You’re sure to have considered it if you’ve ever found a use for a pickup truck. Whether you’re a contractor, homeowner, or concerned driver of a large truck, there is always the specter of diesel at the edge of your mind. The question is, however, what are the tradeoffs when you consider a truck or even a car that runs on diesel fuel as opposed to gas? We’ve all heard about how polluting diesel is that its fumes clog American highways with a noxious odor that makes the experience of driving unpleasant, at best. The problem has been exacerbated by the diesel engines put into use in the 1980’s, which spewed dark, thick clouds of smoke, and set the stage for the bad name that diesel would carry for the next thirty years. Today’s diesel engines are more efficient, far more powerful, and much cleaner than diesel engines of days past. Unfortunately, they also carry a hefty premium over vehicles with gasoline engines, with some trucks offering high-output diesels for an additional $3000 or more. Do the benefits of diesel fuel outweigh the costs?
Diesel fuel, on average, compared to gasoline, averages approximately 25% greater fuel economy. This number varies widely, of course, with some vehicles only realizing a 10%-15% higher fuel economy, but there are some cars on the other side of the spectrum that realize fuel economy with diesel at about 30%-40% higher. The recent resurgence of popularity in these diesel fueled vehicles has led automakers to take leaps with technology, far more so than with gasoline engines. Technological breakthroughs mostly on the backs of semi-tractor fuel efficiency demands by shipping conglomerates have, in this way, helped to make the consumer market more efficient, as well, an unexpected but pleasant side effect. Most truck drivers, particularly drivers of mid-sized trucks, generally realize enough positive effects of driving diesel that they tend to return to purchase a diesel truck again, while the same tends to hold true for cars. When the Volkswagen TDI was discontinued in the United States, many owners were left feeling high and dry, as if their beloved manufacturer had abandoned them. With this in mind, the TDI underground movement drummed up enough support to sway the Volkswagen brass, and bring the diesel Volkswagen back to American shores.
Clean diesel technology is the single driving force that makes diesel fuel so lucrative right now. Clean diesel promises lower sulfur content than old-style diesel fuel, making the new diesel engines much cleaner than in the past. Fuel efficiency has not suffered, but purists tend to swear that diesel just isn’t the same as it was. Although the opinions of these do tend to be the custom-pickup set, noteworthy in their love of the clouds of thick, black smoke that make them tend to associate with increased power and efficiency, but that sets the image of diesel fuel as a negative thing in many consumers’ minds. The major drawback of the new generation of diesel fuel engines is the fact that biofuels such as vegetable oils are not recommended in these engines. By the same token, old-style diesel fuel will not run correctly in those engines designated as clean diesel, or those built after 2005. Diesel fuel certainly can have a future in the United States, but whether the initial outlay necessary will continue to turn off potential buyers remains to be seen. Thus far, it seems that the only thing holding back American buyers is the sticker shock when they’re out on the lots shopping for their next new car.