It’s one of the oldest campfire discussions known to man: Should you buy a diesel or petrol tow vehicle? Well, as with most things in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer but here’s a few snippets of info that should help you decide.
Firstly, if you’re buying a new tow vehicle to match your camper trailer, you may not have much choice: Most of the popular touring-capable tow-vehicles (4WD single-, extra-, and dual-cab utes, plus wagons) are diesel-only these days and some models may not even offer you the choice of transmission – it’s often diesel/auto only!
Secondly; fuel costs are actually quite a small part of the total dollars-out-of wallet costs of owning a vehicle. Every dollar saved on your vehicle is a dollar you can spend on travelling, but selling an older vehicle and committing money to buy a younger one to save a few dollars per tank doesn’t make much financial sense. Costs such as loan establishment fees and interest, and then direct vehicle ownership costs such as stamp duty, registration, insurance – and of course servicing – will far outweigh any week-to-week or trek-to-trek savings in fuel for most people.
On the road, today’s turbocharged diesels offer superlative ‘petrol-like’ towing performance compared to their low-tech non-turbo predecessors from two decades ago which is a big part of their popularity. Diesels tend to use less fuel to do the same work (which gives you better touring range from the same-sized fuel tank) than a petrol and when working hard, a diesel vehicle’s increase in fuel use generally won’t be as much as a petrol’s.
Servicing costs are also a consideration. Diesels require servicing more often – especially when towing, when manufacturer’s recommended service intervals are reduced – and the price of that servicing can be higher. Make sure you include the anticipated costs of dealer servicing – including the extra servicing recommended by manufacturers when towing – a part of your research when choosing if diesel or petrol is right for you.
If you intend touring into remote areas, the extra touring range generally offered by diesel power is welcome. Diesel is often easier to find in the outback… petrol may not be available at all. Petrol is more difficult and dangerous to carry in jerry cans: its volatility causes jerry cans to bulge – sometimes leak, or worse, burst in the heat. What’s more, the vapours are highly flammable and heavier than air: while topping-up your vehicle, it’s possible for petrol vapour to snake over the ground and be ignited by, for instance, a campfire tens of metres away! So always top-up your petrol vehicle in an obvious hollow, far away from camp, and before you light your campfire!
If you’re buying second-hand, there are some later-model petrol-powered bargains out there; petrol-powered vehicles often fetch lower prices. But for clever buyers who don’t need the cross-country touring range of a diesel, those car-yard savings can buy a lot of extra petrol. That makes great sense if you intend to buy, equip your rig for touring and keep it almost forever.
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