I have bought and sold many RVs over my 50 years of RV ownership and want to help people to avoid RV buying and selling problems.
Diesel or Gas RV: Which Is Better?
There are many reasons why diesel pushers are better to own than those that run on gasoline, despite the fact there are substantial differences between the two, and there is also a great deal of controversy between owners as to which type of coach is best.
Since my husband and I have owned several types of motorhomes during our more than 50 years as RVers, I feel qualified to advise you about this issue. The truth is that how good any coach is depends on its quality, construction, and care. You can buy any unit that is top-of-the-line, and it will serve you well. However, if it has been misused or is a "lemon" coming out of the factory, the type of fuel it uses, its price or its basic amenities won't matter.
So, when making comparisons between gas and diesel coaches, you need to make sure you are not comparing apples to oranges. For purposes of this article, we'll be discussing mid-level units.
The Pros of Diesel
Anybody who owns a pusher will tell you that they
- are more solidly constructed,
- are generally more stable on highways,
- make driving easier and less stressful,
- offer many conveniences and amenities not found in other types of RVs, and
- last longer.
Which Costs More?
All manufacturers produce various "levels" of motorhomes. Thus some are lower quality than others. The average new mid-level Diesel Pusher costs about one third more than a similar level of gas motorhome. For this reason, many buyers purchase those that run on gas.
However, there are a number of amenities they cannot have if they do this, and some of them make a big difference to comfort level as well as finances. For example, a well maintained pusher will hold its value much better than a similar gas model. What good does it do to save on the price of a new coach if you have to replace it sooner and lose more money on your trade?
Furthermore, you can reap all of the benefits of a diesel and pay much less if you purchase one that was previously owned and has been well-maintained.
- In 2002 we purchased a 1996 Safari Serengetti (new price, $164,600) for $71,000 (out the door price including $12,500 for our trade in motorhome) and drove it all over the country for four years until illness forced us to sell it fast at a reduced price of $45,000. We just saw the same coach for sale recently (ten years later) for $30,000. It's now 20 years old!
- Our 1999 Holiday Rambler gas engine coach, which we bought in 2012 for $19,500 out the door with no trade in, sold new for $82 500.. Today the NADA value is around $15,000. It's only 16 years old.
Had we not had that emergency, we'd still be driving the Safari and could have saved a bundle!
Which Has More Amenities?
Due to the way they are constructed, diesel motorhomes have certain amenities that gas engine coaches do not. These are not items that you can add later because there is no way to integrate them into a gasoline run unit. One good example of this is something called a Pak Brake.
What Are Pak Brakes?
Pak Brakes are important to have in a travel unit if you plan to visit mountainous areas, such as those found in the Northwestern United States. They are a safety feature that saves the brakes by using the weight of the coach's engine to slow the unit when you are driving down steep hills. They not only save wear and tear on your braking system, they can and do save lives.
Which Has Better Construction?
Because their engines are heavier than those that run on gasoline, diesel coaches are more heavily constructed. Their chassis are stronger, their walls are thicker, and they are able to tow heavier vehicles.
How do they compare in terms of noise and vibrations?
Pushers also are able to do a better job of filtering out noise and dealing with road vibrations and thus give passengers the feeling of flying in an airplane rather than driving on a highway.
Which Has Better Road Stability?
Pushers generally do a better job of hugging the road because they have built-in road stabilization equipment. The only coaches you don't see this benefit in are those whose wheel base ratios are not correct. Your RV's Wheel Base Ratios Can Save Your Life is an important article that explains more about this issue. It's one that every motorhome buyer should read prior to making a purchase
What About Stress Reduction?
The US is a beautiful country, but the truth is that the monotony of driving mile after mile across virtually empty terrain gets to people after awhile and sitting for long periods of time in a vehicle that is constantly vibrating is hard on the neck and back.
However, driving a diesel pusher eases many of these stresses because it vibrates less, has more comfortable seating, and is quieter, especially if it has dual pane windows.
Other Diesel Motorhome Benefits
Aside from the items I have already mentioned, there are a number of other benefits for people who decide to purchase pushers.
- Because their engines are located in the rear of the motorhome, travelers are cooler and engine noise is minimized.
- Hitching rates are twice that of gas coaches (5000 pounds vs 10,000).
- Diesel pumps fill tanks faster, so less time is spent in truck stops.
- Also, there's no doghouse between the front captain's chairs, which makes getting into and out of them much easier. This also creates more space for swiveling the seating which makes the living area more homelike.
- Because they are constructed with heavier materials, amenities such as washer/dryer combos and granite counters are less likely to overload their chassis.
- Diesel engines and generators last much longer than those that run on gasoline. Some engines have been known to easily run beyond 500,000 miles, while gas engines have a top limit about 100,000.
