Higher MPG Cars = Higher Costs! What??

engineHappy New Year!

And, now for something completely different on the first day of 2015.  I just LOVE (I really do) blowing widely-held “conventional wisdom” out of the water with FACTS.  I write mostly about dentistry and firearms on this blog.  I’ve written one other article about cars – Tire Safety – before this one.

My wife and I were talking about a friend’s new car (and how proud he is of the fuel efficiency).  He got a Volkswagen Passat with the diesel engine.  A lot of Americans who drive fuel-efficient cars enjoy the bragging rights.  And, that’s OK.  But, some take it to the point of disdain towards those who prefer less efficient cars to serve their purposes.  It’s become a political high-horse to some.  This is not the case with my friend, by the way.

Though I’ve never owned a diesel, based on what I knew about cars, I have long contended that they are a better way to go than the “hybrids” that gained sudden popularity thanks, in part, to Hollywood elites prancing about in their Priuses.  Yeah, that sentence runs on a bit, but breaking it up just wouldn’t have the same impact!

(Edit to add:  Prius owners need not get butt-hurt.  I was having some fun with alliteration while making the point that celebrities played a significant role in the popularization of hybrid cars, and that began with their endorsement of the Prius.  Brilliant marketing!)

If you like your car, you need not justify it.  Enjoy it!  This article is focused only on dissecting the oft-reported economic advantages of driving a diesel or hybrid.

Diesels have long suffered a stigma in the United States.  Many Americans still believe that diesels are the dirty, slow, weak, and noisy smoke machines of the 1970s.  Meanwhile, Audi’s racing team has been winning in the Le Mans Series (endurance racing) for well over a decade… in DIESEL-powered race cars.

Tonight, I got a wild hair and decided to parse the actual economics of diesel and hybrid cars vs their gas-powered counterparts.  I wanted to see if the widely-held belief that hybrids and diesels are more economical in the long run was true.  I’m just weird that way (among others).  I knew that the purchase price of the diesel and hybrid versions of the car would be higher.  I also knew that diesel fuel is priced higher than gasoline on a per gallon basis.  But, that doesn’t mean they cost more in the long run… or does it?

Vin Diesels

vin dieselTo compare gas vs diesel in the VW Passat, I had to figure out the fuel cost per mile.  Easy enough!  Gas is priced locally (at the moment) at $2.29 / ga.  Diesel at the very same gas station is $2.99 / ga…  Seventy cents more per gallon.  (I seem to remember there was a time when diesel was cheaper than gas.)


passat-18tThe gas version of the Passat gets 35 mpg.  So…   $2.29 / ga ÷ 35 mi / ga = 6.5¢ / mile.


passat-tdi-clean-dieselThe diesel version of the Passat gets 44 mpg.  So….  $2.99 / ga ÷ 44 mi / ga = 6.8¢ / mile.


Ummm… Wait!  The diesel Passat costs 0.3¢ MORE per mile driven.  Crap!  It’s supposed to cost LESS!  car-crusherHonestly, I was under the assumption (until now) that it would cost less per mile to drive a diesel.  This was news to me, as of tonight.

If we are optimistic and assume you keep and drive the car for 150,000 miles before getting your next car, you’ll spend a grand total of $450 more in diesel fuel.  No savings, but no biggie, right?  450 bucks over the lifetime of a car isn’t huge.  Mind you… Most Americans are too fickle to keep a car that long.

Now throw in the fact that the purchase price of the diesel Passat is $5,700 more than the gas version.  That’s significant.  And, diesel cars have higher insurance, maintenance, and repair costs.  The bottom line:  Diesel will cost you more, no matter how you slice it… at least in the singular example of the VW Passat.    I encourage you to do the math for any other model you’re considering.

Yet, there are websites that claim diesels are cheaper to own than their gas counterparts.  They claim there is savings in fuel.  But, they don’t “show their work,” and based on today’s fuel prices, it just doesn’t ring true.  I’m showing my work!  Some of them are factoring in depreciation, because reportedly diesels hold their value better.  Do your own math!

Edit to add in 2016:  Recently the price of diesel has dropped to about the same as regular gas.  Do your own math.


spicoli high-bridNow let’s look at hybrids.  The conventional wisdom is that driving a hybrid will save the baby seals and automatically confer upon you the status of superior human being.  That’s worth something, right there!  Plus, you get to drive fast in the carpool lane while you smugly thumb your nose at the solo-driving troglodytes stuck in traffic in their global-warming-death-machines!

Again, I think it’s important to compare the same model car in the two engine configurations.  For this example, I chose the Honda Accord.

Accord gasThe gas version of the Accord gets 36 mpg.  So…   $2.29 / ga ÷ 36 mi / ga = 6.4¢ / mile.


