Pickup Trucks 101: Gas Vs. Diesel

Two Pickup Trucks Nose To Nose

By Matthew Barnes

If you are in the market for a new pickup truck, you may be wondering if you should get a gas engine or a diesel engine since there are significant differences between the two. Those differences vary for mid-size, light-duty full-size and heavy-duty full-size pickups.

Related: Considering a Diesel Pickup? Here Are Costs to Ponder

Which is best for you? Let's look at the differences of the two engine types, focusing not only on the engines themselves, but also on the components that are different between them.


Advantage: Diesel

As with all things automotive, there is no perfect answer here. Diesels are known to last hundreds of thousands of miles. Some people even joke that they aren't even fully broken in until you hit 100,000 miles. Pre-2005 diesel trucks had very few emissions requirements and therefore didn't have the same emissions systems that new diesel engines have. Generally speaking, diesel engines are built with stronger engine blocks and internals to handle the significantly higher compression ratios when compared to gas engines. Because of this, they tend to handle being worked harder for longer periods of time than gas engines.

If the engine only occasionally has a heavy load placed on it, gas engines can last just as long. Last year, Toyota traded trucks with a man who had put 1 million miles on his Tundra with the 4.7-liter V-8 gas engine. With newer diesels, the engines may be just as durable as the diesels of old. However, due to stricter emissions restrictions, there are a variety of other pricey components that will affect the longevity of the truck. Also, if you want a manual transmission in a full-size truck, your only option is the Ram with the Cummins diesel on the 2500 and 3500 trucks. For those planning to keep their trucks for a long time, manual transmissions are generally less expensive to operate.


Advantage: Gas

Generally, the maintenance on a diesel will cost more than on a gas engine. Diesels hold more oil, making it more expensive to change. Between the fuel and exhaust systems, there are a lot of filters and components that will need changing that you won't find on a gas engine. New diesel engines also require diesel exhaust fluid, which needs to be added to meet emissions requirements.

Diesels run at lower rpm, which reduces wear on many engine components. Where the diesel can make up for the higher cost of operation is when it is run hard for long periods of time. Under those conditions, gas engines are likely to have more costly internal failures than diesel engines.

Ford EcoBoost Logo

Fuel Mileage

Advantage: Diesel

Fifteen years ago, it was common to see 25-plus mpg from a heavy-duty diesel engine. Now, most real-world drivers see less than 20 mpg. On the other hand, light-duty and mid-size diesel trucks today can see EPA ratings up to 30 mpg. If the truck is used to haul lighter loads for long distances, then a half-ton or mid-size diesel might be the best choice — again, diesel engines perform best when heavily loaded. A heavily loaded diesel will generally return higher mpg than an equally loaded gas engine.

In short, if a heavy-duty pickup is needed day in and day out, a diesel engine will likely save money in fuel. If the truck will only be hauling a small load or be driven empty, a mid-size pickup with a diesel will cost less in fuel to drive than a comparable truck with a gas engine.

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One other thing to consider is the availability of fuel for gas or diesel: For populated areas, this isn't an issue, but in some areas it may be harder to find diesel fuel than gasoline.

Cost of Ownership

Advantage: Use- and Class-Dependent

Once again, this depends on how the pickup truck is being used. If it's hauling heavy loads daily and is going to be used for more than 200,000 miles before being replaced, a diesel is likely going to be less expensive in the long run. If the main use for the truck is to pull a camping trailer that's well below the maximum towing capacity of the truck — or to look cool while getting groceries — then a gas engine will likely be less expensive overall. Upfront costs for a heavy-duty diesel can be more than $10,000 greater than an equivalent gas engine. This cost goes toward the engine itself, the stronger transmission and drivetrain, and additional emissions components.

Chevrolet Duramax and Allison Logos

For mid-size and light-duty pickup trucks, a diesel engine offers significant fuel mileage improvements, and the diesel option is only around $3,000-$5,000 more than the gas.

