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Old 02-11-2021, 07:03 AM   #1
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Tow Vehicle Total Cost of Ownership

This topic has come up from time to time but the like many topic new people come along, for others it never fully registers, and the market forces change over time so it's time to revisit the topic of tow vehicle total cost.

A neighbor is planning retirement in 2 years and plans to purchase a tow vehicle and a 27' Airstream and tour the country for 5-6 years visiting all National parks and other places of interest. He is busy estimating total cost of ownership for most of what he buys and wants to minimize total cost after completing the trip and selling everything off.

His research to date indicates by far a gently used diesel 3/4 ton truck will capably tow the Airstream and have the lowest net all in cost of any other option out there. I commented to him that on this site you most frequently hear diesel trucks are unneeded and more expensive and don't pay back the extra cost. He walked through his research and shows how he is likely to save over $12k-$15k in total cost over his 5-6 year journey over the next best option of equivalent equipped and capability.

He started by showing a number of reviewed and published economics and automotive categorized research papers consistently concluding diesel vehicles save an average of $2-5k with a range of $50 to $17,500 over the typical ownership period for the average consumer. He then went into specifics of the choices he looked at to date.

Where did he go wrong? What did he miss?
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Old 02-11-2021, 07:26 AM   #2
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I don't understand, for sure. The only way that could happen is if the depreciation is so much less on the diesel and the market will actually pay the owner that much more. We all know the first cost and maintenance cost is markedly higher on the diesel. I wonder where he got any statistics on how much people actually paid for used diesel, compared with the original cost and with comparable gassers?
Does not pass the smell test for me...
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Old 02-11-2021, 07:43 AM   #3
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Larry, your gut instinct is by far the prevailing belief on this site and it is one reason I posted this. If you start with the peer reviewed and published articles, you will find that they indeed are consistent in the conclusions of a 2000-5000 average net savings. The savings are primarily due to improved fuel milage, comparable fuel cost as similarly powered gas vehicle more often than not require premium or mid grade, and retained resale value. The studies indicate maintenance and repair costs far more comparable than most people assume or realize. But don't take my word for it, if you're curious find the papers, they are easy to search.

In the case of my neighbor, he does all maintenance himself and saves much more than the papers indicate. Self maintenance of a diesel is inexpensive and parts discounts from online helps a lot to even out the cost more.

Anyway the research papers tell the bulk of the story.
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Old 02-11-2021, 07:52 AM   #4
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Yeah, not sure I want to spend the time, since I have the gas version and love it. I have had one automotive diesel, but most of my experience is marine diesels(Yanmar). I have rebuilt both. The diesel concept is more simple but I know that when something does need repair on a diesel engine it is typically more costly than a similar issue on a gas engine. 6 years? maybe none of those costly repairs with today's modern engines. If he does his own maintenance, cross that out of the analysis, but even a routine annual shop visit for a diesel costs more.
Fuel savings, bah! I have done that analysis many times for costs I see here in NC. The increase in fuel mileage on a diesel is always overcome by the higher pump cost of diesel, at least if your gas engine runs the lowest octane, which my 6.0 Silverado does.
So it boils down to first cost and resale cost. Anecdotes continually tell us about diesels keeping their value at resale so if that is the only factor, his conclusion may be very true.
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Old 02-11-2021, 08:06 AM   #5
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I dunno...I ran some very basic numbers years ago, given the fact that I turn wrenches as much as I can and maint is not really an issue for me. On a great day towing with gas I get about 10, maybe with a back breeze- 11mpg. I have seen diesels get upward of 14-15 under very similar conditions. 4-5mpg does not sound like much, but when you extend shields 10-15 years out, inclusive of DEF (which can be bypassed) and probable injector/glow plug replacements, I found the possibilities with gas vs diesel sort of sobering. I keep my vehicles for a min of 10 years, and on average I've held them for 16 years, so TCO for me is a long haul endeavor.

Pretty sure the trucking industry has done case studies, which is prob why 99.9% of all semi rigs are diesel, fuel econ is prob a much smaller part than longevity. It's not uncommon to see diesels with 400k on them and still not overhauled.

