STUDY: Diesel Total Cost of Ownership Way Better than Gas

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The current trend of diesel powered vehicles has captured the attention of all automotive fans. It is reasonable to assume then we are going to see all sorts of new studies about the different engine types. A new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that diesel is the MORE cost-effective than gas. Do you buy it?

STUDY: Diesel Total Cost of Ownership Way Better than Gas

While trucks like this have given diesel a bad name, the new clean diesel is gaining a lot of fans. A new study says the Total Cost of Ownership of diesel is way better than gas. Agree or disagree?

The study looked at the total cost of ownership of diesel models versus gas models over a 3 to 5 year period. Essentially, it looked at vehicles that were offered in both engine types and then collected data to determine the “estimates of savings.” The researchers specifically calculated:

  • Fuel efficiency differences
  • Fuel costs
  • Depreciation

“Overall, the results of our analyses show that diesel vehicles provide owners with a TCO (total cost of ownership) that is less than that of the gas versions of the same vehicles,” according to the study. “The estimates of savings for three and five years of ownership vary from a low of $67 in three years to a high of $15,619 in five years, but most of the savings are in the $2,000 to $6,000 range, which also include the extra cost that is usually added to the diesel version of a vehicle.”

Of course, the Diesel Technology Forum, a leading advocacy group was pleased with the findings.

“These new findings that clean diesel vehicles are a more cost-effective investment for car owners reinforces what auto analysts and other comparative studies have determined in recent years,” said Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum. “The significant savings diesel owners experience compared to gas car owners highlights another major reason why clean diesel vehicles sales will increase significantly throughout the U.S. in the coming years.”

Also worth noting is that the study was funded by Robert Bosch LLC. If they don’t readily come to mind, they should in Europe. According to, Bosch’s investment is understandable since “they make a lot of parts for diesels, like the fuel injection system – for most European diesels, the fuel squirters, adjacent piping and pumps were either made by Delphi or Bosch, full stop.”

The study found the following statements about diesel versus gas to be true:

Total Cost of Ownership: In the three year timeframe comparison, diesel vehicles in the mass market passenger car segment are estimated to save owners significant money, with the VW Jetta owner saving $3,128, the VW Jetta Sportwagen owner saving $3,389, and the VW Golf owner saving an estimated $5,013.

– In the luxury segment, all the diesel versions of the Mercedes-Benz E Class ($4,175), Mercedes-Benz GL Class ($13,514), Mercedes-Benz M Class ($3,063), Mercedes-Benz R Class ($5,951) and VW Touareg ($7,819) save owners money in the three year timeframe.

  • Fuel Efficiency: All of the diesel vehicles had better miles per gallon than the gasoline versions with the diesels having between 8 to 44 percent higher miles per gallon.
  • Fuel Costs: All of the diesel vehicles had lower fuel costs than all the gas versions of comparable vehicles, with 11 of the 12 vehicles showing double digit reductions in fuel costs, ranging from 10 to 29 percent.
  • Similar to the three year comparisons, five year estimated fuel costs for diesel vehicles are less than those of comparable gas versions. The percentage difference in terms of the reduction from gas to diesel costs decreased for some diesel-gas comparisons as diesel prices began to increase around the 2005 timeframe.
  • Depreciation: Eleven of the 12 diesel vehicles held their value better than comparable gas vehicles over the three year timeframe with eight vehicles showing double digit percentage savings ranging from 17 percent up to 46 percent.
  • Nine of the 10 diesel vehicles hold their value better than comparable gas vehicles over the five year timeframe, with five vehicles showing double digit percentage savings ranging from 10 percent up to 39 percent.

This study seems a bit flawed because for the 3- to 5- year period they looked at (2005-10), diesel prices were generally cheaper than gas.  With the large increase in diesel since 2007, the fuel savings they predict is not valid. Besides, with more diesel powered vehicles on the road, the demand for diesel fuel will increase and thus the price per gallon could increase as well.

STUDY: Diesel TOC vs Gas - Chart

Also, for decades the used diesel car/truck market has been constrained by a lack of supply. With the amount of new diesel vehicles coming out, the laws of supply and demand will show that many diesel vehicles will see a drop in resale value.

