The Diesel Dilemma

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The last time people began to sweat the cost of gas, they were able to turn to diesels. The cars delivered tremendous mileage (e.g., a VW Rabbit diesel was capable of 50-plus MPG, as good or better than a new Prius hybrid) and – perhaps as important – the fuel itself was cheaper than gasoline.diesel pumps pic

You may recall.

What happened?


Diesel fuel became more expensive than gasoline – because of government edicts that made it more rather than less expensive to refine. Today’s “ultra-low sulfur” diesel runs close to $4 a gallon in my neck of the Woods vs. just over $3 for a gallon of regular unleaded.

This cost-to-feed disparity takes a lot away from the economic argument in favor of buying a diesel-powered car. Especially given that modern diesel-powered cars – though excellent in many ways – are also a great deal less fuel-efficient than the diesel powered cars of the ’70s and ’80s (the era before government got around to hassling diesels to the extent that it had been hassling gas-powered cars). Engine design had to be altered; exhaust systems changed up. Almost all current-year diesel-powered passenger cars have particulate traps and “regeneration” (diesel fuel is injected into the exhaust to after-burn it for emissions control reasons; of course, fuel used to burn off soot is fuel not used to propel the car – and your mileage goes down).particlate trap 1

Most (virtually all) current-year diesel-powered passenger cars also require something called Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) to achieve compliance with emissions regs. That is, to placate the government (at your expense). The DEF – basically, urea (that is, piss) – is contained in a separate tank that must be regularly topped off. The DEF works kind of like a gas engine’s catalytic converter, chemically altering the composition of the exhaust stream.

Whether this is good or bad is ultimately neither here nor there as far as the consumer appeal of diesel-powered cars.

Historically, the primary reason for going with a diesel rather than a gas-engined car (all else being equal) was the prospect that the diesel would – hopefully – save you money.

Unfortunately, that’s less likely today than it was yesterday. Because of the higher cost of the fuel – and the lower fuel-efficiency of modern diesels.

Here’s an example:rabbit diesel pic

I recently reviewed the 2014 VW Jetta TDI (see here). For a modern car – relative to other modern cars – it delivers excellent fuel economy: 30 MPG in city driving and 42 MPG on the highway. But back in 1979, a VW Rabbit diesel delivered 45 MPG … in city driving.

And 57 on the highway.

See here, if you don’t believe me.

Now, granted, the ’79 Rabbit is (was) a smaller car than the ’14 Jetta. But the difference is startling nonetheless – because the Jetta has all the putative advantages of the intervening 40 years (almost) of technological advances.

Shouldn’t it deliver better economy than a Carter-era car?

Well, it could.

If VW were not forced to festoon its brilliant TDI (turbo direct injection) diesel with all the foregoing folderol. If the federal obsession with soot – aka “particulate” emissions – were not so fervid. And here it is important to point out that diesel emissions are different. Particulates may be obnoxious to some, but they are not a factor in the formation of smog – the main justification for swaddling gas engines with a Hannibal Lecter-esque suit of “controls” to tamp them down.TDI

Everything – like it or not – is ultimately a cost-benefit analysis. And frequently there is a conflict between one desired thing and another desired thing. In this case, the desire of the government to effectively curb tailpipe emissions of cars (both diesel and gas) to nil conflicts with the consumer’s desire for a fuel-efficient (to say nothing of affordable) vehicle.

And this is why – for the most part (the Jetta I reviewed being one of literally two exceptions) the diesel-powered cars available today are almost all high-end/expensive cars. The diesel engines available in vehicles like the Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 3 and 5 are touted as much for their performance as their economy – and of course, the cars they’re installed in are sold on the basis of luxury and status. These are the sweeteners that make so-so-efficient modern diesels more palatable to buyers.

But on the economy end of the scale, it is harder to make a sound case for a modern diesel-powered car. Even the thoroughly excellent Jetta TDI. It costs about $5k more than the base trim gas-engined Jetta. And then there’s the 50-75 cents more per gallon you pay at the pump. Sure, the TDI’s mileage is 10-plus MPG better than the gas-engined model’s. But $5k buys oceans of gas … and don’t forget the extra $8-10 or so more you’ll be paying at each fill-up, diesel vs. regular unleaded.DEF pic

To sum up:

The proverbial low-hanging fruit was plucked decades ago. That is, on the order of 90 percent of the harmful (e.g., smog forming, respiratory distress-inducing) byproducts of internal combustion were “controlled” by the first simple – but very effective – emissions technologies, such as catalytic converters (for gas-engined vehicles). Since the ’90s, the government’s increasingly demented crusade has been to “control” the remaining fractional part of a vehicle’s exhaust output that is less-than-pure.

