Diesel powered cars — a New and Better Outlook

Low section view of a man refueling a car

When you think of a diesel powered car, you probably envision a loud, smoke-bellowing car chugging up a hill or creeping down a street. While that might be your grandfather's diesel, today's diesel cars have come a long way. So much so, they might just be the new fuel efficient darlings.

Diesels are back in business

Today's diesel vehicles are cleaner, more efficient, and offer better fuel economy than in past models. Popular in Europe, diesel vehicles represent almost half of all new cars sold there, according to recent reports.  In the United States, however, availability of diesel cars is somewhat limited. In fact, until recently, some states had prohibited the sale of diesels because of emissions restrictions but automakers have been able to produce models that now conform to strict vehicle emissions standards, with diesels back in business in all 50 states.

The inner workings of a diesel engine

Diesel powered cars do not have spark plugs. This is important because in a gasoline engine, fuel is ignited when a spark is generated from a spark plug. However, in a diesel car, the combustion process is different.  Air is compressed in a cylinder that heats at such a high temperature, it causes fuel to combust when it's injected, with no need for a spark.  It's this equation that allows diesel cars to offer improved fuel economy. 

Today's diesels on the green track

Depending on the car, newer diesel models can generate between 30 and 50 percent better fuel economy than their gas-powered counterparts. A diesel's engine generates higher compression ratios coupled with higher combustion temperatures for more fuel efficient mechanics.  When compared to a gasoline engine, this efficiency leads to less fuel burned. And when you consider diesel fuel itself, it offers more energy than regular gasoline.  Believe it or not, the fuel economy of today's diesel models is almost on par with fuel efficient hybrid cars.

As for air pollution, not only do diesel engines give off fewer greenhouse emissions, diesel technology does a better job of filtering and trapping particulate matter and NOx emissions (oxides of nitrogen) which lead to smog.

Diesels overcoming obstacles

Of course, diesels still have a certain stigma to overcome. Car buyers may find it difficult to shake the image of a loud, smelly, dirty car, instead turning to hybrids as a more popular green car option.  But don't throw in the diesel towel just yet.  Today's models are quieter, cleaner and more efficient than ever before.  What's more, they're durable.  Maybe it's time for car buyers to forget what they think they know about diesels.  These little darlings have come a long way.  Grandpa would be happy.   

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