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Should You Choose Diesel?

Driving a Diesel Vehicle Has Its Ups and Downs


Clean diesel has been steadily growing as a fuel choice and market trends reflect it, with over a dozen new diesel vehicles expected to hit showroom floors in the U.S. in the next year or two.

So, why is this fuel becoming so popular? More importantly, why is clean diesel an important part of the alternative fuel portfolio and what differentiates this blend from other available diesel fuels?

Cleaner Running
It used to be the mere mention of the term "diesel engine" was enough to conjure up all sorts of negative reactions, prompted by the notion that a diesel engine meant a loud, smelly, expensive engine--a necessary evil in the trucking, agriculture and heavy equipment industries but to be avoided at all costs by the average consumer choosing his or her next passenger vehicle. In fact, while Europe and other parts of the world have embraced diesel vehicles for personal use, they all but died out in the U.S. over the past few decades. But that's old news, as fuel prices and shifts in regulatory policy are making diesel passenger vehicles attractive here in the States.

And this new-found popularity is probably for good reason. Gone are the filthy tailpipes and exhaust stench. Today's clean diesels make us of advanced, intricate "emissions-scrubbing" technology that results in diesels--or as they are aptly called, "clean" diesels--some of the lowest polluting vehicles on the highway--as well as some of the most efficient.

The improvement in today's diesels is helped by the fact that all of the diesel sold in the U.S. is of the ultra-sulfur variety. You might be surprised to learn that with all these advances, today's diesel is often less toxic and the emissions less harmful than many gasoline-powered cars, including those touted for their fuel efficiency.

One of the reasons diesels have gotten a bad rap compared with their gasoline-chugging counterparts is due to concern over greenhouse gas emissions. While diesel vehicles are shaking their undeserved reputation as contributors of acid rain, smog and toxic air pollution, there still exists a bit of a stigma over greenhouse gas emissions. But this is an argument with a lot of gray area.

The true part of the concern is that diesel fuel does, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contain more carbon dioxide per gallon that does gasoline--about 14% more in fact, with diesel typically containing about 22.2 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon compared with 19.4 for gasoline. However, that's only part of the story.

It comes down to more than carbon dioxide levels. Despite starting out as the underdog, if a diesel vehicle is running at or above 14% more efficient than that gas-powered car, it's still going to emit less carbon dioxide for every mile that its driven.

Maintenance is Mixed Bag
Despite these positive points, there are still some less-than-positive factors to consider before buying one of the ever-increasing number of diesel passenger vehicles. One attribute diesel engines share is that the fuel itself is a good lubricant. That means less wear and tear on the engine. But that doesn't necessarily equate to big savings in your car maintenance budget. Unlike an EV, you will still need to follow a regular maintenance schedule with oil changes and other servicing. Your engine itself may last longer, but a lot of diesels available in the U.S. right now are built by high-end German car manufacturers, so you can expect any service costs you do have to be much higher than with a gas-powered vehicle.

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