The pros and cons of going diesel
Looking for a car with super fuel
economy? You may want to consider a diesel.
Diesel cars and trucks deliver great fuel economy,
20 to 30 percent better than comparable vehicles with gasoline engines.
And while today's diesels may not be squeaky-clean,
they're a far cry from the noisy and smelly pollution hogs that
they used to be.
Here's a closer look at the pros and cons of going
diesel on your next auto purchase.
One of the biggest advantages of choosing a diesel
car or truck is fuel economy. A diesel's extra 20 to 30 percent
of fuel efficiency makes a difference. You'll use less fuel as you
drive and fill up your tank less often. Fewer trips to the pump
means more money stays in your wallet. Just ask any diesel driver.
"People who own them love them and tend
to spread the gospel about them," says Tony Fouladpour, a spokesman
for Volkswagen of America.
"First and foremost, it's the fuel economy. On
the New Beetle it's almost 50 miles per gallon. You can drive from
Chicago to New York without stopping for fuel. They've got tremendous
The fuel savings on a diesel is so impressive that
you'll make up the extra cost of the engine in just a few years.
Take a look at this example from Walter McManus, an
auto analyst at J.D. Power and Associates. He compared the cost
of buying a 2004 Jetta GLS with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine and
the cost of buying a 2004 Jetta GLS with a 1.9-liter turbo diesel.
The price of the gasoline Jetta is $19,460. The cost
of the turbo diesel Jetta is $20,480, a difference of $1,020. But
the turbo diesel Jetta gets much better fuel economy, 46 miles per
gallon, compared to the gasoline Jetta's 31 miles per gallon.
Let's say you drive 15, 000 miles a year. According
to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, (week of June 21,
2004), the national average cost per gallon of diesel was $1.90;
the average cost per gallon of regular was $1.94.
Driving the turbo diesel Jetta, you'd save $383 in
fuel costs each year. In three years, you'd save $1,149 in fuel
costs, $129 more than the cost of your diesel engine.
| Passenger cars
Volkswagen Jetta Wagon
Volkswagen New Beetle
Volkswagen Passat ( April 2004)
Mercedes E-320 sedan (April 2004)
Sport utility vehicles
Volkswagen Touareg SUV (2004)
Chrysler Jeep Liberty ( Fall 2004)
Ford E-series, F-series
Here's one more thing to consider. A turbo diesel
Jetta holds its value better than a gasoline Jetta. McManus estimates
that a 3-year-old turbo Jetta will be worth nearly $300 more than
a 3-year-old Jetta with a gasoline engine.
So even if you only owned your turbo diesel Jetta
for three years, you'd save $1,149 in fuel costs and pick up an
extra $300 when you sold the car. Your total savings for going diesel
after just three years is $1,449, which more than makes up for the
extra $1,020 you paid for the engine.
That's pretty impressive. But many diesel car drivers
would balk at the notion of keeping their cars for a measly three
With proper maintenance it's not unusual for a diesel
engine to run for 250,000 miles. And some diesel car owners are
determined to get every penny of fuel savings out of their never-say-die
"You'll see these ancient Mercedes diesels that
just don't quit. They keep running and running and running,"
says Paul A. Eisenstein, publisher of the automotive Web site, TheCarConnection.com.
"It's almost a matter of pride for diesel owners."
Another advantage of buying a diesel is driving performance.
Anyone who likes to zip away from a stop sign will like a diesel
"You take off quicker," McManus says. "It
will be noticeably peppier and more fun to drive. So not only do
you have better fuel economy, you have better performance, more
of a sporty kind of drive."
Diesels are also great at towing. So if you need to
haul heavy loads with your car or truck, you may want to consider
a diesel. A diesel handles a heavy load a lot better than a comparable
vehicle with a gasoline engine. And that's why larger, heavy-duty
pickup trucks from Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge and Ford are available
with diesel engines.
If you're worried about the noise associated with
driving a diesel car, don't be. Modern diesel engines are a lot
quieter than diesels 20 years ago. Today's diesel engines are almost
as quiet as gasoline engines.
"The engine is slightly noisier than a gasoline
engine but they're getting real close now. It's really tough to
tell," says Robert Larsen, director of the Center for Transportation
Research at Argonne National Laboratories.
The biggest downside to driving a diesel car has to
do with emissions. Diesel cars may be cleaner than they used to
be but they're still dirtier than gasoline cars, and a whole lot
dirtier than a hybrid. And there's still a bit of a smell.
"What you see and smell out of the tailpipe is
typically worse than with a gasoline engine," says Larry Webster,
technical editor at Car and Driver.
Diesel cars spit out more particulates -- tiny particles
of soot -- and more oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which contribute to
But because of their excellent fuel economy, diesel
cars also burn less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) than
"There's a trade-off. You emit a little
more particulate and oxides of nitrogen, NOx, but a lot less C02,"
Webster says. "Burning less fuel is better in the long run,
but some people are worried about NOx and particulates contributing
Here's another thing you should think about before
you buy a diesel -- where will you buy fuel?
Fueling up on the highway is easy -- all you have
to do is find the nearest truck stop. Finding a neighborhood service
station that sells diesel fuel may be more difficult. According
Technology Forum, only 30 percent of neighborhood retail service
stations sell diesel fuel.
"If you buy a diesel, make sure diesel fuel is
conveniently available in your area," Eisenstein says. "A
lot of people don't like to go to truck stops because that means
they have to gas up in line with big 18-wheelers."
A final downside to buying a diesel is you don't
have that many vehicle choices. Only 3.6 percent of passenger cars
in America are available with diesel engines. They include the Volkswagen
Golf, Jetta, Jetta Wagon, Passat and New Beetle. And Mercedes, which
stopped selling diesel sedans in the late 1990s, launched a diesel
version of its E-320 sedan.
Early in 2004, Volkswagen rolled out the Touareg V10
TDI, a diesel sport utility vehicle. Chrysler Jeep Liberty will
be available with diesel engines this fall.