I italicize this for emphasis because it is not a literary or editorial flourish. It is the literal truth.  The government will push for – and impose – a new round of emissions rigmarole in order to “cut” what they will invariably describe as “harmful emissions” by half a percent. But they will tout this as a 50 percent reduction – which it technically is. Because if you reduce 1 percent by half you have reduced it by 50 percent. But “50 percent” sounds a helluva lot better, PR-wise, than “half of one percent.”ULS sticker

So, we end with pretty pricey diesels that are only so-so efficient – relative to what they should and easily could be.

And we get to feed them fuel that is likewise more expensive than it should and could be.

This from a government that constantly crows about the importance of being conscious about the energy we use – and which tub-thumps metronomically for “more efficient” vehicles.

If any of them knew how to read a dipstick, things might be different.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. Ok Phil etal;
    1.I want my tweels,my cheap diesel fuel andR-12-for starters
    2.Phil,almost never.
    Laws that are archaic and dont fit the zeitgeist.
    3.Bevin-maybe redundant,but not tautomer
    4.Ancap51-$10,000 fine+economic advantage on red stuff found in anythinG with a VIN.

  2. Dont know Phil,the state sure doesnt agree with you,there are many other ways to get around besides personal driving.The Judge reminded me ,while hammering Me-that my betters(the”representitives” didnt like what I did and made it illegal,even though the harm was almost nonexistant
    So how do we get rid of stupid unevolved laws?(dont say vote em out-that doesnt work)-Kevin

    • “So how do we get rid of stupid unevolved laws?”
      Not sure what you mean by unevolved, but there is one sure way coming to get rid of ALL the laws. Not as soon as I and others here would like, but Anti-Social Insecurity and Med-I-don’t-Care will eventually bankrupt the USSA. It’s not a question of if, only of when.

    • Dear Kevin,

      “stupid unevolved laws” is redundant.

      Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
      Neo: What truth?
      Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
      Neo: There is no spoon?
      Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

      There is no such thing as a “higher authority whose laws we must obey.” There is only our mistaken belief in it.

    • Hi KMC,

      The first – and most critical – step is to disabuse people of the myth of authority. This idea that it’s legitimate for some people to lord it over others. Directly – or by proxy.

      If that idea can be thrown in the woods, all else follows.

      Libertarians (well, this Libertarian) base everything on the non-aggression principle (NAP). It means, simply, that aggression is illegitimate. The only legitimate use of force is defensive force against aggression.

      Now, apply that principle to any proposed law – and you’ll see how few laws are legitimate!

      • First of all,eightsouthman-so true.mark my words,one day,a high total cholesterol levelwill preclude one from having a CDL license.
        Eric,what color pill?My adventures in the libertine have the weenies around here hating me(I honestly believe that my outspoken views may have contributed to me going down the road for a stint.
        As far as civil rights I cannot legally own a firearm,vote or participate in jury duty(Happy about that) so where is our secret hideaway ala’ “Rand” where we can go and practice our(correct) beliefs?-Kevin

        • Hi Kevin,

          We may never be able to live in the world/society we’d like to live in. Indeed, it may be that humanity will never rise above the collectivism-at-bayonet-point that characterizes so much of human history. Nonetheless, I will live my own life according to the NAP – and encourage others to as well.

          Maybe it will catch on!

            • There are 5 acccepted levels of intelligence(IQ wise)I’ll not break it down-but do you think that perhaps”Clover” is genetically programmed into the vast majority of the Human race?-Kevin

  3. I dont know how to answear that,Al Gore cured me of any pretense to the Democratic party,While Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh cured me of conservatism,funny how most poor folks are democrats,while those with plenty are Repubs or Teabaggers,doesnt seem to Me like there is much left,so that leaves Me balancing on the barbwire-Kevin

    • there’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between the Demlicans and the Repubocrats. Don’t look to politics for your salvation.

    • Come on over to the Libertarian side, KMC!

      You’ll find ethical-moral-philosophical consistency, based on principles rather than (take your pick) race/socio-economic status and so on.

  4. I wish they would legalize hemp and a bunch of other things,its true ,the sheeple havent a clue as to the core reasons that so many things are illegal.
    Well Guys,I do agree everyone should accept responsibility for what they do(I did but it didnt cut no ice) and another thing,Polity,please make the punishment fit the alleged infraction-Kevin

  5. If a person is not fit to drive,they shouldnt drive,pure and simple,its a privilege,not a right.
    Remember the” Commonpooreth” of Virginias,mantra on the CDL drivers”From now on ,only the best will drive” chuckle-Kevin

    • Wrong, Kevin. The right to travel is an inherent right of man. If the gunvermin makes driving the only practical means to travel, then they are the ones who should change.
      If someone proves his inability to drive safely, by having an ‘accident,’ then they should be liable for damages inflicted. But as long as they do that, whether personally or through insurance, they are good to go. If they continue to have accidents, they will be unable to purchase insurance, and may think twice about the risk involved in poor driving. Maybe they will go to a real driving school and learn how to be safe.
      But they do not forfeit ANY of their rights. I would think you, of all people, would understand this.

    • Hi KMC,

      With respect (I feel you’re basically on our side) traveling (which almost necessarily means driving) is not a “privilege.”

