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Rudolf Diesel's 1893 patent on his engine design

A diesel vehicle is an automobile or other vehicle that uses a diesel engine for propulsion. The Diesel engine is a type of internal combustion engine; more specifically, it is a compression ignition engine, in which the fuel is ignited by being suddenly exposed to the high temperature and pressure of a compressed gas, rather than by a separate source of ignition, such as a spark plug, as is the case in the gasoline engine.

This is known as the diesel cycle, after German engineer Rudolf Diesel, who invented it in 1892 based on the hot bulb engine and received the patent on February 23, 1893. Diesel intended the engine to use a variety of fuels including coal dust. He demonstrated it in the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) using peanut oil (see biodiesel).

Diesel engines are more durable and more fuel efficient than their gasoline counterparts. Diesel vehicles are extremely popular in Europe (roughly half of the cars sold are diesel), where the cost of gasoline is much more expensive than in the United States. They have not gained popularity in passenger cars in the U.S., in large part because Americans have a bad memory of older diesels from the early 80's, which developed a reputation for being noisy, smokey, slow and foul-smelling.

Today's diesel engines are much cleaner and get about 35 percent better fuel efficiency and provide 25 percent more torque than gasoline engines of the same size. The drawbacks over their conventional counterparts are an increased price due to more complex engines, lack of availablity of fuel, and a higher rate of pollution. The emission problem is why diesels aren't currently sold in California and some Northeastern states, which have stricter standards.

More diesel-powered automobiles may become available in North America after the introduction of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel, which will start at October 15, 2006 in the U.S. (June 1st, 2006 in Canada). Ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) describes a new EPA standard for the sulfur content (a reduction from 500 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm) in on-road diesel fuel sold in the United States. Because this grade of fuel is comparable to European grades, this standard may increase the availability of diesel-fueled passenger cars in the U.S., since engines will no longer have to be redesigned to cope with higher sulfur content. European diesels are both more advanced technologically and much more popular with buyers than those available in the U.S.

Types of diesel engines

There are two classes of diesel (and gasoline) engines: two-stroke and four-stroke. Most diesels generally use the four-stroke cycle, with some larger diesels operating on the two-stroke cycle, mainly the huge engines in ships (see also Nissan UD3, UD4 and UD6 engine series).

Normally, banks of cylinders are used in multiples of two, although any number of cylinders can be used as long as the load on the crankshaft is counterbalanced to prevent excessive vibration. The inline-6 is the most prolific in medium- to heavy-duty engines, though the V8 and straight-4 are also common.

How diesel engines work

Four-stroke diesel engine

When a gas is compressed, its temperature rises; a diesel engine uses this property to ignite the fuel. Air is drawn into the cylinder of a diesel engine and compressed by the rising piston at a much higher compression ratio than for a spark-ignition engine, up to 25:1. The air temperature reaches 700–900°C, or 1300–1650°F. At the top of the piston stroke, diesel fuel is injected into the combustion chamber at high pressure, through an atomising nozzle, mixing with the hot, high-pressure air. The resulting mixture ignites and burns very rapidly. This contained combustion causes the gas in the chamber to heat up rapidly, which increases its pressure, which in turn forces the piston downwards. The connecting rod transmits this motion to the crankshaft, which is forced to turn, delivering rotary power at the output end of the crankshaft. Scavenging (pushing the exhausted gas-charge out of the cylinder, and drawing in fresh air) of the engine is done either by ports or valves. An animation showing the four strokes of a diesel engine is available here: How Diesel Engines Work

To fully realize the capabilities of a diesel engine, use of a turbocharger to compress the intake air is necessary; use of an intercooler to cool the intake air after compression by the turbocharger further increases efficiency.

Four-stroke diesel engine with turbocharger

In very cold weather, diesel fuel thickens and increases in viscosity and forms wax crystals or a gel. This can make it difficult for the fuel injector to get fuel into the cylinder in an effective manner, making cold weather starts difficult at times, though recent advances in diesel fuel technology have made these difficulties rare. A commonly applied advance is to electrically heat the fuel filter and fuel lines. Other engines utilize small electric heaters called glow plugs inside the cylinder to warm the cylinders prior to starting. A small number use resistive grid heaters in the intake manifold to warm the inlet air until the engine reaches operating temperature. Engine block heaters (electric resistive heaters in the engine block) plugged into the utility grid are often used when an engine is shut down for extended periods (more than an hour) in cold weather to reduce startup time and engine wear.

