Diesel Vs. Gas Motorhomes

by Christopher Jackson

Prospective recreational vehicle buyers face a major decision when it comes down to selecting a rolling vacation home of choice. Like heavy-duty pickup trucks, RVs are available with gasoline or diesel-powered engines. Each represents a significant part of the market, and choosing the RV that best fits your needs can hinge on this decision.


Once distinct subgroups of motorhomes, diesel-and gas-powered RVs have changed over the years. As of 2010 both Class A (full-chassis) and Class C (van-chassis) motorhomes are available with a choice of gasoline or diesel engines. When it comes to deciding which is "better," there is no clear-cut advantage. The chief differences between gasoline and diesel RVs are cost and capacity. In brief, gasoline-powered motorhomes cost less to purchase and maintain than comparable diesels, while diesels have more power and more cargo and towing capacity. A closer look and a test drive are recommended to find the vehicle of your dreams.

Consider Convenience

Amenities are chiefly a function of cost rather than power choice, and both gasoline and diesel motorhomes are available with a full complement of home's comforts. When it comes time to service the mechanical parts, diesels have a longer service interval and require less, though the service itself usually costs more. Out on the road, diesels have more hill-climbing torque, and return better fuel economy.

Consider Familiarity

Gasoline-powered RVs have the benefit of being similar to gas-powered heavy-duty trucks. Most mechanics will have a good idea of how to work on them and troubleshoot problems. Service on a diesel RV, on the other hand, will have to be performed by a dedicated motorhome or diesel mechanic, as the corner garage is not equipped to handle even an oil change on these machines.

Consider Comfort

Large diesel RVs feature a "pusher" layout, meaning that the engine and drivetrain are mounted at the rear of the coach, as in a charter bus. The considerable weight of the engine and transmission requires a sturdy, bus-like frame as well. This translates to less interior noise when driving. Diesel Class A motorhomes are equipped with air brakes, which require practice to build familiarity.

Consider Cost

Gasoline-powered motorhomes are less expensive to purchase and maintain than their diesel-burning counterparts. The diesel's efficiency advantage is offset partially by the higher cost of diesel fuel and, in the case of large Class A coaches, a larger fuel tank.

Which is Best for You?

Diesel motorhomes tend to be the choice of RVers who plan to spend a lot of time on the road and are willing to accept the additional expense. Gas-powered motorhomes lend themselves well to vacation use. Both offer the chance to see the country in a new light, and adventure is around the corner no matter what kind of fuel your motorhome burns!

About the Author

Christopher "Emmy" Jackson has been an automotive writer since 1999. His self-syndicated auto column appears weekly in print and online, and his work has appeared in "Grassroots Motorsports," "AutoWeek" and "African-Americans on Wheels." He is a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with degrees in English and creative writing, and spends most of his free time reviewing new cars and working on new automotive projects.

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