      It’s a right.

      Think about it. You are accepting that the state is the great dispenser of things; that we’re allowed to do this (and not that) at the pleasure of the state. Which means, at the pleasure of other people; the people who control the state.

      What gives those people the right to tell us what we’re allowed to do?

      If you accept your premise, it scales – and that is truly dangerous.

      For example, if driving is a privilege, why not personal possession of firearms? And so on?

      Think, man!

  6. Eric,why do people misconstrue what I say? I never said anything about peoples abilities,drivers license are too easy for young people to obtain and anyone of age that cant drive shouldnt be permitted to drive,on these little paths we call roads around here people fly(not much room to meet or pass,soft to non existant shoulders) people try to run like they are on a US Route or interstate,with predictable results,when and if they crash.
    Drivers ed doesnt go far enough,instead of hounding(as a group)the safest drivers in the world(CDL drivers) teach people that drive four wheelers, truck protocol{when you play chicken with 27 tons of steel and limestone,you are going to lose,when you are sitting a carlength beyond the stop line and a 53 foot trailer runs over the front end of your car dont be suprised.
    Things like that,thats what I was referring to,not peoples ability that can drive,there is too much CYA now,young and old drivers should know that number 3 finger is not a traffic signalling device,etc;
    So Eric I’m not a fan of Clover inspired speed limits and passing lanes-Kevin
    P.S you Guys,most of you Guys know what the Hated Diesel Fluid,supposedly takes care of ,right?

    • Hi KMC,

      I didn’t mean to misinterpret what you wrote… but then, you seem to confirm my interpretation!

      “…drivers license are too easy for young people to obtain and anyone of age that cant drive shouldnt be permitted to drive.”

      In other words – as I read the above – you do favor more restrictive licensing… right?

      Now, I think we agree that there are too many poor drivers out there. But what’s the solution? Forcing all drivers to take tests? Dumbed-down laws that are based on the least common denominator?

      I don’t support any of that. Rather, I take the position that it’s up to those who wish to assume the responsibility of driving a car to learn how to do so safely and competently. Those who do not ought to be held accountable for any damage they cause – civilly and (if justified) criminally.

      It used to be the case that parents taught their kids how to drive. Or they could pay for someone else to do that. Or the kids learned on their own. This is how it ought to be. Leave the got-damned government out of it!

      I also oppose mandatory training and licensing for gun owners – along with full accountability (as above) for those who handle guns recklessly or criminally and cause harm to others.

    • Kevin – if there are problems with the quality of the roads, guess who SHOULD take the blame? That’s right, the folks who claim the monopoly right to build them.
      So why would we want to trust those same folks to decide who may and may not use those roads?
      You seem to be learning, so we will give you some time, but you are not yet a libertarian. As Eric says, the NAP boils down to “No harm (or clear threat of same), no foul.”

  7. Hi ho,back again,talk about unelected bureaucrats the so called correction officers are with a few exceptions really ludicrious,if you happen to gain admission to the “Governors School for the Gifted” by some imagned social slight or Faux paus you will see what I mean,some peopl;e thrive on control and more control of others,dont get me wrong theres a few that belong there in prison-BUT ITS NOT THAT MANY!(Do a little digging and see who profits from all these so called”penal institutions”{sure ruined my life}.
    Any ways,we should really have a say towards what we drive,the sheeple may bleat,but standards should be a bit higher for the privilege to drive(not just pick on the people who have to drive for a living)
    PTB-The last old 6.5 turbo GMs werent too bad,but the el cheapo greedy contractors around here have snapped them up and drove them in the ground.Anyways I’m getting a bit long in the tooth and was thinking about getting a second vehicle(the old Dodge managed an astounding 15.3 mpg on a 550 mile trip near on a mostly flat trip) thinking about maybe a new(gasp) 2.7 Eco boost 150 with 3.55 gears in lieu of 2 vehicles,wont be the worst or best but would probaly serve my needs if I can acquire it for 30K{should run me out)-Kevin

    • Hi KMc!

      I opposed “higher standards” for drivers; or rather, I support the one morally defensible universal standard: No harm, no foul.

      That is to say, if a driver is accident-free, the presumption seems to me to be that he’s a safe/competent driver. Even if he “speeds,” or drives in a manner that you (or I) might not be comfortable with. I drive much faster than my wife is comfortable with, yet I’ve not had an accident in decades while she’s had several. Objectively, I am the safer driver – even though (according to the law) I am “reckless” (because I routinely drive in excess of 20 MPH above the posted speed limit, statutory “reckless driving” in my state).

      So, hold people accountable for what they do. Not for what you think/feel they might do!

      • eric, I recall driving a couple years before getting a license. I had no accidents although I had a collision, a minor one, every day at school where I used the same tree to stop(brakes weren’t much).

