Gas vs Diesel RVs: What You Need To Know
Let me start by saying that there’s no right or wrong answer to the gas vs diesel RVs question. Each engine type has advantages and disadvantages, and the choice to buy one or the other depends on you and your RVing goals. Perhaps listing the pros and cons for each engine type will help you decide which one is best for your unique needs.
Longevity, resale, and price
Bottom line: diesel rigs are more expensive. That is probably the biggest point of differentiation, but for this extra cost, you also get an engine with a much longer life and higher resale value.
A rig with a gas engine will probably need to be replaced after 150,000 to 200,000 miles, while a rig with a well-maintained diesel engine will still be fully functional after 400,000 miles or more.
For some, power is everything
A diesel engine also has more torque, meaning that it will climb hills better and maintain your vehicle’s speed during a climb, performing this task much better than its gas counterpart.
Even though diesel fuel is typically more expensive than gas, diesel engines get better mileage, so the cost per mile may be less with a diesel engine. Additionally, servicing a diesel engine is more costly than a gas engine, but it also requires less frequent service.
Diesel engines on all sizes of RVs
Diesel engines are used on all sizes of RVs, not just the largest Class A diesel pushers that may be built on a Freightliner chassis. The smallest Class B, Class C, and B+ rigs also can be equipped with diesel engines.
Just like you can buy Ford, Chevy, Ram, and Mercedes vehicles with either gas or diesel engines, you can also purchase virtually the same RV (same floor plans with comparable equipment) in either a gas or diesel configuration.
In some instances, the diesel rig may be built on a heavier chassis, but not in all cases. All the advantages of diesel mentioned above: longevity, resale value, more torque, fuel efficiency, and less frequent service appointments, apply for every size diesel RV.
Gas vs Diesel is a personal decision
The main considerations as to whether a diesel vs gas RVs is right for you, however, may not be based on any of these attributes. Some of the full-time RVers living in larger Class A motorhomes, that I have spoken to about their choice between a gas vs diesel RV, said the heavier chassis, greater carrying capacity, and long-term dependability of their diesel pusher were the deciding factors.
Another couple mentioned that they had owned both types of rigs and liked the quietness of rear-engine in their diesel rig (diesel pusher is a reference to the rear engine) and they liked the ability to maintain their speed in hilly terrain.
They thought the constant engine noise of their Class A gas motorhome was annoying, and they really appreciated the fact that the power plant in their diesel pusher was in the rear of the coach.
Class B, C, and B+ coaches have their power plants out in front of the driver’s compartment with at least one firewall between the passengers and the engine, which reduces engine noise, but Class A gas engines are literally positioned between the driver and passenger’s seat, and on steep grades, a Class A gas coach can be quite noisy.
Gas vs Diesel – There’s no wrong answer
Again, in the gas vs diesel RV controversy, one engine type is not better than the other. It depends on each RVer’s unique needs.
For example, one RVer plans to continually travel throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico and they intend to log hundreds of thousands of miles in their RV in only a few years. A diesel engine would probably be the better choice for this adventurer because diesel engines perform best when they get a lot of use, and they perform less well when left parked for extended periods of time.
Additionally, this RVer will benefit from less frequent service appointments, and an extended driving range between fuel stops, and the rig will still have a higher resale value when their travels are over.
On the other hand, another RVer intends to travel throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico but plans to stay longer at each destination (up to a month or more) to immerse themselves in the history, traditions, and culture in each new region.
They intend to travel for years but will not actually log that many miles during their travels since they will be stationary for long periods of time. Additionally, they plan to spend the bulk of their travel time in the mountainous terrain of the western half of the continent.
These RVers will probably be best served by a gas engine, even though a diesel engine offers better torque for climbing hills, cold weather, and high altitudes adversely affect diesel engines, as do long periods of idleness.
Furthermore, even though these folks intend to travel for many years, and diesel engines are fully functional for hundreds of thousands of miles, the rest of the systems in their motorhome, will probably not last as long as the engine.
There will be more resale value in the diesel engine, but if the rest of the coach is worn out from many years of use, the higher engine resale value is less impactful. After all, there are many components and systems in an RV and they don’t all wear out at the same pace. The engine might have thousands of miles of unused functionality, but the rest of the coach is spent.
Primary differences between gas and diesel motorhomes
Diesel rigs have:
- Higher fuel prices offset by better fuel efficiency
- Longer range between fill-ups
- More expensive but fewer service appointments
- More torque offset by the need to purchase and use Diesel Exhaust Fluid* (DEF)
- More initial cost offset by higher resale value
*Diesel Exhaust Fluid is a required exhaust additive that converts harmful exhaust soot into inert compounds. DEF can be purchased online or at most fuel stops and must be used with all 2010 or newer diesel engines.
We chose a gas-powered motorhome
We actually just went through this decision process in the last year. After driving a Class A gas coach for 120,000 miles, over a span of 20 years, we had to decide if our next RV was going to be a gas RV or a diesel pusher. We knew we wanted another Class A motorhome, but we had to evaluate all the trade-offs listed above as it pertained to our unique situation.
Based on our budget, it came down to a used diesel or a new gas coach, and after driving our other gas rig for 120,000 miles we decided the gas option had served us well in the past. If our first rig had been a diesel pusher it wouldn’t have made that much difference in the resale value, since the coach was 20 years old.
Even though we had maintained it well, it was still a 1999 RV and as such, it was old by any standard. All the systems worked, the interior and exterior were in good condition, but that just was not as important as the overall age when determining the resale value.
We pondered the gas vs diesel RV question for weeks and finally decided that a new gas RV fit us better than a used diesel. Others will disagree with our choice, but that’s just it. There is no right answer for everyone. Only individual decisions that fit each RVer’s unique circumstances. I advise you to take your time, think long and hard about the differences between a gas vs diesel RV, then choose wisely.
We aren’t alone in choosing a gas motorhome. Said Julie Bennett of RV Love when buying their Tiffin gas RV,
“Ultimately, we chose the coach that was a perfect fit for OUR needs – based on floorplan, layout, quality, build and the price we were willing to pay.”
Don’t forget maintenance
Whether you choose a gas or diesel motorhome, don’t skimp on maintenance. Keep track of your maintenance with a cloud-based solution like Maintain My RV. Most handy RVers can perform much of their own maintenance on gas motorhomes, while diesel owners may need a specialist more often. Either way, keep track of the service performed on your rig.
Gas vs diesel RV isn’t the only thing you’ll want to consider. Check out this Advice That Every New RV Owner Should Know
I am an author and writer, my partner is a web designer. We are full time RVers traveling around the US and Canada. We’ve been RVing for over 20 years and we’ve traveled more than 130,000 miles in an RV.