You can find diesel engines in almost every vehicle type today thanks to advancements in this technology. Europe offers numerous cars that come equipped with this option, although the U.S. still has a majority of its vehicles using diesel as semis, pickups, and other large vehicles.
Almost half of all the vehicles sold in Europe are diesel, whereas about 3% of what is on the roads in the United States are equipped with the same technology.
There was a time when diesel vehicles where not popular in America because of their noise and smell. One of the traditions in past generations was to cruise downtown streets on a warm evening to spend time with family and friends. If you were going to smell like diesel exhaust, then no one wanted to hang out with you!
New technologies in the world of diesel engines have reduce the noise and smell concerns that most people have with this technology. Fuel emissions improvements are making this a viable option for commuters. If you’re thinking about purchasing one right now, then here are the pros and cons of diesel cars to consider today.
List of the Pros of Diesel Cars
1. Diesel cars offer a lot of power for towing.
Diesel engines are the workhorses of the automobile industry. If you have something that needs to be pulled, then this is the car that you will want to own. Cars equipped with a 4-cylinder diesel engine offer the same towing capacity as a vehicle with a comparable 6-cylinder unleaded engine. Although you’ll have a lower maximum speed on the highway when you choose this option, the power that you receive in return more than makes up for this potential disadvantage.
2. They are cold weather champions for starting.
The technology behind the older diesel cars made it a headache to get the engine started during the cold months of the year. Those glow plugs needed to get warm enough to create the right amount of heat for the thing to turnover correctly for you. It could take minutes to make that happen if temperatures were below zero. On the modern vehicles equipped with this technology, the pre-heater will help your car start immediately, even during bouts of extreme weather, so you’ll receive the same performance as you would with a standard gasoline engine.
3. You can operate diesel cars on biofuels.
All new vehicles today can operate on some type of biofuel. Even gasoline engines can operate on ethanol with only a minor reduction in their fuel economy. Diesels offer a distinctive advantage here. They can run on a diesel biofuel mixture of up to 20% (and sometimes more) without voiding the manufacturer’s warranty on the product. In the United States, unless you own an E85 vehicle, the maximum biofuel level you can run with gasoline is around 15%.
4. Diesel cars cost less to operate and maintain over their lifetime.
Did you know that the average cost to maintain a diesel vehicle over its lifetime is up to $7,000 less than it is for a car equipped with a gasoline engine of comparable quality? Although you will pay more for a diesel engine when you purchase your preferred make and model, the savings that you receive over the long-term will make up the difference and then some. Even in just three years of ownership, you can save up to $2,000 on the costs associated with regular checkups and maintenance.
5. You receive a better torque profile with a diesel engine.
The difference between one gallon of diesel fuel and a similar amount of unleaded fuel is 22,000 BTUs. That extra energy goes right into the pulling power that you receive in torque for your diesel car. Dodge proved how impressive this advantage can be by operating one of their Dakota pickups out at the Bonneville Salt Flats drag strip. Operators got the pickup to reach 220mph, generating 1,300 lbs/ft of torque during the run. All diesel cars have an impressive amount of power in the low RPMs to serve your driving needs.
6. The traditional advantage of the diesel engine has been fuel economy.
EPA estimates were not always required on heavy-duty trucks in the past for fuel economy, so comparing gas mileage rates between diesel and gasoline engines is not always possible. When you take the average results from all diesels compared to other engines, then you will see a 30% improvement in what you receive on the miles per gallon rating. If you are constantly driving under slow-speed conditions, then that figure can rise to as high as 50%. Although the trends are a little different in recent years, the historic price of diesel is usually lower than traditional gas as well.
Although you will pay about $0.25 on average more for diesel today, the gains in mileage make the cost difference a wash for most drivers. Some will still save money.
7. Diesel cars offer a higher level of durability.
If you look at the number of vehicles which have reached the 1 million mile club, then you will see an ongoing trend. Almost all of the models that reached this milestone were equipped with a diesel engine. There is another element to consider here as well. Outside of the regular replacements of belts, hoses, filters, and changing the oil, the drivers of the vehicles which made it this far all drove them with the attitude that they were built to last.
Why do diesel engines offer this higher level of durability? It has to do with their engine speed, which is 50% lower than the typical gasoline internal combustion engine. The lower RPMs that are generated by this technology create less wear-and-tear on the engine components, which allows the vehicle to keep driving strong.