        Gotta go drop my belly dump in a while, get under a drop deck and head off 400 miles to somewhere S of Dallas, load and overwidth load of hay and come back. I already dread those 4 wheelers. I was slowing for a light last week and left a gap of safety between a 4 wheeler and my rig. As I’m on the brakes hard this time to completely stop, a dick in a new Ford pickup, exhaust still pumping water, swerved into the space, not even getting lined up and I nearly ran over him. Ii had work to do or other wise I wouldn’t have cared if I’d totaled it except for the fact that truck drivers are guilty until proven innocent. If he got hurt it would be me going for a drug test and not his stupid ass. Yall have a good’un.

  8. Hi ho,back again,talk about unelected bureaucrats the so called correction officers are with a few exceptions really ludicrious,if you happen to gain admission to the “Governors School for the Gifted” by some imagned social slight or Faux paus you will see what I mean,some peopl;e thrive on control and more control of others,dont get me wrong theres a few that belong there in prison-BUT ITS NOT THAT MANY!(Do a little digging and see who profits from all these so called”penal institutions”{sure ruined my life}.
    Any ways,we should really have a say towards what we drive,the sheeple may bleat,but standards should be a bit higher for the privilege to drive(not just pick on the people who have to drive for a living)

  9. Howdy Guys,in Oz and other wonderful parts of the world-In the “Commonwealth”(commonpoorth) state were I reside,its something like a 10K fine using the good old red stuff on road,plus payback on any perceived economic advantage an entrepenuer had by using the stuff.That being said,why don’t the numbskulls in the beltway not press for local juice to burn in the diesels? Produced from coal,with a cetane rating of 60 and get this less then a dollar a gallon.It doesnt make sense to me,the govt makes it exceddingly hard to maintain my standard of living,democracy,hardly,gotta run,the better half is calling-Kevin

    • I think the “why” is easy to fathom, KMC. It’s because it would give us more control over our lives; and more money in our pockets!

      Can’t have that.

      • If ‘they’ would just legalize hemp, we could press the seeds for biodiesel, and use the remaining biomass to make ethanol. If we wanted to.
        There are an amazing number of products that can be made from hemp, but Rockfeller and Hearst made sure back in the 30’s that their enterprises (oil and paper) would not have to compete with it. Henry Ford was even using it to make plastic.
        BTW, did you know that ‘cannabis’ is the Dutch word for canvas, one of the uses of hemp that steamships have made not as necessary as it used to be.

    • We run the red stuff in every diesel that we have. Dump trucks, semi’s, pickups…… We got fined once back in 2002. They fine you by the gallon here in Idaho. It came to $280. A lot cheaper than putting clear diesel in for years. I think I’ll take my chances. At least until they shoot you on the spot for it, which could be anytime if they feel like it.

  10. Going on a mini-tirade – bear with me 😉

    I remember much of this beginning in the early to mid 80’s. My dad (housepainter) bought a diesel Nissan Patrol. His reasoning was that diesel was cheaper and the 4wd was useful.

    Well, that was pretty much the beginning of the 4wd craze. Everyone was buying them, because they were..

    ..big and expensive!

    Yups. Forget the Jag or the Rolls. The Jones’ next door just bought a Jeep and we’ve gotta have one too.

    The only way they could afford to run these hulks was diesel.

    It wasn’t long before diesel became more expensive than everything else, but that didn’t stop the trend. These idiots were still buying as many 4×4’s as they were board shorts, also trendy at the time.

    Although we in Oz don’t suffer the stupidity of the U.S. EPA regs, the trend hasn’t really reversed. The 4×4 is still a sign of wealth and success, regardless of what it runs on. Poorer serfs have even opted for the smallest of 4wd’s, because they have no grey matter between their ears.

    One sheila I was seeing some years ago was of this mind. She “needed the carrying capacity” of the 4×4 to bring her TWO (yeh – feckin’ TWO!!) kids to school – in a Nissan Patrol!

    Jeez.. get a station wagon – or just a wagon.

    It took me some time to discover why exactly these neanderthals were gravitating to 4×4’s. It’s the high driving position. Gives them a sense of superiority – and some women the privacy to have a wank while driving. Yup. Sprung.

    Diesel has cost more than petrol here since about 1987 and, the sensibilities of car buyers hasn’t changed either.

    • ЯΞ√ΩLUT↑☼N ,

      That is too funny. 🙂 Makes me think of people that think the must have @ least a 600cc motorcycle because they are a “big” guy. Unless her children went to school out in the outback in areas without pavement, I doubt that a 4×4 is necessary.

      I do like a higher position for visibility, but that is in response to the other people in vans, trucks and other tall vehicles. If more people drove @ regular car height, then my vision would not be hindered.

      • Thanks Mith. After driving Army Unimogs the high driving position became clear to me – and the wanking.

        On the motorbike, it doesn’t matter how tall the traffic is, I just go between them.

        Ya know.. I just had an AWFUL thought – a diesel motorbike. Ow!