What I'd be significantly interested in seeing when the time comes, is how EV will stack up. There are still a lot of "IFs" in many discussions on EV, but I'm due for a new TV in about 3-5 years, maybe 6-7. I was pretty set on a Duramax/Allison combo, which I feel is a great TV, but what I'm seeing on paper, which I understand has yet to materialize and be proven is seeing the abilities and the TCO of an EV (of PHEV) vs diesel. I've run the up front cost numbers (sans any subsidies) based on what I've seen and the purchase prices of a 3/4 or 1 ton diesel rig is not (as best as I can ascertain) that much of a difference between some of the towing EVs being tested as we type these posts. I do feel that long term ICE will be around and the preferred method for a niche set as things evolve, but a lot can happen in 3-7 years, so this will be a very interesting topic since we all have decades of data to pour over on gas vs diesel and if/how EV changes the dynamic of the game.
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Old 02-11-2021, 08:11 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by BayouBiker View Post
The savings are primarily due to improved fuel milage, comparable fuel cost as similarly powered gas vehicle more often than not require premium or mid grade, and retained resale value. The studies indicate maintenance and repair costs far more comparable than most people assume or realize.
In the case of my neighbor, he does all maintenance himself and saves much more than the papers indicate. Self maintenance of a diesel is inexpensive and parts discounts from online helps a lot to even out the cost more.
Sounds like he's cherry picking his "facts". Most people don't do their own maintenance. If you compared cost of self maintenance with a gas engine with self maintenance on diesels, the gas would be less. Less oil, less filters, DEF.
I suspect not many here want to be covered in diesel fuel while on a trip. Anyone ever see an oil change in a campground? Not me.
I don't know about all gas engines, but I've never put mid grade or premium in my Tundra.
Finally, if diesels were so "bullet proof" why did LoLoHo pay $10K to have their engine "bulletproofed"?
Do Diesel engines actually get better fuel mileage? I'd like to see real world numbers. I suspect most owners have a bias towards diesel after shelling out the extra cost. "My diesel gets 25 mpg while towing, I'll have that engine paid off in no time."
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Old 02-11-2021, 08:13 AM   #7
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The neighbor included Evs and hybrids in his analysis but he was unable to make any useful predictions of future costs so he assumed todays cost for everything and the EVs and Hybrids didn't do well. He did have some projections on resale value and they were very poor, nearly double the depreciation of a gasoline vehicle. Perhaps someone here will offer some objective and realistic actual numbers. Thus far here and on the internet in general it all seems to be handwaving, cherry picking and confirmation bias driving EV projections.
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Old 02-11-2021, 08:15 AM   #8
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Sometimes personal biases can creep into analysis. Lets say your neighbor harbours a desire for the diesel truck. He could be unknowingly (or knowingly) underestimate depreciation, or make assumptions about future fuel prices that are over optimistic. Maybe he's overestimating his capacity to do his own repairs and maintenance while far from home on the road. And maybe his analysis is correct. Do him a favor and offer to check his work.
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Old 02-11-2021, 08:34 AM   #9
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Sounds like he's cherry picking his "facts". Most people don't do their own maintenance. If you compared cost of self maintenance with a gas engine with self maintenance on diesels, the gas would be less. Less oil, less filters, DEF.
I suspect not many here want to be covered in diesel fuel while on a trip. Anyone ever see an oil change in a campground? Not me.
I don't know about all gas engines, but I've never put mid grade or premium in my Tundra.
Finally, if diesels were so "bullet proof" why did LoLoHo pay $10K to have their engine "bulletproofed"?
Do Diesel engines actually get better fuel mileage? I'd like to see real world numbers. I suspect most owners have a bias towards diesel after shelling out the extra cost. "My diesel gets 25 mpg while towing, I'll have that engine paid off in no time."
Well his analysis was specifically for him and for his decision so that is not cherry picking. I explained that to provide some insight and explanation of his final numbers. I also do my own maintenance on all my vehicles, Oil change on gasoline for me is $35, diesel including fuel filters, $85 but I do it less than once a year so it does not add up to much. Other maintenance costs are quite similar. DEF is 2.80 a gallon and I use about 6 gallons a year. He figured on 15 gallons a year in his travels. But again these numbers are dwarfed by the milage savings and retained resale value.

Not sure how you figure the mechanics get covered in diesel. I find I don't get even a drop on me. I do end up with a bit of sooty sticky oil on my gloves despite my best efforts.

