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The Great Four Wheeler 4x4 Throwdown - Great Debates

High Diesel Prices
Four Wheeler Staff | Writer
Posted September 1, 2008
Photographers: The Usual Gang Of Idiots

Gas Or Diesel? Ifs Or Solid Axle? Our Editors Tell You What Setups Works Best Or Not

As a rule, we try to avoid arguments. Hey, we're lovers, not fighters-it's our nature. Like Ferdinand the Bull of storybook lore, we'd rather spend our time outdoors smelling the roses than feuding-heck, isn't that why we go venturing into the backcountry in the first place?

But every now and then, while wheeling the trail, we overhear some smarty-pants remark about "inferior front suspension" or "that cruddy carb" that really gets our dander up, and Real Men that we are, we just gotta throw down the gauntlet (OK, the Mechanix gloves) and engage in a little playful 4x4 smacktalk. In the following pages we'll cover several points of contention-gas or diesel? carb or injection? leaf springs or coils?-that wheelers have debated 'round the campfire for years. We may not convince any true believers out there, but hopefully we'll provide you with some food for thought that'll help you out the next time you find yourself stuck in the middle of a good ol'-fashioned 4x4 Throwdown.

With sky high diesel prices and a premium for diesel drivetrains, gasoline is still the most economically viable fuel.

Gasoline: The Superior Fuel
Diesel has recently been touted as the great savior, especially now that its gritty reputation has been minimized and clean technologies such as low-sulfur fuels and exhaust after-treatments are coming on line, but is this enough to make diesel the better fuel to most wheelers? My argument is no, and that gasoline is still the superior fuel.

Why would I argue for gas? How about its greater availability, for one? The infrastructure for gasoline far exceeds that of diesel and if you've ever had the "low fuel" light on in a diesel truck as you anxiously look to refuel your oil-burner, you'll know how frustrating this can be. Gasoline engines also run smoother and quieter, and are much easier to start in cold weather. Gasoline also has the distinct advantage of engine braking and immediate throttle response, as opposed to the turbo lag and no engine braking afflicting most diesel engines. Speaking of turbos, aren't those expensive? You're damn right they are. Whatever happened to the advantage of a diesel being its simplicity? One look under the hood of a modern diesel truck and you will see this is no longer the case. Now saddled with specialized high-pressure fuel systems, turbos, intercoolers, particulate filters, and soon after-treatments of urea all bring the cost of the diesel option up even further, which means the cost benEFIt of a diesel over the lifetime of a vehicle now takes longer to see, especially when you consider diesel fuels higher price. As of this writing, regular 87 gas was $4.33 in our neighborhood, while diesel was a stunning $5.19-almost a full 20-percent more expensive.

This leads me in to my next point. Because diesel fuel holds more energy per gallon than gasoline, they typically get 20-percent better fuel economy than gas, but if the fuel itself is 20-percent more expensive, it appears to be a wash to me. Especially when you consider that clean diesels don't typically see the full 20-percent economy improvement that diesels enjoyed before the new emissions equipment was required. So now that we know diesels are more expensive to buy (don't be fooled by those who say diesels have a higher resale value, as they're more expensive than gas new, and this is reflected in the used market), more expensive to fuel, and did you know more expensive to service? That's right, a higher volume of pricey diesel-specific oil, fuel filters, and water separators all conspire to raise the price of service. Factor in 100,000-mile tune-ups and 7,500-mile-or-greater service intervals for gas engines and the deck appears to be stacked against diesel. Sure, diesels have superior durability, but if you aren't hauling at max load all the time and aren't planning on keeping your rig past the 200,000 miles that most modern gas engines are good for these days, do you really need to pay the premium for diesel?

The fact of the matter is, gasoline is still plentiful, relatively cheap, and can be found on any corner in America-not something you can say about diesel. Also, the historic simplicity and affordability that used to make diesel the attractive option is no longer the case. In conclusion, there is a reason why gas has been the fuel of choice for more than 100 years and if it's in my garage, I have got to go with gas.
-Sean P. Holman

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