Gas Vs Diesel RV: The Pros And Cons Of The Two Options

an RV trailer in a gas station

An RV can give you the freedom to travel and enjoy a never-ending road trip. However, the first thing you have to do is decide which RV to buy. One of the very first choices is to decide on a gas vs. diesel RV for your travels.

To do this, you really need to learn about the differences between gas and diesel fuel. You must make a few considerations about your needs and desires when it comes to your RV as well. Then, you will be able to make an informed decision on a gas vs. diesel RV for yourself.

The Inside Scoop on Gas

You are probably most familiar with gasoline because it's the most common fuel source for standard commuter vehicles. Gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons that come from petroleum.

Gas is highly flammable, including the vapors. It also evaporates quickly, so you can't store it for long periods.

It provides a lot of power upfront for fast acceleration. However, it loses this power quickly, making it less than ideal for steep inclines or towing.

The Lowdown on Diesel

Diesel is sometimes used in passenger vehicles but is more often found in larger vehicles, including pickup trucks and semis. It is a combustible petroleum distillate.

Unlike gas, its vapors are not flammable. This is important to note as we get into how each type of engine works.

You can also store it for long periods without the risk of evaporation.

You don't get the same upfront power with diesel as you do with gas. A diesel engine accelerates rather slowly, but once it gets up to speed, the real power kicks in. Because of this, a diesel engine is much better at towing and making steep climbs.

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Inside the Engine

a person filling up a gas tank

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The way a gas vs. diesel RV engine works gives a little insight into the difference between the two.

There are two critical steps in operation where they are quite different.

The basic operation of an engine using any type of fuel is to ignite the fuel and use that explosive energy to power the motor. This happens on a continuous loop until you cut the fuel source off from the engine. This is true for both types of engines.

The process begins with the addition of air.

According to Cenex, in a gas engine, the air mixes with the gas as it enters the engine cylinders. In a diesel engine, the air enters the cylinders without mixing with the fuel.

The next step is compression. In a gas engine, the cylinders compress the air and fuel mixture with low compression. A higher compression occurs within a diesel engine because it is just air, so there's no risk of an explosion from the temperature getting too hot.

The most significant difference occurs in the next step, where ignition occurs. In a gas engine, the spark plugs create a spark that ignites the gas and produces the energy to power the motor. In a diesel engine, there are no spark plugs. The heated air is what ignites the diesel to produce energy.

The final step is getting rid of the byproducts through your exhaust system. This is similar for both types of engines.

The differences between the way the fuel works in the engine produces various differences in the way each engine operates. These factors will affect your choice between a gas vs. diesel RV.

Gas vs. Diesel RV: A Comparison

How you choose to use your RV will be the most important thing to know before you decide which is better between a gas vs. diesel RV. Your planned use and preferences for maintenance and overall care of the RV will play a large role in your choice.

The goal is to understand the differences between a gas vs. diesel RV and how they will affect your ownership. This will allow you to arrive at a decision that makes the most sense for your situation.

Upfront cost

fuel dispensers

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As you start shopping for an RV, you'll notice gas RVs are much cheaper than diesel RVs. Even the lowest model diesel RV will be pretty expensive when compared to the higher-end gas RVs.

But there's a good reason for this.

According to KOA, diesel RVs retain their value much better than gas models. That means the resale value is much higher, so you get more for your money.

You need to think about what is more important to you. If you want a lower cost up front, then a gas RV may be the better option. However, if you are looking at overall investment value, a diesel RV is the best choice.

Travel style

Considering your​ travel style and what you will use the RV for are perhaps the biggest factors that will affect your final decision. So, before buying, you really need to think about your intentions and plans.

You should know diesel fuel costs more than gas at the pump. Also, diesel is not as readily available as gas.

However, diesel does get much better fuel mileage than gasoline, so you won't need to fill up as often.

Power and terrain

Keep in mind a gas engine will give you more acceleration power, but diesel is much better if you plan to tow or need to tackle going up steep inclines.

On the downside, though, diesel RVs typically use air brakes, which are much different than the brakes you use in your everyday vehicle. They can take some getting used to and adjustment to know how to use them properly, especially when going downhill.

While a diesel engine will pull you up a hill much better than a gas one, gas engines run better at high altitudes. It is a trade-off that you really need to consider if you will be driving in mountainous areas.


Another thing to note is gas engines do much better in colder weather. A diesel engine requires a heat source to keep it running when the temperatures get too cold. Your diesel engine won't even start if the temperature is too low.

So, you'll need an engine heater or some other plans to use a diesel RV in harsh winter climates.

Between the costs and limitations of each type of engine, it can be tricky to make a decision. It always seems as if there is a trade-off.

The best thing to do is map out where you want to travel and consider the terrain, availability of fuel, and other factors that can help you determine which is the best choice between a gas vs. diesel RV.

Fuel economy

As mentioned, diesel is a more efficient fuel. It is worth mentioning again, though, because many people write off diesel for the higher upfront cost at the pump.

This is a mistake because many RV owners say that in the long run, the difference is barely noticeable. Diesel RV owners may pay more for fuel, but it lasts longer, so they get more for the money.

Gas RV owners save at the pump, but they have to stop more often to fuel up.

Therefore, it shouldn't have a significant impact on your final decision. You will probably end up spending a similar amount of money overall, so you may want to weigh whether you want to stop more often for fuel or get more time from each tank.

Maintenance and upkeep

If you're leaning one way or the other, you still need to think about maintenance and upkeep. This can be the tipping point and help you make that final choice between a gas vs. diesel RV.

Diesel engines are more durable and will last much longer than a gas engine. This is part of the reason why the resale value is so high for diesel RVs.

Diesel tank fuel

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Because of this, you also won't need to complete maintenance as often. However, when you do need maintenance, even something simple like an oil change, you will probably need to take it to a professional because diesel engines are quite complex and challenging to work on.

On the other hand, while a gas engine will require more maintenance and will not last as long, you can work on it yourself if you have the skills. Plus, maintenance is much cheaper.

Parts for a diesel engine will also cost you more than those for a gas engine. You will also find parts easier for your gas RV than a diesel RV.

When it comes to maintenance and upkeep, a gas RV wins out for being much easier to care for. However, if you plan on making a significant investment in a gas vs. diesel RV, you may feel the longer lifespan of a diesel engine is worth the higher maintenance costs.

Let's Go RVing

Buying an RV is an investment, so you want to make sure you make the right choice. There are many things you need to consider when choosing between a gas vs. diesel RV.

Here are some things to think about as you consider the gas vs. diesel RV decision:

  • Will you live in it and travel long distances, or is it only for the occasional trip?
  • Are you going to be in areas with mountains, or will you generally be on flatter land?
  • Will you use it only in the summer or all year long?
  • Do you want to eventually upgrade and wish to use this RV as a trade-in?

Remember, gas RVs require less maintenance, have easier upkeep, and more acceleration power. Also, gas is cheaper than diesel and easier to find since all service stations usually carry it.

However, they do not do well on hills, and they have lower resale value because gas engines do not last as long as diesel engines. On the plus side, a gas RV will cost less upfront.

Diesel engines don't do well in the cold, and diesel fuel costs more than gas. Plus, diesel may not be available at all service stations. However, it has excellent pulling power and an engine that lasts longer. The resale value is higher but so is the upfront cost.

Both types of RVs have their good and bad points. Ultimately, the decision is entirely up to you. Let us know in the comments what swayed you to choose a gas vs. diesel RV!

Featured Image: CC BY 2.0, by Mountain/ \Ash via 


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