Diesel engines were primarily used in large trucks and commercial vehicles in the past, but thanks to modern advances, there is a wide array of passenger vehicles that feature diesel power today. Despite these modern advances, Americans are still adopting diesel-powered vehicles at a far slower rate, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal has placed the future of diesel acceptance in jeopardy.
It remains a favored source of power for many truck owners, though, and many manufacturers still have diesel-powered cars in their lineups. Let’s have a look at the benefits of owning a diesel vehicle to find out.
- Better fuel economy. On average, diesel engines are more fuel efficient than gasoline vehicles because they generate more power from less fuel due to their higher compression rating. With the addition of modern high-pressure fuel-injection systems, it is possible to get even better fuel economy. What’s more, a turbocharger can also push the fuel economy and output even higher.
- Lower taxes. Because of how the road tax laws have changed—their amounts are heavily based on CO2 emissions—diesel vehicles tend to have lower taxes than gasoline vehicles.
- Lower maintenance. While still an internal-combustion engine, diesel powerplants work very differently than gasoline engines, resulting in reduced maintenance and increased lifespan. The main difference is the lack of a spark-style ignition system; instead, they use compressed hot air to ignite the fuel. The absence of this system reduces maintenance costs, reduces the number of potential electrical failures, and produces a very reliable engine. The time between required maintenance services is also much longer
- Lower fire hazard. The chance of the fuel igniting when an accident occurs is lower with diesel fuel as it has a higher flashpoint than gasoline. Sure, it can and will catch fire under extended direct heat, but a quick spark is likely not enough to set it ablaze.
- Greater torque. The design of the diesel engine, specifically its slow fuel burn and high compression, produces greater torque than other engines. While many drivers are focused on horsepower, torque is just as important as it relates to the ability to pull loads and accelerate. This extra torque is exactly why large truck and semis use diesel engines.
There are trade-offs, though, and diesel ownership does have some potential drawbacks:
- Higher entry fee. A turbodiesel vehicle typically costs more up front. This is not due to any additional cost to develop the engine or technology. Instead, this is more of a supply and demand issue. Looping back to our Chevy Cruze example, the base 2015 Cruze Diesel ran $25,660 and the Cruze 2LT (the trim the Diesel model was based on) ran $23,270—a 10.2 percent price hike. This used to be less of a problem since diesels tended to hold more resale value; in the wake of the VW scandal, this may no longer hold true.
- Higher maintenance costs. While it is true that diesel engines require less service than gasoline engines and they traditionally last longer, they do cost more with each service. This increased cost to service a turbodiesel engine is fueled by the more expensive parts, like glow plugs, specialty tools, and specially trained technicians.
- Sluggish performance in cold climates. During frigid weather, diesel engines have a propensity towards gelling up. To fight this, many people who have diesel engines must have an engine block heater installed or keep their vehicle running during colder weather. If you live in a warmer area, where freezing is not an issue, your diesel auto will be more fuel efficient.