Accord hybridThe hybrid version of the Accord gets 45 mpg.  So…   $2.29 / ga ÷ 45 mi / ga = 5.0¢ / mile.


Alrighty then!  We’re talking about a 1.4¢ per mile savings with the hybrid!  Woohoo!  But, wait!  There’s more!  Or, not.  The base hybrid Accord will cost you $7,200 more to purchase than the base gas version.  Yowza!  They’re awfully proud of that hybrid power train, eh?  But, will it save you money in the long run?  Let’s see!  $7,200 ÷ 1.4¢ / mi = 514,285 mi.  What does that mean?  It means that to BREAK EVEN just on the purchase price differential, you’ll have to drive that hybrid over a half a million miles to make it up in fuel cost savings!  Half a million miles!  Good luck with that!  (And, that’s assuming you paid cash for the car.  Factor in interest and it will take even longer to break even.)

Also consider that hybrid car batteries are typically warrantied for 8 years / 100,000 miles.  Replacement will cost you $3,000 – $5,000.  So, in theory, you could never break even, even if you drove the car for 514,285 miles.  🙁

And, my point is….

Don’t accept conventional wisdom!  Think for yourself!  Do your own math!  It’s not difficult.  And, then you can watch your sheeple friends’ heads blow up when you lay down the math, baby!  This applies to all aspects of life.  Learn to think critically!  Be a MENTAL WARRIOR!  If my math is wrong, show me!

PS… I did a similar economic analysis of “efficient” light bulbs, since most dental offices have a lot of lights.

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15 Responses to Higher MPG Cars = Higher Costs! What??

  1. You might consider adding in the tax breaks to your above numbers.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Yeah… no more tax breaks for hybrids… just plug-in hybrids and electrics. The Accord isn’t a plug-in, as far as I can tell. And, there are other exceptions, too. Do your homework, folks. Don’t assume that what you’re hearing is true.

  2. Ivan Terrero says:

    Diesels are cheaper in Europe where it costs the same as gas…for that I’ll drive a Mustang any day!

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Ivan! I just checked, and yeah… your diesel prices are fairly close to gas (varies a bit depending on country). But, you guys pay far more per gallon (gas OR diesel) than we do. Based on a €1.25 / liter basis, you’re at about $5.67 / gallon. That’s about 2.5 times what we pay currently for gas.

  3. Keith Hollander says:

    Not that I doubt the numbers for gas milage your using, probably the posted epa numbers, but for those doing more than a short commuter hop, the diesels get much better than 44 mpg. Closer to 60. And you are blessed. Our regular gas is closer to $2.60/gal and diesel is $2.99.
    Your point on doing a real cost comparison is well founded, I think the differential may be greater leaning to the alternative fuels.
    Comparing my sisters grand Cherokee to her diesel Passat on runs of roughly 100miles it’s the diesel hands down.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      You have to be specific, Keith. Different models of diesel cars naturally achieve different efficiencies. Yes, there are diesels that get 60 mpg. But, NOT the VW Passat diesel. It gets 44 mpg highway. Period. To remain consistent, my figures were all EPA ratings for highway. If I recall, the diesel VW RABBIT gets close to 60 mpg. But, that’s a DIFFERENT CAR. It’s a different model.

      I think it’s important to compare apples to apples. To be scientifically honest, you have to use the SAME car or a very similar car with the same dimensions, weight, and purpose. For example, comparing the fuel efficiency of a diesel-powered VW Rabbit and a gas-powered Jeep Cherokee is naive at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.

      That is why I used the examples in this article.

  4. Mark Bourcier DMD says:

    Excellent points Mike. But your point of view is quite different from where the Save-the Earth crowd is coming from. It isn’t about how much money the car costs to own and drive. Many of these people fully subscribe to the notion that there is a crisis in the environment called (at last check) Global Climate Change that so threatens all of humanity and all of the cute little creatures like the aforementioned seals that they would pay any price to be a part of the solution and achieve salvation for us all, and to not do so would be against their quasi-religious, cultish beliefs. This is precisely what the likes of Al Gore and Michael Moore had in mind when they manufactured this crisis. They wanted to sell unnecessary things at a premium and start a “green revolution” that is “green” insofar as it is meant to put greenbacks in their wallets. So for those who subscribe to this cult, it’s not about whether I can drive a mile for 5 cents less, it’s whether over the course of a year, I can leave 1000 more gallons of petroleum in the ground for the next generation, to lessen the environmental impact etc. These people often eat organic vegan diets, don’t use deodorant, wear hemp and patchouli oil, and have tattoos. I point this out because I’m quite serious when I say that this set of values actually constitutes a religious culture, a secular, pagan cult, that completely changes how they live and is founded on erroneous or exaggerated premises. Which is fine for them; if that makes you feel happy, live that way. As has been said before, when I see Al Gore riding his bike to work I’ll believe that there is an imminent environmental crisis. Great writing and thinking as always, my friend!!

