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View Full Version : TOTM: Tow Rigs, Gas vs. Diesel



rstrucks
04-04-2011, 10:37 AM
A lot of us have one, the rest of us want one. With gas and diesel fuel prices like they are (and probably not going to get better anytime soon) it makes picking a tow rig that much more of a challange. Many pros and cons to each and it often comes down to $$$$$.

Present your case!

ATL ZJ
04-04-2011, 10:44 AM
If fuel prices continue to rise I see fewer, longer trips happening. And I might also need to pick up a separate DD that gets better mileage than my tow rig, and just keep the tow rig for towing...

The only arguments I see for diesel are towing at high elevations and towing multiple rigs or really heavy loads. For towing a single rig, a 1/2- 3/4ton gasser will do. For towing more than one rig, IMO you need a diesel. And with the direction fuel prices are going, it may make more sense to throw two rigs on a trailer and split fuel. There are great arguments for both depending on what you want to tow, how often, and how far.

BigDaveZJ
04-04-2011, 10:51 AM
Most of the towing I do would take significantly longer in a gasser. Between here and Moab there are several big passes. I start out about 6k ft in elevation, climb to 10k, drop to mid 7's, then back over 10k, all within 90 minutes of my house.

If I lived out east, I wouldn't have a diesel. Living in CO though and using it as a tow rig, its almost a necessity. My minimum load right now is about 9k lbs, and usually I'll be over 10k, so a Gasser just wont cut it for that.

Pearce
04-04-2011, 11:26 AM
I would pretty much restate what Cam said. Of the group of guys I travel with most I'm the only one with a diesel. The gasers always do just fine. The guy I've traveled the most with has towed out west to Moab twice and Oklahoma once with me. And lots of other shorter trips. But his properly set up 1/2 ton gaser does great, even through CO. And by properly set up I mean with a weight distribution hitch with sway control. I've seen him tow with and without it and it makes a huge difference. Something else to consider on a gaser is being sure to get the tow package if it makes a difference in gearing and coolers on your truck.
I bought my diesel right before fuel prices really started to go up. I think I had it for a couple months and then everything changed for good. Also to consider with a diesel is regular maintenance cost more. More expensive oil, more filters to change more often, and a bigger price tag if it has to get worked on. That all being said I wouldn't trade my Dodge for anything. My truck is great. My only regret is I should have got a 1 ton single rear wheel. That little bit of extra rating helps when comes to trying to keep legal when towing two rigs. Also the extra helper spring for the load.
If, I were to get a gas tow truck next, it would still be at least a ton truck. The suspension is so much better suited and really what makes the difference if your only regularly towing one vehicle. It would also be a Chevy. I couldn’t see getting anything else in a gaser. You never know what the future will hold but one day they may actually start making a diesel for fuel economy and torque and put them into trucks. That would be a great option. For example, my dad’s diesel WK. That little V6 kicks ass. He and I have both towed his 20’ boat. Of course I get better millage than him but if you consider my truck weighs 7000lbs the mileage he gets is pretty damn good for the size of WK and that V6.

CrawlerReady
04-04-2011, 11:39 AM
I'll tell you this....having my diesel saves me just under $100 EACH TRIP to/from Moab.

Round trip to Moab is 450 miles for me. I had a Chevy K2500 w/ the 5.7L and although it could handle the load just fine (aside from the 40mph max on steep hills) I would average 8 MPG for the trip towing the 7000# load (Jeep 5400#, trailer 1600#). With the Duramax I am able to average 15 MPG and actually go the speed limit up the climbs. The load is also about 1000# heavier now with the new trailer and Jeep upgrades. Doing the math with gas being about 20 cents cheaper per gallon than diesel it's about $90 more each trip to Moab for a gas truck. That alone is enough for me to justify the diesel.