In the reviewed papers, the vehicles were mixed, some required higher grades, some did not. My neighbors comparable gasoline engine trucks all required higher octane due again to his personal choice of comparable HP and minimum torque desires.

On fuel mileage, one can easily objectively show diesels excel in milage. And they have to as the base efficiency of the Diesel thermodynamic cycle is 25% better than that of the Otto cycle. In practice the typical 25% bonus plays out in real life.

In any case, the critique is mostly subjective and based on personal choices. The papers address that with a range of vehicles to come to the average savings of $2000 - $5000. Maybe you can find fault with the papers, but I doubt it as they were peer reviewed. I don't link papers much to avoid being accused of cherry picking my favorite paper, so search for the ones you like and let's talk through them, because I want to see where these papers went wrong. I can't find any significant errors, and my neighbors analysis came to a similar conclusion.
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Old 02-11-2021, 08:42 AM   #10
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Tow Vehicle Total Cost of Ownership

I went from a gas 5.6 liter V8 in a half ton to a 5.0 liter diesel V8 in a “5/8” ton Titan XD. Yes, I get about 30% better mileage. Diesel fuel hereabouts right now is about 20% more expensive but throw in fuel filters and DEF and it is a wash.

The “sweet spot” for my gas truck was a skosh over 60 mph — the engine just purred along. The same sweet spot in the diesel is about 66 so I do get there a mite earlier (but just a mite).

Your friend wants a diesel so he should buy one. But, “peer reviewed” research aside, the diesel won’t be cheaper when you factor in $$$ oil changes, fuel filters, DEF and $$$ maintenance.
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:15 AM   #11
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He has all the DEF, Oil, fuel filters and EGR system maintenance factored in. He currently has a gasoline F250 and likes it a lot, in talking with him, he is not a fan of diesels. His analysis has the recommended oil change frequency and if he extends that with oil metal content analysis along with monitoring water volumes in the separator. When he extends those out using condition based replacement rather than schedule based he can make the maintenance cost difference less than $100 per year for the entire 6 years of travel.

His fuel cost difference sensitivity is the highest so he used the composite difference in national prices averaged over ten years. I didn't check his math on that.
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:20 AM   #12
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I say buy what makes you happy and not worry about what the neighbors think
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:25 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mollysdad View Post
Sounds like he's cherry picking his "facts". Most people don't do their own maintenance. If you compared cost of self maintenance with a gas engine with self maintenance on diesels, the gas would be less. Less oil, less filters, DEF.
I suspect not many here want to be covered in diesel fuel while on a trip. Anyone ever see an oil change in a campground? Not me.
I don't know about all gas engines, but I've never put mid grade or premium in my Tundra.
Finally, if diesels were so "bullet proof" why did LoLoHo pay $10K to have their engine "bulletproofed"?
Do Diesel engines actually get better fuel mileage? I'd like to see real world numbers. I suspect most owners have a bias towards diesel after shelling out the extra cost. "My diesel gets 25 mpg while towing, I'll have that engine paid off in no time."
Simple fact, diesels get much better mileage towing.
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:29 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by BayouBiker View Post
This topic has come up from time to time but the like many topic new people come along, for others it never fully registers, and the market forces change over time so it's time to revisit the topic of tow vehicle total cost.

A neighbor is planning retirement in 2 years and plans to purchase a tow vehicle and a 27' Airstream and tour the country for 5-6 years visiting all Nationals parks and other places of interest. He is busy estimating total cost of ownership for most of what he buys and wants to minimize total cost after completing the trip and selling everything off.

His research to date indicates by far a gently used diesel 3/4 ton truck will capably tow the Airstream and have the lowest net all in cost of any other option out there. I commented to him that on this site you most frequently hear diesel trucks are unneeded and more expensive and don't pay back the extra cost. He walked through his research and shows how he is likely to save over $12k-$15k in total cost over his 5-6 year journey over the next best option of equivalent equipped and capability.

He started by showing a number of reviewed and published economics and automotive categorized research papers consistently concluding diesel vehicles save an average of $2-5k with a range of $50 to $17,500 over the typical ownership period for the average consumer. He then went into specifics of the choices he looked at to date.