The reality is that yes, diesel is making a strong comeback in North America and for good reason. The past diesel images of clouds of black smoke are fading away and the new clean diesel technology has many benefits. Yet, let’s not lose sight of diesel as just another option among a growing amount of new fuel and engine types.

What do you think? Is this study accurate or rubbish?

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Filed Under: Auto News


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  1. mendonsy says:

    There is also a LOT more emissions stuff on the newer diesels that wasn’t on those.
    Did that add in about $1k per year to have the catalytic converter regenerated??

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      I’m guessing they didn’t. I should have brought up the extra maintenance costs like you did. My excuse? I’m the average dumb American who doesn’t know diddly about diesel. LOL!


  2. toyrulz says:


    New clean diesels are not cheaper (where I am anyway). Bumped into a Cat dealer mechanic at a tire store and he was talking me up about my Toyota and talk turned to gas vs deisel.

    He said the only deisels that are ahead are de-regulated with all emmision stuff removed and running a tune. He has a buddy that has been to dealer once a month after week long limp mode due to clogged particulate filters and something else. He said cost for exhaust on these are thousands of dollars and are cleaning so much they are failing. He said think about how dirty deisel is – now consider these new ones have nearly no emmisions – there is cost for these systems and they are worked hard to keep it clean.

    So… Add cost of de-reg or replacing exhaust (and trips to dealer for a burn or three) to deisel cost.

    Here deisel almost same price as gas.

    To me, deisel makes sense for those who tow/haul lots regularly for many miles. Most are better served by strong gassers driven like little old ladies when not working. Also, my neighbour is a deisel mechanic – he just bought a gasser, said a deisel is a gun in a knife fight – why pay more for what’s not needed.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      Good stuff as always. I really like the last line from your diesel mechanic neighbor “a diesel is a gun in a knife fight.” Classic!


  3. mk says:

    With diesel around me being 40-50 cents more per gallon now that gas has dropped, unless I was regularly pulling over 5,000 lbs., NO way would I opt to spend 4-5K or more to get a diesel engine in a truck. GM came out now with a chevy cruze diesel and that thing is going to flop for sure I believe in my opinion. If it gets say 41 hwy mpg and a gas gets say 37 hwy mpg who would spend guessing 3K more to get a diesel vs. gas? Still don’t think in same terms a prius is worth spending 6 more over a corolla, no way can I justify that.

  4. toyrulz says:

    @MK – actually somebody did a cost analysis on Prius vs Corolla.

    From memory… The guy picked comparably trimmed models of each for starting price, then considered recomended maintenance/service costs and real world combined mileage for 20,000kms (say 12,000 miles) per year and found that it took about 6 years for to break even (where gas saved in prius has paid additional purchase price).

    His hypothesis was proven, Prius mpg savings will not pay for the added cost of hybrid technology (the average person trades cars at 4 years).

    Like deisel; where reasons still exist to buy Prius – gas savings to recoup cost isn’t one of them.

  5. LJC says:

    One important question not addressed is the cost of producing diesel fuel. I believe that it less than gas and a byproduct of its production.

    If this is true, then diesel fuel may be overpriced. I remember when it was way less than gas.

    I’ve alluded to this in the past and I’ll say it straight now. The steady increase in the price of fuel was planned many, many years ago… The dudes running pertoleum companies are very, very smart.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      And, another point, I just learned about diesel. The quality of fuel varies more than gas from fueling stations. A bad batch of diesel seems to have more disastrous results than gas from what I heard.


      • LJC says:

        That sounds familiar. The shelf life of it is shorter than gas and I recall hearing that “stuff” can grow in it.

        With this in mind, the fuel delivery system is much, much more complex than it is for a gasser. Much higher fuel injector pressure, a pre-injection cycle, fuel filtering, etc..

        And one more thing: diesel fuel pumps are usually nasty! When I had my 2001 Dodge 2500 4×4 with a Cummins (#53 block 🙁 ), I used to wear rubber gloves when handling the fuel pump! Nasty, nasty, nasty…

        • Tim Esterdahl says:


          I have heard that too with diesels that maintenance costs are more and they are dirtier engines. I’m not sure about this new breed of “clean” diesels. Is it just clean with regards to emissions? Is it still dirty to work on them?