    • Rev, that reminds me of a guy I once worked with. Showed up in a brand new(wait, it was his wife, he still drove a POS)Blazer. Since early 80’s Blazers did everything but handle well and were stiff, I asked him why he spent all that money on a 4 WD toy when almost anything would have been a better choice. He wasn’t a sportsman so needing 4WD or a big truck based vehicle didn’t even enter into the picture. He said “Well, I live on a hill(he did, not uncommon in Hilly Friggin country)and my driveway is steep. When it’s icy we need 4WD to get into it. Bear in mind, he’d never had 4 WD or FWD(much better choice) so how would he really know? I’ve been at the bottom of a steep, icy hill in a 4WD and went everywhere except up the hill. Let’s kick logic out since that’s not a factor. So, says I, that icy day…..every few years, it will come in handy eh? Yep, he said, not even picking up on what I’d really said. You can’t fix stupid.

      • Down here 8 we call 4×4’s Toorak Tractors. Toorak being a suburb as expensive as Miami waterfront. The tractors, well, the only time they get grass in the tread is when they drag it onto the lawn for a wash.

        • When I lived in LA, the Mercedes and Rover SUVs tooling up and down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills always made me laugh.

          So much human behaviour is actually about image rather than substance.

          • Bevin, Rev, that was the 80’s version of crewcab, 4wd diesel pickups now. I’ve known people who buy a crewcab, dually one ton 4X4 Duramax and drive it 10 blocks back and forth to the bank where they work. They own one about a year or less, take a big screwing on it and in the end, drive up the price on all of them.

            Must be the bug-out vehicle of the day.

            Every day I see the school buses drop off kids with big SUV’s or crewcab pickup with mom at the gate. When I went to school the entire point of buses was to deliver you within walking distance of the house.

            • Dear 8sm,

              It’s really nutty. If I were back in the USSA, I’d want a pick up truck for sure.

              But not a macho 4×4 for the sake of image. I’d get a 1500 class 2WD standard cab with an 8 foot long bed, with a medium displacement engine, to carry lumber and other building supplies.

    • kevin, good morn to you. And you can still do that. Get a ’93 GM Turbo Diesel pickup, fix it up like new,(looks great with new paint don’t it? and styling beats hell out of the new Hulk Hogan models not to mention no computer, no airbags and a great deal more room inside plus an a/c that uses good old “R-12”) then find out no insurance company will sell you anything other than “liability” because of its age. It’s not just “the govt.” but all that’s encompassed therein……which is fairly much everything.

  11. You know it’s all over for diesels, when national fleets, like Brickman landscaping abandon diesel trucks and return to gas! (Which is exactly what they’ve done). Between the higher cost of diesel erl; the need for DEF; the added complexity and problematic emission controls added to diesel engines now-a-days; and the fact that the injuns themselves are now so complex that they no longer offer the reliability and durabilty which used to make diesels so attractive….the only souls who really want/need them anymore, are those who need the torque for towing heavy loads.

  12. I bought a brand new 1993 Dodge Cummins pickup (5 speed manual tranny) in the day and it was like driving a VW (only in a 3/4 ton model) as it got 23.7 miles per gallon like clockwork from the time it was new until I sold it with over 270k trouble free miles on the odometer a dozen years later. What I seem to remember about diesel pricing goes something like this…all the time I had that truck and buying diesel all along the way from 1993 on and diesel was the lowest priced fuel at the gas station, ALWAYS priced under the price of Regular gas. That changed about the time they put the word PREMIUM in front of their otherwise regular grade of diesel thereby magically creating PREMIUM DIESEL and moving it’s price to well above that of premium gasoline. Don’t they wish they could do that on other products they make and distribute?? Their low sulphur propaganda probably cost more in failed lift & fuel pumps and accompanying labor bills which tend to be on the expensive side in a diesel than were there any real saviors or savings to the environment. Anyway there’s a case where basically it was one word that wound up making the price of diesel what it is….today – extremely high and like everything else the govt touches they’ve ruined the primary reason to own a diesel vehicle as well. Oh and finally another good reason for buying a diesel vehicle was the longevity that came built in. That Dodge pickup I sold that GI is probably still driving that pickup and it probably has near half a million miles on it and still running like a champ (just by taking care of it). Somehow and even though those Jetta’s (and other high end diesel cars) ARE fine cars, I just don’t see them lasting as long as those diesels of yesteryear like that Dodge Cummins (that I sure miss) or VW Rabbits either…

    • Hi Chuck,

      I’m dubious about their longevity as well. Not so much the engines but rather the peripherals. The exhaust/emissions and associated electronics. I suspect that when these begin to degrade and fail, the cost to repair/replace will be prohibitive, relative to the value of the vehicle. Oh, they’ll last a long time – and probably, relatively trouble-free. But I doubt many will still be in service after about 20 years. I think that’s what we’ll notice in the future. That really old vehicles (those over 20 years) have become an uncommon sight.

