Diesel fuel and our kind of food truck

Advance Auto PartsMy business partner and I have officially graduated from using each of our family’s minivans for our deliveries. She and I have put them through the roadway ringer and they now deserve to be reserved for family-friendly ventures once again. We loaded lots of food trays and logged lots of miles on the minis since our catering business really picked up. Weekday orders have increased and are now rivaling our weekend business–and we haven’t stopped smiling! Naturally, we’re now thinking diesel. Not diesel cars, but diesel powered trucks.

Why have they topped our list? Easy. Gone are the days of diesel cars and trucks being annoyingly noisy and irritatingly smelly, especially those behemoth trucks favored by large industrial businesses. High-tech advances have transformed them into easily accessible vehicles for the likes of us. In our case, small-business owners who are drawn to how modern diesel powered trucks have tempted us with:

  • Awesomely impressive power (looking ahead, we’re thinking of adding a massive traveling barbecue grill that we can tow to most any event location, multiplying our menu-offering possibilities)
  • Incredible fuel economy (we were impressed by how they, like diesel cars, are traditionally less thirsty for diesel fuel than gasoline powered truck options)
  • The spaciousness of the flatbed (just right for our trays of edibles, chafing dishes, serve ware, folding tables, linens, the occasional ice sculpture)

Of course, we also needed to ensure the cab area was equally spacious. In addition to the eats, drinks and accessories we’re transporting, we sometimes recruit a few of our family and friends as banquet servers at our larger events. Having the extra room for them eliminates extra cars (and gets us into the carpool/HOV lanes!) After taking a look at various diesel powered trucks, it was easy to choose a crew cab model that seats six.

Another clincher that steered us to diesel powered trucks are the relatively low operating costs, thanks to their great fuel economy (must be why there are a lot of diesel cars on the road today). Though the diesel fuel price-per-gallon is generally higher than that of gasoline, diesel fuel offers an excellent miles-per-gallon ratio that more than makes up for what we’ll be paying for diesel fuel at the pump.

Safety factors are at the forefront of all moms who are behind the wheel. We are no exception. Today’s diesel powered trucks (and to be fair, diesel cars) are equipped with all the same modern-day safety features, as well as convenient and indulgent upgrades, found in minivans, SUVs and cars that aren’t powered by diesel fuel:

  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Air bags all around
  • Stability control
  • Rear-view cameras
  • Parking sensors

With these great features now part of today’s diesel powered trucks (and diesel cars), we’ve been wondering if a driverless option could not be far off. While en route to our delivery destinations, it’d be nice to be freed up to do other tasks. Like taking turns with catching up on some sleep!

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I love the smell of diesel in the morning

Advance Auto PartsThe scent of diesel exhaust on a clear, crisp morning always reminds me of New York City. Whether waiting on a corner or on a train platform, the city’s ever-present buses, delivery trucks and locomotives were invariably powered by diesel fuel back then, and I came to associate their exhaust with memories of the city.

Fast forward 20 years, and diesel exhaust now triggers a personal memory at the opposite end of the spectrum – country living. Out here, diesel engines are just as common as they are in the city, and maybe even more so, because of farm tractors, pickups, and big diesel-powered trucks hauling grain or manure .

A diesel engine is efficient, both in terms of the fuel economy it delivers and the amount of power it generates from diesel fuel, as compared to a gasoline engine. But like any other mechanical device, diesel engines require some TLC, and perhaps even some modifications, if you want them to work for you.

First up – glow plugs. I learned the hard way about glow plugs’ importance, and that they do eventually need to be replaced. It was a classic January morning on the farm – cold and dark.  I needed to use the old diesel tractor to clear the driveway of snow in order to get to work on time. Before I could do that, however, I needed the tractor to start. It didn’t, but did get going later that evening once I replaced the glow plugs.

Glow plugs heat the combustion chambers in a diesel engine, making cold-weather or even cool-morning starts easier. You’ll know it might be time for new ones if you’re having trouble with cold starts, or if it sounds like the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Another helpful tool for cool-weather starts is an engine heater. There are several varieties out there. I’ve used an electric heather that attached to my Massey-Ferguson 65 tractor’s oil pan via a powerful magnet. It kept the oil warm on cold Ohio nights and made starting the tractor easier. There are also heaters that insert into the oil dipstick tube, diesel fuel heaters, and circulation tank heaters that keep the engine’s coolant warm (I know, sounds funny), making for easier starts in low temperatures. If you’ve  seen diesel-powered trucks or school buses parked overnight with what appears to be an electric cord sticking out the front, it’s probably for the heater .