- They get better mileage, too, and this helps to make up for the higher cost of fuel. The average Diesel gets about 10 mpg, but I have had coaches that get up to 14. Gas engines get between 6 and 8.
Diesel Motorhome Amenities
All recreational vehicles have nice amenities, but diesel motorhomes have more of them.
- The seating generally has better lumbar support and has better padding and higher end upholstery.
- Generators are bigger and can thus handle heavier loads.
- Their heavier frames and chassis can better support slide rooms, thus eliminating certain problems while at the same time providing more living area.
- The plumbing in some of the larger units is more similar to household plumbing thus providing stronger and more effective shower, kitchen and toilet facilities.
- Many have inverters that offer higher wattage and thus can handle heavier electric loads, thus saving wear and tear on generators.
My husband and I have owned both types of motorhomes during our 50 years as RV enthusiasts. Although there are things we like about gas engines, we have learned that there is nothing like the security and comfort of owning a diesel pusher. They ride better, drive better, and provide more safety and security. These are important issues when you are on the road, and should not be taken lightly.
If you can afford to purchase a good used diesel motorhome, you'd be wise to do so. In the long run, it will cost you less, last longer, and be more enjoyable to own.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: We have a CAT C7 with a 3000 Alluson transmission in our 2007 Fleetwood Bounder 38V. We change the oil regular intervals and change the air cleaner more often than recommended. We average 7-8 miles per gallon. Is there anything we can do to increase the mileage, i.e., like a power chip?
Answer: Yes, drive an average of 55 mph. This is the only thing I know of that can help.
Question: You are the only one I have heard lately that has said that diesels get better gas mileage. Why would you think that is?
Answer: I have owned both types of motorhomes and have always found that those with diesel engines get better gas mileage. However, diesel costs more.
Question: How much does motorhome insurance cost?
Answer: As with cars, that depends on your driving record, the year and model of your RV and it's mileage. Obviously, extremely expensive units will cost more, but for an average trailer or motor home you can expect to pay about $400 - $600 per year if you include it as part of a multi-car discount. My 1999 motor home runs $450 per year right now. I don't think I've ever paid more than $600. It's important to note that some companies will not provide coverage for units that are valued above $200,000...so search around for a deal that will work for you.
Question: How hard is it to get loans for used diesel coaches/pushers and how are the terms and interest rates? Of course, I know this is all based on credit but let's just assume my credit score is good. I know for vehicles the bank gets funny about the term if the miles are high and it's an older vehicle even if it is a diesel.
Answer: Much depends, as you said, on your credit, but banks also look at age and miles. Most will not finance a coach that is ten years old or older. Rates are higher than auto rates, but banks will finance up to 20 years depending on the unit. Mileage rarely matters for diesel coaches because most of them are good for hundreds of thousands of miles. Most RV dealers will finance fairly easily. Banks and credit unions usually want large down payments for used RVs. Best thing to do is decide about the year, model and type of RV you want to buy and then call a few banks and ask about their financing.
© 2016 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 30, 2016:
wilderness: Opinions will always vary, but I disagree that the Holiday Rambler is a "run of the mill" coach. In fact, it actually is more well built than many coaches, either diesel or gas, that you see on the road today. Much depends, too, on how much of the repair work you can do yourself and how good you are at finding deals on parts. Also, you seem to have forgotten that a diesel engine is generally good for from 300,000 to 500,000 miles, whereas a gas engine coach will start having problems over 100,000 even if well maintained. It may cost less to replace a gas engine, but you'll have to do it more often!
Thanks for your input, though. Always good to hear from you.
Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on December 30, 2016:
TT2, I have to side with Don somewhat here - you are doing the apples to oranges thing yourself. When you say that the Safari lost $120,000 in 20 years while the Rambler lost $67,000 in 16 years so the Safari keeps it's value better, well, I just can't agree with that. You're looking at the difference between a top end coach and a run of the mill one.
Just like with inverters: I had a gas coach with a 2500 W inverter...and 5 12 volt glass mat batteries intended for remote telephone switching stations. The capacity of those batteries was likely more than anything you've had in any of your diesel coaches - it's all in what you choose to put into a coach.
I've had two diesel coaches now, and both of them about broke the bank in engine repairs. I can put in a water pump, for instance, into my gas engine for $50; to have one put into the Cummins was $1,000 and the front oil seal was another $1500. The diesel fuel pump was over $1,000 compared to $50 for a gas one. These are the little things, things that go bad in either gas or diesel when you get up around 100,000 or more miles, but in diesel engines they are many times the cost to repair, minor or not.
