Fuel is what powers your motorhome, so deciding whether your RV will run on gas or diesel is not a decision you should take lightly. Your choice will influence how much money you’ll spend at the pump, your vehicle’s engine performance, fuel economy, and how often you have to maintain your RV. Between gas and diesel, which is the right motorhome for you?
If you care more about keeping maintenance and motorhome costs low, then choose a gas motorhome. For those who want a larger RV and don’t mind that it needs more specialized and expensive care, a diesel motorhome is the better choice for you.
If you more help to make up your mind, this article will be your guide. Ahead, we’ll define gas and diesel motorhomes and then compare the differences between the two. We’ll even offer some pointers on how to pick a motorhome you’ll be happy with for years!
What Is a Gas Motorhome?
Let’s start with some definitions. A gas motorhome is one that runs on gas or gasoline, just like your car or truck back home probably does. Although gas and diesel motorhomes both rely on internal combustion engines, how those engines function is not at all the same.
In a gas motorhome, spark ignition occurs when fuel reaches the combustion chamber. Air within the chamber interacts with the fuel while a spark plug activates the ignition. Your engine is soon purring and you can drive your motorhome cross-country.
There’s a misconception that gas motorhomes can never be class As, which is the largest RV class. If you need a refresher, a class A motorhome is anywhere from 25 to 45 feet long and weighs 13,000 to 30,000 pounds.
Gas motorhomes may be available as class As, although the engine would be slightly smaller than a diesel RV at the same size. More commonly, they’re class B or C motorhomes.
What Is a Diesel Motorhome?
Your other option is a diesel-powered motorhome, also known as a diesel pusher. These vehicles are predominantly class A RVs with an average length of 45 feet and room for more than four passengers (unless you want to tote along a lot of gear).
In diesel pusher engines, compression occurs within the combustion chamber, which heats up to around 1,022 degrees Fahrenheit. The fuel at that temperature goes straight to the combustion chamber and your engine starts.
Engine ignition in diesel pushers used to be quite loud when it happened, but fortunately, that’s not so much the case with these motorhomes anymore.
Gas vs. Diesel Motorhomes: What Are the Differences?
Now that we’ve discussed the basics of gas and diesel motorhomes, it’s time to dive into the myriad of differences between these two types of vehicles.
RV Costs and Resale Value
One of the most important factors when shopping for a new motorhome is the cost. Gas RVs tend to be more inexpensive than their diesel counterparts. The average MSRP of a gas RV is around $133,800 while a diesel RV may start at around $192,400. A gas motorhome could cost roughly 30 percent less than a diesel.
However, this is a bit of a double-edged sword. Now that you know motorhomes last about 20 years (or 200,000 miles, typically whichever comes first), the day will come that you may wish to cash in on your RV before it’s worthless.
If you go to resell your gas motorhome, you won’t get nearly as close to the asking price as you would when selling a diesel motorhome. So you’re spending less at the beginning with a gas RV, but what you saved now, you’ll have to shell out later for a replacement motorhome. Diesel motorhomes are more expensive initially, but have a higher resale value so you recoup that money back should you decide to sell yours.
Engine Size, Location, and Noise Levels
The engine is a huge differentiating factor between gas and diesel motorhomes. There’s a lot to cover in this section, so let’s start with the size of the engine.
In diesel RVs, the engine is larger. It’s also much more powerful. A diesel motorhome may include a transmission system with five speeds, towing/hauling mode, and automatic overdrive to beef up the vehicle. Gas engines can’t really compare.
Diesel engines are built to log some serious mileage, and they operate at a lower rotation per minute rate or RPM compared to gas engines. The slower RPM maintains the quality and integrity of the engine for longer. Gas engines run faster so they strain just as fast, necessitating repairs if not replacements.
The biggest difference between gas and diesel engines by far is their location. Gasoline engines are like a car or truck in that your engine is in the front under the hood. That makes the engine convenient to access, yes, but it brings about a whole host of other problems.
For instance, the location of a gas engine generates a lot of heat towards the front of the vehicle, which is where you sit. In warmer climes, which is when you use your motorhome most predominantly, you’re going to have to blast your air conditioner all day to combat the engine heat. All that extra work can strain the AC, which might break prematurely.
If you happen to extend your RV season into the autumn or even the early winter, then you won’t mind the engine heat nearly as much. You might not even have to turn on your motorhome’s heater since the engine heat will be enough.
You hear a gas engine so much more because of its location. If you like to enjoy some music while out on the open road, this hobby may be interrupted by the constant rumble of the engine. An upgraded speaker system can negate this problem, but new speakers can be costly.
Having conversations with a fellow front-seat passenger over the rumble of the engine shouldn’t be too difficult, but you will have to speak at a consistent volume. If someone calls you while you’re driving and you want to take it, a Bluetooth headset with noise-canceling properties will probably be the only way you can really hear them. Even talking on speakerphone won’t help.
Okay, so that’s the engine placement for a gas engine, what about diesel motorhomes? Their engines are in the cabin around the back. You won’t hear your engine nearly as much, but driving a diesel RV isn’t a noiseless experience just as the same as driving a car or truck isn’t.
That said, having conversations at a normal volume is no big deal, and the same goes for taking phone calls and listening to music. Well, basic RV speakers may leave something to be desired, so if you’re going to splurge on one motorhome amenity and you really love music, let it be the speakers.
Maintenance/Repair Costs and Frequency
Even once you pay the upfront costs of a motorhome, you’re far from done sinking money into the vehicle. Besides what you spend to fill up your RV’s gas tank each time you want to take a road trip, you have to pay for maintenance and repairs.
Maintaining your motorhome often should reduce your rate of repairs, and we always stress on this blog that a good maintenance routine is key. That’s the only way to possibly get more than 20 years out of your motorhome.
