Are Diesel Trucks Worth It To Buy?
August 2, 2022
In the truck world, the gas vs. diesel debate is one that's on Android vs. iPhone levels of intensity - iOS for the win, by the way. Sorry not sorry. Anyway, in this mono y mono battle of truck engine types, who comes out on top? Today, we'll be going through the countless pages of comments we see to have a quick little chat and find out: Are Diesel Engines Overrated?
Quick History of Gasoline Engines
So, before we jump into whether or not diesel engines are best for your build, it's important to understand exactly how each of these engines works - otherwise, you're kinda just shooting in the dark. While there were plenty of inventors who laid the groundwork for gasoline-powered engines, it wasn't until 1879 that the principle of an internal combustion engine really exploded - pun intended.
In 1879, a guy by the name of Carl Benz (sound familiar?) was granted a patent for a two-stroke, gasoline-powered engine that was loosely based on the design of Nicholas Otto, who designed the engine a few years prior. While his two-stroke engine design never really took off, it set the stage for Benz to also patent a four-stroke gasoline engine later that year. This four-stroke internal combustion engine would go on to be the very first gas engine in production, and ultimately powered the first cars to ever be made - the dude literally set the stage for the automotive world; how crazy is that to consider nowadays?
Read More: Are Gas Heavy Duty Trucks Worth It?
How Do Gas Engines Work?
A gasoline engine works by having a fixed cylinder with a moving piston - as the intake valve opens, the piston is drawn downwards, creating a vacuum in the cylinder and drawing both air and fuel into the cylinder. The air and fuel are mixed in that cylinder and then compressed as the piston pushes back upwards. Once the piston reaches top dead center - or the highest point that the piston will actually reach in the cylinder - the spark plug, well, sparks the air and fuel mixture and creates a small explosion inside of the cylinder walls.
This explosion pushes the piston downwards, causing the crankshaft to turn and ultimately create the power to the flywheel, which is transferred through your transmission and ends up at your rear wheels in the form of big, smokey burnouts. Everyone loves burnouts. The piston then returns back to top dead center, pushing out the exhaust gases through the exhaust valves that are open, and clearing the cylinder, resetting it for the next cycle. This ignition cycle is often referred to as Suck-Squeeze-Bang-Blow - we know. Even with all the innovations in gas engine technology since then, this process has remained constant ever since the 1800s.
Quick History of Diesel Engines
On the flipside of the coin, we have the diesel engine, which gets its name from - get this - Mr. Rudolf Diesel. Born in Paris in 1858, Rudolph Diesel created the diesel engine in a time when steam power was actually ruling the world. In 1885, Rudolf set up his first shop in Paris, France, to develop a compression ignition engine - see, Rudolf believed that rather than creating a spark in the cylinder, if you put the air and fuel mixture under enough pressure, it would actually explode, much like a teenager when their parents try to tell them how to live their life.
It would take Rudolf Diesel 13 long, arduous years to develop his compression-fired engine until the mid-1890s when he would receive several patents for his invention. Unlike the gas engines of earlier years, Diesel had found a way to invent an efficient, slow-burning, compression-fired internal combustion engine. Though his first prototype was a pretty big flop, it spearheaded the development of a series of improvements that eventually led to a successful compression engine on February 17th, 1897, when Diesel demonstrated his all-new engine type.
Read More: Mistakes To Avoid When Buying A Diesel Truck
How Do Diesel Engines Work?
So how do diesel engines work? Great question - unlike a gas engine, a diesel doesn't have any spark plugs of any kind. This means that the engine does not actually create a spark to burn the fuel - instead, diesel engines work by compressing the air inside of the cylinder to a higher compression pressure than that of a gasoline engine. This compression causes the air molecules in the cylinder to actually rub up against each other and create friction. That friction ultimately generates heat, and this heat is what actually ignites the fuel that's mixed with the air in the cylinder, causing a slow burn.
Now, this burn is what'll actually push the piston downwards, which rotates the crankshaft and goes through the flywheel to the transmission, and ends up with those same big, smokey burnouts from earlier. Everything's connected.
Read More: What Are The Best Mods For A Diesel Truck?
Should You Get A Gas or Diesel Engine?
So now that we understand how each engine type worlds, where does a gas engine win? Well, for starters, diesel engines hate the cold - like, they hate it. Because there are no spark plugs, a cold diesel engine can actually cause a no-start issue because the cylinder walls are too cold to allow the fuel in the cylinder to actually burn. This is why you often hear diesels spitting and sputtering during the winter, because the truck is only running off a few cylinders. Additionally, diesel fuels are much more prone to gelling in the cold, which is when water molecules in the diesel fuel actually crystallize in the cold temperatures, making it impossible for the diesel fuel to flow through the injection system.
Outside of cold temperatures, though, gas engines are better designed for shorter trips, meaning that if you're driving in a lot of stop-and-go traffic, or if you're bouncing around in the city, a gas engine might be a better option for you. But if towing is the name of the game, a diesel is a solid choice thanks to the torque that it provides. As a general rule of thumb, a diesel engine will be built much heavier than a gas option, but that also means that they can last much longer - it's not uncommon for some of the better diesel engines to last up to half a million miles or more before even a little bit of a problem.
Read More: Winter Maintenance Tips For Diesels
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