Buying Diesel? Pros and Cons to Consider

(Here's what you need to know)

A person at the gas pump

When you are shopping for a new car, you have many options. Some cars are available with diesel engines, and you may be wondering whether buying diesel is a good idea. Until recently, most of the diesel-powered vehicles in the United States were trucks because diesel motors are much better suited for large, heavy vehicles such as tractor-trailers, construction vehicles and school buses. However, passenger cars with diesel motors are gaining in popularity, and carmakers are producing more of them each year.

If you are asking yourself, “Should I buy a diesel car?” you may find it beneficial to weigh out the pros and cons associated with these types of vehicles. Just make sure you're covered with an affordable car insurance policy.

Fuel Efficiency and the Diesel Engine

The main reason that many people choose to buy a diesel car is for the improved fuel efficiency the cars can offer. CarsDirect reports that a diesel car will frequently get about 30 percent more miles per gallon than the same car with a gasoline-powered engine. If you own a truck or SUV, the difference in gas mileage is usually lower but still about 20 percent higher than a gasoline-powered truck or SUV.

It is worth noting, however, that diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline. If you are used to using only premium gasoline, this cost difference will be less apparent to you; but for those who like to fill up with the least expensive option, paying slightly more than the cost of premium fuel may be hard to swallow at first. Fortunately, because of the increased gas mileage, your trips to the pump will be less frequent. Even with the increased cost of diesel, you can expect to pay less in fuel costs each year.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all gas stations offer diesel fuel. According to Business Insider, only about 50 percent of all gas stations have diesel fuel pumps. It is, therefore, important that you do not let your tank get too low when traveling, unless you know where to find a station that offers diesel.

Finally, the area in which diesel engines excel most is in highway miles. If the bulk of your driving involves frequent stopping and starting for traffic lights, traffic and stop signs, your mileage difference will be far less apparent and you may be better off with an electric car or a hybrid. However, if you spend a lot of time on the highways, you stand to save a lot of money in fuel costs.

In summary:

  • Pros: Better fuel efficiency, fewer trips to the pump
  • Cons: Higher cost to fill up, not all gas stations carry diesel

Car Maintenance Considerations

In some ways, diesel-fueled engines require less maintenance. This is because these vehicles do not use spark plugs or distributors. Thus, there will be no need to have ignition tuneups done. However, keeping your engine well-maintained with regular and frequent oil changes, along with air, oil and fuel filter changes is absolutely necessary. Diesel cars will also be equipped with water-separator collection bins that you must empty manually.

Failure to keep your diesel engine maintained with routine care can result in dire consequences. The fuel injection system can break down and require expensive repairs. Additionally, you may need to have a dealership or certified diesel mechanic do repair work, and these professionals work at a much higher rate.

In summary:

  • Pros: Fewer parts, no need for ignition tuneups
  • Cons: Regular maintenance necessary, increased costs for repairs

Engine Power: Diesel vs. Gasoline Engines

There is a reason that so many trucks have diesel engines: the high amount of low-end torque they can produce. A diesel-fueled car can accelerate more rapidly from a complete stop than a gasoline-powered car, and these vehicles have far better towing capabilities. If you are purchasing a truck or SUV that you will frequently use to tow or haul very heavy items, then a diesel-powered engine may be the best choice for you.

However, with the increased torque comes decreased horsepower. This means that diesel-fueled cars are not very zippy. However, the engines in these cars are powerful and long-lasting. If you are the type of person who enjoys speed, you may be disappointed in your car’s performance if you buy a diesel car. However, if you are looking for a strong and steady engine that will get the job done, buying diesel may be the best choice for you.

In summary:

  • Pros: Increased torque, better towing capabilities, faster initial acceleration
  • Cons: Decreased horsepower, less speed

What About Noise and the Smoothness of the Ride?

Traditionally, diesel-powered engines have had the reputation of being stinky, noisy and clattery. This gave these vehicles a bad reputation and is one of the main reasons that they didn’t take a strong foothold in the American marketplace until recently.

Today’s diesel cars benefit from current technology and building methods that make for a much quieter and smoother ride. However, despite these improvements, diesel owners might notice that their cars' engines are not as smooth or quiet as their gasoline-powered counterparts and they may make an occasional clacking or clattering sound. The question is whether the increased noise comes at a level that you find acceptable.

