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Why do Americans not drive diesels? (bbc.com)
27 points by edoloughlin 1570 days ago | hide | past | web | 67 comments | favorite



Interestingly though, Diesel popularity, at least in my peer group is going down.

- Modern Diesel engines are very complicated due to their turbos, hence are more brittle and expensive to repair.

- Price advantage of Diesel is practically not there anymore, but the Diesel model is still more expensive.

- Modern Gasoline engines have caught up with Diesels in terms of mpg.

No one bought a Diesel because it's a Diesel. People were buying it cause the price at the pump was way lower and you could offset your initial higher costs after 50-80k kms.

So, the US might just have skipped over Diesel. Happens in other tech as well, see 3g networks, etc.


>- Modern Diesel engines are very complicated due to their turbos, hence are more brittle and expensive to repair.

This is nonsense. Especially the part about turbochargers. It's hard to find a diesel without one these days. The technology is mature, and so widely adopted that it is the default.

>- Price advantage of Diesel is practically not there anymore, but the Diesel model is still more expensive.

Yup, takes much longer to pay for itself, if ever.

>- Modern Gasoline engines have caught up with Diesels in terms of mpg.

No. With a gas engine you can have lots of power, or good economy, never both. If that were true, I'd expect to see at least some adoption in trucking.

>No one bought a Diesel because it's a Diesel.

Everyone who buys a diesel, buys it because it is a diesel. Nobody buys one on accident. I still maintain that diesels got their bad reputation in the US because of the awful Oldsmobile 350 diesel experiment. I expect the persistent lack of diesels in the US has more to do with shady trade shenanigans than anyone's fear of diesels, despite the price.


all the mechanics over here disagree - incl. the statistics about failures. modern VWs, BMWs, Audis, etc. all have more issues with their advanced diesel models. talk to mechanics and they have a list of engines to avoid. part of the reason are the new emission standards, leading to ever higher injection pressure and higher temperatures.

your counterpoints seem strange, of course all modern diesels have turbos. i am not talking about the TDIs of yore, my 2004 volvo D5 engine is awesome. it's the post 2008 generation that has started the issue trend. common rail engines, over-engineered to the brim.


Talking to a friend who works as an engineer designing modern diesels he said he wouldn't own a car he helped design outside of the warranty if it was a diesel.


That sounds like a terrible statement. Similar to a bridge engineer who wouldn't drive over a bridge he helped design.

Shows a serious lack of trust in their capabilities, and that of their team.


It's not really very controversial. If you need your car, and you can't afford to buy a new engine if it breaks, as far as I can tell you'd be certainly well advised not run a modern diesel car without a warranty. I don't know anybody who's owned one who hasn't had various funny problems with it, requiring regular trips to the garage followed by shrugging shoulders all round and a succession of replacement of random electronic parts.

To meet the increasingly stringent emissions controls, and people's desire for a car that is reasonably cheap and accelerates at a decent rate, the cars seem to have become rather complicated, and reliability has been affected.

Common points of failure seem to be:

- dual mass flywheel (presumably the regular swift ramping-up of torque doesn't help)

- turbo charger (obviously spins very quickly and unlike a petrol engine it comes on from about 1500rpm so it's used a lot)

- diesel injectors (high precision components operating under pressure)

- diesel particulate filter (can clog and require expensive replacement if car is not regularly driven hard)

- random engine/ECU "thing" that nobody can figure out (who knows what the root cause of this might be)

You might have better luck with a pre-common rail diesel car, but the fuel economy is unlikely to be very good and the performance - at least by modern standards - looks to be terrible.


>- turbo charger (obviously spins very quickly and unlike a petrol engine it comes on from about 1500rpm so it's used a lot)

What's with the turbocharger FUD in here today? BTW 1500 RPM is 1/2 or 2/3 the way to the redline on many diesels, so it's not really used more than it would be on a gasoline engine.

>- diesel injectors (high precision components operating under pressure)

Really simple devices in principle, can get expensive for some vehicles when the engineers have gone around the bend with new features (Mercedes Sprinter, I'm looking at you).

>- diesel particulate filter (can clog and require expensive replacement if car is not regularly driven hard)

No experience with them.

