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Can you save on fuel buying a diesel car?

Tara Baukus MelloWith gasoline prices trending upward dramatically, it makes good financial sense to save money on fuel costs any way you can. If you are shopping for a new or used car, then considering a diesel car is one way to save money on fuel. Diesel cars generally have an improvement of 20 percent to 30 percent over their gasoline counterparts. And, while diesel prices are currently a bit higher than gasoline prices, the tremendous increase in fuel economy still means a substantial savings in your fuel budget overall.

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Modern diesels, which meet the most stringent pollution requirements, became available in all 50 states in 2009. For the 2011 model year, there are 12 passenger cars and SUVs as well as six pickups and vans that are diesel-powered. In short, whether you are looking for a new or used car, there are plenty of diesel options to suit a wide variety of needs and budgets.

Like hybrids, diesel cars are priced slightly higher than their gasoline counterparts, but several studies have shown diesels' cost of ownership is lower overall, making them a wise financial choice. In addition, there are currently six new diesels -- the 2011 models of the BMW 335d and x5 xDrive35d and the Mercedes-Benz E350, GL350, ML350 and R350 models -- that qualify for an energy tax credit ranging from $900 to $1,800.

A big part of the lower cost of ownership for diesel cars is due to the terrific fuel economy. The result is a savings of about $400 per year on average for the typical American driving 15,000 miles, based on the current national average for regular gasoline and diesel fuel. The diesel 2011 Volkswagen Jetta will cost $1,725 annually, while its gasoline counterpart will cost $2,118 annually, a $393 difference.

The cost savings will be even more dramatic if you are comparing a car that uses premium gasoline, recently at $3.79 per gallon on national average, versus diesel fuel, currently at $3.91 per gallon on national average. Traveling 15,000 miles annually, a diesel car such as the Jetta that gets 34 mpg combined mileage, would cost $1,725 annually. A gasoline-powered car that gets 25 mpg would cost $2,274 annually, which is a $549 difference.

Calculating your potential savings is easy with the U.S. Department of Energy's calculator at FuelEconomy.gov. Simply enter in your data, including the fuel costs in your area, and click "personalize." Then, use the "compare side-by-side" feature to compare the cars that you are considering buying. This is especially useful if you are purchasing an older car, since the site features new, more accurate numbers for 2007 model year cars and older. However, note that the Environmental Protection Agency changed the way it calculates its mpg ratings for the 2008 model year to make its rating more in line with real-world estimates.

In some parts of the country, diesel fuel can be more difficult to find, though it is widely available in urban areas and rural farming areas. If you are considering buying a new or used diesel car, check the availability in your area.

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If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
 

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Tara Baukus Mello

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