It’s no secret that maintenance doesn’t come cheap, but you will shell out considerably less cash maintaining a gas motorhome versus a diesel. Why is that? For a few reasons, actually.
For one, gas RVs are a little more popular, so any motorhome repair shop you call is likely going to have the parts you need to fix your vehicle. Since the parts are so common, you won’t pay a premium for them. The maintenance and repair work isn’t very complex either, which also keeps your repair overheads down.
Diesel motorhomes typically require less maintenance than gas RVs, which is nice from a time-saving and money-saving perspective. That said, when your diesel RV needs work, all those money savings go out the window.
Your vehicle requires more complex repairs and the parts are harder to come by than those for a gas motorhome. You also might have to call or visit a few RV repair shops before finding one that will service diesel motorhomes. This all leads to you spending more of your money, not to mention your time too.
Your motorhome’s fuel economy is incredibly important given how far you take your RV on a regular basis. Filling up at the pump more and not getting as much bang for your buck can make you feel like you’re hemorrhaging money, which is never fun.
Between gas and diesel motorhomes, the fuel tank size shouldn’t be drastically different. Most gas RVs have an 80-gallon tank while a diesel motorhome might boast a 90-gallon tank. The average fuel efficiency rating for a gas motorhome is 8 miles per gallon or mpg whereas for diesels, it’s 10 mpg.
Almost any gas station should be able to fill up your gas motorhome, which isn’t always the case with a diesel motorhome. You’ll pay more to fill up with diesel fuel than gas, but your money goes further.
One upside of gassing up a diesel motorhome is that it’s a pretty quick process, especially when using a truck diesel pump. These pumps can fill your gas tank at a rate of 60 gallons per minute, which means your tank is full in about two minutes.
Since a diesel motorhome has a dual-tank fill, you can pull up to a pump on either side and fill up your tank. Do make sure you have diesel exhaust fluid or DEF to cut down on air pollution while you load up your tank. That’s especially crucial if your motorhome is new, as the engine may release more emissions.
DEF is only deionized water and urea, but it’s still quite expensive. Also, good luck finding it at most gas stations, as you won’t be able to. That’s a definite downside to diesel.
Filling your tank in a gas motorhome is easy, since as we said, almost any gas station will accommodate you. We hope you have time though, as your tank will fill up in around eight minutes since the tank receives fuel at a rate of only 10 GPM.
You can skip the DEF, which is a perk, but you might not be able to pull up on either side of the pump and start filling like you can with a diesel motorhome.
Torque and Horsepower
Larger gas motorhomes are nothing to sleep on, but their torque and horsepower are lacking when stacked against a diesel. Gas RVs may have an average torque rating of 457 pounds a foot at 3,250 RPMs and horsepower of around 362 HP if the vehicle comes equipped with a 6.8-liter V10 engine.
Compare that to a diesel RV, which has a torque rating of around 660 pounds per foot at 1,600 RPM and horsepower of more than 300 HP with a 6.7-liter engine.
The last area comparison between gas and diesel motorhomes we want to discuss is towing capacity. Even with a larger gas RV, most have a tow rating of 5,000 pounds max. It’s no small feat to be able to tow that much weight in a gas motorhome, and for average family camping, towing 5,000 pounds should be more than fine.
Diesel motorhomes double the towing capacity to an astounding 10,000 pounds. Whether you want to bring a small group of passengers or a month’s worth of gear, you’ll be able to with ease if you’re driving a diesel RV.
How to Choose Between a Gas or Diesel Motorhome
You’ve familiarized yourself with the pros and cons of gas and diesel motorhomes, but you’re still struggling to choose which type of RV is right for you. There’s no wrong answer here, so let the following factors help influence your decision.
Decide How Much Money You’re Willing to Spend
Start by creating a budget for your motorhome. Remember that besides the MSRP of the RV are also taxes, any add-ons you buy, and possible shipping costs unless you can pick up the vehicle in person. You need to have enough money set aside for these expenses unless you plan on buying a used motorhome. In that case, taxes and shipping fees may still apply.
After you do some numbers-crunching, if your budget is around $130k to $150k, buy a gas motorhome. Should you have a larger budget that’s closer to $200k, then you can afford a diesel motorhome if you want one.
Factor in Repair Costs, Time, and Effort
Your budget must have room for all the extra expenses that owning an RV demand. Remember, these are things like everyday maintenance as well as repairs both big and small. Gas motorhomes, if they need major repairs, won’t cost you as much. You will pay more for maintenance though, so saving on repairs is kind of negated.
Diesel motorhomes aren’t costly to maintain, but you will put a lot more blood, sweat, and tears into keeping a diesel in roadworthy condition. You’ll also spend more time getting a diesel RV repaired, and you know what they say, time is money.
Consider How Big of a Motorhome Is Too Big for You and Your Family
There’s no need to buy more motorhome than you’ll reasonably need. If you have a small family or you like to go camping with a couple of buddies, then a gas RV that’s 25 feet or less will be perfect for you.
If you have a bigger family or you wish to bring a large group of friends on your RV, then a diesel motorhome that’s at least 38 inches can fit everyone and then some.
Are you a Full-Time RVer?
Another question to ask yourself is how will you use your motorhome? Will you drive and live in it part-time a few months of the year or spend six months or longer per year living in the motorhome? If it’s the latter, then you’re probably traveling quite a deal more than someone who’s only a part-time RVer.
For you, a diesel motorhome makes more sense. You get better fuel economy, powerful towing, and more longevity.
Gas and diesel motorhomes both have clear advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your budget, itinerary, towing needs, and passenger count, selecting one type of motorhome over another should be easier. Best of luck with your new motorhome!