>- random engine/ECU "thing" that nobody can figure out (who knows what the root cause of this might be)

Nonsense. This is a mechanic/technician training issue. Diesel ECU's are no more complicated than for a gasoline engine. I'm really surprised to see anyone on HN play the "Dang them fancy computers is too complicated fer me." card.


dual mass flywheel: irrelevant for the US market (think older torque converter automatic; new ones have dual mass flywheel for gasoline engines too).

diesel injectors: direct gasoline injectors are very similar.

turbo: common in modern gasoline engines due to downsizing and direct injection.

particulate filter: while I respect the following statement: "The cheapest, fastest and most reliable components are those that aren’t there." (Gordon Bell), thermal efficiency of a diesel cycle may make it worth.

ECU faults: those actually help with solving problems before they are serious. Please go to qualified workshops! Computers are no longer a dark magic.


I haven't heard great things about modern smaller-capacity direct injection turbocharged petrol engines either, though the economy figures always sound excellent.

As for the problems I describe, I am merely relaying issues I have heard people complain about! If people take their car to a non-franchised garage, or do things themselves, ECU errors tend to get them going to the official garage because only they have the appropriate equipment. But this always seems to be a bit hit or miss, requiring multiple visits.

People's suggestions that diesel engines are extra-reliable seem to be somewhat wide of the mark. Ye olde diesel engine of yore was simple, slow, noisy, dirty, and would run forever; thanks to modern technology, that all seems to have changed...


The data doesn't support many of your views. Specifically, the claim that modern engines are somehow less reliable than the "good old days". I know you're only reporting anecdotes from people you'd consider to have a good view on the matter, but you have to keep in mind the biases involved with those views. A mechanic sees nothing but broken cars all day long. Their views are going to be skewed by their experience. Those views are not reflective of the much greater population of vehicles that experience no problems at all.

The reality is that cars have never been more reliable:

http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/02/when-it-comes-to-new-vehicl...

> “The long-term dependability of three-year-old models has improved year-over-year, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.

> “In 2013, overall vehicle dependability averages 126 PP100–a five percent improvement from the 2012 average of 132 PP100–and is the lowest problem count since the inception of the study in 1989.”

Simplicity makes engines easier to work on for the layman, but it doesn't necessarily make them more reliable.

I'm a total gear head. My love affair with cars started really early. At 3, I figured out how to use a screw driver by taking the tail lights off my dad's VW Beetle. At age 7, I helped my dad tear a VW Beetle's 4-cylinder boxer engine down to the case halves, then put it back together. I was infatuated with the process and the understanding that came with every part we removed and reassembled.

I often wonder whether my father and I could have accomplished the same with (just an example) the new Ford Ecoboost 1.0L 3-cylinder, but I recognize that giving up that simplicity has resulted in an overall improvement in reliability and quality for the vast majority of drivers.


The more electronic "stuffs" the greater the chance of an issue with it.

What engines are you referring to in particular? Any brand in mind? Some manufacturers have been making diesels for a long time despite the emergence of common rail I'd suspect they would have most of this resolved now unless it's planned obsolescence


VW, Mercedes Benz and BMW are the brands I have these anecdotes for specifically. But reading on forums, it seems people have a lot of problems with modern diesel cars them generally. This is not exactly scientific, but the issue crops up at times in UK motoring and not-so-motoring press. Sample links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/mar/02/turbo-charged-co...

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-2332107/Petr...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/9407960/The-hidden-...

http://www.which.co.uk/news/2012/07/petrol-cars-cheaper-to-r...


Thx


I disagree. A failing bridge is a major safety problem, while a failing car engine is merely a financial problem.

A bridge should last "forever", which is to say that it will be clear when it needs to be replaced before it actually fails. Car engines are routinely used until they break, then repaired and used until they break again, and this continues until it's no longer financially viable.


Or he could be referring to planned obsolescence.


I just scrapped a car with a 1.9 tdi. 260,000 miles on it. The engine was still running perfectly, never gave an ounce of trouble and was still really economical. In general diesels have a reputation for lasting longer. Would be interesting to know what kind of an outfit your friend works for. They would be worth avoiding.


1.9 Vw? Sounds like an older car since the new ones have 2 litre engines. Older diesels are fantastic even the vw PD engines. My friend was talking about the newer Euro4 and Euro5 engines.


