Wednesday, November 29, 2023


The history of the diesel engine and why it’s ‘better’ than gas

My husband won’t even consider buying a different truck to tow our fifth wheel RV unless the truck has a diesel engine. He insists that the power provided by a diesel motor far surpasses any gasoline engine. His loyalty to the diesel engine got me wondering how the diesel engine came to be.

The inventor’s early years

Rudolf Diesel was born on March 18, 1858, in Paris, France, to German parents. His early years were marked by a deep fascination with mechanics and engineering. As a young man, Diesel studied engineering at the Polytechnic School in Munich, Germany, where he honed his skills and developed a passion for innovation.

Diesel’s idea

In the late 19th century, the world was undergoing a major industrial transformation, with steam engines dominating the scene. However, Diesel believed there was room for improvement. He envisioned an engine that would be more efficient, cost-effective, and versatile.

Diesel’s ingenious design involved using a piston within a cylinder. Air was drawn into the cylinder and compressed to extremely high pressures. At this point, Diesel would inject a fine mist of fuel into the compressed air. The heat generated by the compression caused the fuel to spontaneously ignite, drive the piston down and create a powerful force which drove a crankshaft.

Advantages of Diesel’s engine

  • Greater efficiency. Diesel engines were significantly more efficient than steam engines, converting a higher percentage of fuel into usable power.
  • Fuel flexibility. Diesel engines could run on a variety of fuels, including diesel, biodiesel, and even vegetable oil, making them adaptable for different purposes and regions.
  • Durability. Diesel engines were known for their robustness and reliability, making them ideal for heavy-duty applications like industrial machinery and transportation.
  • Lower operating costs. The efficiency of diesel engines meant that they consumed less fuel, resulting in cost savings for operators.

Diesel’s legacy

Rudolph Diesel’s hard work and innovation paid off. He was granted a patent for his engine in 1892. Diesel’s invention marked a significant turning point in the history of transportation and industry. Diesel engines quickly found their way into various applications, from ships and trains to trucks and power plants.

Tragically, Rudolf Diesel’s life was cut short in 1913 when he mysteriously disappeared during a voyage across the English Channel. His body was later found, and the circumstances of his death remain a subject of speculation and intrigue.

Despite his untimely demise, Diesel’s legacy lives on. Diesel engines are still widely used today, powering the world’s transportation and industry. These engines have evolved over the years, becoming more efficient and environmentally friendly, but the core principles of Diesel’s invention remain intact. That’s how it happened: the diesel engine.

Note: If you’d like to know more about Rudolf Diesel, check out Doug Brunt’s brand-new book, “The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel: Genius, Power, and Deception on the Eve of World War I”. The book discusses Rudolf Diesel and his invention, as well as investigates the intriguing mystery surrounding Diesel’s death.

Do you wonder about how a familiar item came to be? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll research and write about it!


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Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.



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Neal Davis (@guest_257124)
1 month ago

Thank you, Gail!

John the road again (@guest_257058)
1 month ago

When I purchased my last pickup, I didn’t even remotely consider a diesel option. The only thing they seem to have going for them anymore is the macho image the provide their buyers as they lay out an extra 5-grand or more for the privilege.

mik (@guest_257190)
1 month ago

dumbest comment ever, once you tow with a diesel you’ll never buy a gasoline truck again.

Diane McGovern
1 month ago
Reply to  mik

Well, mik, welcome to our commenting section, where we try to respect everyone’s opinions whether they agree with ours or not. We frown on slamming others for their views, and expect commenters to be civil and polite. So that’s a pretty inauspicious beginning for you in our commenting section. You’ve already made it to my “keep tabs on this person” list.🤔 Just sayin’. Have a good night. 🙂 –Diane (aka “Big Sister”) at

John the road again (@guest_257324)
1 month ago
Reply to  Diane McGovern

Don’t worry, Diane. I think he made my point.

I live in place where one’s manhood is frequently judged by the truck one drives, and anything less than a 20-foot long 1-ton FWD 7-liter turbo-diesel dualie means that you are simply deficient in any way a male can be. I have been judged more than once for the diminutive nature of my less-than-full-sized pickup. Whatever. It does the job I need done, and the money I’ve saved can go to camping.

