Just so practical
Here in the Rocky Mountains of the West, trucks are such a popular vehicle choice. Why? Well, they are just. so. practical. The higher ground clearance and 4WD make navigating over rough terrain much easier, not to mention the snow. Now that we have more luxury truck options than ever before, trucks are also used as everyday vehicles and family vehicles. The ability to throw whatever you need in the bed of the truck is just too handy (like that time you go to the home improvement store for a tube of sealant but, impulse buy fence posts). In farm and ranch country, being able to hook up to a trailer and haul time and time again is a must. Which fuel type though, gas vs diesel?
Gas vs diesel?
An age-old argument that there is no right or wrong answer to. When considering a pickup truck it all comes down to what you need your truck to do for you. There are, however, pros and cons to consider that will help in aiding your decision.
Cost to buy
Gas has the advantage here. When comparing like for like trucks, you’re going to pay more to buy a diesel engines truck than a gas engined truck. For example, a Ford F-250 Superduty SRW XL Supercab with 8′ box in 4WD with the 6.2L gas engine has an MSRP of $42,740. a similar pickup truck with a 6.7L diesel engine has an MSRP of $52,375. That is over a $9,000 difference for the diesel engine.
Diesel has the advantage here. Ok, here goes the yucky math part. It’s true, diesel engine’s do get better fuel mileage than gas, especially in cars. Not so much in heavy-duty trucks. The advantage in fuel economy is marginal. According to fuelly.com, (real-world mileages) report, the 2017 F-250 with the 6.2L gas engine, averages 11.8mpg. The same report shows the 6.7L diesel engine averages 14.5 mpg. According to local fuel prices, diesel is $2.70/gallon and gas is $2.28/gallon. Assuming prices all stayed equal and the truck continues to get equal fuel economy. 50,000 miles in the gas engine truck would cost around $9,661. 50,000 miles in the diesel engine would cost $9,310 in diesel fuel costs. From this example, you can see there is only a saving of around $351 over 50,000 miles in a diesel.
Another factor to consider is that due to emissions regulations, diesel pickups now need regular top-ups of DEF (diesel exhaust fluid).
Talking of the DEF system and mileage, it’s worth noting that due to the new particulate systems on diesel pickups, short journeys are evil. Driving only a few miles every day at low speeds can cause blockage problems.
Resale value and depreciation
Diesel has the advantage here. Diesel engine pickup trucks are seen to last longer than their gasoline counterparts, especially on the higher-mile end of the scale (ie. 100,000 miles). A gasoline engine at this mileage has most likely reached its peak of performance, whilst a diesel may require some maintenance, it’ll likely last a lot longer. Diesel-powered pickups usually hold their value better and depreciate less than gas (assuming like for like and average mileage).
Diesel has the advantage here. Both gas and diesel-powered pickup trucks are capable of towing, a diesel does it better. Due to the torque, a diesel can typically pull more weight than a gas. For example, a 2018 RAM 3500 SLT 4×4 Crew Cab with 6.4L Heavy Duty HEMI (4.10 axle ratio) gas engine can tow up to 15,540 lbs. A 2018 RAM 3500 SLT 4×4 Crew Cab with the 6.7 L Cummins (4.10 axle ratio) can tow up to 30,240 lbs. Although there isn’t always this much difference, this particular truck has almost double the towing capacity between gas and diesel. Check out full RAM towing specs here. Another advantage to using diesel for towing is that a lot of the newer pickups have an exhaust brake. This uses back pressure from the turbo to slow the truck down. Useful in reducing brake wear or overheating the brakes when going down a steep mountain pass.
Cost to maintain
Gas has the advantage here. Derek Zarello, Service Writer at the Fremont Dodge store in Casper, WY says that diesel pickups typically cost more to maintain. For example, an oil change on a diesel pickup including DEF is going to be around three times the price of an oil change on a gas pickup. The reason being is that the oil type itself is more expensive and there is more of it required. Then there is the also the diesel exhaust fluid that will need topped up or filled up.
What about diesel compact trucks, half ton’s and 1500’s?
The market has recently seen the introduction of smaller trucks such as the Chevrolet Colorado with a diesel engine. A 2018 Chevy Colorado, with the 2.8L turbo-diesel crew cab long box, can tow around 7600 lbs. Fuel economy for the 4WD compact truck is rated by the EPA at 28 mpg on the highway, 20 mpg in the city and 23 mpg combined.
The 2018 RAM 1500 in 4WD with the EcoDiesel engine is EPA rated at 27 mpg on the highway, 19 mpg in the city and 22 mpg combined. Towing capacity is around 8,400 lb for a 4×4 Crew Cab but actual towing capacity will depend on the exact specifics of the truck.
The new Ford F-150 with a Powerstroke diesel engine will be available this year. Official fuel economy numbers have not yet been published on the EPA website yet, Ford are hoping for close to 30 mpg. Ford did publish a towing capacity of 11,400 lbs, however, it doesn’t say which truck configuration this is on. Most likely a base model 2WD. Also worth noting is what road and track commented, “The diesel F-150 won’t be the towing champion of Ford’s light-duty lineup. With an 11,400-lb max, the diesel tows 200 lbs less than an F-150 with the 5.0-liter V8; the champion drivetrain is still the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, with an impressive 13,200-lb towing max. The diesel’s 2020 lb. payload capacity lags behind the 3.5 EcoBoost’s 3230 lbs and the 5.0-liter V8’s 3270 lbs”.
The same pro’s and con’s mostly still apply to the smaller trucks. EXCEPT for fuel economy and cost to own over a longer period. Due to a bigger difference in fuel economy between the gas diesel models in the RAM trucks. For example, the RAM 1500 4WD with the 5.7L V-8 is rated at 17 mpg combined.
Using the same numbers as quoted above for fuel costs, the cost of 50,000 miles in the HEMI is around $6,705 in gas. The cost of 50,000 miles in the EcoDiesel $6,136 in diesel fuel. A slightly bigger saving between the half-ton models. There will still be the added costs of DEF and maintenance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most truck enthusiasts will tell you the diesel is better than its gasoline counterpart when it comes to towing. The engines get better gas mileage, last longer and usually can tow more. Diesel Engines have a lot of low-end torque and can pull heavy loads up extreme grades with confidence.
Diesel engines “in general” are simply made to last longer because the engines require more robust parts to deal with the high-compression ratios and high cylinder pressure within the engine.
In general, a diesel equipt truck will have a better resale. That said, you also have to take into account diesel trucks cost more starting out.
Gas vs diesel? It really comes down to what you will be using your truck for. How often and how long you’ll be keeping it. If you will be towing heavy loads, frequently and racking up miles for years then a heavy-duty diesel makes sense. Long trips or short trips? As far as the smaller trucks go, the biggest differences to diesels are longevity, instant fuel economy, and resale value.
Fun fact: Fleet and commercial sales manager Brett Osborne at Fremont Motors in Wyoming, sells almost double the number of heavy-duty diesel pickup trucks compared to gas.