SirFuego
04-04-2011, 11:45 AM
The only arguments I see for diesel are towing at high elevations and towing multiple rigs or really heavy loads. For towing a single rig, a 1/2- 3/4ton gasser will do. For towing more than one rig, IMO you need a diesel. And with the direction fuel prices are going, it may make more sense to throw two rigs on a trailer and split fuel. There are great arguments for both depending on what you want to tow, how often, and how far.
I would agree with that. I have a 2007 Ram 1500 with the 5.7L Hemi and it does just fine here on the east coast. There was one mountain en route the Harlan that really pissed me off, but nothing even came close to overheating. In retrospect, I wasn't pissed because it was a gasser -- I was pissed because I had no choice but to go slow because of all the switchbacks I needed to brake for.

There is a good mix of tow rigs in my local wheeling group and they all seem to get the job done. Save for hitting a hill in the wrong gear, I can usually keep pace with the diesels unless they are driving like maniacs. I just tend to piss them off because a gasser can't really hold its speed up a hill like a diesel can, so we always seem to be jockeying for position since our rigs deal with hills differently. My Ram seemed to have a bit easier time through the hills than my buddy in his similarly-equipped F150 -- but his gearing is 3.55 and mine is 3.92, so that could have been the difference.

When I got my truck, I was told to go for a 3/4 ton because of wear and tear issues. After 63k, I haven't run into any issues. The brakes on the newer 1/2 tons seem to actually be better than the older 3/4 tons. Plus trucks seem to have gotten bigger that even the 1/2 tons of today seem more well equipped to tow than their older 3/4 counterparts.

My major complaint (and this is apparently pretty common for F150s, Silverados and Sierras, too) is that my front rotors warp very easily. It seems that I'm getting about 20k on rotors before they warp. I'm going to check the rest of my braking system when the weather gets nicer to make sure that something else isn't causing the warped rotors.


If fuel prices continue to rise I see fewer, longer trips happening. And I might also need to pick up a separate DD that gets better mileage than my tow rig, and just keep the tow rig for towing...
If there was any semblance of truth to my April Fool's joke, it was that I'm thinking of possibly trading in my truck. It's been great, but since I'm taking the year off from wheeling, I don't really need it. Plus, Sarah is wanting to get an AWD compact SUV and my truck would get a lot more money than her car in trade-in or private sale. I'd then drive around her gas miser and be on the lookout for an early-2000s diesel. I am compiling actual MPG data from my truck and her car so I can do a cost comparison of both options.

The issue is that I have a lifetime drivetrain warranty on my truck -- so any major work would be covered under warranty. If I didn't have any warranty left on it, I'd probably just do it.

BigClay
04-04-2011, 11:49 AM
Well I just fought the battle between a gasser and a diesel tow rig. Like everyone has said, it came down to $$$$$. My budget was around 5k, so any diesel in that range had well over 200k miles and most were close to 300k. For the money I went gasser, but not just any gasser, Dodge V10 gasser. I compared diesel numbers to Dodge V10 numbers in the mid to late 90s and surprisingly they were pretty close. In 1996 the 12v Cummins in stock form made 215 hp and 450 lb-ft torque while the V10 made 300 hp and 450 lb-ft torque. I found a V10 with just over 100k for $5k and I have been extremely happy with it. Now this thing is of course a gas guzzler, about 7.5 mpg towing and 9-10mpg unloaded. For as little as I drive it (only towing and hauling), there was not a need to spend the extra money on a diesel, or compromise with a much higher mileage truck. I know diesel engines will go 300k miles plus, but I always worry about the other "non-engine" components with 300k miles on them.

Before I bought the Dodge, I towed my jeep and trailer with my 99 Chevy Tahoe with a 5.7 liter 350 in it, that sucked. On some of the climbs I was down to 15 to 20 mph, with my foot on the floor. The 1/2 ton suspension under my Tahoe also shook like crazy and at some points I was thinking "wholly crap, this thing might break in two" haha. I was also worried about the rear 10 bolt axle going "kaboom" at some point with the stress. For these reasons, for a dedicated tow rig, I say why not step up to a 3/4 ton, again if you can afford it.