A vital component of older diesel engine systems was the governor, which limited the speed of the engine by controlling the rate of fuel delivery. Unlike a gasoline engine, the incoming air is not throttled, so the engine would overspeed if this was not done. Older injection systems were driven by a gear system from the engine (and thus supplied fuel only linearly with engine speed). Modern electronically-controlled engines apply similar control to gasoline engines and limit the maximum RPM through the engine control module (ECM) or engine control unit (ECU) the engine-mounted "computer". The ECM/ECU receives an engine speed signal from a sensor and then using its algorithms and look-up calibration tables stored in the ECM/ECU, it controls the amount of fuel and its timing (the "start of injection") through electric or hydraulic actuators to maintain engine speed.

Controlling the timing of the start of injection of fuel into the cylinder is key to minimising the emissions and maximising the fuel economy (efficiency) of the engine. The exact timing of starting this fuel injection into the cylinder is controlled electronically in most of today's modern engines. The timing is usually measured in units of crank angle of the piston before Top Dead Center (TDC). For example, if the ECM/ECU initiates fuel injection when the piston is 10 degrees before TDC, the start of injection or "timing" is said to be 10 deg BTDC. The optimal timing will depend on both the engine design as well as its speed and load.

Advancing (injecting when the piston is further away from TDC) the start of injection results in higher in-cylinder pressure, temperature, and higher efficiency but also results in higher emissions of Oxides of Nitrogen NOx due to the higher temperatures. At the other extreme, very retarded start of injection or timing causes incomplete combustion. This results in higher Particulate Matter (PM) and unburned hydrocarbon (HC) emissions and more smoke.

Fuel injection in diesel engines

Mechanical and electronic injection

Older engines make use of a mechanical fuel pump and valve assembly which is driven by the engine crankshaft, usually via the timing belt or chain. These engines use simple injectors which are basically very precise spring-loaded valves which will open and close at a specific fuel pressure. The pump assembly consists of a pump which pressurizes the fuel, and a disc-shaped valve which rotates at half crankshaft speed. The valve has a single aperture to the pressurized fuel on one side, and one aperture for each injector on the other. As the engine turns the valve discs will line up and deliver a burst of pressurized fuel to the injector at the cylinder about to enter its power stroke. The injector valve is forced open by the fuel pressure and the diesel is injected until the valve rotates out of alignment and the fuel pressure to that injector is cut off. Engine speed is controlled by a third disc, which rotates only a few degrees and is controlled by the throttle lever. This disc alters the width of the aperture through which the fuel passes, and therefore how long the injectors are held open before the fuel supply is cut, controlling the amount of fuel injected.

Older diesel engines with mechanical injection pumps could be inadvertently run in reverse, albeit very inefficiently as witnessed by massive amounts of soot being ejected from the air intake. This was often a consequence of "bump starting" a vehicle using the wrong gear.

This contrasts with the more modern method of having a separate fuel pump (or set of pumps) which supplies fuel constantly at high pressure to each injector. Each injector then has a solenoid which is operated by an electronic control unit, which enables more accurate control of injector opening times depending on other control conditions such as engine speed and loading, resulting in better engine performance and fuel economy. This design is also mechanically simpler than the combined pump and valve design, making it generally more reliable, and less noisy, than its mechanical counterpart.

Both mechanical and electronic injection systems can be used in either direct or indirect injection configurations. (see below)

Indirect injection

An indirect injection diesel engine delivers fuel into a chamber off the combustion chamber, called a prechamber, where combustion begins and then spreads into the main combustion chamber, assisted by turbulence created in the chamber. This system allows smoother, quieter running, and because combustion is assisted by turbulence, injector pressures can be lower, which in the days of mechanical injection systems allowed high-speed running suitable for road vehicles (typically up to speed of around 4,000 rpm). The prechamber had the disadvantage of increasing heat loss to the engine's cooling system and restricting the combustion burn, which reduced the efficiency by between 5-10% in comparison to a direct injection engine, and nearly all require some form of cold-start device such as glow plugs. Indirect injection engines were used widely in small-capacity high-speed diesel engines in automotive, marine and construction uses from the 1950s, until direct-injection technology advanced in the 1980s. Indirect injection engines are cheaper to build and it is easier to produce smooth, quiet running vehicles with a simple mechanical system, so such engines are still often used in applications which carry less stringent emissions controls than road-going vehicles, such as small marine engines, generators, tractors, pumps. With electronic injection systems, indirect injection engines are still used in some road-going vehicles, but most prefer the greater efficiency of direct injection.

