Gas Vs. Diesel Engines: What Your RV Has (& What You Need to Know)

One runs on gasoline power and the other runs on diesel. But apart from that, how do the two types of motorhomes vary, and how can you tell the difference while on the road? Here’s what you need to know about the two types of RVs.

Gas Vs. Diesel RV: What’s the Difference?

From costs to power and engine specs, here’s what’s variable between diesel and gas engines.

Vehicle Class

Before you begin comparing gas vs. diesel RV costs, it’s crucial to recognize what you’re looking at. For an apples-to-apples comparison, make sure you’re shopping for one class of RV. Whether it’s a class A luxury-level rig or a smaller and nimbler Class C motorhome, compare diesel and gas options from the same category.

Comparing a luxury diesel pusher to an entry-level Class C or another smaller recreational vehicle doesn’t make sense because the specs are so variable on each. Look for similarly sized and featured rigs to compare, then take a closer look at what’s under the hood.

Overall Costs

Most often, recreational vehicles which use diesel have a higher sticker price. In addition to the robust build under the hood, diesel RVs include emissions-control features and other measures which tend to drive up the price.

It’s worth noting, however, that the lower cost of diesel fuel can make a difference for many RV travelers. Think about not only the sticker price of your new rig but also the running costs—and time spent at the fueling station—to determine the overall costs.

RV insurance costs can be another deciding factor, though insurance fluctuates based on the rig length and features more than the engine type.

Engine & Power Specs

By nature, diesel engines produce more torque than gasoline engines. A combination of compression ratios, combustion rates, stroke lengths, and energy density provide more get up and go for your vehicle’s engine. Beyond the technical specs: a diesel engine has the potential to respond quicker than a gas engine.

In terms of RV performance, however, there won’t be any quick sprints off the starting line. Engine power might come up in your purchasing scenario, but most RVs are sluggish compared to cars.

Smaller RVs are nimbler, of course, such as a Class B motorhome. Class B options often fit in standard-size parking spaces and can traverse difficult roads much the same as a van or truck. In fact, they often share the same chassis as one of those vehicles.

In contrast with diesel engines, gasoline engines don’t offer a whole lot of torque at lower speeds. They do, however, perform better at higher speeds—matching the higher RPMs with equal power. Diesel engines might grab onto the road at first, but their power wanes once you hit freeway speeds.

Service & Maintenance Costs

Taking your RV in for service isn’t usually cheap, and that’s true regardless of what’s under the hood. When it comes to repairs, you often need to visit the dealership your RV came from and wait on parts to arrive.

In general, however, it’s more difficult to get service for a diesel RV than a gasoline one. Because there are fewer diesel options out there, it’s less common for mechanics to know how to wrench on one. Of course, your ability to find a knowledgeable mechanic depends on various factors, such as where you live and whether you bought your RV used or from a local dealer.

In some cases, you might pay more for diesel repairs, especially if your vehicle is newer. Electrical components are often the most expensive to diagnose and repair, and both diesel and gas engines have those.

Misconceptions & Myths About Gas Vs. Diesel RVs

Because many RVers have a strong preference for gas vs. diesel when it comes to their personal RVs, there are many misconceptions about the comparison. Here are a few myths about gas and diesel RVs and how they stack up.

Diesel is “Dirty”

In the past, as gasoline-powered vehicles began to take over the automobile market, people thought diesel was dirty. And back then, they were correct. In modern times, though, diesel vehicles produce emissions comparable to a gas automobile.

Regulations on vehicle emissions dictate how much any car or truck can pollute the environment. The bottom line is, it’s untrue that diesel is “dirtier” than gas. Unless you’re purchasing a classic diesel-powered vehicle, that is.

Gas (or Diesel) RVs Aren’t Reliable

With proper maintenance, any RV can enjoy a long and productive life. There’s so much variation in how people drive, where they travel, and how hard they run their machines. It’s challenging to make a blanket statement about the reliability of gas versus diesel.

Diesel engines tend to be more rugged due to the amount of friction under the hood. However, that doesn’t mean gasoline engines are somehow “less than.” In fact, your driving habits influence your engine’s life more than any other factor.

Pros and Cons of Gas RVs

Here’s a review of the pros and cons of gas-powered RVs in comparison with the features of a diesel RV.

Pros

● Gasoline is typically cheaper at the gas station

● Gasoline-powered motorhomes usually cost less than alternatives

● Gas RVs are more affordable

● Maintenance costs less than with diesel engines

● More power at higher RPMs

Cons

● Shorter engine life than a diesel

● Depreciation is on par with standard automobiles

● You’ll need to stop for fuel more often

Pros and Cons of Diesel RVs

Here are the benefits and drawbacks of diesel RVs compared to gasoline models.

