Gas or Diesel?

When Buying a New Truck, SUV or Motorhome, You’ll Have to Make an Important Choice.

Which is better, gas or diesel? It’s a question confronting more and more new vehicle buyers in the light truck, SUV, and motorhome marketplace. And soon, it may be a question for car buyers too. Whether you opt for the more expensive diesel engine in a new vehicle may hinge on your experience with diesel engines. Perhaps it will depend on your desire for performance. Or maybe your decision will be based largely on economics, but chances are there will be an emotional element to the decision too.

For most new vehicle buyers, diesel engines connote power — the power to move or pull heavy loads. The terms “strength”, “heavy-duty”, “durable”, and “rugged” are all associated with diesels. Power — that’s part of the emotional appeal of diesels. After all, you don’t think of diesel engines for light-duty applications like motorcycles or lawnmowers. You may not even think of diesels as appropriate for automobiles, but that too is changing.

It’s also possible that most of your impressions of diesels have been less than favorable. If you’re like most folks, your past experience with diesels may be mostly with big trucks and buses. At one time or another, everyone has been stuck behind a particularly smoky (and stinky) bus or big rig truck. That big diesel-powered behemoth was probably slow too. Fortunately, those old, slow, and dirty diesels are disappearing from the scene. Such diesel engines, especially those of a couple of years ago, don’t necessarily have much in common with the smaller diesels used in today’s pickups, SUVs, and motorhomes, but they have been part of shaping public thinking. Chances are that your diesel perceptions are based largely on past diesel technology because the new generation of modern automotive diesel engines has only been around for a few years, and the changes have been dramatic. In fact, almost all of the objections people once had to diesel engines have now been eliminated. That might seem like a lot to believe, so let’s take a look at some of the specifics.

Modern diesel engines now have computerized engine management to control electronic fuel injectors that operate at incredibly high speed and pressure. What this means is that the right amount of fuel is injected at the best possible time for optimum combustion efficiency with minimal pollution and virtually no smoke. That’s right, smoke is a thing of the past (unless someone has intentionally altered the fuel curve to hot rod the vehicle for extreme power, but more on that later). And now that smoke is gone, so is almost all diesel exhaust odor. What little diesel exhaust aroma remains will be gone when ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel replaces current diesel fuel in 2006, as mandated by the EPA.

The next thing you’ll notice about modern diesel engines is that they are quiet. Gone is the clattering sound at idle or low speeds. This is due to “pilot injection”, another benefit of electronic fuel management.

Pilot injection is an ingenious noise suppression cycle for modern direct-injection diesels. Modern diesels with pilot injection run almost as quietly as comparable gasoline engines. This is especially beneficial in diesel pickups and SUVs, where engine noise is more noticeable.

Performance is something else that has changed. Older diesels tended to be slow and sluggish. That was especially true of non-turbocharged diesels. Today’s turbo-diesel engines are responsive and surprisingly nimble. Some are downright quick, and for most modern diesels, performance upgrades are readily available. Such modified diesels are frequently faster and quicker than comparable gasoline engine vehicles.

The last common objection to diesel engines, other than the initial cost, is the availability of diesel fuel. Happily, more and more gas stations have added one or more diesel fuel pumps, so filling up no longer requires a mandatory trip to a truck stop. Diesel fuel prices are typically close to that of regular-grade gasoline, but that depends on availability, where you live, and local taxes.

Having covered the common objections to diesels, it’s time to look at a few of the advantages. Aside from the extra torque and pulling power of a diesel engine, one of the biggest advantages is fuel economy. Diesel engines typically deliver 20- to 40-percent better fuel economy than comparable gasoline engines doing the same amount of work. Depending on how many miles you drive a year and the cost of fuel, this can amount to substantial savings that offset the cost of the diesel option over the life of the vehicle.

There are other less obvious benefits from having a diesel engine. All of today’s diesel engines are turbocharged. As well as adding efficiency to a diesel engine, a turbocharger also has the advantage of offsetting power losses when a vehicle is operated at higher altitudes. If you live at high altitude, or if you will use your vehicle to travel to locations at high altitude, a turbo-diesel makes a lot of sense. (see Understanding Today’s Diesel elsewhere on this site)

Yet another advantage to selecting a diesel powerplant is that power upgrades are readily available if you want to increase performance beyond factory levels. Simple upgrades can easily boost a diesel’s power output beyond that of any gasoline engine option in most vehicles. Diesels are quite easy to upgrade, and the modifications cost far less than what would be necessary to get equivalent power gains from a gasoline engine. Quality diesel upgrades, such as the Banks products sold elsewhere on this site, not only increase horsepower and torque, they improve engine efficiency and durability too. Here again, Banks power upgrades can often pay for themselves in improved fuel economy over the life of the vehicle.

If you have a desire to have the strongest pickup in your town, once more, the diesel is the way to go. Banks has the necessary high-performance tuners and performance bundles to wring maximum power from a diesel pickup while still providing a margin of safety to prevent engine or turbocharger damage. The Banks Six-Gun tuners with the optional SpeedLoader will even allow you to intentionally make some smoke at selected times by simply dialing in the desired setting (see Racing the Diesel elsewhere on this site). With a Banks-modified diesel, you can choose the power level you want on the fly – another thing you can’t do with a gasoline engine.

So what are the advantages to selecting a gasoline engine? Aside from the slightly lower initial cost, there’s little to recommend gasoline engines today. It’s a new world, and diesel is no longer the fuel of the future — it’s the fuel (and the engine) for today.

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