VIDEO: Gas or Diesel?

Posted In: Blog, Campfire Question

On The Long Long Honeymoon (LongLongHoneymoon.com) we’re launching a new series of video questions that you can discuss around the campfire. On the menu today: gas or diesel? Those of us who have towable RVs must confront this issue head on.

Quite frankly, when we bought our Airstream I had little knowledge of diesel engines. I just knew that we needed to buy a big honkin’ truck. So I started shopping, and quickly learned that this decision is one of the fundamental choices one must make when purchasing a tow vehicle.

Diesel engines operate a little differently than gasoline engines. Without delving too far into Engine Construction 101, let’s consult our old friend Wikipedia: “The defining feature of the diesel engine is the use of the heat of compression to initiate ignition to burn the fuel, which is injected into the combustion chamber during the final stage of compression. This is in contrast to a petrol (gasoline) engine or gas engine, which uses the Otto cycle, in which a fuel/air mixture is ignited by a spark plug.”

Ummmm, okay. While that’s good to know, it’s also not necessary to know.

I guess the main question is “Why buy a diesel?” After all, diesel engines are noisy, the fuel is sometimes a hassle to locate (usually when you are running on “E”), and they generate copious amounts of smelly exhaust.

For me, there were a couple of compelling reasons.

First, in addition to all that smelly exhaust, diesel engines also generate copious amounts of torque. Our beloved truck SEEMORE is a turbocharged diesel that kicks out 570 foot-pounds of torque on a bad day. You can yank redwood stumps with this thing (although I’m not sure why you’d want to do so). The factory claims that our truck can tow 20,000 pounds; for comparison, our fully loaded Airstream Classic (with water, clothes, and gear) is about 8000 pounds. So we’ve got more than enough towing power. In fact, I believe the excess power enhances our safety on the road.

Second, although they cost more up front, diesel engines get better fuel economy. We get about 12 MPG when towing our Airstream. In the days before low sulfur diesel, the fuel itself was cheaper than gasoline. (As soon as I bought our truck, diesel fuel began costing a little more than gasoline.) So there have been historical financial advantages to diesel. While you might pay more for the engine on day one, after a few years you would actually be saving money.

Finally, if you are into green technology, biodiesel is becoming all the rage. With some modifications, a petrodiesel engine can be converted to biodiesel. This allows your truck to be fueled by recycled vegetable oil. If you go this route, not only is the fuel cheap, but it smells like cooking french fries. Pretty cool, huh? While SEEMORE presently feasts on petrodiesel, maybe someday we’ll convert him to the veggie stuff.

So that’s why we chose diesel. But I suspect that we diesel drivers are in the minority. After all, the newer gasoline engines boast a robust towing capacity, and are less expensive. Plus, they don’t sound like a Bluebird school bus.

So what about you? If you chose gas (or diesel), tell me WHY…


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