          The issue we have discussed are why I thought this study was so surprising. I think diesel has its place and I am SURE Ram will sell lots of the 1500 diesel. I’m just not too sure many people really know what they are getting into.


  6. Mickey says:

    Prius would make the difference in 42 months. So in 4 years you would have 6 months in the green on a Prius Hybrid. Cost of difference is $19k for Corolla and $26k for a Prius. $7k would be made up in 42 months. Wife’s current 07 Prius Hybrid Pkg6 was $29k sticker. With her trade-in she went out the door at $24k. Back in 07 there was no rebates or that they could take anything off the price. Mileage now at 128,576 miles. Only things changed since we bought it was one set of wiper blades even the back one. One set of HID headlight bulbs. One taillight bulb, and one car battery. One set of iridium plugs. Wiper blades =$25, One taillight =$5, One Optima Battery $209, 2 HID bulbs $210. Irridium denzo plugs 4 cost $32. Besides normal maintenance add $481. Wife gets in the lower 50mpg to her job and back which is a 90 mile trip. Corolla at best gets 35mpg. If the wife did 55mph she would get in the 60mpg range. I don’t see where do you think this isn’t cost effective. I could care less because I drive a Tundra. She does strictly for mpg’s.

  7. Larry says:

    Diesel makes a lot of sense but not the way it is being deployed in the US.

    The diesel pickups we are seeing are all closing in on the 1000 foot pound. This is just plain crazy. Of all the diesel pickups on the road, I would guess that only 1 percent actually require that power output for daily use in heavy construction, ranching etc. Most are just cruising around empty. No way in hell an 8000 dollar diesel option will ever be cost effective in an empty truck.

    There is no real point in comparing costs on this kind of engine. Industrial use requires industrial engines which are diesel. Why don’t we see any big rigs running gas? Why not put a 15L gas engine in a long haul 100,000 pound truck? The answer is obvious they just won’t work in the long run hauling 100,000 pounds. This is the same reason the high RPM turbo gas motor does not make much sense. It might be good enough to pull loads once and a while but do it every day and the motor will ware out. Think about a big diesel running at 2000 RPM compared to a small light gas motor running at 5500. In heavy trucking gas motors wouldn’t last 1/10 as long. In addition, the internal parts connecting rods etc are much heavier to deal with the high compression loads of over 20:1. You can’t put heavy parts like that in a gas motor and redline them at 6500 RPM.

    The only exception we now have which is in the pipe is the new Ram 3.0 L diesel. This would at least be a reasonable comparison.

    The american obsession with huge power output for 1 percent use is just beyond comprehension. I for one have better use for my money then having to pay for a 6.2L gas motor or a big diesel to tow my 500 pound drift boat. For me a non-tubro V6 or 3.0L diesel will be plenty. When I was still working as an engineer in an office I worked with lots of people who owned monster diesel trucks who never pulled anything. It’s okay as it was their money bit some of them didn’t only lose their trucks, they lost their homes when the tech markets went south and they lost their jobs. They saved nothing.

    To compare a 5.7 HEMI to to 5.9 Cummins diesel is pointless.

    While the urea injections systems for converting NO2 are one thing the soot filters are another. Pumping fuel into the filter to burn off the soot at high temps looks like a costly system to me.

    Diesels are only efficient if you run them within the constraints of the burn rate of the fuel. Heavy rail engines run around 1000 RPM and never change speed. The drive wheels are electric. The engines run at 1 efficient speed, the only thing which changes is the fuel injection rate. The big 10 wheel dump trucks I drove many years ago had 10 speeds. Slow rev diesels just won’t work with 5 speed auto transmissions so we change the bore and stroke to get them to rev up but then we lose efficiency as the fuel doesn’t burn fast enough to match the speed of the engine. With big rigs we never stop shifting them. That won’t fly in the US car and light truck market. For the consumer market you have got to live with the fact the driver is not willing to learn, change or adapt to the the way the engine runs. Put the thing in “DRIVE” and start moving and it’s got to accelerate just like a high rev gas motor. Just not going to happen.

    Diesel will just not be cost effective in the US market as long as the only diesels we can get are big enough to pull a D!0 bulldozer and go zero to 60 like a gas motor.

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