Where did he go wrong? What did he miss?
..gently used....? Where is this at...? The best bargain is to buy new....
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:30 AM   #15
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And I'm in total agreement with "rbs", get what makes you happy and go camping
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:41 AM   #16
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It's really hard to get any valuable and accurate TCO on EV. I know for my ride, it's pretty good in terms of operating costs and very long terms ROI (electric costs vs gas, oil, etc), but the resale is in the swamp. $44k car (before subsides) now at best retail with 56k on the clock, $6500- $7k in 6 years, with trade in basically worthless after the state takes their trade in cut on a car I already paid tax on. My Suburban, which is a 3/4 ton is maybe around $9k (mostly because there are no more 3/4 ton burbs anymore). Regular burbs same year are about $6k.... my point being it took my Burb to go from $48k to $9k in about 12-17 years.

Now take Tesla. $90-$100k retail new....now with 40k miles $45-$60k on average, and only 3-4 years old.

Chevy Duramax Silverado in 2500 form, with 150k to 250k $14k all day long, BUT, that Duramax back then was about a $5k upgrade, today I think that same upgrade pushes $10k on a new truck.

One thing I can say as a pro for the diesel, is that even with 4.10 gears out in the Rockies my Burb worked double time towing my trailer, where the diesels at very low RPM had the torque, while mine was screaming at 3000-4000 rpm to get the same output.

At one point my eyes were far bigger than my stomach and I was actually thinking of doing a Duraburb swap, but even spending around $15k, one scratch and the insurance would total it, so that idea was quickly squashed as the TCO was just too much of a risk.

All in all, I think one thing we can all agree, whatever you propulsion preference is- that any non-collector vehicle is a SUNK COST and the race to the bottom is shorter for some than others, but we all get there!
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:43 AM   #17
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Many people are happiest knowing the cost differences before they are ready to buy. Pricing data indicates used will save an average of 8% vs. new.
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:44 AM   #18
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My VW TDI gets about 17mpg around town (which I don't do much of with it) Towing my 17 ft Caravel I get about 16mpg. Oil changes are about $250 . It just lumbers along. I have about 150k on the clock and when it's time to replace it or rebuild it I will strongly consider an EV. Torque is everything
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Old 02-11-2021, 09:44 AM   #19
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I'm skeptical that it's possible to make long term estimates for the total cost of ownership of any future truck choice. Right now diesel is $0.30 per gallon cheaper than premium fuel in my area and my diesel will certainly beat any gasoline powered truck by several mpg's. That said you have to tow a lot of miles to break even versus a gasoline engine purchase due to the higher initial cost of the diesel. The biggest question is the rapid advances in EV technology. Hybrid electric pickups are already on the market and more will follow. An electric motor can give a huge boost to a smaller gasoline engine when more torque or power is needed. Batteries can also be recharged at far less cost than refilling gasoline tank. EV's will almost certainly be more economical to maintain and require fewer repairs. My take for a future purchase is to wait until the last moment and buy the latest technology available. The technology is changing so fast at present that what you buy today will be dated in a couple of years so waiting can only result in a win.
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Old 02-11-2021, 10:14 AM   #20
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The research papers demonstrate you can fairly accurate estimates of TCO of a purchase choice today. None of the papers attempted to forecast a future purchase but a couple I read noted that the numbers have been quite stable over the past 20 years and suggested that society as a whole is quite predictable. Fuel price differences when averaged are also stable but long term changes in demand does influence the differential. Diesel is more in demand now than 20 and 30 years ago for example. Demand for electricity will surly drive its price upward in time, so will addition of use tax, though it is unclear when that will happen.

Poor resale demand and the corresponding rapid depreciation in EV vehicles paints a bleak picture for TCO of an EV tow vehicle. Perhaps that will change, but since the crystal ball is not working we can only go with current experience. TCO is not sensitive to maintenance costs so one can sing the praises of costs for normal use and wear all day and never move the TCO needle much. Check out the papers to see how that works. Subsidies help EVs quite a bit and I suppose if you can justify pushing a real cost of your buying decision to your neighbor and therefore not include it and that doesn't cause you to lose sleep, I suppose you can count it. Buying used, it does not figure in except it does perhaps partially explain the rapid depreciation. In any case no matter how one slices it, using available data, and EV as a tow vehicle has the highest TCO. My neighbor included a cost of recharging on the road by figuring the total number of extra overnights consumed and the cost of those due to reduced daily mileage.
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