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.
How RV Engine Fuel Type Affects Cost of Ownership
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 may need to be replaced after 150,000 to 200,000 miles. But a rig with a well-maintained diesel engine is often fully functional after 400,000 miles or more.
A diesel engine also has more torque. It climbs hills better and maintains your vehicle’s speed during a climb. It performs 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.
RV Engines Can Be Gas or Diesel
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. You can get the 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 RVs include longevity, resale value, more torque, fuel efficiency, and less frequent service appointments. These factors apply for every size diesel RV.
Whether you choose a gas or diesel motorhome, don’t skimp on maintenance. Keep track of your maintenance with a cloud-based solution like RV LIFE Maintenance. 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.
Primary differences between gas and diesel motorhomes
Diesel rigs and gas motorhomes have some big differences.
- Diesel rigs have higher fuel prices (but offset by better fuel efficiency)
- They also have a longer range between fill-ups
- Gas motorhomes are cheaper, but diesel ones need fewer service appointments
- Diesel RVs have more torque, but gas powered RVs don’t need Diesel Exhaust Fluid* (DEF)
- Gas motorhomes have less resale value than diesel RVs.
*Diesel Exhaust Fluid is a required exhaust additive. It converts harmful exhaust soot into inert compounds. DEF can be purchased online or at most fuel stops. It must be used with all 2010 or newer diesel engines.
Choosing Your RV Engine Type? Here’s What to Consider.
Your main considerations as to whether a diesel vs gas RVs is right for you may not be based on any of these attributes. Some of the full-time RVers living in larger Class A motorhomes 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. They 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. Later, they 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. This reduces engine noise, but Class A gas engines are literally positioned between the driver and passenger’s seat. On steep grades, a Class A gas coach can be quite noisy.
The Answer to the Gas vs Diesel Debate is Personal
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. An extended driving range between fuel stops is another benefit. The rig will still have a higher resale value when their travels are over.
What about RVers who travel less miles?
On the other hand, another RVer intends to travel throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. 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. That’s 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.
Even though these folks intend to travel for many years, diesel engines are fully functional for hundreds of thousands of miles. The rest of the systems in their motorhome probably won’t last as long as the engine.
There will be more resale value in the diesel engine. The higher engine resale value is less impactful if the rest of the coach is worn out from many years of use, After all, there are many components and systems in an RV. 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.
Why 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. 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. After all, 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. Finally we 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.”
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
Peggy Dent is an author, writer, and full-time RVer, traveling around the US and Canada. She’s traveled more than 130,000 miles in a motorhome, over the past 20 years, and is currently writing for the RV industry. You can contact her through her website at www.APenInYourHand.com