Diesel versus gas: What’s right for you?

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Shopping for a pickup truck today means you have more options, including an expanded range of models, differing cab and bed sizes, two- or four-wheel drive, and a bevy of packages and trims. Now with more manufacturers offering diesel engines, a new wrinkle has emerged in the light-duty truck buying arena.  So, should you go with diesel or gas? The right choice for you may depend on the following factors.

1.Model availability

diesel truck

Not every manufacturer offers diesel engines. Among those that do, availability is typically limited to certain models and trims. Some models, such as the Ram 1500, have been offering a diesel on their full-size light-duty trucks for several years, while others, such as the Ford F-150 (2018) and Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra (2019), are just now jumping in. Among midsize pickup trucks, only the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon offer a diesel. Models such as the Toyota Tacoma, the upcoming Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier, and Honda Ridgeline do not. We’re not sure yet about Jeep’s soon-to-arrive pickup truck.

2. Fuel availability

Diesel pump

Although every service station sells gasoline, diesel fuel isn’t available everywhere. Only about 55 percent of retail fuel sites in North America sell diesel along with gasoline, according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Before you make your purchase decision, use a fuel locator to find diesel pumps in your area as well in the region where you typically travel. It may not be worth investing in a diesel truck if your fueling choices are few or far between.

3. Fuel prices

how much does diesel cost

Diesel prices are lower than gasoline until they’re higher. Confused? Well, fluctuating fuel prices are common, and much more so with diesel. The U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that there are several factors that contribute to the price of a gallon of diesel fuel bouncing around the way it does, including the cost of crude oil purchased by refineries, refining costs and profits, distribution, and taxes. Chances are that if diesel demand continues to grow, prices will stay higher than gasoline. By how much per gallon, that’s not certain.

4. Fuel efficiency

duramax diesel

One of the significant reasons why people consider diesel models is fuel efficiency. Indeed, driving a diesel may supply you with a 20 to 40 percent fuel efficiency edge over a comparable gas-powered model. Among trucks, however, that difference is usually narrower as pickups are often used for multiple purposes beyond carrying passengers, including cargo and towing. The turbo-diesel engine powering the 2017 Ram 1500 delivers an average 23 mpg compared to 20 mpg for the V6 gas model, according to the EPA.

5. Torque differences

GMC Duramax Diesel

Fuel efficiency isn’t the only reason why consumers consider a diesel. Another factor has everything to do with pulling power, measured by the torque. For instance, the 3.6-liter V6 engine powering the Ram 1500 delivers 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. On the other hand, the available 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 dispenses 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. The torque numbers are what pickup truck drivers focus on, as it affects both towing and passing power. Indeed, a Ram 1500 standard cab two-wheel drive model with the gas V6 engine has a maximum tow rating of 4,770 or 7,270, depending on its axle rating. As for the diesel, it delivers an 8,030- or 9,030-pound towing capacity, in some cases rivaling the tow rating for the optional V8.

6. Maintenance and longevity

Diesels do not have spark plugs or distributors, eliminating one important cost in maintaining a gasoline engine. They’re also more rugged than gasoline engines, able to withstand higher levels of compression. Diesels last longer than gasoline engines, which means the added cost, if not recouped in improved efficiency, typically emerges in vehicle longevity.

Diesel does it

If you’re interested in a diesel pickup truck, your choices are no longer restricted to heavy- or medium trucks from Ford, Ram, GMC, Chevrolet and Nissan. Keep in mind that diesels add several thousand dollars to your purchase costs and aren’t available on every trim and body style. That said, the advantages of a diesel become more apparent to consumers who expect to hold on to their purchases for the long term.

Photos by: Roger Blake, Tony Faiola, Mike Renlund,


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