Thursday, July 4, 2024
HomeRVGas vs Diesel RV: Which is Right For You?

Gas vs Diesel RV: Which is Right For You?

So you know you want a motorhome over a towable RV. But have you decided who wins the gas vs diesel RV debate? As you’d imagine, both have advantages and disadvantages, so we’ve compiled this diesel vs gas RV buying guide. 

Some important buying considerations include fuel economy, RV maintenance, new vs used preference, RV size, resale value, and travel style. This guide will show you how gas versus diesel motorhomes compare for these criteria, but let’s begin with an overview of the pros and cons of these two motorhome types.

Gas vs Diesel RV Pros and Cons

Ram Promaster RV with gas engine
The popular Ram ProMaster chassis features a gas engine. It’s often used for Class Bs and smaller Class Cs.

Because most of us are more familiar with gas-powered vehicles, we’ll begin with gas motorhomes before outlining the advantages and disadvantages of diesel pushers

Advantages of Gas Motorhomes

Gas motorhomes are less expensive to buy and maintain, and the parts and labor needed are less specialized. It’s also often easier to find places to service gas RVs. 

Gas is usually less expensive than diesel fuel and is easier to find. If you plan on exploring many new places and visiting more remote areas, that could be very important to you.

To remain compliant, you also won’t need to worry about DEF (diesel exhaust fluid).  

Gas engines tend to be more cold-resistant and perform better at high altitudes. Depending on your location or travel destination, this could be extremely important.

Gas RV Downsides

RVs with gas engines require more frequent maintenance than ones with diesel engines.

Gas engines burn fuel faster, so you’ll be at the pump more often.

Gas engines typically have lower torque, which leads to issues climbing. Even if you’re not towing, it will be difficult to maintain speed while climbing. On a climb, you’ll also have to go heavy on the gas, which makes for a loud ride. It also works your engine hard and uses more fuel. This may be fine if you’re not RVing in mountainous areas. The same is true if you don’t plan to tow. 

If you plan to tow, you may miss that torque. Gas RVs don’t have the towing power diesel RVs do.

Positives of Diesel RVs

Diesel engines have a long life and will outlast gas engines. The longer engine life does translate to a higher resale value for an RV.

Diesel RVs typically require less frequent maintenance. You can drive a diesel engine for longer periods of time between maintenance. This is definitely an advantage for full-timers.

Diesel motorhomes usually offer superior low-end torque. This is very important when it comes to towing and climbing mountains. Diesel RVs do tend to perform better in the mountains than gas RVs. You’ll be able to maintain speed on a climb without going heavy on the throttle, which is taxing on the engine. The better torque is also important if you’re looking at larger RVs, as they’re heavier and require more torque to move and get up to speed.

If you plan to tow a vehicle frequently, diesels are better prepared to handle the additional strain.

Diesel Motorhome Drawbacks

Diesel fuel usually costs more than gas. Still, many RVers find that the better fuel economy of a diesel RV outweighs that negative.

A diesel engine’s usable powerband is in the lower RPM range. When you get to higher RPMs, power drops off. Gas engines are different. They produce more power at higher RPMs than diesel engines. This results in quicker acceleration and faster top speeds. Of course, that’s not too important while RVing.

Older diesel RVs don’t need diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), but newer ones do. In the past, some RVers found DEF expensive and hard to find. That’s not usually the case today, but it is another expense and worry to think about. Finding DEF is definitely something to consider, but it is available at most service stations and big-box retailers.

Diesel motorhomes are more expensive than their gas counterparts. How much this affects your decision will be impacted by your budget and likely the size RV you want. 

Although less frequent, diesel RV maintenance is more expensive due to the specialized parts and labor required.

Diesel vs Gas Motorhomes: Critical Buying Factors

A winding mountain road.
If you plan to travel through lots of mountain passes, a diesel RV, with its superior torque, may be for you.

Now let’s look at those buying factors we mentioned earlier to see how diesel pusher vs gas class A motorhomes compare. We’ll declare a general winner for each category. 

Purchase Cost Winner: Gas

All else equal, a Class A diesel motorhome will cost more than a Class A gas motorhome. From there, most other things won’t be equal. In today’s RV market, Class A diesels typically have higher-end finishes and features not found in gas models.

Bonus Tip: Consider depreciation and resale value. Historically, diesel motorhomes have maintained their resale value better than their gas counterparts.

Gas Mileage Winner: Diesel (Maybe…)

If we’re going off strict miles per gallon, diesel is usually the winner. While diesel fuel has consistently cost more than gas in recent years, we all know that fuel prices fluctuate. So the actual fuel cost per mile is much more even.

