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Diesel vs. Gas Trucks: Which Is Better for Towing?

Diesel vs. Gas Trucks: Which Is Better for Towing?

When looking at towing heavier and longer fifth wheels and trailers, which is better: diesel vs. gas trucks? There’s a lot of different considerations in this hotly debated topic, so let’s dive in!

Diesel vs. Gas at a Glance

Let’s do just a quick overview of diesel vs. gas trucks before getting into the details. Just because it’s a large, heavy-duty truck doesn’t mean it has a diesel engine. And just because you tow a 16,000-lb fifth wheel across the country doesn’t mean you have to get a diesel. But diesel trucks generally cost more, last longer, and have better towing capacities than gas.

Top 5 Pros & Cons of Diesel vs Gasoline Pickup Trucks

Comparison

Knowing the key differences between diesel vs. gas trucks can help you make an informed decision when purchasing a new tow vehicle. It still may come down to just what you can afford, but don’t go into the decision without knowing all of the facts first. Let’s look at eight important side-by-side comparisons of diesel vs. gas trucks.

Power and Torque

Torque is the engine’s twisting capability needed to pull heavy loads. Diesel engines produce more torque which means higher towing capacities compared to gas engines. This also means a smoother ride when towing heavy loads like a boat or trailer. Diesel engines also produce their peak torque at much lower RPM’s. This means that getting going and holding speed the engine will not need to to downshift as much.

A diesel truck won’t work as hard to pull an RV up an incline as a gas one. Some RV owners will tell you sometimes it doesn’t even feel like they’re towing anything because the diesel engine has so much power. They can also comfortably travel at higher speeds down the interstate.

towing with gas truck
The debate between diesel vs. gas depends on each persons needs from a tow vehicle.

Towing Capacities

In the diesel vs. gas truck debate, diesel will always win at the top end of truck tiers. Now that’s not to say that a gas engine cannot do it, In fact, gas engines weigh lots less and that weight can factor into its towing capabilities. To match diesel capabilities however a gas engine needs to get much bigger. In the past Ford even attempted to match its diesel for towing heavy with its 10 cylinder engine. Compare that to a diesel 6 or 8 cylinder.

Consider the type of travel you’ll have to make a good decision. And always know the RV’s weight and the truck’s capacity. 

Never tow anything over the towing capacity of your truck. This reduces the engine life and increases fuel consumption while also putting everyone in danger by ignoring the manufacturer’s warning.

Fuel Economy

Diesel trucks tend to have better fuel economy because the engine can work without strain. They have more torque, which enhances fuel efficiency. 

According to CarFax, “Diesel engines are 20% to 35% more efficient than conventional gasoline engines” , This is partially because diesel fuel contains 13% more energy than gasoline.

For example, a Chevrolet Silverado with the diesel V6 engine gets 25 mpg, whereas its gas counterpart with the V8 engine gets 19 mpg.

Truck towing an RV
Diesel trucks are the best for towing your RV.

Truck Maintenance

Proper truck maintenance improves the overall health and longevity of your vehicle. You may purchase the absolute best diesel or gas truck on the market, but you’ll have problems if you don’t take care of it. 

Generally, maintenance on gas trucks costs less. For example, you will pay more for an oil change on a diesel engine because they require more oil. You may also need to change the filters and the separator when getting an oil change on a diesel.

While a diesel will cost more for regular maintenance, maintenance intervals are usually longer for heavy use.

Towing Efficiency

As already mentioned, diesel engines can tow more, at higher speeds, and through various terrain than gas engines. They get better towing efficiency due to the increased torque and power. 

That 25 to 35% improvement in fuel economy frequently jumps to 50 to 100% fuel economy improvement when towing. This is due to the lower RPM’s the engine can operate at while towing.

They won’t have as much strain put on the engine or transmission. A diesel-powered truck will pull a 15,000-lb fifth wheel down the interstate just as effectively as pulling it through the Rocky Mountains.