In summary:

  • Pros: Vastly improved noise level and smoothness of diesel engines
  • Cons: Not as smooth and quiet as gasoline-powered engines

Pollution and Emissions: What You Need To Know

Another reason that diesel cars didn’t take off in America as they did in Europe is their dirty emissions. Emission standards in the United States are much stricter. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of driving directly behind a school bus or construction vehicle is aware of the smell and dark soot that these vehicles often produce, particularly when accelerating from a dead stop.

Fortunately, today’s diesel cars run much more cleanly than they did just a few years ago, and they are able to meet the emission requirements laid down by the government. Those who are concerned about the environment will like the fact that they will be using less of the non-renewable fuel source that vehicles require. Some people may even consider using bio-diesel, which is an option, though it does lead to decreased engine performance.

On the downside, however, despite the cleaner emissions that catalytic converters can provide, diesel cars still pollute the air, particularly when accelerating from a complete stop. Some of the particulates in the emissions of these cars include carcinogens, soot and nitrous oxide. If you will be doing frequent city driving or you want to own a vehicle that is good for the environment, you may be better off with a hybrid or electric car.

In summary:

  • Pros: More fuel efficient, less carbon emitted into the atmosphere, run much more cleanly than earlier diesel engines
  • Cons: Diesel emissions release carcinogens, nitrous oxides and soot into the air

Overall Costs: Saving Money in the Long Run

When considering the cost of owning a diesel car, the first thing you may notice is that these cars are more expensive to purchase. According to CarsDirect, they generally run about $700 more than their gasoline counterparts do. However, you can recoup most of this cost at the gas pump if you keep your vehicle for long enough.

One of greatest advantages of a diesel engine is that it is very long-lasting, which makes your car’s trade-in and resale value much better. In fact, Deanna Sclar, author of Auto Repair for Dummies, 2nd Edition, reports that there are several Mercedes-Benz diesel-fueled vehicles that have exceeded 900,000 miles on the original engine.

If you plan to keep your car a long time and to provide it with frequent routine maintenance, you can expect your vehicle to save you money in the long run. If, however, you are lax on the upkeep because of the increased cost of having a diesel mechanic work on it, buying a diesel car may end up balancing out or costing you more in the long run.

In summary:

  • Pros: Lower fuel cost, higher resale value, longer lasting engine
  • Cons: Diesel vehicles are more expensive, diesel mechanics are more expensive

What Are Some of the Best Diesel Vehicles Available Today?

It is difficult to compare the gas mileage offered by diesel- and gasoline-powered cars because EPA estimates tend to be generous for gasoline-powered cars but very conservative for the diesels. That said, however, these are the mileage estimates for some of the most popular diesel-powered cars on the market today, along with their gasoline-powered counterparts.

These are some of the most recommended diesels, as reported by Edmunds, CarsDirect, Consumer Reports and AutoTrader:

  • Volkswagen Jetta TDI: A top choice of Consumer Reports, the Jetta averages 35 mpg and has a low cost-to-on ratio.
  • Volkswagen Golf TDI: This car has a sporty suspension, a convenient hatchback and a well-equipped interior. It can achieve mileage as high as 42 mpg on the highway.
  • Volkswagen Passat TDI: This car is similar to the Golf but has more interior space. In testing, Edmunds found that it frequently exceeds 40 mpg gallon on the highway.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel: AutoTrader likes this American-built SUV with a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds. They report that it can “achieve 30 mpg highway, giving it best-in-class efficiency.”
  • BMW X5 xDrive35d: A top choice of both Edmunds and AutoTrader, this SUV gets much better torque and fuel economy than the gasoline-powered version, and its sharp handling makes it fun to drive.

Of course, many other diesel vehicles provide exceptional quality and gas mileage, so be sure to read reviews of any that you may be interested in.

Do You Think a Diesel Is Right for You?

Only you can decide whether a diesel car is right for you. These cars have the potential to save you a lot of money. 

An independent agent may not be able to advise you on which type of car is best for you, but these agents can certainly help you find an affordable car insurance policy that matches your coverage and budgetary needs once you've found the perfect vehicle.

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