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Are Diesels Cheaper in the Long Run?

by David Zatz on

The University of Michigan released a study showing that modern diesel cars and trucks are cheaper in the long run than gasoline-powered vehicles, despite their higher up-front costs (and the higher price of diesel fuel in most states).

Bruce Belzowski, managing director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s Automotive Futures group, compared thousands of gasoline and diesel versions of similar vehicles sold at auction in 2012-13, drawing from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet/GMC, Ford, Mercedes, Ram, and Volkswagen cars and pickups.


The total cost of ownership, including depreciation, fuel costs, repairs, maintenance, insurance, fees, and taxes, generally ranges from $2,000 to $7,000 less over the three to five year range.  There are some exceptions.

Resale values are 30-50% higher for diesel cars and SUVS, and 60-70% higher for diesel medium-duty pickup trucks, after three years; the difference is higher after five years. Diesels in the study drew around 12-27% less fuel for cars and 4-8% less for medium-duty pickups.

Combined costs for insurance, repairs, maintenance, fees, and taxes, were higher for nearly all the diesels.

The report was underwritten by Bosch, covered only 2012-13 models, and used data from Manheim Auctions, Vincentric, Black Book, and the United States government (the EPA, NHTSA, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Energy Information Administration, and Federal Highway Administration). Allpar did much less extensive research into the payoff times, focusing solely on Ram 1500 pickups, and came to a similar conclusion last year (shown below). One problem is which vehicles are chosen for comparison.

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