Weighing the costs of diesel vs. gasoline

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Even though diesel sales have been struggling in recent years, U.S. automakers have been unveiling new diesel models left and right.

The 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal and growing scrutiny of diesel vehicles certainly put the brakes on some sales. According to hybridcars.com, U.S. light-duty diesel sales fell 19 percent in 2017 to 94,810 and accounted for less than 1 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.

But in January, Ford announced its first ever diesel F-150. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this month, General Motors announced a diesel option for the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado. GM is already offering diesel versions of the Equinox, Cruze, Colorado, Express and medium and heavy-duty trucks.

There’s a lot that goes in to choosing between a diesel or gas vehicle. Paul Isely, association dean for the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business, pulled a hypothetical truck to crunch some numbers and compare the costs for drivers.

He used a recent Grand Rapids prices of $2.53 per gallon for gasoline and $2.93 per gallon for diesel to map out the costs for the same model truck, one using gas and the other diesel, over one year.

“So that 521 gallons of gas would cost $1,320 and 428 gallons of diesel would cost $1,255, giving us a difference of about $64 a year. Not much of a savings right now given that diesel is selling for a premium,” Isely said.

He was quick to point out that there are other things you need to consider. For one, you’re going to burn fewer gallons of diesel fuel than gasoline for the same number of miles. Because diesel costs more than gasoline, the more miles that you drive, the more you’ll save.

But most likely, the money savings won’t be what you expect. Diesels have different characteristics for towing, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and because you’re burning fewer gallons for the same number of miles, you can get greater range on a full tank.

“So what we’re looking at right now is that price-wise, it looks like it’s almost a wash. It might be a little more expensive for a diesel in the total cost of ownership, but depending on what characteristics you need, it might be worth it,” Isely said.

He said that’s especially true if you’re going to get a truck to use it like a truck.

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