All About Dyed Diesel

Justin Christensen |

Download PDF Dyed Diesel can help determine what it should be used for.

Marine equipment in Greece uses black. In Finland, construction and agriculture machinery runs on furfural and solvent yellow 124. Worldwide, the aviation industry can fill up with purple, blue or green. The difference is in the dye, and in this country, it will leave you seeing red. 

Dyed diesel is fuel that has been colored to indicate a quality or condition pertaining to the fuel. In the field of aviation, refiners use colors to identify the grade of diesel and to distinguish avgas from kerosene-based jet fuel. In the United States, the use of solvent red 26 or solvent red 164 means that no taxes are paid on the diesel and that it also has high sulfur content.

Why is it Dyed?

Diesel fuel dying started in 1993 under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Its purpose was to identify diesel fuel that did not meet EPA standards for use in highway vehicles, specifically cetane and sulfur content, and it was colored blue. 

In January of the following year, the program was expanded as a tool for tax enforcement. Motor fuel tax evasion schemes were discovered in New York a decade earlier, and by the 1990’s, estimated lost revenue was as high as $3 billion. Most of these funds are allocated for State and Federal Trusts to build and maintain the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officially ruled in June of 1994 that red dye would be utilized to identify all tax-exempt diesel fuel, regardless of its sulfur content. This was to alleviate the concern that continuing to use blue dye may cause confusion, and inevitably contamination, with blue and green-dyed aviation fuel.

Can Anyone Use It? 

A license is required to use dyed diesel. It allows approved government agencies to operate licensed motor vehicles with dyed fuel on public roadways. Permitted users by the IRS are:

  • Public School districts
  • Non-profit Educational Organizations
  • Government Agencies

Outside of these groups, there are other “off-road” situations where dyed diesel can be legally used, including:

  • —  Marine vessels
  • —  Construction equipment
  • —  Stationary engines, such as generators or welders
  • —  Tractors and farm equipment (“Q” decal vehicles) within 25 miles of registered address

Further to conditions of regulated use, it is illegal to use dyed diesel in licensed vehicles on any public roadways or highways. Specific examples enforced in Washington State include:

  • —  Fueling a licensed vehicle with dyed diesel from your bulk storage tank
  • —  Operating a farm vehicle registered with a “Q” decal with dyed diesel outside the 25-mile radius
  • —  Using a farm vehicle registered in Canada filled with dyed diesel on US roadways

Using dyed diesel for unauthorized purposes constitutes a federal crime. However, penalties are implemented at both federal and state levels, which vary from state to state. Those subject to charges include: the operator of a vehicle; the registered owners of the vehicle; and any person responsible for the operation, maintenance or fuelling of the vehicle.

What are the penalties?

The federal penalty stipulates that each violation will result in a fine of $10 per gallon or $1,000; whichever is greater. Repeat offenses can carry harsher penalties, including imprisonment.

In the State of Washington, the Fuel Tax Evasion Unit and the Washington State Patrol handle investigations and enforcement. This is done through data collection, a phone tip line and random checks at weigh scale stations across the country.

In addition to providing a wide variety of the best fuels, including off-road diesel, at the best prices, your fuel distributor can also help you understand regulations and ensure you are meeting compliance. They are experts in fuel, handling and storage solutions. Even if the product you need is red, the difference from working with a knowledgeable and competent fuel distributor will be clear.