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Diesel, gas--what's the real difference?

There used to be major differences between gas engines and diesel engines, but today the real difference in cost to you is unclear.

The tradition of diesel

Diesel engines are nearly standard in large vehicles both commercial and private and work differently than gas engines. You used to be able to rely on diesel for the following:

  • More power when hauling heavy loads: diesel fuel contains higher energy content and diesel engines have higher rates of compression which lead to higher efficiency, resulting in more power
  • Durable engines handle regularly rough highway use that would wear out gas engines
  • Fewer fuel-ups than gas engines

However, today they have the following drawbacks that could seriously affect your budget:

  • Diesel typically costs more per gallon than even premium unleaded gasoline
  • Not always more efficient (miles/gallon) than private vehicles
  • Higher toxic emissions than gas engines: environmental regulations and corporate restrictions create complex emission standards

Around 2010, it was predicted that gasoline engines could close the gap in efficiency compared to diesel engines by 2020. Some auto manufacturers argue the gap is already closed in 2018.

Gas engines and beyond

Unleaded gasoline (or petrol), is the most common fuel in the world. However, other options you may have seen include:

  • Premium unleaded: higher octane grade gas that performs better in mountainous areas, can prolong the life of an engine. Costs more than unleaded gas and not always beneficial for modern engines
  • Ethanol: fuel sourced from corn instead of fossils with a lower environmental impact. Available in different blends. Nearly all vehicles can use E10, and nearly all gasoline today is already blended as 10% ethanol
  • Electric/Hybrid engines: higher initial cost, limited battery life, recharging stations less common

Depending on your needs and lifestyle, you will have to balance the many costs around vehicle ownership. If the price at the pump is a major concern for your budget, carefully weigh your options before deciding on a vehicle.

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