because off-road diesel is not for use on public roads, it’s subject to different regulations and taxes than on-road diesel. This typically results in a substantially lower price per gallon, especially in states with hefty taxes on diesel fuel. 

Pro Tip: Want to save money at the pump? We uncovered Does Cruise Control Really Save Gas?

Off Road dually truck
Tractors, generators, construction equipment, and marine vessels will rely on off-road diesel for fuel. Off-road trucks like this do not count if they are using the roads.

Who Uses Off-Road Diesel?

The legal requirements and restrictions for using off-road diesel are stringent. It is common in farming, construction, mining, and shipping. Additionally, it’s a beneficial fuel source in emergency backup generators for hospitals, data centers, and other essential facilities.

It’s the go-to fuel source in farming, construction, and industrial applications. You’ll see it in marine vessels and vehicles not driven on public roads. It’s an excellent option for various applications and industries as it can deliver exceptional results and save money.

Running a backhoe on off road diesel
That’s Caitlin at the controls of our old backhoe. We always use off-road diesel in it

Will Off-Road Diesel Hurt My Vehicle?

If you accidentally put this diesel into your vehicle, there’s no need to worry about it harming your vehicle. The only difference in the fuel is the color. On-road diesel is green off-road is red.

While using this diesel in your vehicle won’t damage it, it can significantly hit your bank account. It’s not because it’s more expensive, but you could face hefty fines and consequences for using this fuel in passenger vehicles.

Diesel gas sign
There are hefty fines that come along with incorrectly using the wrong type of fuel in your vehicle.

Is Off-Road Diesel Better for Your Engine?

As mentioned before, there is no difference in on-road versus off-road diesel, so it’s not better or worse. It is possible that additional additives like anti-gel are added to some mixes but none of them are significant to cause better operation, performance, or reliability.

Why Is Off-Road Diesel Cheaper Than Standard Diesel?

Off-road diesel is typically cheaper than on-road diesel because it is subject to different taxes and regulations. In the United States, off-road diesel is not subject to federal and state fuel taxes that apply to on-road diesel, which can make it significantly cheaper.

Fuel taxes are used to maintain our roads and make sense because those who use the roads are paying for fuel. Off-road use does not impact the roads the same way so is not taxed.

Some states, like Pennsylvania, tax diesel fuel at more than $.75 per gallon. This expense can be pretty painful when you’re buying hundreds of gallons of fuel at a time. For anyone looking to save a chunk of change, it’s a no-brainer to choose off-road fuel.

Additionally, industries that use heavy-duty equipment typically buy diesel in bulk. Farmers and construction companies purchase high quantities to help reduce their overall fuel costs.

on road diesel taxes

What Happens If You Get Caught Using Off-Road Diesel on the Road?

Using off-road diesel in on-road vehicles is illegal and can result in fines and penalties. If law enforcement catches you using off-road diesel on the road, you may face various consequences, depending on the laws and regulations in your location.

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is responsible for enforcing the use of dyed diesel fuel. If an official catches you using off-road diesel in an on-road vehicle, you may be subject to a penalty of up to $1,000 per violation and a tax of $6 per gallon of the dyed diesel fuel you used. You may also be required to pay back taxes and interest on the fuel you used. You don’t want to mess with the IRS!

If law enforcement suspects you’re using off-road diesel in your vehicle, they can shine a special light inside your fuel tank. This allows them to spot the red dye in your tank quickly. Additionally, some officers carry test strips that can dip into your tank to test the fuel.

Police pulling over
If law enforcement suspects you’re using off-road diesel in your vehicle, they may check your fuel tank.

When to Use Off-Road Diesel

Off-road diesel is only for use in off-road vehicles and equipment, like tractors, bulldozers, generators, and boats, that you do not drive on public roads. And no, “Off Road” trucks that are still driving on the roads do not qualify.

When in doubt, we recommend using regular diesel. The risks associated with law enforcement catching you illegally using off-road diesel are not worth it. You could quickly eat up any savings you experience if they see you using the wrong fuel type in your vehicle.

Pro Tip: Knock knock. Who’s there? The Mortons uncovering Is Diesel Exhaust Fluid A Joke?

Where to Buy Off-Road Diesel

Unfortunately, this diesel isn’t available everywhere. Finding a place to buy it can be challenging but not impossible. Let’s look at some options to consider for your next fuel purchase.

Fuel Delivery Service

It’s standard for fuel delivery services to transport diesel to specific sites. Whether it’s a construction site or a farm, they’ll bring the fuel to the location. They’ll then transfer the fuel into a large storage container the customer uses to fill up their machinery and equipment.

This is a fantastic option for those who use a tremendous amount of fuel. Tractors and heavy-duty equipment can use 15+ gallons per hour of operation. Depending on their ability to store fuel, some farmers may even rely on multiple deliveries in a week during their harvesting and planting seasons.

Rural Fuel Stations

While not every fuel station carries off-road diesel, some do. Unfortunately, these will typically be in rural locations with increased demand. Additionally, finding these locations won’t be easy. 

You can use the CNRG Fleet website to search more than 1,700+ stations offering off-road fuel at the pump. However, purchasing from the pump typically requires a business fuel card.

Why Diesel Is Driving Up The Cost Of Everything

Whether you use off-road diesel is up to you and how you plan to use the fuel. However, you need to ensure you’re following the law. If not, you could be in some serious trouble. Do yourself a favor and stay legal by using the correct fuel. If not, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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