Diane McGovern
1 month ago

Got it. Thanks, John. I mainly wanted to put him on notice because of his negative comment right from the very beginning, i.e., “B.S. (Big Sister) is watching.”😅 But if he sticks around long enough, he’ll see that I’m not only very fair but I’m also very lenient in my moderating. Have a great day. 😀 –Diane

John the road again (@guest_257057)
1 month ago

Have a friend who owns a company that manages a fleet of trucks deployed all over the west. He’s had it with modern diesels and is only purchasing gas trucks going forward. Today’s diesels are less reliable than their gas counterparts, more of a pain to deal with because of the sensitive emission control systems & DEF requirements, more expensive to repair, and the high cost of diesel fuel now more than offset their few remaining advantages. They certainly are not worth the 4-to-5 figure premium you now have to pay.

Donald N Wright (@guest_256955)
1 month ago

Gail forgot to list the disadvantages. Smoke, smell, noise and weight.

XGarys (@guest_256950)
1 month ago

Nice story about the history of the diesel engine but stating “it’s more efficient “ does not examine why it’s more efficient, as promised by the click bait.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles (@guest_256941)
1 month ago

Alex, Thanks for the link but I have no idea what I just read. My only question about diesel is, what has been done about its tendency to sludge up in cold weather? It has to me been only why I limit diesel to a fair weather fuel.
General ? to the multiverses out there. My Papa (career USDA economist) once told me that creosote, a desert plant, was rich in hydrocarbons and would possibly become a non-fossil contributor to the presently named fossil fuel supplies? Has anyone ever heard about plants that could become gasoline sources.

Rich K. (@guest_256921)
1 month ago

If I remember correctly, the original Diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil, which was relatively cheap and plentiful back then.

Thomas D (@guest_256870)
1 month ago

It was great until the EPA started fooling with it. I’ve had a LOT of trouble with the DEF system. I don’t think I’d buy another one. Last repair was for heater in DEF tank. $1700 for heater to prevent freezing. It was summertime. I don’t think anything is going to freeze. Plus the diesel particulate filter takes a lot of raw fuel to clean. Fuel that takes away miles per gallon

Cancelproof (@guest_256821)
1 month ago

Gail, this a great topic that deserves some discussion. Your brief history lesson on the diesel engine is great but could possibly benefit from a little fuel contextualization. The engine came before the fuel, which is why the fuel is named after the engine, not vice versa. The engine was not designed to run on “diesel”, it was designed to run on peanut oil and did so for almost decade before someone tried to power a diesel engine with refinery waste. The distillates (diesel) were discarded until that happened and voila, diesel fuel was born.
Cont in reply.

Cancelproof (@guest_256827)
1 month ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Given that all diesel engines are actually vegans that were turned by big oil and went to the dark side (big oil), would putting a diesel engine into every auto instead of gasoline powered engines get the Just Stop Oil folks off our backs? We could all burn peanut oil, filtered/processed deep fryer grease, canola oil, etc and really stop oil in its tracks.

If the “Just Stop Oil” crowd does not agree with this solution, then I guess they are exactly as duplicitous as I always figured they were and could not care less about the planet. Pretty sure canola oil production is easier on the planet than mining rare earth minerals with sulfuric acid.

Alex Lewin (@guest_256900)
1 month ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Canola production is awful. Might be less awful than petroleum though.

Doc1 (@guest_256990)
1 month ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Sure, put a slightly less polluting fuel in it, that should satisfy the environmentalists…

Steve Lane (@guest_256815)
1 month ago

Got our first 6.7 diesel in August 2020. Ford F250, great motor and truck. Have towed our 2021 Reflection 303RLS over 14k miles. Power is fantastic but…… it is expensive to operate. Just finished putting 4k on the truck and 3.2k towing, $1,600.00 fuel and $100.00+ in def. Most paid for diesel was $6.00 gallon in Weed, CA with discount. I bought diesel in Sept. 2020 for $1.93 gallon in South Jordan, Utah. Motor gets 11.7 miles per gallon when towing and 22 miles per gallon when not towing.

Ray (@guest_256804)
1 month ago

Diesels are better suited to meet the needs of a heavy load. This is obvious. There is more energy in a gallon of diesel than a gallon of gasoline. It is also cheaper to refine diesel although you would not know it by looking at the pump price.