Yup, our Seat Leon TDI is still going strong at 300,000 kms. It's an amazing car, we'll almost certainly be getting the same model when (if?) this one ever breaks.


You've thrown a heavy statement without backing it up.


As in many pricing situations, e.g. flat rate internet, what gets ignored is the "insurance effect." In the case of flat rate internet, the insurance is against your bandwidth use going way up due to a new application you start to use, and because people are poor judges of future bandwidth needs. In the case of high mpg cars, it is insurance against price shocks. If the petrodollar goes bust, you can still get to your office at a price you can afford, while everyone else scrambles to carpool or buy a high-mpg car.

So even if you only break even over the life of the vehicle, you get the potential value of driving to the very end of the Oil Age.


Also for the average person shopping for a new car the extra $7k is hard to swallow, regardless of fuel efficiency over the lifespan of the vehicle. Diesels are built heavier and tougher by necessity thus pricier.


Looking at the current VW passat the diesel version is rated more than 10MPG over the gas version. So I wouldn't say gas has caught up quite yet.


  We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part
  of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It
  is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of
  the BBC, the profits made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to
  help fund great new BBC programmes. You can find out more about BBC
  Worldwide and its digital activities at www.bbcworldwide.com.
Wait, what?


It's part of an odd compromise with the private-sector media companies and government reached a few years ago. Within the UK, the BBC is only allowed to show content that is wholly funded by the license fee, and cannot solicit advertising or other external funding for the content. This was insisted on by the private-sector media companies, who don't want the BBC competing with them in the commercial portion of the market.

Separately, the BBC overseas service is required to solicit external funding for its content, and not to cross-subsidize it with the license fee. This was insisted on by the government, which did not want license-fee revenues subsidizing international content, but still did want international content to exist as part of the UK's global cultural export/image. But due to the previous agreement this content then can't be shown in the UK, because it's commercially-funded content.


Funny enough, as a continental European, I am not allowed to pay for streaming access to the great programs (programmes?) produced by the BBC.

Ridiculousness of the same sort is happening with the publicly financed broadcasts over here in Germany. Somehow, almost every EU country manages to completely mess up the transition of its publicly financed broadcasts into the internet age, always because of some nonsense regarding the private competition. I hope the EU gets going with the single market for audiovisual content, fixing this once and for all.


I think it's because BBC hasn't licensed the content from BBC Worldwide.


Yep, definitely a perplexing oxymoron for us Brits.


Does BBC carry advertising in the UK?


No, but it's paid for with essentially a tax. It's called the TV license.


I guess they are trying to keep their ad-supported and tax-supported business separate? I don't understand.


I'd drive a diesel if the US didn't have crazy NOx standards; the urea system, etc. is needless complexity. One of my favorite vehicles I've owned was a diesel Toyota Hilux; also loved the Land Cruiser LM78 I borrowed.

The main thing I want is the ability to store 500-1000 gallons of fuel and know it will be viable for a couple years. You can do that with diesel, you can't really do that with gasoline. Being able to share fuel between a generator and a car (and ideally eventually a motorcycle/gator and a plane) would be even better.


Based on my experience driving a late model VW Golf TDi, it is only a matter of time before rising fuel costs push both manufacturers and consumers towards diesels. They are more efficient and all the problems diesels of the 70's have ben resolved. Plus, they are fun to drive!


The problems of 1970s-era American diesels may have been resolved, but Americans have long memories when it comes to cars. A car is a major purchase and when you're burned by a certain manufacturer or model, you don't quickly forget it.

It's also one of the reasons American manufacturers like GM and Ford have lower perceptions of build quality even though these companies are now passing the Japanese manufacturers in quality surveys.


can you site the quality survey?



Thx for the follow up.


And spending $50 on diesel once a month is really nice!


No kidding! I would routinely get 850+ km from my Golf in city driving on a tank (45-50 L). 1000+ km should be easily possible on the highway. Larger cars would have a little worse economy, but should still be excellent.



UK readers see this: "We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, the profits made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great new BBC programmes. You can find out more about BBC Worldwide and its digital activities at www.bbcworldwide.com."

It's not a paywall, or an interstitial-ad-wall or a great firewall of China. It's just designed to save UK viewers from the horror of seeing an article with a BBC logo on the top and ads down the side. Stupidwall seems like a good term for it.


