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!
Table of contents
- Diesel vs. Gas at a Glance
- What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Diesel?
- What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Gas?
- Are Diesel or Gas Trucks Better for Towing?
- What’s the Best Option?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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