Short story is, if your budget allows for a diesel, get one, if not, then there are gassers that will serve your purpose.

SirFuego
04-04-2011, 12:02 PM
One thing I will say about towing with a 1/2 ton (though this is probably applicable for any bumper-pull application)...

Get your tongue weight dialed in. If you are constantly using the same trailer/rig combo (as most of us are), mark up the trailer once you get it dialed in. My truck handles like crap when the tongue weight is off (the trailer keeps pushing me around or I'm bouncing after ever bump in the road), but when the tongue weight is dialed in, it's almost like the trailer isn't there (at least from a handling/braking perspective).

ATL ZJ
04-04-2011, 12:04 PM
I'll tell you this....having my diesel saves me just under $100 EACH TRIP to/from Moab.

Let's be clear. $100 savings in fuel only... How much of that savings is eaten up by the higher cost of ownership remains to be seen. If you've already factored that in, post up your spreadsheet.

ATL ZJ
04-04-2011, 12:07 PM
One thing I will say about towing with a 1/2 ton (though this is probably applicable for any bumper-pull application)...

Get your tongue weight dialed in. If you are constantly using the same trailer/rig combo, mark up the trailer once you get it dialed in. My truck handles like crap when the tongue weight is off (the trailer keeps pushing me around), but when the tongue weight is dialed in, it's almost like the trailer isn't there (at least from a handling/braking perspective).

x2, and it also helps to throw all your extra stuff on the trailer. My ~300lbs of spare driveshafts, axle shafts, nitrogen setup, etc. all go in the passenger side floorboard of the rig now and it's been much to have the correct tongue weight and get proper handling without the bed being loaded down too much.

SirFuego
04-04-2011, 12:15 PM
x2, and it also helps to throw all your extra stuff on the trailer. My ~300lbs of spare driveshafts, axle shafts, nitrogen setup, etc. all go in the passenger side floorboard of the rig now and it's been much to have the correct tongue weight and get proper handling without the bed being loaded down too much.
I usually throw my spare parts in the bed of the truck (at least the ones I don't carry with me on the trail). I only have a 7000lb trailer (which is 1700lb unloaded), so I'm a bit hesitant to throw much else on the trailer in case I ever get pulled over. When the weather breaks, I'm going to figure out the unsprung weight on my ZJ and add on the weight of the axles/tires/wheels to get a ballpark of how close I am to the limit of my trailer. IIRC, my truck can pull about 8500lb, so I'm not concerned about that.

Pearce
04-04-2011, 12:19 PM
After reading the next few post something came to mine. Those of us who currently posted so far are towing rigs that are pretty different from each other. My buddy with a Titan, (not Cam) gets 10 to 11 mpg towing his TJ which is only on 33’s. I can get 12 to 15 depending on where and how I drive. Yeah it varies that much. I have also towed Cam's rig to Arkansas and I got better millage with his in tow. The rig is lighter and no big YJ windshield. Last trip I had the windshield down on mine and it seemed to make a little difference. I would guess also the point about which the weight of what your towing starts to really impact fuel could be somewhere between 6000 and 7000lbs. And of course on this forum there are a lot of heavy GC’s.

CrawlerReady
04-04-2011, 12:21 PM
Let's be clear. $100 savings in fuel only... How much of that savings is eaten up by the higher cost of ownership remains to be seen. If you've already factored that in, post up your spreadsheet.

In what? Changing the oil every 10k miles instead of 3k? $20 for my gas truck every 3k miles and $55 for my diesel every 10k miles.....saving $$ there too. Honestly, (crossing fingers) the maintenance of this diesel have been less or on par with my gas truck....whether you choose to believe it or not doesn't really matter to me though ;)

edit: Besides, the fuel savings are not just when I tow. I DD my diesel and I average 17 MPG around the city and 19-20 on the highway. My old gasser, 13 city and 15 highway. The fuel savings to own the diesel make up for any maintenance increase with the diesel. No point for me to not have the diesel.

