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There are lots of options to consider when you’re buying a pickup, but one of the “biggies” is whether to go for gasoline or diesel. From heavy-duty down to midsize, you have the choice on many truck models.
There are pros and cons to both, and they need to be considered when making your decision. Ultimately, all of them revolve around what the truck costs to buy and run. Diesel engines offer better fuel efficiency and longevity, but they come with extra expenses.
Diesel is available in the heavy-duty versions of Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-Series, GMC Sierra, and Ram. It’s also a choice in the Nissan Titan XD, a truck the company says slips in between a half- and three-quarter-ton truck, find the best deals at semi truck auctions.
A diesel is currently available in the Ford F-150, and will be coming to half-ton models from GM (for the first time) and Ram (returning on the recently released new 2019 model). Among midsize trucks, only the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon offer a small diesel engine.
In all sizes, diesel is pricier when you’re buying a new truck. On a midsize or half-ton truck it adds more than $5,000 over a gasoline engine, while on a heavy duty, you can be looking at close to $10,000 more. Diesels are pricier to build because their parts are more robust, and they require extra systems and filters for emissions. And because I’m a cynic, I don’t discount the fact that since a lot of heavy-duty trucks are ordered with diesels, it certainly sets the stage for extra profitability.
Diesels are also more expensive to maintain. Their oil changes cost more, and you have to add diesel exhaust fluid, or DEF. This is a urea-based liquid that’s automatically squirted into the exhaust system – not the engine – to offset oxides of nitrogen (NOx), a smog-producing pollutant. The DEF tank is sized so it usually needs filling around the same time you’ll need an oil change. If you do start to run out while driving, the truck will give you numerous warnings well ahead of completely empty. But if you ignore them and run the tank dry, a governor will limit the engine’s speed until the DEF tank is refilled.
Diesels also use particulate filters to trap soot – the black gunk you sometimes see spouting out the tailpipes of older, poorly maintained vehicles. Sensors determine when these are full and divert some fuel to a catalyst, raising the temperature to burn the soot off. While they last a long time on a properly maintained vehicle, typically into the hundreds of thousands of kilometres, particulate filters may eventually need professional cleaning or even replacement. These filters fill up faster if you primarily do short trips, which is another consideration for a diesel vehicle.
While diesels warm up to operating temperature much faster than they used to – unless it’s a ridiculously cold Arctic morning, the days of waiting on the glow plug light are long gone – they’re much happier when they’re regularly taken on longer trips. If your driving is exclusively few-blocks short-haul, go for gasoline.
Diesel engines are inherently more fuel efficient, although improvements in gasoline powerplants are closing the gap. For a 2019 Chevrolet Colorado, for example, the diesel is rated at 10.5 L/100 km, versus 12.2 L/100 km for the gasoline V6. Just as with a hybrid versus a conventional car, it can take many accumulated kilometres before the fuel saved outweighs the engine’s extra cost. Volatile prices on either fuel will also speed up or slow down your rate of return.
Diesels typically last longer than gas engines – an advantage of that robust construction, providing of course that you do your maintenance on them – and generally command higher resale value than an equivalent gasoline-powered truck.