Direct injection

Modern diesel engines make use of one of the following direct injection methods:

Distributor pump direct injection

The first incarnations of direct injection diesels used a rotary pump much like indirect injection diesels, however the injectors were mounted in the top of the combustion chamber rather than in a separate pre-combustion chamber. Examples are vehicles such as the Ford Transit and the Austin Rover Maestro and Montego with their Perkins Prima engine. The problem with these vehicles was the harsh noise that they made and particulate (smoke) emissions. This is the reason that this type of engine was limited to commercial vehicles— the notable exceptions being the Maestro, Montego and Fiat Croma passenger cars. Fuel consumption was about fifteen to twenty percent lower than indirect injection diesels, which for some buyers was enough to compensate for the extra noise.

One of the first small-capacity, mass-produced direct-injection engines that could be called refined was developed by the Rover Group. The '200Tdi' 2.5-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel (of 111 HP) was used by Land Rover in their vehicles from 1989, and the engine used an aluminium cylinder head, Bosch two-stage injection and multi-phase glow plugs to produce a smooth-running and economical engine while still using mechanical fuel injection.

This type of engine was transformed by electronic control of the injection pump, pioneered by Volkswagen Audi group with the Audi 100 TDI introduced in 1989. The injection pressure was still only around 300 bar, but the injection timing, fuel quantity, exhaust gas recirculation and turbo boost were all electronically controlled. This gave much more precise control of these parameters which made refinement much more acceptable and emissions acceptably low. Fairly quickly the technology trickled down to more mass market vehicles such as the Mark 3 Golf TDI where it proved to be very popular. These cars were both more economical and more powerful than indirect injection competitors of their day.

Common rail direct injection

In older diesel engines, a distributor-type injection pump, regulated by the engine, supplies bursts of fuel to injectors, which are simply nozzles through which the diesel is sprayed into the engine's combustion chamber.

In common rail systems, the distributor injection pump is eliminated. Instead, an extremely high pressure pump stores a reservoir of fuel at high pressure (up to 1,800 bar (180 megapascal(MPa), 26,000 psi) in a "common rail", which is basically a tube that in turn branches off to computer-controlled injector valves, each of which contains a precision-machined nozzle and a plunger driven by a solenoid, or even by piezo-electric actuators (found on experimental diesel race car engines).

Most European automakers have common rail diesels in their model lineups, even for commercial vehicles. Some Japanese manufacturers, such as Toyota, Nissan and recently Honda, have also developed common rail diesel engines. Jeep offered a common rail diesel in its Liberty model.

Different car makers refer to their common rail engines by different names, e.g. DaimlerChrysler's CDI, Ford Motor Company's TDCi (most of these engines are manufactured by PSA), Fiat Group's (Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia) JTD, Renault's DCi, GM/Opel's CDTi (most of these engines are manufactured by Fiat, other by Isuzu), Hyundai's CRDi, Mitsubishi's D-ID, PSA Peugeot Citroën's HDi, Toyota's D-4D, and so on.

Unit direct injection

This also injects fuel directly into the cylinder of the engine. However, in this system the injector and the pump are combined into one unit positioned over each cylinder. Each cylinder thus has its own pump, feeding its own injector, which prevents pressure fluctuations and allows more consistent injection to be achieved. This type of injection system, also developed by Bosch, is used by Volkswagen AG in cars (where it is called Pumpe Düse - literally "pump nozzle"), Mercedes Benz (PLD) and most major diesel engine manufacturers, in large commercial engines (Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel). With recent advancements, the pump pressure has been raised to 2,050 bar (205 MPa), allowing injection parameters similar to common rail systems.

Advantages and disadvantages versus spark-ignition engines

Diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines of the same power, resulting in lower fuel consumption. A common margin is 40% more miles per gallon for an efficient turbodiesel; for example, the current model Skoda Octavia, using Volkswagen engines, has a combined Euro mpg of 38.2 mpg for the 102 bhp gasoline engine and 53.3 mpg for the 105 bhp — and heavier — diesel engine. The higher compression ratio is helpful in raising efficiency, but diesel fuel also contains approximately 10-20% more energy per unit volume than gasoline.