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Thanks, Mark! I’m fully aware of the “environmentally-kind” angle, Mark. But, I purposely stayed away from that emotionally-charged “debate.” I’m ONLY addressing the claims of improved efficiency and cost.

      Many of my friends and acquaintances point to “SAVING MONEY ON FUEL” aspect of hybrid and diesel ownership. They aren’t talking about polar bears being forced to higher ground or making babies cry. They proudly claim their “saving money on gas.” And, I get that, because it doesn’t potentially precipitate acrimonious arguments. Saving money is something most people can agree upon.

      I am only pointing out the fallacy of improved efficiency and economy.

  5. Ken says:

    Another great post, yes folks…think critically…what novel advice yet how many are sucked in by the “green” gods and their advertising. (Not saying there is anything wrong with wanting to be economical or a good steward of resources)

    When my old Honda that I bought new in 1998 was stolen this past summer I said “to heck with it all” (or something like that) and treated myself to a new Lexus IS 350 with lots of bells and whistles. It takes premium gas which is more expensive but like you when I calculated out the long term costs (I expect to own this car a long time) it seemed like worrying over a matter of a few extra cents per day? (stepping over dollars to pick up pennies???)

    I have had a few acquaintances smugly ask me, “What kind of gas mileage are you getting?” as one of the first questions before they ask anything else. Ok, ok, ok…you got me there it’s probably not as good as that little compact you drive, but I didn’t buy it to worry over gas mileage. If that was the primary concern I would have went back with another Honda or similar.

    My apologies to the baby seals, polar bears, and anal retentive global warming Prius drivers out there.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Ken! Thanks for your comments. Yeah… when I had a Lotus Elise, I was amazed that the FIRST question many asked was about fuel efficiency. Ummm… LOOK at this car! Come EXPERIENCE this car’s performance. Then reconsider your first question. Mind you, the Elise got about 29 mpg, which was pretty good! But, the reason I got it was SMILES PER GALLON! 😀

  6. Dawn says:

    I was shocked with the comparison, for I had not put pencil to paper yet. However, I do not drive a hybrid or diesel can’t afford a new car and couldn’t find a diesel I was happy with when I purchased my last vehicle 6 yrs ago.
    It’s hard not to fully agree with the Eco-Friendly Perspective since it is proven fact emissions of ALL kinds are increasing the global warming problem.
    I have wanted a Diesel Passat or Jetta for some time. Not as much for the increased MPG but my ideal car would get 514,285 miles!! My mom had a Chevy Cavalier Wagon… Maybe a 1993??? She drove the wheels off that thing and finally traded it in at 240,000 or so miles. She got a new PT Cruiser and drove that BEOTCH to so,we here around 210,000. It would be interesting to see what sort of long term savings someone would get with a Diesel/Hybrid vehicle, including maintenec costs.. But driving it for that long. My parents started “paying their car payment to themselves” sometime back, yet keeping the vehicle for some time. This afforded them the opportunity to pay for their cars in cash, saving interest and such as well.

    My Aunt MUST have a new care every 2yrs. It’s ridiculous to me.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      I kept my last car for 11 years and put 192,000 miles on it before the 2nd engine quit.

      But, I think most Americans are like your aunt. And, according to Edmunds.com, 25% of new cars are leased. Americans are fickle. Flipping cars every few years is expensive whether you lease or buy! The most economical transportation is by driving it “until the wheels fall off”, so to speak.

      I won’t get into your “proven facts,” though. 😉 I’m keeping this about economics.

  7. Dawn says:

    Definitely driving the wheels off is the way to go.
    I’m learning to never say …… “Proven Fact” …. When commenting.. Lol

  8. Dennis says:

    I am a diesel fan. I love the great gas mileage you get without sacrificing the power. Sure I can get close to 40 mpg driving a gas powered Ford Fiesta, but it doesn’t have the get up and go power you’ll find in a turbo diesel bug for example.

    It’s definitely hard to disagree with your well thought out, logical post….and yet I am going to try. What about the life of the car? Can’t you reliably expect 100,000 more miles out of a diesel engine than a gas one?

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      True… but, how many Americans keep a car that long? 🙂

      And, one must consider the ongoing maintenance costs of diesels, which is higher than gas engines.

      With diesel fuel being at such a premium (price) over gas, the more you drive a diesel, the more it costs. No matter how you slice it, diesels cost more than driving a gas car the same number of miles. They just do. And, it’s because of the price of diesel.

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