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John Putnins: Mechanic, Erie


A sleek white Mercedes sits in the lot at Gunbarrel Import Motors in Niwot with two dirty leather boots sticking out the side of the driver’s door. Keys click, the ignition turns off and out steps John Putnins.
Latex gloves keep his hands immaculate. He’s a mechanic, yet his kempt goatee, short hair and neatly tucked in shirt would suggest otherwise. In fact, Putnins has a few surprises up his almost spotless sleeve.

Putnins, 33, takes off his gloves, introduces himself, and rushes to show off his love—a monster of a truck, 1971 Land Rover. This sucker was built to be a gas guzzling tank that draws envious stares from car aficionados. He stands next to its dark red body with wheels nearly waist high. It’s been re-built a number of times, but Putnins has no plans of retiring it. It’s vintage, complete with right-hand steering. He absolutely loves getting elbow deep into its engine whenever he has the chance.

To think, he and this truck are models of environmental thinking.

Putnins wanted to drive his cherry Land Rover and be a steward of the environment. So six years ago, he converted the $30,000 truck to biodiesel, now filling its massive gas tank nearly guilt free. The Land Rover gets 20, cleaner burning miles to the gallon. Putnins, who specializes in these conversions at Gunbarrel, switched to biodiesel for many reasons.

For one, he’s tired of the U.S. being hooked on foreign oil. He also cares about the environment, advocating the biodiesel switch to others so they can drive what they please and keep the air around a little more pure.

“You can have a big safe vehicle that doesn’t run on dino juice,” he says.

Almost any diesel engine can be converted. Usually it’s just a matter of switching a few hoses to allow it to run on a biodiesel mix—it becomes more complicated when converting to an engine that can run solely on something such as reprocessed French fry oil.

Putnins completes about 25 conversions a year at Gunbarrel, but this just whets his appetite. He is working on changing laws to make it easier for the rest of us to switch our unleaded gas-powered cars over, too.
Switching non diesels is currently prohibited on a commercial level by the Federal Clean Air Act. So Putnins and a few friends are swapping out these engines to prove that this kind of alteration is as safe and eco friendly as a diesel conversion. Their first test vehicle is finished and will be sent for emission testing soon.

Once that car and a few others pass, Putnins plans on petitioning to have the law changed.

“The status symbol has become the hybrid, and biodiesel is the black sheep of it all,” Putnins says. “(Biodiesel) is a safer and simpler technology.”

He and his wife decided against a hybrid because of concerns over the chemicals used to make the battery. They are now on a waiting list for the first diesel Acura in Boulder—once it arrives it won’t be long before it’s running on biodiesel.

Then he’ll continue down his check list of making the auto world a little more green, converting the Land Rover to run on fry oil and then finishing the whole changing policy thing. Basically, Putnins is hardly ever short on ideas on how to take the next step in making cars eco friendly.

He’s just needs a few more vintage cars to tinker with.

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