Naturally aspirated diesel engines are heavier than gasoline engines of the same power for two reasons; the first is that it takes a larger capacity diesel engine than a gasoline engine to produce the same power. This is essentially because the diesel cannot operate as quickly — the "rev limit" is lower — because getting the correct fuel-air mixture into a diesel engine quickly enough is more difficult than a gasoline engine [1]. The second reason is that a diesel engine must be stronger to withstand the higher combustion pressures needed for ignition, and the shock loading from the detonation of the ignition mixture. As such the reciprocating mass (the piston and connecting rod), and the resultant forces to accelerate and to decelerate these masses, are substantially higher the heavier, the bigger and the stronger the part, and the laws of diminishing returns of component strength, mass of component and inertia - all come into play to create a balance of offsets, of optimal mean power output, weight and durability. However, the major downside to strengthening these parts is cost, which adds a significant premium to the overall price of a vehicle. For example, a diesel engine option on a pickup truck can add thousands of dollars to the base price, whereas upgrading to a more powerful gasoline engine may only cost several hundred dollars.

Yet it is this same build quality that has allowed some enthusiasts to acquire significant power increases with turbocharged engines through fairly simple and inexpensive modifications. A gasoline engine of similar size cannot put out a comparable power increase without extensive alterations because the stock components would not be able to withstand the higher stresses placed upon them. Since a diesel engine is already built to withstand higher levels of stress, it makes an ideal candidate for performance tuning with little expense. However it should be said that any modification that raises the amount of fuel and air put through a diesel engine will increase its operating temperature which will reduce its life and increase its service interval requirements. These are issues with newer, lighter, "high performance" diesel engines which aren't "overbuilt" to the degree of older engines and are being pushed to provide greater power in smaller engines.

The addition of a turbocharger or supercharger to the engine greatly assists in increasing fuel economy and power output, mitigating the fuel-air intake speed limit mentioned above for a given engine displacement. Boost pressures can be higher on diesels than gasoline engines, and the higher compression ratio allows a diesel engine to be more efficient than a comparable spark ignition engine. Although the calorific value of the fuel is slightly lower at 45.3 MJ/kg (megajoules per kilogram) to gasoline at 45.8 MJ/kg, diesel fuel is much denser and fuel is sold by volume, so diesel contains more energy per litre or gallon. This means that it takes more gasoline to equal the power output of diesel, making diesel engines more efficient per gallon of fuel burned. Because most diesel engines use the more efficient direct fuel injection method (fuel injected directly into cylinder) compared to the port fuel injection setup used in gas engines (where gas is mixed with incoming air in the intake manifold), the diesel has very little wasted or unburned fuel. Diesels also use about 1/3 as much fuel at idle as gasoline engines. Over the life of the vehicle, this advantage could be significant, especially if the number of miles driven per year is higher than normal.

The increased fuel economy of the diesel over the gasoline engine means that the diesel produces less carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit distance. Recently, advances in production and changes in the political climate have increased the availability and awareness of biodiesel, an alternative to petroleum-derived diesel fuel with a much lower net-sum emission of CO2, due to the absorption of CO2 by plants used to produce the fuel.

Two main factors that held diesel engines back in private vehicles until quite recently were their low power outputs and high noise levels (characterised by knock or clatter, especially at low speeds and when cold). This noise was caused by the sudden ignition of the diesel fuel when injected into the combustion chamber. This noise was a product of the sudden temperature change, hence why it was more pronounced at low engine temperatures. A combination of improved mechanical technology (such as two-stage injectors which fire a short 'pilot charge' of fuel into the cylinder to warm the combustion chamber before delivering the main fuel charge) and electronic control (which can adjust the timing and length of the injection process to optimise it for all speeds and temperatures) have almost totally solved these problems in the latest generation of common-rail designs. Poor power and narrow torque bands have been solved by the use of turbochargers and intercoolers.