      Which, I believe, is part of the reason for all this. That is, the object is to continuously update the vehicle fleet, via the accelerated “retirement” of older vehicles. They especially want to “retire” older vehicles without all the latest electronics, which of course are less amenable to being controlled and monitored.

      • So true, Eric! The thing that used to make diesels so reliable and durable, was their simplicity. Now that simplicity is gone. The injector pump on a diesel used to be the most complex item on it…and it wasn’t too bad, ’cause it would normally last for the lifetime of the engine. Now, you have computer-controlled injectors with a service life of maybe 100K miles, that cost $3K to replace…and often get replaced sooner, ’cause the systems are now so complex, that even the stealership techs have to just guess at what’s wrong…and one of their favorite guesses is “new injectors”. Not to mention all the electronics and emissions BS as you’ve mentioned.

        If only our military were forced to abide by the same regs which force all of this crap on the public. The world might then be a safer place, ’cause the mercenary Bozos wouldn’t be able to move out of their own way!

        • Moleman, don’t want one of the new 2.8L Duramax Colorado’s with variable turbo geometry, (this could be good though, water cooled turbo) with enough electronics to power a moon shot, actually, way more than that? Mechanical fuel pumps and non-variable everything else were just too damned reliable. By the time they hit the US market maybe variable valve timing, variable compression ratios(think that loser VW engine with the moving heads)and variable lack of common sense in the buyers will overpower the market. A mid-size diesel pickup makes sense to me though since the only ones I seem to be able to get into are the GM’s. Before my broken leg healed I had to get into one Dodge on the passenger side face down in the back seat so I could use my good leg to push myself far enough into it I could turn in the seat and be upright. Then my nose would bleed from the height. I walk up to new 4WD pickups and feel like a child. Any day now I expect to have one pass me and he’s on about the same level as I am in the big rig.

  13. Good article although it should have mentioned the simplicity and reliability of the diesel engine as a plus. I love that you used the word “festoon” to refer to government required add-ons!

  14. For those who are looking forward to Diesels that don’t require Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) , I wouldn’t get too excited. To my knowledge and past experience non DEF trucks used Exhaust Gas Recirculation to reburn the particulate in the engine. Would you rather burn it in the exhaust stream or run that crap back through your engine where it is well known to gunk things up in just a few thousand miles? I’ll take DEF over EGR anyday.

    • In order to avoid DEF, VW developed an EGR system that even the dealership mechanics don’t understand. The Check Engine light on my ’09 Sportwagen is constantly on. The dealer says, “For $800, we can take it apart and TRY to locate the problem.” But since even they admit it will not hurt the engine to run the way it is, the light stays on.

    • Clik, you’re a bit behind. Even new big rig engines use EGR and DEF. It’s this very system that causes the most problems in new trucks. For all I know that new John Deere loader I recently used, the one that operates almost exclusively digitally, may use DEF. When it comes to the bs the EPA does now I have ceased to be surprised, just dismayed.

  15. I drove an Innocenti Mini 90 (designed by Marcello Gandini for Bertone), powered by a cc 998, three cylinder diesel Daihatsu engine (the first diesel engine under 1 liter ever produced); hp 47, if I’m not mistaken. That was a great little car.
    Diesel is also undoubtedly the future for general aviation piston engines (due to the probable disappearance of aviation gasoline). I’m curious to see how the government will mess that up.

  16. Another excellent article, EP. I also enjoyed your discussion on Tom Woods Radio the other day.

    Although I haven’t checked, I would imagine the Golf TDI uses the same engine and would likely not have to use the DEF, either. It also would sort of qualify as inexpensive at around $25k to start. Still a lot of money, but I think I recently read somewhere the average new car price was around $31k. Thank you Federal Reserve.

    Supposedly Mazda is working on, and will hopefully soon release, a diesel engine in some of their models that won’t require the DEF additive. The rumors were that this would appear in the Mazda 6 (that would be a great combination) and possibly their compact crossover SUV the CX-5 (also would be a great combination). Diesel seems to be gaining traction in the US despite the limitations above since, in most cases, it’s still more cost effective than gasoline.

    One reason it makes more sense in a higher-end car, at least in part, is that those typically require premium gasoline in the gas-powered versions of the same cars. Thus the price differential is not as great, but the fuel efficiency gain remains significant.

    Another thing to consider is that different regions in the country have different cost differentials between gasoline and diesel. Where I’m living in Arkansas, about half the year ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) is less expensive than premium 91 octane gasoline. Some of the time it’s less than mid-grade, and for a few weeks it is cheaper than regular unleaded. Usually this is during the summer. I suspect this is because gas prices go up in the summer since it’s summer driving/vacation season and winter blends of diesel require more additives that drive up the price and, conversely, are not required in summer so summer diesel prices are lower. I noticed on my 45,000 miles of traveling in my current diesel that prices, and the price differential, varies wildly from region to region around the country. I’ve also noticed that diesel prices vary wildly from station to station in the same town. I have literally seen diesel cost 40 cents less per gallon just 1/2 block down the road, within sight of the sign at the street advertising the higher price.

