Gas prices are high…and they have been for a while now.

High gas prices
High gas prices just keep getting higher. Image courtesy NY Times.

Unfortunately, the price of gas is even more unpredictable than the weather, so it’s hard to know when or if prices at the pump will go back to normal. Therefore, when it comes time to buy a new car or truck, many people are looking for the vehicle that is going to get them the farthest on one tank of gas.

While most of these people are opting for hybrids or tiny compact cars with great fuel economy, others are thinking outside of the box and purchasing vehicles with diesel engines. Though you’ll usually pay a little more to fill your tank up with diesel than you would to fill it with regular unleaded gasoline, there are definitely some advantages of purchasing a diesel-powered vehicle.

Diesel Advantage #1 – Fuel Efficiency

Fuel is processed more efficiently by a diesel engine than by an engine that’s propelled by gasoline. So much more efficiently, in fact, that a full tank of diesel will often last up to 30% longer than a full tank of gas. Logically then, a gallon of diesel should cost a third more than a gallon of gas, right?

According to the Energy Information Administration, or EIA, the current average price of diesel in the United States is only about 30 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded gas. With prices the way they are, that’s only 9% more for diesel. At this small price discrepancy, the roughly 10% difference in price between gas and diesel is more than made up for by the 30% better fuel economy.

Diesel Advantage #2 – Performance

Truckers ask a lot of their rigs, and there’s a reason why these hard working engines are diesels. A diesel engine produces significantly more torque than a gas powered vehicle at similar RPMs. And while diesels may not have as much horsepower and acceleration as a gas engine, the surplus of torque makes it easy for your diesel to climb steep hills or haul a payload.

Diesel engine advantages - performance
Diesel engines are popular in big trucks because they’re great for hauling, but many small car owners love them too. Image Provided by TRUCKMAXX.

What’s more, because almost all new diesels come with a turbocharger, many diesel vehicle owners find that their little “oil burners” are faster in normal every-day driving than a similar gas engine.

Diesel Advantage #3 – Longevity

Though both diesel engines and gas engines are propelled by combustion, a gas engine requires the use of spark plugs to ignite and a diesel engine does not. Instead of using an electric spark from a plug, a diesel engine increases cylinder pressure until the fuel ignites on its own (also known as ignition via compression). To accommodate the increased cylinder pressure, diesel engines are typically manufactured more durably than their gas counterparts.

As a result, a diesel powered vehicle generally lasts longer than the average gasoline powered car. While gas engines typically go 200k+ miles before requiring a major repair, diesel engines will commonly go 400-500k before needing major work. This enhanced durability is why used diesel-powered vehicles are often more expensive than similar gas-powered vehicles – they’re expected to last longer.

Diesel Disadvantages

Owning a diesel engine isn’t all fun and games. While they’re more fuel efficient and generally more powerful than gas motors, diesels:

  1. Require more maintenance. A diesel engine uses more oil than a gas engine, needs new air and fuel filters more frequently, and the newest diesel engines also require a special exhaust fluid that must be re-filled every few hundred miles.
  2. Are loud and smelly. While this might not seem like a big disadvantage, your neighbors aren’t going to enjoy hearing your diesel fire up at 5am when you head to work. And letting your diesel warm up in the driveway can make the whole neighborhood smell like a factory.
  3. Cost more up-front. A new diesel engine is typically thousands of dollars more expensive than a new gas engine, so you’ve got a bigger out of pocket expense if you buy one.
  4. Diesel exhaust causes cancer. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, which might not be that surprising (a lot of things cause cancer), it’s worth mentioning.

So, what’s the bottom line? A diesel engine is an investment – unless you drive a lot of miles and/or need the enhanced torque, a gas engine is often a better choice (at least for most consumers).

This guest post was contributed by Brittany Larson on behalf of TRUCKMAX.