ATL ZJ
04-04-2011, 12:31 PM
In what? Changing the oil every 10k miles instead of 3k? $20 for my gas truck every 3k miles and $55 for my diesel every 10k miles.....saving $$ there too. Honestly, (crossing fingers) the maintenance of this diesel have been less or on par with my gas truck....whether you choose to believe it or not doesn't really matter to me though ;)

Definitely not oil changes. I run Amsoil and my oil lasts a long time too...

Don't get blindsided by the replacement costs for hard parts when that time comes. Having owned both a diesel and a gasser I will say that the big stuff that just eventually has to be replaced (starter, fuel pumps, solenoids, etc.) tended to be quite a bit higher on the diesel.

Just because maintenance isn't needed now doesn't mean it will never be. Even if you sell the truck before it needs anything remotely major, all the miles you're logging are still depreciating its resale value. Might be smart to account for it as it happens.

CrawlerReady
04-04-2011, 12:36 PM
This is true, but I puchased my diesel for a price that couldn't be passed up from a family friend. It's still worth more that what I purchased it for. I know the hard parts are $$$, injectors are an issue with these dmax's...so I'm waiting for that. Hell, I had to drop $1k into the transfercase last July....still have no regrets though.

Honestly if this deal wouldn't have come up for me to get the diesel, I would still be driving my gas truck and I'd probably be arguing the opposite way haha. I loved that thing...

paulkeith
04-04-2011, 03:03 PM
To be totally honest, I dont know why anyone would ever buy a gas truck. Unless initial cash available is the limiting factor. Diesels retain value better, get better mileage loaded and unloaded, can tow more, and last longer.

At the very least, get a 3/4 ton to tow if only for the brakes. People constantly get caught up in a horsepower discussion but slowing everything down is even more important. Yes, I understand that trailer brakes can mitigate this to an extent, but I believe it still is worth noting.

I would contend that ownership costs for a diesel are lower as well, depending on what you buy. If you wind up with one of chevy's old disasterdiesels, yes, your parts costs might get astronomical. Anything in the cummins/superduty/duramax category, save for a few chronic issues (6.0 fords HGs, VP44 pumps, etc) are going to be pretty damn reliable trucks, at least equivalent to their gasser counterparts, though I would contend even better.

Just for the sake of information, my '02 7.3 gets me about 17mpg mixed. 19-20 on the interstate if you keep it below 70, about 25 mpg at a steady 55mph. last time i towed i was grossing 15klbs and got 12.x mpg over 900 miles. In 60,000 miles of ownership (130k-190k) i have replaced a CPS, hpop o-rings, starter twice (once due to loose bolts, my fault), and a power steering line. knock on wood.

I'll also offer up what information I know about superduties for those shopping:

7.3:
available from '99 thru mid '03
in 2002, they were upgraded to full d60 up front from the d50 hybrid axle, digital odometer, seatbelts on the seats
'99s had a different turbine and hpop
99-00 had 235hp/500lbft
00-03 had 250/500
00-03 6spd had 275/520

Like i said, if i'm going to be driving a pickup for any reason, I would never buy anything but a diesel even if i had it to do over again. If diesel gets back up to $5 a gallon, that tune might change a little though...

ATL ZJ
04-04-2011, 03:44 PM
Just how massive are these 3/4 ton brakes you're talking about? The '08 rotors on my Titan measure 13 3/4" and require the use of an 18" wheel. The rear brakes are no joke either. Seems like the newer 1/2 ton equipment is becoming (sometimes surpassing) yesterday's 3/4 ton equipment, especially in the braking department. Now if you're looking to buy an older truck then sure there are probably bigger differences. But for relatively late models, the real differences are probably going to be suspension, rearend, and frame.

Jeep Whore
04-04-2011, 04:53 PM
since no one has brought this up. I'm not saying that I do but you can run bio diesel in your diesel which depending on how you make / get it is cheaper then diesel at least here in CA 4.45 a gal for diesel.:pissed: I would only suggest this if you have some of the older diesel motors like the 12 valve (I think)Cummings or the 7.3L ford motor.