    Lastly, and on a different note, there are some other advantages to diesel vs. gasoline that more to do with emergency situations. Diesel fuel is much more stable than gasoline. It’s possible for stored diesel to go bad, but that’s apparently pretty rare and takes a long time. It’s actually called “diesel algae” but it’s not actually alive stuff like real, green algae is. It’s just fuel breakdown into sludge. It’s pretty easy to prevent with inexpensive diesel fuel stabilizers. Gasoline, on the other hand, especially the ethanol-laced stuff, goes bad pretty easily and if you plan on storing it more than 6 months or so, you’ll have to use a fuel stabilizer. Even then, you’re only able to stabilize pure non-ethanol gas for around 3 years or so under decent conditions. Diesel lasts much longer.

    Also, an added advantage of diesel fuel efficiency is the long range afforded on the same size tank of fuel. My VW Touareg TDI has a 26.3 gallon tank (or so), and that pushes it’s range out to almost 800 miles (I’ve done over 800 once) on a single tank on the highway. That’s a lot of distance between you and an emergency like a hurricane or natural disaster without having to stop for fuel. I keep mine above a half-tank full always, so even if I have to bug out immediately, I still typically can go as far or further than most other people can in their gas cars with a full tank. I’m also much more likely to find diesel remaining at the fuel stops long after gasoline is sold out, as I’ve seen during hurricane evacuations from the Gulf Coast area where I lived for a few years.

  17. “If any of them knew how to read a dipstick, things might be different.” Are you referring to Clover when you say ‘dipstick.’ ‘Cuz he fits the definition IMHO.

  18. My 1983 Dodge Colt, with 1.3 l and 4 speed manual, got 41 mpg in the city and up to 54 on the highway. The 85mph speedo was overpegged several times in cross country trips, but the mileage never dropped below 35mpg. No FI, just a cat and electronic ignition.

    And now you say this ultramodern VW diesel only gets 40 mpg, a car that costs 5X as much as my economical little Colt?

    Never ceases to amaze me how government can really fuck up the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi to5,


      I remember.

      Part of the problem is that most people don’t.

      Kind of like the way they forget that people used to be able to just drive to an airport 15 minutes before a
      scheduled departure, and board their flight without being touched in an intimate way by anyone not their significant other…

    • Everybody who didn’t drive a company vehicle back in the 70’s who worked in the patch drove LUV diesels. They were exceptionally cheap to operate when you filled them off that 10,000 gallon tank at the rig. The 4WD versions would go through the deepest mud with their little skinny tires or climb a tree.

  19. One of my earliest car memories is the diesel Rabbit my folks traded in their Olds Cutlass for in the late 70s second energy crisis. It was as “el strippo” as they come: It had a 5-speed stick, power nothing, and not even an AM radio was standard. It was not fast, but fast enough in the days of the 55 mph nationwide speed limit, and some savvy shifting, plus the torquiness of a diesel engine and front wheel drive, made it quite a competent ride for living in a rather hilly area that gets snow.

    It not only saved them tons of money because it got stellar mileage on cheaper fuel, but also on maintenance costs: No carburetor, distributor or spark plugs to putz with meant fewer and cheaper tune-ups, for one thing. Plus, German engineering meant that thing was built like a brick outhouse.

    They saved even more by installing a 250-gallon oil tank in their barn (we lived on a farm then) and filling up the tank with the same #2 fuel oil they used to heat their house. And because they owned a farm, they got to write off the cost of the fuel.

    Alas, such is not available to me in this day and age >:(

    • Bryce, it is in Tx. Buy a few acres of the cheapest land you can find, the side of a cliff and claim it as a farm. Buy a cheap diesel tractor(hey, just because you have a diesel tractor doesn’t mean it has to work and the guy who delivers fuel ain’t gonna check it). Fill out the comptroller farm for tax exemption since that’s a greater power than God, Allah, or any other entity. Have some red diesel delivered and (nobody will see you, you’re in the middle of nowhere….on the edge of that cliff)fill that diesel car with it, laughing all the way home. BTW, don’t take that baby in for service unless you know the guy doing it, dealers will squeal on you and raise holy hell cause it’s red instead of green(as if there is any difference other than tax). Just remember the old excuse: My gauge went agly and I ran out of fuel the other day. I had to buy some off a farmer and didn’t even realize it wasn’t green until you just told me. He only gave me 5 gallons or so and that’s the only red diesel that ever got near this car since I’ve owned it. CAution, don’t try this in a big town with a pickup and don’t ever use that red diesel if you have a nurse tank in it for equipment. I’ve actually only known one circumstance this was realized. A local guy with a 250 nurse tank on the bank of his ranch bed Dodge parked at the courthouse one day when the commptroller’s fuel man happened to be in town(that’s rare). He had to walk right by it to get into his vehicle so he just sampled his pickup tank since it was so obvious. It got ugly fast. The state at first charged him for the tax on the estimated gallon useage for the 70,000 miles or so that pickup had on it. He settle for something less.

