Diesel Motorhomes Vs. Gassers

One of the first questions that any prospective motorhome buyer needs to ask is “diesel or gas?” While the overwhelming majority of rigs run on gasoline, there are plenty of diesel motorhomes (including small rigs) to choose from as well. The image of diesel motorhomes as behemoths of the road — massive, mobile, class A palaces — is well deserved, but it’s far from the entire picture. A lot of great little class B motorhomes are built on diesel platforms, and there are also both small class C motorhomes and small class A motorhomes that run on diesel — although “small” is a relative term in this case. For example, small class A rigs can be found in the low-twenty-foot range, while the very shortest diesel pusher on the market is currently Tiffin’s Allegro Breeze, which clocks in at just shy of thirty feet.

The Benefits of Diesel Motorhomes

The main reasons to go with diesel over gas are:

  • Torque
  • Longevity
  • Resale value
  • Fuel economy
diesel fuel

Fuel economy is one benefit provided by diesel motorhomes.

There are a lot of differences between gas and diesel engines, and one of the areas where those differences are most readily apparent is in available torque. If you’re looking at a longer RV, then this extra torque can make a huge difference, which is one of the reasons that so many diesel pushers are so long — the increased torque from the rear engine diesel platform allows them to be. Of course, extra torque also comes in handy with smaller rigs. Regardless of how long your motorhome is, or what class it is, you’re going to notice (and appreciate) that extra torque when it comes time to climb up and over steep hills or mountain passes.

Greater torque also makes diesel motorhomes especially well suited to towing. If you go with a class C gasser that’s at the upper end of the thirty foot range, and you try to pull a heavy toad, boat, or trailer, climbing up and over steep mountain passes isn’t going to be the most enjoyable thing in the world. Even heavy duty class A gassers can struggle under their own weight when presented with steep inclines, which is why diesel motorhomes are worth a look to anyone who wants to tow anything when they hit the road.

Diesel motorhomes also tend to have greater longevity and retain their resale values better than gas rigs. So whether you plan on driving your motorhome into the ground, or selling it in a few years, diesel rigs provide a benefit in both situations. They also tend towards better fuel economy than gas rigs since diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines. Of course, that benefit can be offset a bit depending on the relative costs of gas and diesel fuel.

Diesel Motorhomes and Greenhouse Gasses

Another difference between diesel motorhomes and gas rigs is how much carbon they expel every time you head out on a camping trip. Diesel motorhomes produce less CO2 than gas rigs because they are more efficient. However, there is something of a tradeoff here as well. While diesel engines produce less CO2 than gas engines in order to do the same amount of work, they actually emit more particulate matter and NOx. The soot that diesel engines can contribute to smog, although that may be less of a concern if you’re driving cross country than if you’re commuting around the same area every single day. Of course, studies have also shown that gas engines produce more secondary organic aerosols than diesel engines, so the issue of emissions is far from cut and dry.

Drawbacks of Diesel Motorhomes

Some of the main drawbacks of diesel motorhomes include:

  • Cost of maintenance
  • Lack of choices
  • Purchase price

While diesel motorhomes tend to last a long time, and they often need less maintenance than gas rigs, the actual cost of maintenance can be quite high. Even a simple oil change can put a pretty big dent in your pocket book, and you’ll have to deal with these increased costs of ownership for the life of the rig. You also have less choices when initially selecting a diesel motorhome since most rigs use gas engines. There are still plenty of choices across all three motorhome classes, but the variety isn’t there like it is with gas motorhomes.

Of course, the initial purchase price of diesel motorhomes tends to be higher than gas motorhomes as well. Just for the sake of comparison, check out a couple of class B rigs from Roadtrek’s current lineup:

ModelPlatformSeatingSleepsMSRP (USD)
Ranger RTChevrolet 250042$74,256+
210 PopularChevrolet Express 350053$102,375+
SS AgileMercedes Sprinter52$103,948+
RS E-trekMercedes Sprinter75$127,686+

As you can see, Roadtrek’s cheapest diesel motorhome is a little more expensive than their most expensive gas motorhome. The price differential is often even more drastic when looking at class A gas motorhomes vs. diesel pushers.

big diesel motorhomes dwarf smaller rigs

Some diesel motorhomes are giants, but that doesn’t mean they all are.

So Which is Better: Gas or Diesel?

Both diesel motorhomes and gas rigs have benefits and drawbacks, so the best one to go with will depend on your specific situation. If you’re willing to shell out more initially, and pay more for individual repair operations, then you owe it to yourself to check out some diesel motorhomes while you are shopping around. It’s also a good idea to consider diesel rigs if you want to tow anything. While you can tow a heavy boat or toad with a gas motorhome, and countless other RVers do just that ever day, there’s no denying that the extra torque of a diesel engine makes the job easier.

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