If the truck is accumulating a lot of miles each year, better fuel mileage can make up for the additional cost of the diesel engine within a few years. Typically, that includes paying a little more money for diesel fuel over gasoline.

The final thing to consider, which often gets overlooked, is the resale price of the truck. Pickups with diesel engines historically retain a higher value than comparable gas powered trucks.


Advantage: Diesel for Towing, Gas for Hauling

For towing, a diesel engine is almost always the better option. Diesels have a lot of torque at low rpm, which is what you want when towing. They get better fuel mileage when heavily loaded and last longer. Another nice aspect about most diesel engines is the integrated exhaust brake. This greatly helps in controlling the truck and trailer when descending steep hills or when driving in traffic. The exhaust brake slows the truck by using back pressure from the turbo to slow the engine down. Having this additional method of braking reduces the wear and tear on the brake system, and it reduces the likelihood of the brakes overheating.

Ram 2500 Towing Downhill

Trucks with gas engines are often rated with a higher payload capacity than the equivalent truck with a diesel because diesel engines and their associated systems weigh significantly more than their gas counterparts. The power of a diesel and the exhaust brake will still be helpful when hauling a heavy payload, but if the truck is being pushed to its limits, then the lighter weight of the gas engine will allow for a higher payload.


Advantage: Class-Dependent

The obvious choice for power in the heavy-duty market is the diesel. Gas engines today just don't compare to diesels when it comes to torque. Ford, GM and Ram all push more than 900 pounds-feet of torque in their one-ton pickups; gas equivalents don't even top 500 pounds-feet. A diesel is suited for a hard day's work and will be able to perform where a gas engine simply can't.

For light-duty and medium-duty pickups, the torque advantage achieved from the diesel doesn't overcome the horsepower of the equivalent gas engines. For example, the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado with the baby Duramax only has 181 horsepower but a respectable 369 pounds-feet of torque; the 3.6-liter V-6 gas engine has 308 hp and 275 pounds-feet of torque. The extra horsepower from the faster-revving and higher-revving gas engines make them quicker for spirited driving. The diesels in these classes are designed for maximum efficiency while still being able to get most jobs done. In the heavy-duty class, the engines are designed for maximum power while still being reliable.


Advantage: Gas (for Americans)

Many people may be upset at the opinion that gas is the better engine for off-roading, but there are compelling reasons for it. The heavier weight of the diesel at the front of the truck can be detrimental to off-road driving if the vehicle gets stuck in mud or sand. Gas engines also rev faster and redline higher. This gives them a wider operating rpm range in each gear, good for desert running and clearing mud from the tires.

Automatic transmissions are so good these days, the higher rpm range of a gas engine isn't as much of a benefit over a diesel as it once was. Diesels — especially when equipped with manuals — offer more low-speed control for rock crawling. The slow-revving low-end torque is great for getting the vehicle to move up steep inclines without spinning the tires. Also, with the extra torque from a diesel, the truck will have an easier time turning oversized tires. The kings of factory off-road trucks include the Ford F-150 Raptor with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost:

2017 Ford F-150 Raptor 3.5-Liter EcoBoost Engine

And the Ram 2500 Power Wagon with the 6.4-liter Hemi:

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon 6.4-Liter Hemi Engine

Both are available with gas engines only. The new off-roader being built by Chevy, the Colorado ZR2, can be equipped with either a gas or diesel engine. For overlanding rather than strict off-roading, diesels are the engine of preference for improved fuel economy and longevity. In other parts of the world, diesel engines are used extensively as they are often more reliable and can handle lower-quality fuel. Organizations like the Red Cross, the Peace Corps and the U.N. use diesel-equipped Jeeps, Land Rovers and Land Cruisers because of their reliability in rough, dusty, dirty conditions.


Advantage: Use-Dependent

There is no obvious winner between a gas and diesel engine. Each one performs better in certain areas; it all comes down to how the truck is going to be used and what the owner prefers.

Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes


2017 Ford F-350 Diesel Exhaust Fluid Filler Door



But we have the backdrop of Fremont peak 3000 foot mountain still, and it's most popular bay area hiking trail. I understand that housing will not displace that any time soon!

Advantage: Diesel

I'm not sure this is true any longer. I drove a 2002 Durmax/Allision to 298K miles before I lost compression in the #7 cylinder and the engine started smoking badly from the breather at the front of the engine. That truck also went through 3 sets of injectors.

My 2011 F150 with the 5.0 now has 136K miles and has been more reliable up to this point. I think it can hit 300K.
Posted by: nlp | Aug 17, 2017 8:18:39 AM

There are tons of Duramax's in the Million Mile club. I have never seen a Coyote 5.0 with even half of that. And considering the Coyote doesn't even have iron cylinder liners, I doubt we ever will. Especially with the weak oil pump used in Coyote's. Then there's the constant timing chain issues that have killed hundreds of thousands of OHC Ford engines. Cheap Silent timing chains that stretch and wear out early, tensioners that leak down and let the chain whip around snapping the plastic chain guides. Cam phasers that wear out and risk slamming valves into pistons. Cheap rockers that bust off out of the blue.

You're lucky your 5.0 hasn't developed the infamous "Coyote knock". Half the 5.0's I've heard running have a knock. Some are due to bore distortion and cause piston failures. Others develop rod knock. The Coyote was a rush job and it shows in a lot of ways.



Can you name a Ford v8 since the Windsor was dropped that has not had some serious design or Q/A problems. Plastic intake manifolds, lousy EGR, head gasket failures, timing chains?

Of all the cars and trucks I ever owned the only motor that just blew up was a Ford Essex v6. Less than 100k miles. Water pumps, EGR valves, intake hassles. Dismal.

Windsor V8s were mostly trouble free except for some problems with emission controls and fuel systems.

I don't know, what ecoboost is doing in the picture in here.

I don't know, what ecoboost is doing in the picture in here.

Posted by: RAM | Aug 17, 2017 9:37:42 PM

Notice it is located under the heading "maintenance" as in "high maintenance".

I wouldn't buy a truck without a diesel. They start well in the cold Canadian climate during winter months, get great fuel economy, pull loads so much easier and are very clean and quiet now. Diesel is always cheaper at the pump here.
There is no comparison between gas or diesel in a truck . Cars are better suited for a gaspot.

I love gas and with the 10,000 i saved on a diesel i can add a super charger on my gas and have forced induction like a diesel.


A diesel running on the new HVO is far more environmentally friendly. Reduction of 90 % CO2 and less NOx.


I once owned a 2005 Sprinter Van with the 2.7 diesel and had nothing but engine trouble since day one. Every 15K-20K miles the turbo would fail with a $2500 repair bill, the inner cooler and hoses failed.
It won't start in the winter when its below freezing.

Getting diesel fuel was a hassle!
Every gas station, convenience store had 2 lanes that shared the gasoline with the diesel pump.
Sooo ! when ALL the other 10 lanes of gas pumps were empty with NO cars getting gasoline I ALWAYS HAD TO WAIT FOR A CAR AHEAD OF ME GETTING GAS BLOCKING THE ONLY LANE WITH A DIESEL PUMP!
I used to go crazy! yelling and screaming people to MOVE and bad words and threats were exchanged but after they finished pumping gas they just had to walk into the store and get coffee forcing me to wait longer!


High load not high rpm is what causes the motor to revert back to spark controlled ignition.

I had that wrong

the best way to make a pickup more efficient, better gas mileage and more power is to design a CVT transmission!
the current automatics fluid drive take power away from the engine where the CVT has a direct drive with only a few parts.
the CVT has evolved with new belt designs that makes them super reliable plus you have an almost unlimited gear ratios.

pssssstttt ! Ford is promoting their 10 speed transmissions, but a CVT has 1000 speeds !or 5000, or 100,000 how ever small of a ratio you measure it

I keep looking at my ATV's and SxS's and amazed how a 500cc single cyl engine can tow 2000 lbs and haul 1000 lbs and have a 60 mph top speed and I wonder why can't they make a full size street legal pickup truck with the same design?

current automatics fluid drive take power away from the engine where the CVT has a direct drive with only a few parts.

