Hey, America, let's finally show some respect for the diesel

Dollar bill sticking out of gas tank

To paraphrase the stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield: Diesels get no respect.

OK, I get it; I remember the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970s, along with the lousy four-cylinder and diesel engines America's carmakers rushed to market in response.

Even the European car companies with long diesel-building resumes were basically importing black-exhaust-belching, noisy, smelly and slow diesel-powered cars.

As a collective marketplace, Americans hated them. And rightly so.

But that was nearly four decades ago. Get over it, America!

The new-generation diesels found in today's passenger cars are much cleaner burning, library quiet and odor free. They also deliver excellent fuel economy and can save you money.

How do diesels save you money?

Let's look at the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta. It has a $21,895 gasoline-powered SE with sunroof and trim level that is comparably equipped with its $24,095 TDI diesel-powered version.

That's a purchase-price difference of $2,200.

According to EPA estimates, the Jetta TDI gets 34 m.p.g. in combined city-highway driving, while the Jetta SE gets 25 m.p.g.

On the day I am writing this, AAA reports the national average price of regular fuel is $3.66, and the average price of diesel is $3.90.

If you drive your Jetta TDI 12,000 miles a year, you will spend $1,376 on fuel. The same number of miles in your Jetta SE will cost you $1,757 at the pump. Your savings would be $381, and it would take you just over five-and-a-half years to recoup the extra $2,200 you paid for the TDI.

If you drive 15,000 miles a year, that's an annual savings in fuel cost of $476, and just a little over four-and-a-half years would be necessary to offset the purchase premium.

Are you all giddy about gasoline-electric hybrids?

Making the same cost-mileage comparison for the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid and its comparable gasoline-only Civic EX-L, it would take 8.8 years at 12,000 miles a year and just over 7 years driving 15,000 miles a year to recoup your initial extra outlay for the hybrid.

Any way you look at it, in terms of saving money, diesels make sense generally and certainly more sense than hybrids.

Still, diesels get no respect.

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