Car Buying

Potential Drawbacks of Diesel Power

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2013

If you're shopping for a fuel-efficient new car, you've undoubtedly considered diesel power. Diesels are fuel-efficient, reasonably priced and increasingly common. And unlike in years past, they don't smell bad or pollute the environment with thick plumes of smoke. So what's not to like? We've examined some of the drawbacks of diesel technology.

City Fuel Economy

Diesel engines thrive on low engine speeds and constant cruising -- highway driving, in other words. But on city streets, drivers often find that diesel engines don't boast much of a fuel economy advantage over gasoline counterparts. An example is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which boasts an impressive 42 miles per gallon on the highway but just 30 mpg in the city. 

Compare that to hybrid cars, which use regenerative braking to charge the powertrain's batteries in city driving. The result is that most hybrids are as efficient or nearly as efficient in the city as they are on the highway. A good example is the Honda Civic Hybrid, which boasts 44 mpg on the highway and the same 44 mpg in city driving. In other words, shoppers who spend most of their time in crowded cities may want to consider a hybrid before looking at a diesel. 

Highway Acceleration

Since diesel engines primarily operate at low engine speeds -- and because they usually boast a lot of torque -- they accelerate best when speeds are low. Thus, diesels are fastest when you're pulling away from a stoplight in a crowded city. On the highway, where engine speeds are higher, diesels can fall short of driver expectations. However, hybrid cars also tend to have this problem, since their batteries usually deliver better torque at low speeds. 

Availability

No matter how you consider it, diesel power simply isn't as widespread as hybrid technology. Today's diesel market consists primarily of pickups and luxury cars, with only a few mainstream models -- the Chevrolet Cruze, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Passat -- offering diesel power. 

That's not true for hybrid technology, in which dozens of affordable models -- such as the Honda Insight, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and several variations of the Toyota Prius -- all boast hybrid power for under $30,000. 

Fuel Costs

Another major item drivers often forget to consider when choosing a diesel is the price of fuel. Today, shoppers are spending on average 61 cents more for a gallon of diesel fuel than a gallon of gasoline. Over time, that difference can add up to significant savings for a gas-powered car, even if it's not more fuel-efficient than its diesel rival. Plus, not every gas station sells diesel, which means you may end up driving longer -- and spending more money -- to find a place to fill up. 

In Conclusion: Gas or Diesel?

Don't let our reasoning dissuade you -- there are still many great things about diesel cars. But it's important to understand the drawbacks, too, so that you can make an informed decision about which powertrain best suits your needs.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Potential Drawbacks of Diesel Power - Autotrader