@Tom 3

Wrong. CVT's have a torque converter just like any other auto trans.

I agree that CVT's have their strong points but they have trans fluid and hydraulic couplings that create friction and heat just like another other auto trans.

@Tom 3--In the future you could see CVTs used in trucks. The cost and complexity of most of today's automatic transmissions could make CVTs a viable alternative especially since the belt drives have become more reliable. Manufacturers will eventually reach a point where adding more speeds to an automatic will not get any more efficiency but will become more costly and more complex. My preference is a manual transmission but those are dying out and the only full size truck offering a manual is the heavy duty Ram otherwise one has to get a midsize pickup that is a base model except the Tacoma.

As for diesels versus gas there are enough people who need and want a diesel to keep them viable for years. Gasoline will still be more popular based on cost and many of us don't really need a diesel. For the type of driving I do a diesel would not be worth the extra cost but my handyman and landscape guy both have Powerstrokes and use them for commercial use. Both of them keep their trucks for years and put hundreds of thousands of miles on their trucks.

Big Al,
"China is much larger and more powerful than the US???"
Only in population.

Not in land area....
#1 Russia 6.6 million square miles
tie 2 Canada 3.8 million square miles
tie 2 United States 3.8 million square miles
4 China 3.7 million square miles

Not in GDP...
US GDP is $18T
China is $11T
They will likely eventually overtake us in terms of GDP in 20+

Not in Defense spending....
US defense spending is nearly $600B
China defense spending is $200B

US also has more colleges and universities, in fact China still sends it's "best and brightest" to US colleges and universities.
It will take "generations" for China to match the US in higher education.

Ok high load on HCCI for revert back to spark plugs. I read somewhere that the sailing ship became much more efficient in the face of steam ship coming around. Gas engine seems to be in the same place with diesel and electric coming around.

In power electronics, switching power supply's specifically, the power transistors that switch, to provide power to the load, are directed by the drive circuitry to switch in a Pulse Width Modulation PWM fashion when the load, ie a CPU, is drawing heavy current. At light loads they are directed to switch in a Pulse Frequency Modulation PFM method. PFM skips pulses because the load doesn't need the current from the main power source. Switching transistors on and off draws power, so if your load doesn't need high power, during part of it's cycle, why not just skip some switching pulses. Loading a website draws more power than when it's already loaded. Hopefully you see the similarity with the HCCI.

So what percentage are the spark plugs on in HCCI? Quantify. Kind of takes the "thunder" out of the whole HCCI press release.

I could quantify a light load at less than 0.3Amp load draw on the tablet type switching power supply's I was involved with. One could see the skipped pulses on the oscilloscope. Ie being in PFM mode. And then as the load got higher than 0.3A, fewer skipped pulses would occur until none were skipped at which time one was in full PWM mode (0.4A-10A), ie heavy load.


Now I know papa is losing it. Test what?

Jeff S

Thank You for a very well written response to my CVT idea.
and for not trashing or making fun of me.

@Jeff S


I am independently reviewing a simple metacognitive source-detection feature in the newest and most popular virtual OS (sorry but I don't have permission to use the product name) that allows a third party to view the entire detail of an email header even if text is the only source data available.

That along with the insight I've gained reading so many comments from the regulars here at PUTC can show me when a single commenter is posting under multiple IDs.

Fun, huh?

@papa jim--Ok all is good. Thought you were making another snide remark. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

@Tom#3--You are welcome. This should be an open forum without tearing others down. More manufacturers are gong to CVTs because of cost and less complexity. CVTs have become more reliable. Don't know of any trucks using CVTs but it is just a matter of time before they are in trucks.

@Tom 3

the basic design concept for CVT has been around for at least 100 years.