Having said all that, were I in the market for a newer high end, 40' coach, I would definitely go diesel, looking for many of those advantages you list. I'm not, though - I don't want anything over about 32' and while I can find a diesel in that length the extra advantages you list aren't there any more. They only exist in those huge, massively expensive, coaches like the Safari and not the light weight, shorter coaches I prefer.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on October 10, 2016:
Don: I know all of that, but my point is that the batteries in a Diesel coach are greater in number and bigger and are therefore more able to support inverter use. You know as well as I do that inverters come in different strengths. Yes, a small inverter (1000) can work, but a 2000 level is really the best to have. Using one that strength in a gas powered coach is not advisable for that reason. The trick is for the owner to know exactly how to use the inverter he may have, and many people do not. Thus, they can create problems for themselves, especially when they are dry camping. Not everybody "hooks up" when camping, but many drive to a site and then stay there for days. The lower the voltage an inverter has, the more likely it will be to drain less powerful batteries sooner. End of story. I think we've beaten this one to death. Thanks for your input.
Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on October 09, 2016:
TT2 - I apologize again, but;
All motorhomes have 12VDC Chassis batteries, and Coach batteries. The chassis battery/s is for the engine and automobile-like functions like headlights, front radio, etc.
Coach batteries, on the other hand, are for the coach equipment such as the 12-VDC lights, 12-VDC accessories, the older double-mode fridge, etcetera.
The Coach batteries are usually 2-12-VDC batteries or 4-6-VDC batteries in a motorhome regardless of whether its a Diesel or Gas RV.
These Coach batteries are kept charged when driving down the road by the motorhome's engine battery charging system (alternator).
When driving down the road, these Coach batteries power an Inverter which inverts (reshapes??) the 12-VDC from the batteries into 120-VAC, usually for such things as the microwave, and the motorhome TV's as well as often, a couple of 120-VAC receptacles near the dash for computers and such.
When in a campsite, with 120-VAC hookup, your motorhome's power control panel senses this outside power is available and routes this outside power to your RV Coach equipment that uses 120-VAC.
And it powers the charging circuitry of the "Inverter" to keep the 12-VDC Coach system charged.
BTW, I am an Electrical Engineer, and I can assure you this is the way every motorhome I have ever seen or heard of operates.
Have a good day,
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on October 09, 2016:
Don: I don't doubt that, but here's the problem. Inverters work off of batteries. Gas coaches have smaller batteries than Diesels, therefore, the inverters they do have can deplete those batteries if owner's are not careful. A diesel pusher only needs one inverter to run everything, not a separate one for each appliance, which is the way it should be. Sounds as though manufacturers have kind of gerry-rigged inverters for gas coaches that can't really do the whole job just so they can say that their units do have them. Truthfully, I have never seen a gas engine coach with an inverter, nor would I want to have one. Taking the chance of draining your batteries is not worth it to me. BUT...to each his own!
Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on October 09, 2016:
TT2 - Not trying to stir you up, but I have a Bounder with an inverter for the TV's, and many of the newer ones that use household appliances such as refrigerators will have a battery set and an inverter just for the fridge. You're right, a diesel pusher is typically larger and more comfortably outfitted for those, such as yourselves who travel more. No argument on that. Have a good day! DON
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on October 09, 2016:
Hi Don: I have owned several gas engine motor homes, some that were high level, and have never seen one with an inverter, Perhaps they are putting them in some of the newer models, but I'd like to know which ones. I would assume that any buyer would choose a coach based on his personal needs without having to be told to do so. However, even with that, if you buy a well maintained older Diesel you can use it as you please and pay no more than you would for a similar gas engine model. Regardless of need, Diesels are easier to drive and more comfortable to travel in, and that was one of the points I wanted to make. Always good to have other viewpoints on these hubs. Thanks for stopping by.
Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on October 09, 2016:
TT2 - Your article is very good, and makes some excellent points. But, I have owned two diesel pushers and 3 gas motorhomes and I would disagree with you on a few points. First of all, gas motorhomes do have and use Inverters.
Secondly, your Safari was a top-end high quality motorhome that even today I wish I could have afforded. They were so good that when the recession hit the RV market in '07, '08, they were bought out by Monaco and the newer models were literally Holiday Ramblers with different logos on them
And, I think you should mention that the buyer needs to purchase what fits his camping plans. As a full-timer, putting on a lot of miles, you are absolutely right, a "pusher" is a preferred RV design. But, for the Part-timer, and occasional camper, who isn't driving a lot in mountains, a quality gas motorhome is quite adequate.
In fact, when I am asked on my blog what the real difference is, I usually state that the difference is around $30K, buying and selling. Then I tell them that they rest of their decision making should be based on (1) how much and long are they going to sue a motorhome, and (2) how much money they want to spend.
Great article though and good information for a novice purchaser.