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While diesel engines are primarily the domain of semi trucks and other heavy machinery in the United States, diesel cars are very popular in foreign markets. What are the benefits of a diesel car? Here's a cost-benefit analysis of this alternative engine style to see if it's worth the investment stateside.

Engine and Vehicle Price

Vincentric, a Michigan-based research firm, reports that the average price difference between a diesel engine and its gas-powered counterpart is $5,045.

Diesel engines also cost more on the "back end" — being slightly more expensive for repairs, maintenance, and insurance. Specific numbers vary widely from model to model, and region to region, but the higher cost of diesel operation is consistent.

Gas Costs

Both diesel and gas prices fluctuate. However, diesel reliably costs more per gallon at the pump: 31 cents per gallon more in July 2018 and 21 cents per gallon more in mid-August.

That said, diesel engines receive considerably better mileage than their gasoline counterparts. On average, a modern diesel engine achieves 20-40 percent better fuel economy than similar vehicles with a gas engine. As long as diesel costs less than 20 percent more than gasoline, gas costs are a point in favor of diesel cars.

However, Vincentric also notes that the difference in economy is higher as the engine and vehicle get larger. Vans, minivans, and trucks experience the greatest difference in miles-per-gallon, but passenger and compact cars are less of a certain proposition.

Incentives and Benefits

Although many have reported that diesel fumes are less pleasant than the emissions from gasoline cars, diesel engines reliably produce fewer emissions per mile. That has led some municipalities to offer tax incentives and other benefits for buying diesel-driven vehicles or converting existing vehicles to diesel (just the same as with several alternative fuels).

Both federal and state programs within the U.S. offer some benefits for diesel cars and trucks, though these change frequently. It should also be noted that these programs lean toward emphasizing hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel vehicles over diesel technology. Still, it's worth investigating what offers are available in your area when considering which type of car to purchase.

The Choice

Depending on your choice, you'll save money on fuel, but spend more on buying and maintaining the vehicle. So, in many cases, the choice will be a matter of personal preference. When you're looking to make a purchase, check to see if your local area offers any incentives. If so, this might give diesel a firm advantage.

Finally, the specific performance of one vehicle or another is worth taking into account, as well. Models that reliably get 35-40 percent better fuel efficiency are definitely worth the initial investment and maintenance costs.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

By selecting any external link on, you will leave the KeyBank website and jump to an unaffiliated third party website that may offer a different privacy policy and level of security. The third party is responsible for website content and system availability. KeyBank does not offer, endorse, recommend, or guarantee any product or service available on that entity's website.

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