Is buying a diesel worth it?

We recently published a study to find if buying a hybrid car is worth it and the price per mile on an EV. While the initial price of the hybrid trim is more expensive than a non-hybrid, the savings with superior fuel economy pays off in the long run, right? The results were surprising and it got us thinking if diesel cars are really worth the extra coin.

Diesel Versus Non Diesel

We conducted this study in a similar fashion to the hybrid study. We found models available with both diesel and traditional unleaded gasoline engines, equipped them comparably and then found the difference in MSRP. We calculated how many miles someone would have to drive a diesel car for the savings in fuel consumption to outweigh the increased price. The only real difference between the two studies is accounting for the cost of diesel fuel.

– Average hybrid trim costs $4,100 more than non-hybrid trim

– Average diesel trim costs $2,100 more than non-diesel trim

– 12 MPG average increase of a hybrid trim over non-hybrid trim

– 6 MPG average increase of a diesel trim over non-diesel trim

– Average of 125,000 miles driven to break even on added cost of hybrid trim

– Average of 96,000 miles driven to break even on added cost of a diesel trim

So as you diesel owners can see, most of the cars we analyzed start saving you money before the 100,000 mile mark or shortly after. Of course, there are outliers. What isn’t shown on the infographic is the Volkswagen Jetta which we couldn’t fit because you would have to drive a staggering 848,057 miles to make up for the added cost of the diesel model. So, unless you plan on driving to the moon and back twice, don’t count on the Jetta to save you money.

Another outlier from our analysis is the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which you would have to drive a total of 189,124 miles to make up for the extra cost. But keep in mind, the diesel engine in the Jeep puts out 420ft lbs of torque. Compared to the 260ft lbs from the unleaded gasoline V6, it might be worth shelling out the extra dough. The same could be said for the Dodge Ram 3.0L Ecodiesel. If you bought the diesel version for the sake of fuel savings, tough luck. You’d have to drive 854,286 miles to outweigh the extra $6,500 cost. Then again, you can’t roll coal with the 3.6L Pentastar V6 that comes standard.

diesel-truck-exhaust-600w

Despite the outliers, diesel cars fared much better in the analysis than the hybrids overall except for MPG. The average mileage the hybrids in our study needed to be driven before breaking even is about 125,000 miles (this number does not take into account abysmal BMW Active3). For diesels, this number is about 96,000. Plus, diesels cost significantly less to maintain. However, if you’re looking to buy a new car and only expect own it for a couple years, it might pay to know how many miles you really need to drive.

Recap of the models compared:
Volkswagen Golf – TDI S  vs. Golf 1.8T S
Volkswagen Passat – TDI SE VS Passat 1.8T SE
Audi A6 – 3.0L TDI VS A6 3.0L TSFI
Audi A3 – 2.0L TDI VS A3 2.0L TSFI
Chevrolet Cruze – Diesel Auto VS Cruze LTZ Auto
BMW 3 Series – 328d VS 328i
BMW 535d – 535d VS 535i
Jeep Grand Cherokee – Limited 4X4 Ecodiesel V6 VS Limited 4X4 3.6L V6

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Written by Tristan Cathers

Infographic by Sam Jackson

Photo Credits: Chevrolet