By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Looking into buying a motorhome? A major decision is the power plant: gas or diesel. Which is better? Ask this question at the RV campfire and the arguments will run like “Ford vs. Chevy.” We’ll try and break out a few pros and cons on each side of the issue, and leave the decision up to you.
Diesel: Diesel engines and motorhomes seem like a natural pair. Diesel fuel, although often a bit more costly than gasoline, does offer more miles per gallon than gas. Even if the fuel cost, in the long run, is a wash, engine longevity is a whole separate matter. Diesel engines live longer than their “gasser” counterparts. To that end, the resale value of a diesel-equipped coach is typically higher than that of a gas-fired motorhome.
On the road, diesels have an advantage over gas in the torque department. Diesels deliver more “push” power at lower engine revolutions than gas, hence, they don’t have to work as hard as a gas engine. And at higher elevations, a diesel engine just has more “go” power than a gas engine.
The typical diesel engine motorhome has a heavier chassis than a comparable gas-fired rig. So what? The heavier chassis makes for a greater load capacity, and tow capacity, than a gasser. Towing a bigger car or pickup truck is much better accomplished with a diesel motorhome.
But there are drawbacks: Diesels are more spendy to start with, and maintenance is more costly. Diesel engines often have a much bigger crankcase, and oil changes are not a “$29.95 in and out” affair. And when something breaks (albeit less often than a gasser), it will likely cost more to fix. It is possible for the owner to do some of his own periodic maintenance, but when you have to do a repair, it’s harder than working on a gas-fired engine.
Gas: Lest you think we’ve unfairly treated the gasser-public, hang on. If money is tight when shopping for a motorhome, you’ll find the prices on gas-fired motorhomes considerably less, foot-for-foot. Regular maintenance will be less expensive, and repairs (when needed) certainly less costly.
Finding a mechanic willing to work on a gasoline engine motorhome is way easier than finding a mechanic to crawl into an “oil burner.” Think about that if your travels take you off the beaten path. And the do-it-yourselfer will find the tools he already owns will often be enough for working on a motorhome problem.
While not as torquey as a diesel, gasser manufacturers are always working on new innovations to try and give their engines a “kick in the gas,” so that score may not be as big an issue with newer gas-powered motorhomes.
Floor plans: Some RVers hold that diesel engine motorhomes have “better” floor plans. That’s a rather subjective subject; you’ll need to make those kinds of comparisons on a case-by-case basis. What’s “better” for one may be the last thing the other guy wants.