Diesel engines produce very little carbon monoxide as they burn the fuel in excess air even at full load, at which point the quantity of fuel injected per cycle is still about 50% lean of stochiometric. However, they can produce black soot from their exhaust, consisting of unburned carbon compounds. This is often caused by worn injectors, which do not atomize the fuel sufficiently, or a faulty engine management system which allows more fuel to be injected than can be burned completely in the available time - the full load limit of a diesel engine in normal service is defined by the "black smoke limit", beyond which point the fuel cannot be completely combusted; as the "black smoke limit" is still considerably lean of stoichiometric it is possible to obtain more power by exceeding it, but the resultant inefficient combustion means that the extra power comes at the price of reduced combustion efficiency, high fuel consumption and dense clouds of smoke, so this is only done in specialised applications such as tractor pulling where these disadvantages are of little concern. Particles of the size normally called PM10 (particles of 10 micrometres or smaller) have been implicated in health problems, especially in cities. Modern diesel engines catch the soot in a particle filter , which when saturated is automatically regenerated by burning the particles. Other problems associated with the exhaust gases (nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides) can be mitigated with further investment and equipment; some diesel cars now have catalytic converters in the exhaust.

For commercial uses requiring towing, load carrying and other tractive tasks, diesel engines tend to have more desirable torque characterstics. Diesel engines tend to have their torque peak quite low in their speed range (usually between 1600-2000 rpm for a small-capacity unit, lower for a larger engine used in a truck). This provides smoother control over heavy loads when starting from rest, and crucially allows the diesel engine to be given higher loads at low speeds than a gasoline engine, which makes them much more economical for these applications. This characteristic is not so desirable in private cars, so most modern diesels used in such vehicles use electronic control, variable geometery turbochargers and shorter piston strokes to achieve a wider spread of torque over the engine's speed range, typically peaking at around 2,500-3000 rpm.

As mentioned above, diesel engines tend to have more torque at lower engine speeds than gasoline engines. However, diesel engines tend to have a narrower power band than gasoline engines. Naturally-aspirated diesels tend to lack power and torque at the top of their speed range. This narrow band is a reason why a vehicle such as a truck may have a transmission with as many as 16 or more gears, to allow the engine's power to be used effectively at all speeds. Turbochargers tend to improve power at high engine speeds, and if an intercooler is added, torque tends to improve at lower speeds.

The lack of an electrical ignition system greatly improves the reliability. The high durability of a diesel engine is also due to its overbuilt nature as well as the diesel's combustion cycle, which creates less-violent changes in pressure when compared to a spark-ignition engine, a benefit that is magnified by the lower rotating speeds in diesels. Diesel fuel is a better lubricant than gasoline so is less harmful to the oil film on piston rings and cylinder bores; it is routine for diesel engines to cover 250,000 miles or more without a rebuild.

Regular maintenance on a diesel is more costly due to factors such as the larger volume of oil in the engine, and the fact that fuel filters and water separators need to be serviced more often.

Since diesel fuel is easier to refine, taking less time to get from raw petroleum to final product than gasoline, it is usually priced lower than gas. However, in the U.S., diesel is occasionally priced the same or more than regular grade gas. This is often attributed to the fact that diesel is not as desirable in some areas, leading to higher diesel prices because of scarcity. Diesel advocates say that if more people drove diesel light trucks and cars, the price would drop dramatically in these areas—and possibly throughout the country. The lack of fuel availability is often a reason many North Americans don't choose to purchase a vehicle with a diesel engine. The situation resembles the chicken vs. the egg scenario. The car manufacturers say they will build more diesels if people will buy them. Consumers say they would consider diesels if there were more fuel stations that dispensed diesel. Fuel companies, in turn say they would produce more diesel if consumers wanted it.

Diesel pumps can be found in most areas that have a large amount of commercial truck traffic.

Fuel and fluid characteristics

Diesel engines can operate on a variety of different fuels, depending on configuration, though the eponymous diesel fuel derived from crude oil is most common. Good-quality diesel fuel can be synthesised from vegetable oil and alcohol. Biodiesel is growing in popularity since it can frequently be used in unmodified engines, though production remains limited. Petroleum-derived diesel is often called "petrodiesel" if there is need to distinguish the source of the fuel.

The engines can work with the full spectrum of crude oil distillates, from compressed natural gas, alcohols, gasolene, to the "fuel oils" from diesel oil to residual fuels. The type of fuel used is a combination of service requirements, and fuel costs.

