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New Diesel Based Half-Ton and Mid-Sized Pickups? Don’t Get Caught-up in the Hype!!

Posted by on March 15, 2015

If you’re keeping up with truck and off-road industry news, you’ve no doubt noticed a lot of excitement around new diesel powered offerings in the hotly contested half-ton (150 & 1500 series) and mid-sized pickup segments.  In the last 1 – 2 years, the Big Three (Ford, GM & Ram), and Nissan, have all either committed to, or are already offering diesel options in their half-ton and mid-sized pickups.  I just don’t get it!  In a World where the diesel option commands a significant purchase premium, where diesel fuel is $1 per gallon more than regular unleaded (that’s about $20 every fill-up), and where the historical mileage advantage may not materialize, the Diesel value-proposition just isn’t there for the average buyer!!

Realize, I’m not talking about someone who makes a living with their truck, pulling stumps or trailers on a regular basis.  I’m talking about the guy (or gal), who simply wants a pickup for around the house and recreational purposes.  Maybe you’re using your truck to haul firewood, mulch, or other materials for different seasonal, home related projects.  Maybe you’re towing a 4×4, hauling dirt-bikes, ATV’s, a side-by-side, boat or even a camper to your next outdoor adventure.  Maybe you’re simply bringing home the harvest from your latest big game hunt.  Trust me.  You certainly don’t need a diesel for that!  Today’s gas powered half-tons (a complete misnomer for trucks that in some cases are now advertised as capable of hauling 3,300 lbs and towing 12,200lbs) can easily get it done!!

I should know, back in November of 2007, I bought a 2008 F-350 Crew Cab with the International built V8, two-stage variable turbocharged Diesel engine.  650ft-lbs of torque at 2000 rpm!  It was pretty kick-ass at the time.  Certainly the newest, most hotly anticipated bad-boy diesel out there.  I gotta admit, that Cowboy Cadillac sure was fun to drive.  I liked that chug chug chug chug of the engine.  I LOVED the GOBS of torque, that kicked-in, at any speed, like an old two-stroke hitting it’s powerband.  It rode like a limousine thanks to the long wheelbase, and it never broke a sweat doing anything I ever asked it to do – including 7 hour one-way trips loaded for bear with the family, and towing roughly 7,000lbs of recreational good-times.

2010-09-19 006

However, after 5 years and roughly 64,000 miles of daily driving, I was:

  • Averaging just 12.2 miles per gallon (thanks DPF and regen mode!)
  • Overpaying for fuel, and constantly buying costly additives like Diesel Kleen +Cetane booster, and I didn’t even need the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), or urea injection that the new motors need.
  • Higher regular maintenance costs for things like oil changes, and
  • Almost being stranded in  really bad part of town with just 48,000 miles on the ticker thanks to a clogged EGR valve,
  • tired of plugging it in on cold nights to keep the block from freezing.
  • worried about potentially significant, borderline catastrophic, maintenance costs should anything really go wrong with the engine.  (At least on that model, they do, in fact, have to pull the cab off the chassis for some engine related repairs…. cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching….)


Hey, you could argue I didn’t need as much truck, and you might have a point, but it still cost too much for the promise, that never materialized, of significantly improved gas mileage.  A family member had the exact same truck, just with the 5.4L V-8 gas engine, and while there was no contest in power, my mileage advantage didn’t nearly justify the cost.  That’s my real-life, personal, first-hand experience.  (Of course your mileage may vary, YMMV.)  So, I was pretty happy to trade it in for my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.  Though as Dad clearly pointed out, as far back as when I originally bought the Big Beast, a nice half-ton gasser may have also fit the bill perfectly, like the Ford F-150, which has been the Best Selling Vehicle in the United States for the past 32 years.


So, as the magazines and Internet forums lite-up with excitement over the prospect of new, cool, diesel power plants in the half-ton and midsize pickup segment, I caution you not to get caught up in the hype!!


Perhaps Toyota Tundra and Tacoma Chief Engineer Mike Sweers put it best.  When questioned about the prospect of putting a diesel in their segment leading Tacoma, Mike recently said, “The downside to diesel is the emissions has to be certified at the same level as a gas engine. So the way to do that is you have to put on an after-treatment system. The after-treatment system is very expensive [and] it adds $3000 or more dollars per vehicle cost. So if we consider that cost, versus the fuel economy improvement, and the fact that diesel is $1 more per gallon more than gasoline, is there a return on the investment?”  Point taken.  The return on investment just isn’t there!


Hey, if you have the money, and you just want one, then by all means get a new diesel.  (Did I mention The Off Road Reference takes donations to keep operations running? Email me for details.)  There’s certainly a cool-factor there.  I get it.  I liked mine for a time.  I’m glad I had it.


However, don’t go into the diesel proposition, at any level, thinking you’re going to save money in the long run.  That ship sailed long ago, back when diesel started costing more than premium unleaded (it’s a less refined fuel??!!), and it only continues to get further away on the horizon with each new diesel fuel regulation, and diesel vehicle mileage mandate.  A modern diesel pickup just doesn’t make sense for most of us.  Not with their fancy, expensive, and mileage robbing regen equipment, the need for DEF / urea injection & other additives, and certainly not in a World where diesel costs ~50% more than regular unleaded.


Let’s not forget that the high-performance gas engine market is not dead. Not dead by a long-shot!   If it’s horsepower and torque you crave, all those “diesel premium dollars” go a long way to spicing up a good gas engine based truck.


Now, If I could put a simpler, old, non-computer controller Power Stroke 7.3 or Cummins 5.9 into a late 70’s to early 90’s project truck, that might pique my interest…


Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.


Copyright The Off Road Reference 2015