Should You Build a Gas- or Diesel-Powered Commercial Fleet?
As EPA regulations become stricter and fuel prices slowly rise, the choice between gas vs. diesel engines has only become more difficult. To help make this decision easier for you, our experts at Sutton Ford Commercial and Fleet put together an informative guide, analyzing the benefits and detractors of each engine type.
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Whether you plan on buying or leasing a commercial fleet, the first and most important thing to consider is the initial cost. Typically, a fleet equipped with diesel power costs up to $7,000-$10,000 more than a comparable gas option – a gap large enough to make some potential buyers chose gas powered fleets right away.
Maintenance and Operation Cost
Another factor to take into account is the overall cost of maintenance and operation. How much will your fleet cost you to maintain and operate over its life cycle? To determine this, you can break down overall maintenance and operation cost into four basic categories: Oil changes, repair expenses, fuel, and wheels/tires.
No matter which engine type you choose, oil changes are always necessary. Generally, gas engines require a change every 3,000-5,000 miles, and diesel engines every 5,000-7,000 miles. Oil changes for gas-powered engines are cheaper on average, roughly $20-$40, when compared to diesel engine oil changes, which average between $50-$70.
Major fleet repair costs can become a large problem for a business. If your fleet vehicles are outside of their warranty, or come with a limited warranty, exorbitant repair costs can pile up quickly. These costs are especially important to account for if your fleet is comprised of many heavy duty vehicles, as these models usually come with much higher parts and labor costs in terms of repairs.
The cost of fueling your fleet is also an important issue to consider. Fuel availability and fuel expenses are two of the most common cost issues with fleet vehicles. Gasoline is almost always cheaper than diesel fuel, meaning you’ll be spending significantly less at the pump over the life of your fleet. However, diesel engines are more fuel-efficient and burn cleaner, meaning you’ll make fewer trips to the pump and produce less pollution.
The last noteworthy subject is the cost of outfitting and replacing your fleet with wheels and tires. While wheels can be acquired at fairly inexpensive rates, the same cannot be said for tires, as they can run into the thousands for a set of four. If you are renting a fleet, usually the rental company covers tire replacement, but will leave you with the responsibility of minor repairs and replacements.
With the addition of variable cylinder control, turbocharging, direct injection, and stop/go fuel saving technology, gas engine fuel efficiency has greatly increased in recent years. This means the gap between gas and diesel engines is much closer than you might think, at least on paper.
While gas engines are certainly much more efficient now than they have been in the past, it’s important to remember that fuel economy ratings are based on best-case scenarios, with no added weight and operated at a consistent speed. This “best-case” is usually not how fleet vehicles are operated, especially if you add in a trailer or some other external weight.
As mentioned in the maintenance and operating cost section, gasoline is cheaper per gallon than diesel. Gas engines also tout government efficiency ratings close to that of diesel engines. However, if your fleet regularly hauls substantial weight inside or outside of the vehicle, the fuel efficiency ratings for a gas engine can drop significantly, while typically torque-heavy diesel engines retain their efficiency. Taking into account the daily operations of your fleet, and its effect on fuel economy, is a vital task when deciding between gas and diesel. For further fuel efficiency data, checking online reviews, vehicle forums, social media groups, and personal industry contacts can yield valuable information.
Expected Life Cycle
Expected vehicle life cycle is yet another factor to make note of. The length of time you estimate you will need to operate your vehicle will play a large role in which engine type is right for you. As discussed above, diesel achieves a much higher fuel economy across all situations and uses, meaning you will save every time you go to the pump. Conversely, gas engine fleets almost always cost less than diesel fleets, by a large margin. In order to determine which engine type is best, holding all other factors constant, you need to calculate how long you plan to use the fleet, and whether the initial cost of the diesel fleet will be offset by the fuel savings over its expected life cycle.