Not exactly - the BBC often serves the same content without displaying ads in the UK.

I'm not clear what's going on in this case, but it's more likely that this is out of its public remit - as a funded public service, they're not to compete with commercial companies in sensitive industries/they're not allowed to use public money on content irrelevant to their remit and so BBC Worldwide has to be somewhat carefully separated.

e.g. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4058031.stm

This may be down to Rupert Murdoch's lobbying pressure.


It may also be the case that some or all of their content is licensed for a non-UK audience, meaning that they would have higher costs if they wanted to allow UK viewers, a cost which they might not recoup from UK advertisement viewers.

That said, based on the limited information we have, I'm totally with you that it's a ridiculous situation. Maybe they have a somewhat valid reason, such as the one I suggested above, but I do doubt it.


Thank you.


One reason is taxes. >The United States federal excise tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. - Wikipedia

In most(?) European countries diesel fuel has a lower tax.


The question isn't why do Americans not drive diesels, but why aren't they sold here (apart from trucks)? We can't drive cars no one is selling.

From what i've been told, it's partly because they're too efficient and might bring the cost of fuel down too much. No idea if that's accurate.


No one wants to sell cars that consumers won't buy.

There are a few diesel car models available in US (e.g. the VW Passat TDI and Jetta TDI). But Americans don't buy enough of them to cause more manufacturers to sell diesel models.


Consumers might buy them if they were advertised as 'green' cars that were cheaper than hybrids and more reliable than electrics (you just need to remember which pump to use) Though it does seem like a bit of a chicken or egg situation.


What is diesel? Chemically its nothing at all. You can slap a label with "diesel" written on seemingly anything that burns. Gasoline is somewhat better defined.

You can read an interesting wiki article about ultra low sulfur diesel and the transition issues etc.

The short version is there is no "diesel atom or molecule" its a mixture of vaguely burnable substances. Some of which are compatible with some or another engines but not all. For example ULSD diesel is more or less incompatible with certain fuel pump seals sold up to less than 4 years ago.

Its hard to stomach buying something you may need to scrap or repair/replace in such a short term.

This is the era of indecisiveness for diesel. Gasoline had a similar one decades ago during the leaded to unleaded transition... that would have been the ideal time to roll diesel into the market.

Another problem is ignoring progress. "Those 1970's diesels really sucked compared to 1970s gas engines". "Oh thats OK 2010 diesels are better than 1970s diesels." "Sorry dude I'm comparing a 2010 diesel with a 2010 gas engine, not a 1970 gas engine." "Oh... in that case I guess a gas engine is better".


>You can read an interesting wiki article about ultra low sulfur diesel and the transition issues etc.

Yes, a disaster. I have 4 vehicles with diesel engines. I've replaced[1] all of my seals and O-rings with Viton. Let those SOB's change the fuel again. I don't care. Nothing fucks with Viton.

>Its hard to stomach buying something you may need to scrap or repair/replace in such a short term.

They have rarely made changes to diesel fuel formulation, and only the ULSD change was catastrophic. Gasoline is reformulated seasonally, with varying amounts of alcohol. This has caused problems as well, but fewer people seem to notice or care.

>Another problem is ignoring progress. "Those 1970's diesels really sucked compared to 1970s gas engines". "Oh thats OK 2010 diesels are better than 1970s diesels." "Sorry dude I'm comparing a 2010 diesel with a 2010 gas engine, not a 1970 gas engine." "Oh... in that case I guess a gas engine is better".

Gasoline engines are far better than they used to be, no doubt about it, but so are diesels. I still prefer diesels, but for most people it's moot anyway. They either don't need a huge pickup truck, or there is no diesel available for purchase in their market segment.

[1] Still replacing and fixing leaks years later.


Oil is cheap, so no need for diesels for now. But, beware folks, if oil gets more expensive we will probably see more diesels out there. Have a look at Turkey for example. In Turkey oil prices have gone so high during the last decade that people are now forced to use diesels, and as a result diesel car prices are also getting higher with this higher demand.