I don't have any experience with bio diesel, for any numbers mileage wise.

ajmorell
04-04-2011, 05:08 PM
While that is true, you can buy a shitload of diesel fuel for the investment it takes to get into making your own bio so it probably depends on how many miles you put on your rig, not to mention making your own bio does you no good on a long trip since you can't bring it all with you.

jsteves
04-04-2011, 05:10 PM
Gasser. Initial cost. I bought my 2000 F250 V10 extended cab Lariat 18 mos. ago for $4400. With a budget of $4500-$5000 any Diesel would have been beat to shit, run to shit or smelled like shit. I have done the math before and won't waste the time to do it again but I can buy a metric shit ton of gasoline for what an equal diesel would have run me (read: min. 13k).

Jeep Whore
04-04-2011, 05:17 PM
While that is true, you can buy a shitload of diesel fuel for the investment it takes to get into making your own bio so it probably depends on how many miles you put on your rig, not to mention making your own bio does you no good on a long trip since you can't bring it all with you.

true but it will work for the weekend trip. We seem to make it to our camp site and back just fine with 60 gallons.

CrawlerReady
04-04-2011, 06:11 PM
Gasser. Initial cost. I bought my 2000 F250 V10 extended cab Lariat 18 mos. ago for $4400. With a budget of $4500-$5000 any Diesel would have been beat to shit, run to shit or smelled like shit. I have done the math before and won't waste the time to do it again but I can buy a metric shit ton of gasoline for what an equal diesel would have run me (read: min. 13k).

True, but you can sell the diesel for far more than you can sell the gas truck in the end. I guess it depends on how long you plan on owning your vehicle for too or if you ever plan on selling it.

moparrr07
04-04-2011, 06:24 PM
what about the fact that you can tweak a deisel for under $500 and nearly double the hp and torque(depending on which one) and add a 3-4 mpg at the same time

SirFuego
04-04-2011, 06:26 PM
what about the fact that you can tweak a deisel for under $500 and nearly double the hp and torque(depending on which one) and add a 3-4 mpg at the same time
But can everything else hold up the the new HP and torque? That statement is very similar to buying a lift to run 35s then do no other mods to make it reliable....

I'm not against modifying vehicles, it's just that when you modify a vehicle you generally decrease the reliability or end up spending even more to keep moving your weak link somewhere else.

BigDaveZJ
04-04-2011, 06:34 PM
Gasser. Initial cost. I bought my 2000 F250 V10 extended cab Lariat 18 mos. ago for $4400. With a budget of $4500-$5000 any Diesel would have been beat to shit, run to shit or smelled like shit. I have done the math before and won't waste the time to do it again but I can buy a metric shit ton of gasoline for what an equal diesel would have run me (read: min. 13k).

IIRC, your truck is just a truck too right, you have an Audi or something as a DD? That factors a lot into the budget, or at least it did for us. Hard to spend quality diesel money on something that will sit the majority of the time. Mine was a DD for almost 5 years, which put a lot of wear and tear on the truck, but also helped offset a significant portion of its cost.

If I was buying a truck all over again that was going to just haul the Jeep and other misc truck duties and NOT be a DD, I don't really know what I would do.

moparrr07
04-04-2011, 07:44 PM
while i agree with that statment, pretty much all the trucks out there, you can add a intake exhaust and a programmer and be as reliable as stock

paulkeith
04-04-2011, 11:06 PM
for the most part, you can throw a chip on a 6spd diesel and be just fine with a set of gauges to keep an eye on everything. your clutch might slip, but $700-$1100 for the right clutch and you're on your way. with a slushbox, you're probably bound for a ~$3/4/5k tranny and TC replacement and then you *should* be good to go. Unless you drive a 6.0 ford....then the heads will lift, coolant will pump into your oil, bearings will grenade, and you'll be generally depressed and annoyed at your truck.