At that time the big factories used CVT drives to run the machines in the plant, with big overhead driveshafts using belts and pulleys to permit the end user to vary the torque and the speed based on the needs of the specific work station.

I understand that some kinds of electric transit buses use a kind of CVT to drive the wheels.

The CVTs we see in cars today are rather small compared to the stuff used industrially. They can be beefy enough to handle a lot of torque.

@Jeff S

Snide remark?

No. I rarely make snide comments. If I were, it might sound like this:

"Jeff S uses statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost---for support rather than for illumination"

Just an example. Nothing specific. Could apply to others as well.

Canada is #2 in land area and USA is #3


CVT transmission is cheap garbage and lasts not more than 70k miles.
It works by the interlocking the segments to the rotors, which worn outs components quickly. The gear box is full of metal shavings.
It's bastard of any transmission.

Same old papa jim.

@Jeff S

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go

Those old 2.2L/2200 OHV 4 cylinder engines probably will outlast them all.

The repair costs of a diesel is enough to keep me away. Many times you could replace a gas engine with a new one for the cost of some diesel repairs that I have seen.

The repair costs of a diesel is enough to keep me away. Many times you could replace a gas engine with a new one for the cost of some diesel repairs that I have seen.

Posted by: Eric | Aug 20, 2017 12:00:44 AM

HAHA well if it's a Powerstroke that you're considering, then yeah, you'll need to factor in all the repair costs. Cummmins and Duramax, not so much.

@Red--I have a 2.2 I-4 that is still running strong after 18 years.

"More manufacturers are gong to CVTs because of cost and less complexity."

CVTs work great for relatively lightweight cars but have they really proven themselves tough enough to handle a heavy load?

"More manufacturers are gong to CVTs because of cost and less complexity."

CVTs work great for relatively lightweight cars but have they really proven themselves tough enough to handle a heavy load?

Presently Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Ford (and others?) are using CVTs in hybrid models, and some of the non hybrids as well. Deployed in an automotive application, the CVT offers a simpler replacement for a conventional transmission gearbox. I know of no automaker using the CVT in a manual trans w/clutch and shifter, but there's no reason why something like that wouldn't work. In the auto trans, you still have to employ a fluid coupling to provide a "liquid clutch" (torque converter, trans fluid, etc).

In regard to heavy applications, that's already been done in other industries. Heavy equipment, etc.

@RoadWhale--No CVTs have not been put in trucks but that doesn't mean they never will.


Jeff S is mistaken.

Starting in 2009, General Motors offered a Gen II half ton Silverado and GMC Sierra hybrid. Each of the hybrids used a CVT in place of the Silverado/Sierra's conventional 4 spd auto.

@papajim--I don't like your tone.

@papajim--Such a nasty guy.

Um ….. I don’t think the Russian sanctions stop all business.

The sanctions are designed as best they can to target the Russian thugs and criminals like Putin (Trumps best mate) and his merry band of Mafia thugs.

Where are your imported pickups?

Did not realize the hybrid Siverado/Sierra had a CVT. Were they the only trucks with a CVT?

Where are your imported pickups?

Where are your imported pickups?

Where are your imported pickups?

Did not realize the hybrid Siverado/Sierra had a CVT. Were they the only trucks with a CVT?

@Jeff S

The common approach to hybrid drivetrains is an Atkinson cycle gas engine combined with an electric motor, utilizing a CVT trans. This is the approach that Toyota uses, and most others copy. The Atikinson motor is weak at slow engine speeds and the CVT helps make the most of it.

@papajim--Attention. You are in violation of the rules.

Try to be civil to your fellow blog readers.

Wild Will has spoken.

Please remember a few rules before posting comments:

Try to be civil to your fellow blog readers.

The right answer to Gas or Diesel ?
It might be Achates OP-engine which can run on both. Achates will present testengines in several trucks some 4-5 months from now.

They are claiming 37 mpg in an avarage truck. That may rewrite the whole motoring-map


hybrid gm trucks never used cvts btw

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