      This spring I ran out of fuel in a KW without a working fuel gauge coming out of a quarry. I borrowed some red stuff to get back to town and never thought twice about it.

      • You’re right, the only thing “wrong” with the red stuff is the ‘legality’ of using it on the highway w/o paying the highway tax.
        The comptroller checking on your ‘local guy’ clearly violated the 4th Amendment, if it meant anything any more. Same as the County guy who came here today and opened our dumpster (found some ‘recyclables’ in the trash).

  20. Of course the biggest consumer of diesel in the world (the US military) is probably exempt from these emissions requirements. I cannot imagine them shipping tons of urea to war zones to ensure their M1s and humvees are EPA compliant.

    • Absolutely.

      I doubt any emissions regs apply to the vehicles used by the “troops” to maintain the imperium…. er, fight for “our freedoms”…

      • NO efficiency regs apply to military, because “National Security.” Wish I could cite a source, but I’ve read it and been told it a few times. Then again, watch the Military channel, I’m sure it’ll be mentioned. Like when they’re reconditioning an M1A1 tank…. The turbine in that isn’t meant to be efficient, but FAST, at least compared to what else is available.
        It can make 60 MPH, sustained. The best alternative could do 30. But the best alternative was a standard ICE, and the diesel was even less effective. The jet turbine in the M1A1 (and M1A2, I believe) is capable of more torque, better acceleration, better top speed…. But it sucks gas (I think actual GAS) faster than a whole school of fish sucks water. Size of school irrelevant. Something like 0.5 MPG or less…
        Planes aren’t any better, even the F-22 Raptor. Capable of Mach 1 without afterburners, but still sucks fuel faster than a wino with a new bottle….

        PERFORMANCE is all that matters to the Military. They’re exempt – from everything.

        But we aren’t allowed to pursue that sort of performance, whether automotive, airborne, cryptographic – the Gov’t is allowed to do everything, but we are limited in every way they can.

        • Efficiency and pollution regs do not apply to “off-road” diesel vehicles. This would include military, but also farm tractors. Just don’t get caught on the highway with red dye in your tank.

          • EPA has been regulating the ag diesel market since at least 1998. 2011 was a banner year for EPA intrusion, featuring dramatic price bumps for new equipment due to stricter emission standards. And EPA is aggressively attempting to force emission equipment installed on older equipment when engines require overhaul.

        • Ah, no, it’s not precisely “performance” that matters. Rather, there is a trade off between several issues:-

          – Performance in the sense of power to weight/bulk (not “speed” as such, though that and acceleration are why this matters). Gas turbines are good for this.

          – Performance in the sense of fuel economy. Diesel engines are good for this.

          – Reliability and maintainability in the field/cheapness and convenience of manufacture. Petrol engines are good for this.

          U.S. tanks were designed around being used in northern Europe, falling back on supply lines, so logistics were considered a lower priority (as was coping with dust storms – they can’t cope with Iraqi dust storms at all unless they have been retro-fitted with better filters that compromise space, weight, and engine power).

          Israeli tanks were designed with half an eye on having to race all the way through Syria, so they use diesel (and they cope with dust better right out of the box). So did WWII Soviet tanks, once the reliability problems were solved. Unfortunately for the Nazis, their tanks were so finely optimised that they couldn’t do that and were also liable to fail under many field conditions anyway (e.g., tracks work best when not in dry conditions like the western desert or a Russian winter or high summer). For reliability/affordability reasons (and the expected northern European environment), British tanks stayed with petrol rather than diesel well into the 1950s.

          It would be a good idea for countries like Australia that have bought the U.S. Abrams (in the downgraded form they were allowed to buy) to convert them to run on diesel engines. Unfortunately, there is a problem with getting diesel engines, cooling systems and power trains that fit in the geometry provided for the original equipment. If I had to do it, I would go for a two-stroke opposed piston design (for power to weight reasons), with the cylinders in a barrel layout driving a common axial shaft through bevel gears, and Cardan wheel systems rather than crankshafts/connecting rods to reduce overall length (some marine steam engines used this trick). But it would have been far better to buy a few Israeli tanks and make/maintain more under licence, so bypassing all those issues and getting something more suited to Australian conditions and battlefield and logistical needs in the first place.

        • I read that fighter pilots were even issued meth on sortes because it increased their alertness and reaction times.

          I also read an ad for military surplus trucks that stipulated that they could not be tagged for street use because they didn’t meet emissions.

          So, yes it appears the govt is exempt from just about everything and congress is exempt from Obamascare.

    • The military’s HMMVs are all multi-fueled. Burn anything, including NG and propane.

      The main’t techs in Iraq actually prefered to have the troops use localy produced compressed Natural Gas tanks for fuel. They didn’t have to maintain an oil log as long as they were always using that for fuel.


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