With the advent of  computer-controlled diesel engines comes the increasing popularity of diesel engine programmers – frequently used for diesel-powered trucks – that enable users to change the engine’s factory-programmed settings in order to increase horsepower and/or fuel efficiency. There are a variety of options out there , depending on your vehicle make and model. Given the heavier loads I’m towing and what seems like steadily-rising diesel fuel prices, I’m considering trying one out on my F-150 to see if I can achieve some improvements.

Another consideration, even for diesel-engine cars, is a diesel fuel additive. Many are approved for use in all diesel fuels, and have a wide range of benefits, including: preventing fuel from gelling in cold temperatures, keeping injectors clean, providing lubricants that protect the engine, and boosting cetane (a measurement of combustion quality) for faster cold starts.

By following a planned diesel-engine preventive maintenance schedule, I’m hoping that any new diesel-scented memories I make don’t involve vehicles refusing to start.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of parts, additives and accessories for diesel-engine cars, trucks, tractors and more.

Top Diesel Cars and Trucks for 2013

Purchasing a hybrid vehicle can make sense under the right circumstances. If you do a lot of city driving, for example, nothing can beat a hybrid’s fuel economy. And hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Ford C-MAX are downright practical vehicles, even if you put their incredible fuel economy aside.

But diesel engine cars and diesel powered trucks have a lot to offer too. Consider the following:

  • Diesels are as fuel-efficient on the highway as the most frugal hybrid
  • Diesels give you great low-end torque. That means you can effortlessly scoot away from traffic lights and oftentimes don’t even need to downshift to pass someone.
  • Diesel powered trucks are a superior choice for towing and hauling
  • Diesel engine cars and trucks are known for being reliable for hundreds of thousands of miles
  • Diesels use simple, proven technology that has powered commercial vehicles like buses and dump trucks for decades

Intrigued? Good. Here are our top picks for diesel cars and trucks for 2013.Mazda diesel

Best Small Car: 2013 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Update Dec. 2016: If you purchased one of VW’s diesels, we’re truly sorry you’ve had to deal with the fallout of their now acknowledged software designed to evade EPA emissions testing. Learn more about your options here.

The Golf hatchback is one of our favorite small cars no matter what’s under the hood, because you just can’t get its combination of versatility, European dynamics, and upscale ambiance anywhere else. But when you thrown in Volkswagen’s turbodiesel 2.0-liter inline-4, the pot only gets sweeter. Rated at a modest 140 horsepower but a robust 236 pound-feet of torque, the “TDI” diesel motor gives the Golf great get-up-and-go around town. What’s more, the EPA says it’s good for 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway. Real-world results approach 50 mpg on the open road.

Best Midsize Car: 2014 Mazda6 Skyactiv Diesel

You can’t even buy this car yet, but it’s worth waiting for. The Mazda6 is all-new for 2014, with beautiful styling and a much nicer interior. The big news though is that it’s going to be offered with a 2.2-liter turbodiesel inline-4. Based on early reports, you can expect around 280 pound-feet of torque from the Mazda diesel, as well as fuel economy in excess of 40 mpg.

If you absolutely need a midsize car right now, check out the VW Passat TDI, which shares the Golf’s motor.

Best Crossover/SUV: 2013 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC

No Mercedes-Benz comes cheap, and the M-Class crossover is one of Benz’s pricier models. But if it fits your budget, you can’t go wrong with the diesel-powered ML350 BlueTEC. Blessed with an ultra-smooth 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that cranks out 240 horsepower and an incredible 455 pound-feet of torque, the ML350 BlueTEC delivers executive-grade acceleration and refinement. It also returns 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway, which is pretty amazing for a big rig like this.

Best Truck: 2013 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Duramax

If you haven’t been paying attention to diesel powered trucks lately, let us bring you up to speed. There’s a diesel fuel arms race going on between GM, Dodge, and Ford, and the horsepower and torque figures are completely insane. But it’s not just about the numbers. At 397 horsepower and 765 pound-feet of torque, GM’s 6.6-liter “Duramax” turbodiesel V8 trails Ford’s entry on paper (believe it or not). In the real world, however, it’s the strongest truck motor you can buy. And compared to a gasoline-powered V8, it’s going to give you significantly better fuel economy, too.