Just how massive are these 3/4 ton brakes you're talking about? The '08 rotors on my Titan measure 13 3/4" and require the use of an 18" wheel. The rear brakes are no joke either. Seems like the newer 1/2 ton equipment is becoming (sometimes surpassing) yesterday's 3/4 ton equipment, especially in the braking department. Now if you're looking to buy an older truck then sure there are probably bigger differences. But for relatively late models, the real differences are probably going to be suspension, rearend, and frame.

those sound like pretty serious brakes. My truck's brakes are hydroboost, 13.03"x1.5" vented, two pot pistons up front. 1/2 ton is 12.13. I agree that newer model trucks have really stepped up to the plate with brakes.

With every component being better than its 1/2 ton counterpart, operating costs roughly equal, value retention substantially higher, blindingly outrageous streed cred.....I still don't see any point in a gas truck, unless like i said, initial cost was a limiting factor.

h2opolokeeper1
04-23-2011, 10:19 PM
I am just going to have to go with the statement on any truck for every one mod you make you have to make 2 more. Rather it is lifting it or getting power from it.

A diesel is best when it is worked. If your going to just run it around town and go to work with one and tow once in a blue moon you have no need for one. In that case buy a 1/2 or 3/4 ton gasser and you will be fine. As stated before any of these trucks can tow the stuff but can they stop the stuff is the true question.

wildcatkit52
04-27-2011, 04:40 AM
Diesels have good points and bad as does a Gasser... I was once irritated with my DD/ wheeler/ part time tow assortment of gasser rigs.

They included at the time a 89 4WD Suburban 350 engine, 95 Tahoe 4WD, 95 'yota 4WD T100, and 99 Blazer 4.3. The trans went out in the 'burban. The trans guy said he couldn't get it rebuilt come get it. The Tahoe had some "issues" after an hour sitting in a headlight deep mud hole... The T100 just pissed me off in general when trying to pull anything more than a 4 wheeler or flat bottom boat.

In August of 2008 I purchased a tow rig while home on leave. Ended up getting a 01 F350 for $9150. Since driving it from that time I have had only one major issue. The common problem with these trucks is the transmission. Quick fix for me was swapping out the auto for a 6 speed. Less than $2000 is what the swap cost me.

I added some things to help performance and can tow whatever I want. For the money I didn't go wrong...

I don't usually buy something to drive for a year or two then get rid of. This truck will be around for a long time yet. Also, it is paid for. Can the new hemi 4 door next to me at the red light say the same thing?

cLAYH
04-30-2011, 02:44 AM
My general rule of thumb when people ask me gas or diesel is: towing over 10K you need a diesel, everything is beefier, axles, brakes, suspension, tranny, etc. You be much happier with a diesel.

Under 10K it depends on how much you want to spend, how important fuel economy is(ie how many miles a year do you put on it) and how fast uphill do you want to go? Personally I detest being THAT guy going up a hill at 40mph up a hill holding back traffic so I'm much more inclined to diesels for just that reason. Others have more paitence. As well the money saved on a gas truck over what a diesel will cost can buy a LOT of fuel so if you only use the truck a few times a year the fuel savings are negligible. Personally other than the oil changes I think maintenance costs are pretty similar between the two. Stuff doesn't usually go wrong with a diesel but when it does it can be more money, other than fluid/filter changes there isn't a lot of maintenance needed on a diesel. Drivetrain componets last longer as they are heavier duty. Gas are cheaper to maintain but require tuneups more often and the engine/trannys will need a rebuild sooner. Its a wash in my books.

Do you live in cold climate and plan to DD the truck? If so a gas is a better option. Diesels don't like cold starting and cold weather idling. Also if you park somewhere where you can't plug in for an extended period you may not get a diesel started.

Do you like to play with your truck and mod it? Diesels are REALLY fun to mod up and go make fun of ricers with. My 2001 Dodge dually with a $800 chip and $1200 into the tranny(TC and valve body) could outrun my mom's 5.9 ZJ and reliably tow 15K.