Cost of Fuel

Diesel fuel comes at a higher price than gas on average. Typically it’s anywhere from 20 to 40 cents more in most places around the country. This should factor into your decision, especially if you plan to travel often. 

However, many RVers can get a trucker discount card to save on fuel. RVers with diesel engines often get cheaper fuel than those with gas trucks by using this TSD Logistics fuel card at the pump. Savings can range from 20 to over 50 cents per gallon.

Pro Tip: Save on fuel by getting one of these 4 Best Hybrid Trucks for Towing RV Campers.

Close up on a Ford truck
Before you decide which type of truck to buy, make sure to create a realistic budget.

Cost of Vehicle

Diesel trucks cost more upfront than gas — usually about $10,000 more. However, they also retain their value longer. 

When comparing similar vehicles, a used 2010 diesel truck will cost more than the gas counterpart. So whether you want a new or used truck, expect to pay more for one with a diesel engine.

Reliability and Longevity 

This factor comes down to how well you take care of your vehicle. Proper maintenance increases the longevity of a vehicle. Also, consider how and where you drive it. Using a truck in Alaska differs from using one in Alabama. 

Especially if buying used, ask the owner where they drove the truck most — highways or country roads. The answers shouldn’t dictate your decision, but they should factor in.

Generally, when considering diesel vs. gas trucks, diesel engines have fewer problems, perform better, and last longer. That doesn’t mean a gas truck will have lots of issues. In general diesel trucks are built with heavier components and will last longer overall.

Personally our diesel truck with 250,000 miles has had no major issues with the engine and we would continue to use it for long trips. We have met many owners with 300-500k miles on their primary diesel tow vehicles. Never seen that with a gas truck.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Diesel?

The capabilities and longevity weigh in as the biggest advantages of owning a diesel truck. You can do more with a diesel without worrying about how much strain you put on the vehicle. And with diesel engines lasting 200,000 and 300,000 miles sometimes, you don’t have to pay for another truck anytime soon if you take good care of the one you have.

On the other hand, the biggest disadvantage is the cost. You’ll pay more upfront, at the pump, and for maintenance and repair. For this reason, many RVers choose gas trucks over diesel.

Pro Tip: If you own a truck camper and want to take it on your next adventure, find out Can You Leave a Tailgate on with a Truck Camper?

RAM 3500 truck
Diesel trucks cost more at the gas pump and to buy.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Gas?

As mentioned above, RVers choose gas over diesel mainly because of the cost. If you only have a budget of $50,000 and don’t want to buy an older diesel truck with over 150,000 miles, then you won’t have many diesel truck options. 

It also comes down to the monthly cost of fuel and maintenance. Knowing that one repair bill won’t thwart your budget can bring truck owners peace of mind.

You may also want to consider the payload, especially if you want a truck camper. Because a diesel engine weighs hundreds of pounds more than a gas one, it takes away some of the payload capabilities of the truck. So if you want to carry a lot of weight in the bed, you may prefer a gas option because of its higher payload capacity.

However, gas vehicles have fewer capabilities. Do you want to travel across the country and put hundreds of miles a month on your tow vehicle? If so, a gas truck may not work the best if you tow anything over 15,000 lbs. The strain on the engine could put you in a position to buy a new one in just a couple of years.

Black truck parked.
Head out on the highway in the perfect truck for you.

Are Diesel or Gas Trucks Better for Towing?

There is a reason that all semi-trucks on the road are diesel engines (sometimes natural gas but its the same engine). Diesel have better characteristics for heavy loads and are more efficient when pulling.

diesel truck towing

Towing with a diesel vs. gas truck depends on your needs. If you only tow a 33-ft travel trailer that weighs 10,000 lbs, a gas truck will certainly get the job done. And it will cost less. However, if you tow more than 15,000 lbs and do a lot of traveling, a diesel truck will suit you better.

When shopping for trucks, remember to keep safety as the top priority. You don’t want to endanger the lives of you or other travelers. You also want to protect the vehicle by not putting too much strain on the engine, axles, brake system, transmission, etc. Price and cost are certainly important factors, but don’t push safety to the side.