Tommy Molnar (@guest_256811)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ray

I seem to recall, decades ago, that diesel cost was in the pennies while gas was considerably more (relatively speaking anyway). And as Bill mentions below, the swish of a pen caused a massive increase in energy prices. But, I’m sticking to my diesel pickup – because I LOVE it!

Cancelproof (@guest_256856)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

It was cheaper because was simply diverted from the trash conveyor to a product line. Diesel was a wasted distillate byproduct of oil refining. That’s why it was cheap, any price acheived was better than disposing if it.

MattD (@guest_256874)
1 month ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Yep, my step dad was a trucker from the early 70’s to ’01, and he always claimed diesel was a byproduct of oil refining. By the 90’s, he complained all the time about the price of diesel fuel considering it was “trash fuel” and the big oil companies were just gouging the truckers and the trucking lines. I really don’t care because, well, I have investments in those big oil companies for quite a while now.

ChrisK (@guest_256801)
1 month ago

Unfortunately because of emissions regs diesel engines are notoriously finicky and expensive to maintain. I’m giving up my diesel truck and getting a gasser because of being stranded several times in remote areas due to emissions issues. Sad to lose the torque and exhaust brake though.

Uncle Swags (@guest_256797)
1 month ago

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy!!!!!

Jim Johnson (@guest_256786)
1 month ago

For what it is worth, the Germans have a bar drink they call ‘diesel’. It is a mixture of beer and cola. It has about the same color as diesel fuel, and at least in my opinion, probably tastes as bad. :LOL

Bill Braniff (@guest_256781)
1 month ago

I own a diesel F 250 , and I have never looked back. That is until diesel, and yes gas p[rices went thru the roof in the swish of a pen, right here in the USA.
My diesel has sat alone in the driveway out back since about a year ago, because of the high cost of fuel. My trailer thankfully sits on our own waterfront lot here in Maine, so no need for the truck.
I fully agree a diesel can pull more and pull cheaper than a gas engine. But now with the added costs of DEF and oil corps scandalously high profits, and our lower buying power, I am dry docked.
Trailer on folks.

Cancelproof (@guest_256861)
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill Braniff

It can only get better. Sorry to hear your in drydock. Hoping we all get back into a cycle of peace and prosperity soon.

Ran (@guest_256780)
1 month ago

Diesels have a disturbing smell. Try following one on a motorcycle! Maybe someday they will create one that is easier on the environment, but not in my lifetime!

Bill Braniff (@guest_256783)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ran

Don’t follow one then! Pretty simple math to me.

David A (@guest_256822)
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill Braniff

So, to answer snarky with snarky:
Don’t drive a diesel then. Pretty simple math to me.

Cancelproof (@guest_256864)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ran

The original Diesel engines were way more environmentally friendly. In fact, more enviro friendly than electric. They ran on peanut oil. Sometimes vegetable oil and often rape seed oil (canola).

No rare earth minerals to strip from the planet with millions of gallons of sulfuric acid and no oil to drill for. No fracturing, no tar sands.

Mikal H (@guest_256888)
1 month ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Yep, Lithium mining is anything but environmentally friendly.

Saw an interview, not long ago, with a mining executive in charge of establishing a new lithium mine in Nevada. He was brutally honest (surprised me) regarding the environmental impacts of open lithium mining. Sure wouldn’t want one anywhere near me!

Cancelproof (@guest_256889)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mikal H

Trains filled with sulfuric acid traversing the country and then getting pumped into the open pit mines by the millions and millions of gallons. All in the name of saving the planet.

What could go wrong?


Mikal H (@guest_256881)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ran

While many complain about the emission system changes for diesel engines, it has removed the soot, black smoke, and smell. DPF + the DEF injected SCR system have emissions so low that you can swoosh your hand around inside the tailpipe (when cool, of course) and virtually nothing on your hand when you pull it out.

The more recent major issues happened when requirements to have the system monitor the DEF concentration were implemented. One manufacturer of the sensors had major failures. This causes unreasonable engine derate to be basically unusable until the sensor is replaced. The pandemic made replacement parts unavailable.

That issue has been worked through, for the most part.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mikal H
Alex Lewin (@guest_256902)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ran

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