Diesel-powered Daily Drivers are on the Rise

by : Vincent P Platania

Diesel power is popular all over the world, but not for the same reasons. In America, diesel power is traditionally used to power commercial and industrial vehicles and equipment. In Europe, it is used for the same purposes, and it is popular for use in regular vehicles as well. Why is that? Europe has much higher fuel prices than America does, and diesel is much more economical than gasoline overall. While gasoline may cost less per gallon - depending on the season, due to heating costs - diesel can deliver more miles per gallon, effectively reducing the operating costs of a vehicle. For this reason, more diesel cars were sold in Europe than gasoline cars, according to a eurocarprice.com survey.

During the '70s gas shortage, diesel tried to make a place for itself in the American car market, but that failed, due to the poor engineering of the American car manufacturers' attempt to rapidly develop and produce these cars. The cars produced were loud, expensive to maintain, produced a foul smelling exhaust, and were less reliable than traditional gasoline-powered automobiles. This created a stigma that has affected the reputation of diesel-powered automobiles, until now. J.D. Power and Associates has predicted that the number of cars powered by diesel will triple on America's roads in the next ten years.

Diesel is much cleaner now than it was 30 years ago as well, not only in terms of exhaust, but in other aspects, too. Federal requirements dictate that diesel engines must meet standards that limit the odor, noise, and emissions significantly. They also get up to 40 percent better fuel economy than gasoline engines and produce enough power to satisfy most needs of the American speed demon.

One way diesel has become a much cleaner fuel is through the development of ULSD (Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel.) ULSD eliminates 97 percent of sulfur, which is a major cause of pollution. There are still a few states that do not allow the sale of diesel-powered passenger vehicles. Manufacturers are developing ways to use ULSD to meet requirements in all 50 states.

Along with the new ULSD, there are other technologies that can help reduce the emissions of diesel. Daimler Chrysler and GM both are developing engines that inject a substance into the combustion chamber during ignition that help the diesel burn more clean. A new catalytic converter is being introduced by Honda that greatly reduces the levels of nitrogen oxide that leaves the exhaust system.

More Advantages of Diesel-Powered Engines

Because larger pickups, agricultural equipment, commercial transportation vehicles, and industrial equipment do not have the same emission requirements as passenger vehicles, the people and industries that use these types of vehicles or equipment rely on diesel power. This is because the engines produce more power and last longer, due to less wear and tear and a lower frequency of maintenance intervals.

Diesels have a longer maintenance interval because they don't have to work as hard as gasoline-powered engines. Diesels operate at less than 50 percent of the rpm's that a gasoline engine operates at. This is because a diesel engine produces most of its power; whereas a gasoline engine idles. A gasoline engine's peak performance averages at about 4,200 rpm's; whereas a diesel engine's peak is between 1,500 and 2,000 rpm's. This result is less wear and tear per hour or mile. Diesels also produce much greater torque than a gasoline engine does, enabling the use of lower gear ratios, resulting in much better fuel economy. This is all because of the difference in how the engines utilize their fuel.

Gasoline engines inject both air and fuel into the combustion chamber at the same time. The cylinder then compresses this mixture to 8:1 - 11:1 ratio, where the mixture is then ignited by a spark generated by a spark plug. That means that it is taking the amount of air and fuel in the cylinder and compressing it, so that it is compressed up to 1/11th of the original volume. Diesel, on the other hand, compresses pure air up to 25:1 ratio or higher. It then injects the fuel into the chamber, which is super heated, due to the high compressions, and immediately ignited. Diesel fuel also contains a higher energy density, about 147,000 BTU, than gasoline's 125,000 BTU. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. Because of the higher compression ratios and higher energy density, when the diesel ignites, it generates more than double the cranking power than the gasoline engine does.

Energy supplies are getting more and more expensive every day. Since this concern is growing, so are the technology advancements for diesel-powered passenger cars. As a matter of fact, in 2006, the Audi R10 took first place in the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race. Not only did it win, but it was the quietest, cleanest, most efficient, and obviously fastest car on the track. This is just a preview of what is to come in the future of diesel-powered vehicles.

Disadvantages of Diesel
All of the great news you have read about diesel so far does come with a few disadvantages as well. Diesel fuel has to be very clean for it to burn properly. Contaminants like dirt and especially water will significantly reduce performance and cause your exhaust emissions to increase.

Extremely cold temperatures also cause the diesel to "gel up," reducing the fuel system's efficiency, and as a result, the amount of fuel injected into the combustion chamber. Also, since diesel is ignited by the heat of compressed gases, cold temperatures may also inhibit the ignition of the fuel during startups.

Also, as mentioned above, diesel-powered vehicles cost more to maintain. Finding a certified technician is also more difficult, due to the lack of demand. So even though a diesel engine is built to last longer under more extreme conditions, when they do need maintenance, it is not as easy of a fix as a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Looking at Diesel From a Lube Point of View.
A lube shop needs to realize the opportunity created by the growing popularity of diesel power. As mentioned earlier, finding qualified diesel technicians is no easy feat; and by targeting diesel customers, they can greatly increase profit margins, because of the larger oil capacities and filters.

Using synthetic oils in a diesel engine will also improve the performance and life of the engine. These oils usually contain detergents that help combat excess soot and dirty emissions created by the engine. These oils also help the engine operate more efficiently at higher temperatures, while reducing wear and tear at the same time. Synthetics also improve the engine's cold temperature operation as well, because of the lower pour points that synthetics possess.

Diesel-powered vehicles also have a wide array of fuel additives that can help improve their performance, especially under extreme conditions. Besides additives that combat dirt, water, and cold temperatures, there are also additives that boost the cetane rating of the fuel. Researching the different manufacturers' products can help you decide which one is best for the environment a particular vehicle operates in.

With the growth of popularity of diesel engines, the one-time dirty, sluggish, loud, foul-smelling black sheep of passenger vehicles, there are going to be more environmental regulations applied to these types of vehicles. Oil companies need to be prepared to produce high-quality products to meet these demands.

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