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My views on DIESEL

Published on August 9, 2011 under Humble Mechanic

VW has been a strong diesel supporter for many years.  In 2009 they released the Common Rail engine.  This new Common Rail (CR) engine is very powerful, fuel efficient and ultra clean.  VW dealers have a hard time keeping them on the lot, because everyone wants them.

I have been asked a couple of times over the past week or so, “Should I buy a Jetta TDI?”  My answer usually surprises people.  I almost always say “NO”.  That is always followed up by, “Charles, they get 40+ MPG”.  I know they get great mileage, but a TDI is not for everyone.  Here are some reasons why I would give a TDI real consideration before jumping right in.

They cost more initally

The Jetta for example, is about $2550 more for a TDI than a similarly equiped Jetta with a 2.5L engine.  That means you are down about $2500 from day 1

Fuel is more expensive

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, I know that sounds fake!  Regular unleaded fuel is about $0.20 cheaper a gallon than diesel.  Yeah, I know its only a couple of bucks for each fill up, but remember in 2008 when diesel was $0.40 more per gallon?

The new TDI is super fuel sensitive

As little as 1% of gas in the fuel will cause catastrophic damage to the fuel system.  At this point, I dont think that the diesel quality in the USA is high enough.  I have replaced, or have seen several fuel systems replaced because of bad fuel, algee in the fuel, or because gas was put in the tank.  A few gas in the tank issues were the customers fault, some were proven that the station had the wrong fuel in their tank, and some are still unknown. Its a much higher risk than having bad gasoline

Maintenance costs are higher over the life of the vehicle

The current TDI needs a fuel filter at least every 20,000 miles.  This will run you about $80 at the dealer.  At 80,000 miles, your car will need a timing belt.  Get ready to spend $1200 or so on that.  The other common VW engines are chain driven and do not have a maintenance interval for replacement.

Based on all that, I dont think that a TDI is right for a lot of the people that buy them. They need more love than other VWs do.  I will say that I really do like diesel technology.  I think for the person that burns up the road, a TDI is perfect.  It bothers me that people will buy a TDI without the proper research.

I do support our TDIs.  I think its a great engine. In heavy traffic, the air coming out of the tail pipe is cleaner than whats coming into the engine.  So before you buy a TDI, make sure its right for you and it fits your vehicle needs.

 

Post what you think in the comments.  I know there are lots of hardcore diesel folks that would not trade a TDI for anything, but thats not most people.

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9 Comments

  1. nick

    The cost per gallon of driving is generally lower on the TDI even incorporating the extra cost of diesel fuel.

    Also your recommendation assumes they are buying a new vehicle which I would never do. If you are buying a used vehicle your argument about expense is mostly a mute point. If you have around $6k budget for a vehicle you can find a good deal on a TDI.

    I paid $3500 cash for my TDI and it gets 40MPG or more and I commute in it 50 miles every day. Have put 40k miles on it with only one “major” repair.

    I replaced the turbo charger costing me $700 later finding out that we misdiagnosed the repair and ended up just needing a bit of hose to bypass a bad catalytic converter DOH! Oh well… I’m going to sell the old working turbo charger on eBay motors or something if I ever think of it.

    -Nick

  2. Humble Mechanic

    Nick,
    You are 100% right. Working in the dealership, most questions I get are about new TDIs. I should have probably stated that.

    The new stuff is really where I have concerns. TDIs like your are almost bulletproof. Other than a hiccup here and there, they are great.

    One of the guys at the shop picked up a TDI for $500. He put a timing belt on it and is still driving it today.

    I didn’t want this article to seem like I am ANTI diesel. I just think the new stuff is not proven, the fuel quality is an issue, and the emission components are finicky. Owning a TDI requires people to be much more aware of their car, and most people are just not there yet.

    I am sure that my feelings will change in a couple of years. Well, at least there will be a new engine to be skeptical about.

    Keep your TDI running strong man. All that bad boy needs is oil changes, timing belts, and fuel filters and it will run forever.

    Charles

  3. Jer

    There are some major differences between the newer CR engines and the older TDI”s, some of which are in a gamble state until more time passes and we see the results of how well they do on our crap fuel quality. One thing I feel the need to point out is, IMO, the premium on a used TDI is more than a new one which is part of why we recently bought a new one. Sure, if you have some good wrenching abilities you can pick up a used one for a good price that needs some fixing, but well running used TDI”s have a good 40% premium over their gas brothers. Get into the older ALH engines and that premium is closer to 100% more! I just sold one. We had bought it used in 2008 for right around that 40% premium as we planned to run it into the ground. We recently had the timing belt break causing some major head damage and went for a new car. Due to the premium we paid we didn’t save any money in the long run over what a gas would’ve cost us. It just sold for about twice that of what the gas version is worth after getting it fixed. Had we not had that major failure and drove it for another 5 years at least we would’ve been about even with all the savings from fuel. Those were the engines that new were only a few hundred more than gas versions so, yes, it was worth it if you were in the new car market. We got our CR TDI for no more than an equally equipped gas version, but I do realize that’s not the case for everyone.

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  6. David

    I just looked at the maintenance schedule for a 2013 jetta tdi and the fuel filter replacement is covered under the 2 year or 24000 miles carefree maintenance program. Also the timing belt only needs to bee replaced at 130k miles.

    Just wanted to update this article a bit…

      1. Brandon R

        The timing belt is a common replacement item on most gassers also usually around the same mileage as the TDI. So unless you pickout a car with a timing chain your getting hit with expense either way.

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