8. There are fewer parts to worry about with diesel cars.
Another one of the advantages that come with a diesel car when compared to their gasoline counterparts is the lack of a distributor or a spark plug. You won’t be taking your vehicle to mechanic for a standard tune-up once you reach a certain mileage point. There are still the typical service needs that any vehicle goes through, but it offers fewer stops for service over a longer time period. That’s why the maintenance costs are much lower. The only genuine risk of an excessive cost lies with the modern urea injection system.
9. You’re going to receive a longer range on each tank with a diesel car.
There are several diesel cars that are offered for sale today that can travel over 700 miles on a single tank of fuel. They include the Jaguar XF 20d, the Chevy Cruze, and Ford F-150. The new line of pickup trucks offered by Ford in their best-selling series are rated to go 850 miles on a single tank. If you hate making a stop at the fuel station, then these are the vehicles that you’ll want to consider purchasing today. Not even some hybrids offer this range, even though they cost up to $4,000 more than a diesel car.
10. Then you have the fuel economy to consider with diesel cars.
Diesel cars do more than drive for a long time without requiring you to fill up. They can also do it without having you purchase a lot of fuel to make that happen. Most car models that come equipped with this technology will achieve at least 40 miles per gallon, with a handful of 2018 models topping out above 50mpg. Most trucks can achieve at least 25 miles per gallon, with some SUVs going above 30mpg on the highway.
List of the Cons of Diesel Cars
1. You are going to sacrifice horsepower for torque with a diesel engine.
If your primary focus is on speed with the vehicle that you want to own, then a diesel car is not your best option. You’re going to receive strength with this vehicle instead. Although the differences are minimal when comparing entry-level models, there is about a 10% shakeup in the larger vehicles. You’ll still get plenty of acceleration and speed, but it won’t top out at the same levels on the highway when you’re traveling over a long distance.
2. Diesel cars still deal with some noise issues.
The difference between a diesel and a gasoline engine involves where the noise funnels out of the vehicle. Most cars have a muffler at the end of their exhaust system because this reduces the sound pollution the vehicle makes. Diesels generate their noise in the front, which means the front cab must receive an extra layer of insulation to protect the ears. This disadvantage is slowly equalizing as time passes by, but it is still something to consider if your hearing is somewhat sensitive.
3. The fuel for diesel cars is still more expensive around the world.
The current gap for diesel fuel and standard gasoline in the United States is $0.40 per gallon, assuming that you purchase an 87-octane product. Diesel fuels are rated with a cetane number instead, which is usually somewhere between 40-60 at the pump. If you were to purchase gasoline with the highest octane rating for your vehicle, you might receive a cetane number in the 20 range. When you compare the cost in terms of actual fuel use, this disadvantage is minimal for most drivers.
4. Diesel cars can see steep decreases in their fuel economy during city driving.
Although diesel engines perform extremely well during slow speed driving, that figure results from continuous forward motion. The start-and-stop driving that occurs in the city can cause the fuel economy rating by over 25% for some makes and models. Some gasoline engines see a similar reduction, but it isn’t usually as severe as what you would find when you’re behind the wheel of a diesel.
5. There is the cost element to consider with diesel engines.
If you’re going to purchase a diesel car over one equipped with an internal combustion engine, then expect to pay about $2,000 more for the privilege. On larger vehicles or premium brands, you can figure between 5% to 10% of the MSRP of the vehicle is the required upgrade price to take advantage of this technology. That’s a lot cheaper than 100% electric vehicles or hybrids, but it won’t meet the needs of a tight budget like a standard gasoline vehicle can.
6. The availability of diesel fuel is uncertain in the United States.
Although the levels of accessibility for diesel fuel are increasing in the United States, there’s still a 50/50 chance that you won’t find it available at the average gas station. There is more availability for this fuel compared to E85 or electric vehicle chargers, but it can still be a challenge in some areas to find a spot to refuel. Some communities might only have one station that can accommodate your needs.
These pros and cons of diesel cars prove that long-distance drivers can often benefit from this technology. You will see noticeable improvements for slow-speed driving needs as well. Although it may not be the best option for city driving, most drivers will discover that the disadvantages of the diesel engines spoken about in previous generations is more of a myth today.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.