Here in the US, diesel engines are usually associated with trucks and buses where their longevity and strong torque make them a better choice than gasoline engines. But diesel engines are rare in cars in the US. In fact, Edmunds.com says that only 3% of new cars sold in the United States are diesel-powered. This is in marked contrast to Europe where over 50% of the new cars sold have diesel engines. Do the Europeans know something that we don’t? Perhaps they do. With the help of Bosak Automotive in Merrillville, IN, a full-service Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer, we will outline the advantages and disadvantages of owning a diesel-powered vehicle.
Great fuel economy: Diesel cars usually deliver fantastic gas mileage, often approaching that of hybrid vehicles. This is because diesel fuel contains more energy per gallon than gasoline does. This may be one reason that the Europeans like diesels so much. Fuel costs in Europe are extremely high and buying a diesel engine car probably saves the average driver a great deal of money over the long term.
Longevity: Diesel engines operate with high compression ratios and need to be built stronger than gasoline engines. This usually leads to extra-long life. For example, it is not uncommon for heavy-duty truck engines to run up to a million miles between overhauls. Likewise, some diesel cars go well beyond 200,000 miles with no major engine problems. This does come at a cost, though, because diesel-engined cars are usually a little more expensive to purchase.
Towing: Diesels generate lots of torque (pulling power) at low engine speeds. For example, a four-cylinder diesel can easily produce as much torque as a six-cylinder gas engine. Horsepower ratings for diesels tend to be lower than gas engines but that isn’t a problem because raw towing power is a function of an engine’s torque.
Simplicity: Gasoline engines require complex computer-controlled fuel and spark systems to control engine functions. Diesels use a single master fuel pump, and there is no spark system. Look under the hood of a diesel car and you will see a lot less stuff to break.
Alternative fuels: Unlike gasoline engines, diesels can run on renewable fuels such as biodiesel with no major modifications. Many manufacturers support operation on biodiesel mixes up to BD20 (20% biodiesel/80% petroleum-based diesel) without voiding the manufacturer’s warranty.
Noise: Unlike gasoline engines, which produce most of their noise from their easily-muffled exhausts, a good deal of the diesel engine’s noise comes directly from the engine itself. Because of the high compression ratio diesel engines tend to have a characteristic “clatter” sound. Although manufacturers today are getting pretty good at using sound-deadening insulation in their cars, diesel engines still have a bit of that characteristic.
Expense: Diesel engines employ much higher compression ratios than gasoline engines. Therefore, they must be built stronger than standard gasoline engines. This makes them heavier and a bit more expensive to build.
Maintenance: Though the diesel engine was invented well over a century ago, little attention was paid to emissions until recently. Most modern-day diesel cars rely on diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) an exhaust treatment that reduces the diesel engine’s emissions. These cars have a DEF tank which must be refilled every 15,000 to 30,000 miles per EPA regulations. This is a detail that the owners of gasoline-powered cars don’t have to deal with.
Fuel availability: Diesel engines require diesel fuel and while it’s true that not all gas stations offer diesel, the infrastructure is still excellent (Remember, most trucks and buses run use diesel fuels). Don’t worry about long trips with a diesel engine. Worst case, you may not be able to fill up at the first gas station you see but maybe the next one after that. When driving around where you live, you will be able to identify a local station that sells diesel fuel.
Cold-weather starting: Older diesels tended to be difficult to start in cold weather. These diesels used old-fashioned glow plugs, which had to heat for 10 to 20 seconds before the engine could be started. Newer diesels feature faster pre-heating systems and will start almost immediately, even in very cold weather. Cold weather starting is no longer a problem with diesels.
Smoke: Diesel vehicles have a reputation of being smoky and smelly, a throwback to the low-tech diesels found in older vehicles. Today’s diesels are far more refined and are almost entirely smoke- and odor-free.
If you are still on the fence as to whether a diesel powered car is in your future, your next step might be to talk to a diesel owner. Get his or her take on the “diesel lifestyle” and see if it seems worth trying out. 50% of European car owners must be on to something!