by Chris Olliff, Senior Editor
Since I was a boy, I have been fascinated by the diesel engine. My friends down the street had a 1978 Mercedes Benz 300D (non-turbo). You could hear that car coming for miles, and the 2 to 3 shift on the transmission seemed to take as long as the Iraq war. Who could forget the great smoke screens they could produce, and the wonderful black out feature….they could soil the rear of a car and cover the license plate to make any get-a-way car proud. I was especially fond of watching the Mercedes in-line 5 shake like a dog when wet upon start up. Ahhh…the fond memories…
Or should I say…..THE HORROR……
Yes, you can take the bag off your head and stand up. We know who you are, you are one of the few, the proud, the ex-GM diesel owners! What do you get when you take a 5.7 liter V8 gas engine and convert it to diesel power….a GM publicity nightmare… Who could forget that sound, the sound of the engine running. If you closed your eyes, you would have thought that someone put a bunch of loose bits of metal in your engine to run amok. Also, there was excitement over how to jump start a GM diesel, as they had TWO batteries! But, most of all, the fun of owning a GM diesel was betting your friends how long the thing would go without warping the cylinder head. Yes, this problem was so bad, that some vehicles were converted back to gasoline by GM. You see, diesel engines run on compression and they need thicker metal in the engine to handle the higher pressures. The GM 5.7 converted engine could not handle the pressure…(no pun intended)
Soooo….Where does this leave us? Well, most Americans think a diesel is smelly, slow, loud, and not that reliable thanks to the great GM diesel of the 1980s. So bad are the memories, that GM and Ford are reluctant to re-introduce the diesel to the market in the US. Add to this the fact that pumping diesel fuel can be as nasty as cleaning up cat poo, it is slimy and smelly and foams up. If you get it on your hands, it is not a pleasant experience.
While we in America ran from the diesel engine as if running from a skunk, Europe embraced the technology and made it better. Today, over 50% of the vehicles in Europe are Diesels, and they have what Americans love: TORQUE. So, why should we car about all of this?
Recently, the US has adopted lower sulfur Diesel fuel, which has been used in Europe for some time now. This allows for the engines to use higher pressure injection systems and better particulate cleaning devises. These higher injection pressures have enabled the diesel engine to have performance as good as or better than gasoline engines. What this translates into for you and me is that we will be able to buy diesels that are not any noisier than what we drive now, do not smoke at all, have a higher level of durability, and will get 27% to 30% better fuel economy than their gas counterparts.
Ok, so what’s the catch? Great question! Basically, a vehicle with a diesel engine may cost up to $2,000 more for that option. As most of you search for your calculators to figure out the return on your investment, don’t forget that that cost is more than half of the premium you would pay to drive a hybrid. Keep in mind that the hybrids have not been consistent with their fuel economy ratings, but a diesel will be more consistent in all types of driving styles. You will not have to “pilot” your diesel vehicle like you do in a Prius, and you won’t have to hide because your car resembles a stapler.
So there you have it…..a modern diesel may have nasty fuel to pump (which I hear is better in the lower sulfur form), but it has many benefits over any other car out there. Many foreign car companies have plans to bring diesels to the US market in the next few years, and we can only hope that the folks at GM and Ford will come out of their fox holes and take another chance on the diesel car. No more needing to wear bags over our heads or wait until Christmas for our diesels to reach 60mph, the new diesels are awesome!
Don’t take my word for it, drive one yourself….