I have been wondering this myself. Diesel burns cleans, can be made from vegetables and the engines can also be used with methane. Not to mention the engines are fundamentally more efficient than gasoline. Not only just as a system, but our current use case of low idles and sitting in traffic, a diesel wipes the floor with gasoline. You can get a diesel in the us, but unless you get the vw, you're stuck with a 4 litre truck. I think another important question is why aren't we converting gasoline cars to run on methane? The conversion is less than 1000$ and can be done by anyone. Its a tank some hoses and a regulator and would bring prices down to about 2$ a gallon.


> Diesel burns clean

Diesel particulate matter from diesel vehicles is a significant source of harm from air pollution. DPM kills many people each year. Possibly 29,000 people each year in the UK die early because of air pollution.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/19/uk-air-pol...)


There are many effective means of particulate filtration available.


Biodiesel is "dirtier" in some aspects (nitric oxides, particulate matter) than gasoline. It's not "sustainable" due to the qty that we demand (and hence the required amount of land for vegetable oil production) .

this site is crappy, but I checked the numbers years ago and he didnt seem to be way off on anything. http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/biodiesel/index.html


Diesel does not burn clean. Diesel particulate matter is, due to its size, extremely difficult to filter and of course also highly carcinogenic.


Particulate is only a problem during acceleration. When used in a hybrid system as a generator, it is not a big concern.


I'd be interested in learning more about the methane conversion.... any resource(s) you could refer me to?


The biggest problem is compression. Methane is stored into tanks using a 4 stage compressor. They are expensive due to economies of scale, but I've considered using a paintball CO2 compressor. The problem is I don't have a few thousand for an experimental buy.

Some will claim the conversion costs $12,000 and they are right, but only because in order for it to be "legal" it has to be done by someone who is "nationally certified". In other words, the oil industry has their paws wrapped around nearly every aspect.

Another advantage of CNG (compressed natural gas) is that it can be added in addition to gasoline. A diesel engine, however, does require a mixture of about 20% - 30% methane to run.

Here's a guy who did it himself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYP2ZRwq9EE


Because then the oil companies would lose money. Lobbying is the reason.


One problem that would hinder the adoption of diesel cars in the U.S. is the availability of diesel fuel. Not all filling stations carry it, since in the U.S. it's predominantly used by trucks and buses. If you live in an area that doesn't have a lot of truck traffic (such as a suburb), you might have to go far out of your way to fill up your diesel car.


Better availability in rural areas. I've lived in cities and small rural towns (though never the suburbs), I've never had trouble finding fuel.


I personally believe that diesels have helped bring some great technologies to gasoline engines:

- Making turbo charging more popular - Direct injection And I think one day we'll do away with spark plugs and have compression based ignition in gasoline engines. Combine that with hybrid technologies and we could have some pretty dang efficient vehicles.

less efficient than a bicycle though :P


I'm an ex car nut, and I've always been fascinated by the diesel engine. I have yet to own one but I keep threatening to get one for myself. Primarily looking at that old MB 240D which is a tank. :-D In my unofficial surveys of people diesel is always thought of as dirty and harder to find at the pump.

The reason I don't actually own a diesel is the lack of options here in the US. Ive got to choose a truck, VW (depending on the year) and a MB. I haven't gone as far as looking into importing one purely for the repair aspect. If I actually ever move from my tiny city apartments I've considered the truck option and then converting it to run on SVO but it will probably never happen.

I have yet to figure out why we don't have diesel electric vehicles.


Worth mentioning that a single barrel of oil has a relatively fixed amount of each fuel type (i.e., gasoline, diesel, kerosene, etc). So when tax policy in one place favors one portion of the barrel, the "extra" other fuels have to go /somewhere/. That tax policy in Europe favors diesel it makes it relatively cheaper to buy gasoline in the States (and vice versa). Economies of scale within distribution and manufacturing networks seem to favor one dominant fuel at a time for passenger vehicles.


America is actually on the way to electric cars, bypassing the unnecessary stage of diesels, hybrids and whatnot. The diesel might not even happen, provided that Tesla does well.


Depends on the market segment. I love my 2005 diesel work truck, and get asked several times a week by drivers of gasoline trucks whether I'll sell it.

Used, it commands a significant premium over the used gasoline trucks. In the work truck market at least, it seems many buyers of new gas powered trucks come to regret that purchase and look for a diesel instead.


Diesel is considered as a carcinogen anyway due to the emission of nanoparticules. Good on them.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/health/diesel-fumes-cause-... for example.




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