Pros

● Diesel is more efficient than gasoline; about 25 percent more

● Diesel RVs often have more features (to make up for “downfalls” of diesel itself)

● Engines tend to last longer

● Depreciation is slower with diesel models

● Better torque at lower speeds

Cons

● Diesel is typically more expensive at the pump

● A diesel RV can cost more up-front

● Less power at higher RPMs

How to Choose a Gas Vs. Diesel RV

Because there’s so much variation in recreational vehicle designs, features, and fuel options, it can be challenging to know what to look for when perusing RVs for sale. Here are the questions you should ask yourself to decide whether a gas or diesel RV will best suit your needs.

How Often Do You Plan to RV?

Are you hoping to head out in your RV full-time? If you’re looking for a home away from home in your recreational vehicle, you’ll want to look for different features than if you’re only road tripping on the weekends or specific seasons.

On the same note, think about the seasons you’ll be traveling in. If you want to travel year-round, you will need to invest in an RV which has insulation against the cold, cooling for hotter weather, and plenty of protection against rainy and windy conditions.

Where Do You Want to Go?

For most destinations in the United States, you’ll need to be comfortable traversing mountainous roads as well as long stretches of freeway. It’s worth considering where you’ll be spending most of your RVing time.

If you want to travel to remote campsites, for example, the extra torque of a diesel engine might be what you need. However, a luxury diesel-pusher Class A may not travel narrow, rural roads as easily as a smaller vehicle. This adds another layer of consideration to your RV purchase decision.

You may even find that a travel trailer (paired with a pickup truck, whether diesel or gas) serves your needs more adequately than a motorhome. Of course, there are pros and cons to each type of motorhome, but thinking about your travel intentions is a vital part of any vehicle purchase.

How Often Do You Want to Stop for Fuel?

Fuel economy is another influence on your travel route. Planning to drive for long stretches to reach predetermined locations? Diesel fuel might get you there with fewer stops than a gasoline engine. But if you’re going to be stopping for snacks, bathroom breaks, or to see the sights, you might not mind pausing for gasoline, as well.

Similarly, depending on where you travel, fuel prices could vary substantially. Diesel is often pricier than gasoline, but it does fluctuate depending on when and where you’re driving.

Are You Planning Budget Trips or Lavish Vacations?

If money is no object, it’s much easier to select an RV and get on the road. Budget travel, while entirely possible, does require more advance planning. Depending on your lifestyle, location, and itinerary, financial solvency may come with either a gasoline- or diesel-powered rig.

Factor in all your potential costs for your trip (or new lifestyle) including:

● Estimated fuel economy and costs

● Repair costs while on the road

● Towing expenses if you break down

● Ease of roadside repairs, such as changing a tire

● Ability to work on the vehicle yourself (diesel can be complicated for those unfamiliar)

● How difficult it is to find replacement parts

● Running costs for your RV, including heating, air, generator backup, and other utilities

Towing Plans

Your destination will dictate whether you require a tow vehicle, but for long trips, many RVers prefer to bring their towable vehicle along. You often need more horsepower to tow a vehicle than to operate an RV without pulling anything behind it.

Plus, safety is a crucial part of the equation with towing. You need to ensure that your motorhome is capable of safely towing a vehicle behind it and that you have the right equipment to do so. If the RV doesn’t already have towing capabilities, factor in the costs of adding a tow package to your bottom line.

Consider whether you will tow a vehicle (or a trailer) behind your motorhome and what towing capacity that will require. Think about trading in your current vehicle or buying something new if you find an RV that meets all other needs except your towing requirements.

Overall RV Size

Do you want to fit into tight camping spaces and see the sights, or do you want to bring a full-size bathroom, complete with shower and wardrobe, along for the trip? The amenities available in your rig will vary widely depending on the size, layout, features, and even the brand of the vehicle.

Smaller RVs—about 25 feet or shorter—can go most places a standard automobile can. Bigger rigs that measure 38 feet or more have severe limitations when it comes to cruising on narrow roads and backing into RV park stalls.

Many RV parks even have length limitations, especially if their location is remote or hard to reach. Boondocking—camping outside an RV park or campground—may also be nearly impossible with a bigger RV.

You can also expect to pay more for “premium” RV sites for larger rigs. It’s not always the case, but many parks set aside longer or pull-through spaces for big RVs. They may not let you try and fit into a smaller spot, either.

The same applies with camping trailers; your total length will include both the measurement of the trailer and the vehicle that’s doing the towing.

How Often Can You Schedule Maintenance?

You want to keep your motorhome on the road for as long as possible. To do that, you need to care for the engine and other parts properly. Part of RV maintenance includes regular vehicle checkups and oil changes, just like your daily commuter.

Diesel engines tend to need fewer maintenance visits than gasoline engines, so you may be able to schedule longer trips without worrying about getting into the repair shop. There’s always the chance you’ll need emergency repairs while on the road. But while planning your RV purchase, it’s smart to consider preventative measures as well.

Buying a Gas vs. Diesel RV

Ultimately, the choice to go for a gas or diesel RV depends on a range of factors and personal preferences. Fortunately, you can find an RV to suit any need and get started on your next adventure.