Think A One Ton Truck Is Big Enough? What Are The Differences And Why You Might Want A 550 or 5500?
Our latest truck is a 5500 series and only came in a diesel option

What’s the Best Option?

When looking at diesel vs. gas trucks, consider cost, safety, efficiency, power, and longevity. 

Additionally, make sure to take care of your truck regardless of whether or not it has a diesel engine or gas engine. Proper maintenance and care after your purchase will make a huge difference in its effectiveness and cost.

So are you in the market for a tow vehicle? Have you weighed all of the pros and cons of diesel vs. gas trucks? What’s the best option for your travel needs? Drop a comment below!

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Kim

Saturday 8th of January 2022

I have a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ 3500 with the Duramax diesel engine, and love it, except: The DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) / DEF system. In my experience which concurs with some on line chatter, the DPF system reduces reliability over time (not milage) The truck is properly maintained, and I always use name brand DEF; however, over the spring and summer, it was out of service for more than a month due to DPF issues. Twice while on a trip, we had to return home to have the DPF system serviced. Even though I'm what most people would consider a conservative driver, I've never seen the milage numbers you mentioned; the truck gets about 12mpg, loaded, empty, up hill, down hill, or on the prairie.

Jeff

Friday 7th of January 2022

2 things you forgot to mention that tips the scale in favor of a diesel truck. 1 because Diesel engines are heavier, they are much better in snowy/icy conditions, that extra weight over a gas engine is on the front wheels. And because diesels don’t rev up as quickly, there’s much less of a tendency to spin the tires.2 on 3/4ton and heavier trucks , Diesel engines come equipped with an exhaust brake. That 1 feature alone makes diesels the hands down winner. I live in the mountains and descending steep grades is an effortless affair! Modern diesel powered trucks are some of the most fuel efficient, least polluting, and powerful engines ever produced for the general public. And did I say the power was awesome? Love my 1 ton HD Ram! Thanks for the posts, keep up the great work!

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Good points! I agree our 1 ton ram has been one of the best vehicles we have ever owned.

Karen Bates

Friday 7th of January 2022

Great information! My husband researched trucks for 2 years before we bought our 2020 GMC 3500 HD. Then we bought our RV! Knowing the towing capacity of the truck was key in our decision about the 5th wheel and we are so happy with this diesel truck! And the more miles we put on it, the better the gas mileage!!

Also, shout out to the picture of the Ram dually and Vilano 5th wheel! We have a 35 ft Vanleigh Vilano also!

Mortons on the Move

Friday 7th of January 2022

That's wonderful! We're so glad to hear you're happy with your truck choice. :)

Kevin

Friday 7th of January 2022

I am currently towing a 28ft Airstream what weighs in loaded at 6600 lbs. My tow vehicle is a 2018 Silverado 1500 with the max tow package. 5.3 liter, 6spd,3.73 gears and 4x4. My payload is 2040lbs. On a recent trip of 14,000 miles, I averaged 12.8 mpg. That is not the computer figure, that's pencil and paper. Most hills I can maintain 55 miles per hour, but in the mountain passes in Colorado I am down to 43-45 miles per hour. My previous tow vehicle is a 2005 Silverado 1500 with 288,000 miles on it. 5.3,4l80,3.42 gears. The engine and trans have never been apart. Maintenance is the key to longevity.

Mortons on the Move

Friday 7th of January 2022

Thanks for sharing your "real world" experience. Happy trails!

Joe

Friday 7th of January 2022

You guys sure know your campers. Loved Go North! Great point on losing payload capacity with a diesel. My plan is to get the Ram5500 with diesel, Kelderman air suspension, and Genesis bed conversion. Towing our boat with the Lance 1172 in the back through the Rockies needs the torque of a diesel and significant payload capacity. I hope the truck manufacturers catch on and start offering trucks in this configuration.

Mortons on the Move

Friday 7th of January 2022

Thank you! We love our Ram 5500. It's been great to have for our Bigfoot truck camper, and we also towed our boat behind it over the summer.

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