6 important things everyone should know about diesel cars

It’s an exciting time for diesel fans in the U.S, with automakers finally waking up to that section of the market that longs for great highway MPG and lots of torque. Most people already know the benefits of modern diesels, but there are a few general things that people may have missed.

Here are six important things you should know about diesels.

1) They’re at their most efficient on the highway

Hybrid cars and diesels are both known for fuel efficiency, but both go about it in very different ways.

If you’ve ever looked at the EPA stickers for each gas-saving vehicle, you’ll have noticed that hybrids do particularly well in city driving, and diesels on the highway. That highway performance is because diesel vehicles develop plenty of power and torque at relatively low engine revolutions.

That means you can pair them with quite tall gearing. And that in turn means they not only sit at low, efficient revs at highway speeds, but there’s generally enough power available that you aren’t forever changing down when climbing hills, wasting even more fuel.

2) Diesel fuel is pricier

In some countries, running a diesel is a no-brainer from an economic standpoint. In some European countries, and in places like India, diesel is cheaper than gasoline–so the financial benefits are huge. That isn’t the case in the U.S, for three key reasons–explained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The first is demand. As a fuel oil with a greater spectrum of uses than gasoline, demand is high worldwide. Relatively low supply to demand keeps prices high. In vehicles, the lower-polluting, lower-sulfur diesels used in road transport are more expensive to produce, pushing up the price.

Finally, federal taxation on diesel is 24.4 cents per gallon–6 cents more than gasoline.

3) The cars are pricier too

It isn’t just the fuel that costs more–the cars are more expensive too. A Volkswagen Jetta TDI starts at $23,055, around four grand more than a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter gasoline Jetta, and only a few thousand less than the $24,995 hybrid model with its twin drivetrains and battery pack.

Those differences are reflected across the board for diesel models. To meet tough emissions regulations, modern diesels are more complex than the average gasoline engine–with urea injection and other systems to clean up their tailpipes.

In an effort to improve driveability and refinement, dual-mass flywheels, particulate filters and extra sound-dampening also add to the vehicle’s cost of manufacture. And that cost is passed down to you.

4) Diesel smells…

This you might not know–or maybe it’s the reason you still won’t touch even the modern diesel cars, despite their improvements. Unlike gasoline, which rapidly evaporates in air, diesel lingers for longer. It doesn’t smell particularly pleasant and it’s slick to the touch, which isn’t great considering how many fuel pump handles seem to be covered in the stuff.

We just wish more U.S. stations would supply disposable gloves like their counterparts in Europe–it makes filling with diesel much more pleasant.

5) Half of U.S. fuel stations offer it

Diesel’s availability is far better than it used to be, but still isn’t available everywhere just yet.

There are around 180,000 gas stations in the U.S, and about half of those offer diesel. Of that half, around half of those have it on the main pump ranks, so you won’t have to go around the side to where the long-haul trucks fill up.

Diesel is slowly working its way into mainstream acceptance, so it should become easier to find as more and more cars are sold.

6) Do the math before you buy

As with any major purchase decision, it pays to be informed before you buy a diesel vehicle.

For some customers, they’ll be near-perfect–but don’t just assume that buying a diesel will automatically mean lower fuel bills. If you regularly drive longer distances on wide, open roads, then it might be just what you’re after–the savings will become apparent even though the cars and the fuel are more expensive.

But if you commute five miles a day through heavy traffic then you may never see the benefits–not just in terms of economy, but also enjoying the performance of your diesel.

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27 thoughts on “6 important things everyone should know about diesel cars

  1. 1. If you want to tow anything reasonable, a hybrid just will not do it. You need a diesel.
    2. A diesel can burn almost anything, just in case the end of the world comes.
    3. A diesel does not have to be noisy. GM, Ford and Chrysler just can not figure it out.
    4. A diesel can go a quarter million miles without a problem. By then you probably will have replaced a couple of very expensive battery packs on a hybrid.

