Diesel fuel hasn’t seen its reputation grow substantially as electrification becomes the method of choice for increasing fuel efficiency or in the wake of things like the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal. (Pro tip: Avoid having “-gate” appear as a suffix to your name.) But there are still positives to diesel power, particularly when it comes to pickup trucks.
Diesel trucks are much more confident when it comes to towing and hauling, relative to otherwise identical gas-powered versions, thanks to the larger amounts of torque diesel engines produce. Fuel efficiency also improves from “bad” to “a little less bad.” (This is where I say it would be helpful if the EPA would require that all trucks, including heavy-duty trucks, be subject to fuel economy testing, but that’s an argument for a different post.)
Diesel fuel, based on AAA’s national averages, is less expensive than the premium gas some higher-end truck engines recommend, but still more than regular gas. Depending on location, diesel may at least manage to come close to the cost of regular gas; in Alaska, for example, diesel is only about 7 cents more expensive on average as of Sept. 18. Fuel cost savings might be hard to come by based only on regular driving: The EPA’s average annual fuel cost for the 2018 Ford F-150 show annual fuel costs for the diesel engine between $1,950 and $2,200 depending on configuration; for the base 2.7-liter gas V-6 engine, it’s $1,950 to $2,000.
Of course, that’s not usually the intent of a diesel purchaser. Most buyers likely are planning on driving long distances, mostly on the highway and usually while towing or hauling something heavy. That’s where the improved fuel economy could make a significant difference — but that’s unfortunately not how the EPA conducts its testing, making calculations much more difficult.
But — and this is a big but, I can’t lie — what does it actually cost to even equip your pickup truck with a diesel engine? In what will surely be surprising news, adding an optional diesel engine can mean needing to add a host of other options to a pickup in the same way some manufacturers insist that adding navigation also requires a premium stereo. In some cases, an upgrade to a higher trim level is necessary to even have the option of a diesel engine in a pickup.