Which is better, a diesel RV or a gas RV? Many first-time buyers wonder which they should buy—the answer isn’t clear-cut.
Before you can decide if a gas or diesel RV is right for you, take a moment to think about your RV future. Think about your travel style, how important fuel economy will be for you, how you plan to schedule RV maintenance, and what size RV you want.
One thing to note is neither a diesel RV or gas RV are 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, of course!
To start narrowing down your RV search, let’s look at some questions to think about before you head to your local RV dealer. Then we’ll look at the pros and cons of gas and diesel RVs.
Questions to Think About
Travel style varies widely from one RVer to another. Many people travel to see their grandkids, others RV seasonally to escape the weather, 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 are infrequent fill-ups?
- Are you RVing as a way to save money on vacations?
- 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 season’s end when your RV will be placed in storage?
- Do you prefer a smaller RV of 25 ft long or less?
- Are you hoping to buy a large RV of 38 ft long or more?
Diesel RV Pros and Cons
Diesel engines have a long life and will outlast gas engines. This is a major benefit of the engine type. However, if you plan to drive your RV, say, 5,000 miles a year, this doesn’t benefit you much. However, the longer engine life does translate to a higher resale value for an RV. A diesel engine can be driven for longer periods of time between maintenance. This is definitely an advantage for full-timers.
Another pro of the diesel RV is the superior low-end torque availability. 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.
Most of the time, diesel fuel will cost more than gas. Still, many RVers find 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.
Another thing to think about with diesel engines is diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Older diesel RVs don’t need DEF, but new diesel RVs 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. Having to find DEF is definitely something to consider, but it is available at most service stations and pretty much all big-box retailers like Walmart.
Diesel RVs 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. Diesel maintenance is also more expensive due to the specialized parts and labor required. However, a diesel RV will require less-frequent maintenance, so some consider this an acceptable tradeoff.
Gas RV Pros and Cons
Gas RVs are less expensive to buy and maintain. The parts and labor needed are less specialized. It’s also often easier to find places to service gas RVs. However, RVs with gas engines require more frequent maintenance than ones with diesel.
Gas will most often cost less than diesel fuel and be easier to find. If you plan on exploring lots of new places and visiting some more remote areas, that could be very important to you. However, gas engines aren’t as efficient, so you’ll be at the pump more often. You also won’t need to worry about DEF.
Gas engines tend to be more resistant to cold and perform better at high altitudes. This could be extremely important depending on your location or travel destination.
The major con of gas engines in RVs is lower torque. This 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.
If you’re not RVing in mountainous areas, this may not be a concern. The same is true if you don’t plan to tow. If you do want to tow, you may miss that torque. Gas RVs don’t have the towing power diesel RVs do.
Overall, when looking at gas vs. diesel RVs, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. There’s hardly a difference in living space. Gas and diesel engines have different strengths and weaknesses. Which one is right for you comes down to how you plan to use your RV.