  2. GM, Ford, and Chrysler cant figure it out? I beg to differ, a family member of mine just got a 2012 F250 with diesel engine and its so much quieter compared to how they used to be. The only time you know its a diesel is when it starts up, other than that it sounds just like a gas engine.

  3. Who would want a vehicle that is quiet. Personally i want to be able to hear my vehicle run.Thats the best part of a diesel you aint got to put an aftermarket exhaust system(unless it aint an American diesel)to be able to hear it

  4. I beg to differ on #3 Nighthawk. I have walked right next to some newer Ford, GM and Dodge diesels and I almost couldn’t hear them so that is not the case.

  5. Ford & GM may have decent diesels now in their pickups, and Dodge uses Cummins engines in theirs, but none of those three have anything viable in their smaller vehicles (cars, minivans, SUVs).

  6. The Chevy has the Duramax and it has been really improved on year after year and is quite a decent engine now and well balanced like the Cummins red head. The part where Chevy and GMC are going to beat their competition is with the Allison tranny matched up to the Duramax. That Allison is probably the best transmission for small diesel trucks made – period.

  7. Ford and GM have diesel cars overseas that are quiet and operate much like a gas powered car. I’ve driven a couple of them on holiday in the UK and you wouldn’t know they were diesels except when you pull up to the pump

  8. my 01 jetta tdi just passed 280k. still getting around 45 mpg. ill have to rebuild in in a year or two. but ill be back to 50mpg with the torque of a v6. much cheaper then buying throw away cars. or even hybrids that cost more and have to change batteries all the time.

  9. GM uses the Isuzu diesel engine. There are more Isuzu diesel engines in the world than any other. GM also uses the Allison 6 speed tranny. The best transmission in the world. They realized (unlike Ford and Dodge) that it would be simpler to use the best components in a truck that needs maximum towing capacity.

  10. 4. if you can remove all the associated sophisticated electronics, even a EMP explosion or these Electro-magnetic-pulse cops toys cannot disable it and leave you dead in the road like a internal combustion engine.

  11. The new Chevy Cruze diesel is now available in the U.S. and the EPA rating is 46 mpg/hwy. The Chevy web site said it would be out this summer. But I see on You Tube that some dealers already have them.

  12. I would like to hear more but from a diesel engineer. I have had a Jetta TDI and it was the best car I ever had. The diesel has far fewer parts associated with running with less polution than needed for a gas engine. There is no throttle as such and the emphasis is on the word “Throttle” The intake is always wide open to the atmosphere, the power is regulated by the distribution pump. Because of that, the diesel idles at the ridiculous air to fuel ratio around 100:1, something a gas engine can’t do. The only problem I found with that was that when I sat in traffic during the Canadian winter months when it could be very, very cold, was that, with that minimal fuel consumption the engine started to cool down as did I. I love the diesel because either it runs, or it does not, and the problem is usually easily fixed when it does not run. However there is one other thing: you treat the diesel well and the diesel treats you well too. You ignore maintenance and the diesel will let you know, especially when it has been equiped with a blower or turbo. Keep the filters clean and the darn thing will last forever which, of course, is not good for those who fequently need to be seen in yet another update.

  13. So, someone doesn’t like diesel cars and writes an article about it. Let’s see if there are good things about diesels. 1) Even with the higher price of fuel the mileage you get per tank more than offsets that price and still improves on your average fuel per mile cost of unleaded fuel. 2) Diesel is a little smelly but not like the 80′s did. It’s a cleaner fuel than in the 90′s and before putting off much less carbon than then, as well. 3) If you had a diesel that was less costly to maintain than a gas car, got better mileage per gallon and could go 350k miles before drivetrain issues arose would the that be worth the extra money for the diesel? Would you like to be replacing battery packs on hybrids that cost thousands of dollars every 100k miles or so? And if 50% of gas stations sell gas you have a 50/50 shot that 2 of the four gas stations around your house has diesel.

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