Newer diesel engines also use Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) to help the diesel burn cleaner. DEF is not technically fuel, but it is a recurring cost to consider. Fortunately, most gas stations that offer diesel fuel also offer DEF, especially on major highways and interstates.

That said, your true winner for this factor will require a direct model-to-model comparison. In other words, not all diesel motorhomes get better gas mileage than gas motorhomes.

Bonus Tip: If time really is money, diesel is the winner. Filling a diesel tank from a fast-flow nozzle can take 25% or less of the time it takes to fill a similar-sized gas tank at a standard auto fuel pump.

Driveability Winner: Diesel

Diesel engines have higher torque at lower RPMs. This means more available power when climbing hills and mountain roads—something RVs notoriously struggle with. Diesel RVs also handle better when descending.

Gas engines offer faster acceleration, but this isn’t a major selling factor with RVs. The goal is careful, measured driving—not the quickest 0 to 60 acceleration possible.

Class A diesel motorhomes almost always come with air braking, which is more reliable for stopping a heavy vehicle faster than the standard disc brakes on most Class A gas motorhomes.

But there are two important areas where gas engines win for driveability. They tend to perform better in cold climates and at higher altitudes.

Bonus Tip: The rear engine in most Class A diesel motorhomes makes for a quieter driving experience. In gas motorhomes, you often sit right on top of the engine—not always the most relaxing place to be.

Towing Capacity Winner: Diesel

Are you thinking about hauling a toad on your travels? Diesel engines have the power to pull more weight because of their high torque at low RPMs.

Class A gas motorhomes usually have a towing capacity of around 5,000 pounds, while diesel motorhomes can often pull 10,000-15,000 pounds.

Bonus Tip: When calculating your tow capacity, consider your hitch rating, overall weight ratings, and more. Here’s a post on some best practices for dinghy towing.

Maintenance Winner: Tie!

Maintenance costs on gas engines are lower than those on diesel engines. Like most passenger vehicles, owners can perform some basic maintenance tasks on gas motorhomes. If you need help, repair shops and techs are widespread and almost always charge a lower hourly rate than diesel techs.

However, diesel engines typically require less maintenance than gas engines. Running at a lower RPM means parts wear out less often, and problems occur less frequently. But when service and repairs are needed, it’s harder to service your own diesel engine. Parts are also typically more expensive and take longer to arrive.

Bonus Tip: Oil changes for a diesel engine can be pricey. They’re huge and take much, much more oil than a gas engine.

Determining Your Gas vs Diesel RV Preference

Photo by Camping World

Finally, here are a few questions to ask yourself before you head to your local RV dealer.

What’s Your Ideal RV Size?

Diesel engines are typically found in larger motorhomes, with the important exception of some Class B RVs on Mercedes chassis.

  • Do you prefer a smaller RV of 25 feet long or less?
  • Are you hoping to buy a large RV of 38 feet or more?

What Is Your Travel Style?

Travel style varies widely from one RVer to another. Many people travel to see their grandkids, others RV seasonally to escape the weather, and some RV full-time. Here are some questions to help you determine your travel style:

  • Do you plan to RV full-time?
  • Do you plan to RV part-time for an entire season?
  • Will you RV just on weekends and vacations?
  • Will you RV in mountainous regions or flat areas?
  • Do you plan to drive your RV frequently, or will you arrive and not move the RV for weeks or months at a time?
  • Do you plan to tow?

How Important is the Fuel Economy?

  • How important are infrequent fill-ups?
  • Are you RVing as a way to save money on vacations?

What’s Your Maintenance Preference?

  • If you plan to live in your RV full-time, how do you want to do regular RV maintenance checks?
  • Where will you be for regular maintenance checks as a full-time RVer?
  • If you plan to RV part-time, do you want to schedule maintenance for the season’s end, when your RV will be stored?

Gas vs Diesel RV: Which is Right For You?

man using portable fuel tank to add gas to motorhome
Photo by Camping World

So which one is right for you? It depends on how you want to RV. 

If you’re out a few weekends a year, a Class A gas motorhome might be worth the savings. 

If you’re full-timing, a Class A diesel motorhome might be a better fit.

Staying in cold climates? Stick to Gas. 

Lots of climbing? Diesel is the way to go.

Weigh each factor to help make your best decision. 

Neither a diesel RV nor a gas RV is inherently better than the other. When it comes to the living area of the RV, you’ll often find they’re comparable. That is, as long as you’re not comparing a luxury class A diesel pusher to an entry-level class A or C that happens to be gas!

Use these additional resources to narrow your motorhome search: 

What do you prefer? Leave a comment below!

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