"Residual fuels" are the "dregs" of the distillation process and are a thicker, heavier oil, or oil with higher viscosity, which are so thick that they are not readily pumpable unless heated. Residual fuel oils are cheaper than clean, refined diesel oil, although they are dirtier. Their main considerations are for use in ships and very large generation sets, due to the cost of the large volume of fuel consumed, frequently amounting to many tonnes per hour. The poorly refined biofuels straight vegetable oil (SVO) and waste vegetable oil (WVO) can fall into this category. Moving beyond that, use of low-grade fuels can lead to serious maintenance problems.

Normal diesel fuel is more difficult to ignite than gasoline because of its higher flash point, but once burning, a diesel fire can be fierce.

Diesel applications

The vast majority of modern heavy road vehicles (trucks), ships, large-scale portable power generators, most farm and mining vehicles, and many long-distance locomotives have diesel engines.

Mercedes-Benz, cooperating with Robert Bosch GmbH, has a successful run of diesel-powered passenger cars since 1936, sold in many parts of the World, with other manufacturers joining in the 1970s and 1980s. The second car manufacturer was Peugeot, prior to 1960.

In the United States, probably due to some hastily offered cars in the 1980s, diesel is not as popular in passenger vehicles as in Europe]. Such cars have been traditionally perceived as heavier, noisier, having performance characteristics which make them slower to accelerate, and of being more expensive than equivalent gasoline vehicles. General Motors Oldsmobile division produced a variation of its gasoline-powered V8 engine which is the main reason for this reputation. This image certainly does not reflect recent designs, especially where the very high low-rev torque of modern diesels is concerned -- which have characteristics similar to the big V8 gasoline engines popular in the US. Light and heavy trucks, in the U.S., have been diesel-optioned for years.

European governments tend to favor diesel engines in taxation policy because of diesel's superior fuel efficiency. In addition, diesel fuel used in North America still has higher sulphur content than the fuel used in Europe, effectively limiting diesel use to industrial vehicles, before the introduction of 15 parts per million Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel, which will start at October 15, 2006 in the U.S. (June 1st, 2006 in Canada). Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel is not mandatory until 2010 in the US.

Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0-liter V-6 Diesel Engine DaimlerChrysler

In Europe, where tax rates in many countries make diesel fuel much cheaper than gasoline, diesel vehicles are very popular and newer designs have significantly narrowed differences between gasoline and diesel vehicles in the areas mentioned. Often, among comparably designated models, turbo-diesels outperform their naturally aspirated gasoline-powered sister cars. One anecdote tells of Formula One driver Jenson Button, who was arrested while driving a diesel-powered BMW 330cd Coupé at 230 km/h (about 140 mph) in France, where he was too young to have a gasoline-engined car rented to him. Button dryly observed in subsequent interviews that he had actually done BMW a public relations service, as nobody had believed a diesel could be driven that fast. Yet, BMW had already won the 24 Hours Nürburgring overall in 1998 with a 3-series diesel. The BMW diesel lab in Steyr, Austria is led by Ferenc Anisits and develops innovative diesel engines.

Mercedes-Benz, offering diesel-powered passenger cars since 1936, has put the emphasis on high performance diesel cars in its newer ranges, as does Volkswagen with its brands. Citroën sells more cars with diesel engines than gasoline engines, as the French brands (also Peugeot) pioneered smoke-less HDI designs with filters. Even the Italian marque Alfa Romeo, known for design and successful history in racing, focuses on diesels that are also raced.

Chrysler Group was the first automotive manufacturer in the United States to offer a mid-size, diesel-powered SUV, the 2005 Jeep Liberty with a 2.8-liter CRD engine. Based on consumer response, the diesel-powered Jeep Liberty exceeded the company’s expectations. More than 11,000 diesel-powered Jeep Liberty vehicles have been sold since production began. CRD has since been cancelled because its diesel engine couldn't meet upcoming emissions regulations. In June 2006, Jeep announced that its 2007 Grand Cherokee model will be available with a 3.0-liter common rail turbodiesel, its first diesel-powered, full-size sport-utility vehicle (SUV) to be offered in the United States.

Dodge, Ford and GM have offered diesel engines in their 3/4-ton and 1-ton heavy-duty pickup trucks since the late 1970s and early 1980s. They learned long ago that they were better off buying diesel technology from experts such as Cummins, International and Isuzu than spending money developing it themselves. These engine manufacturers all have years of experience building heavy-duty, big-rig diesel engines that have to log hundreds of thousands of miles a year for years on end, routinely haul heavy loads and may have to idle for days at a time. For towing capacity and brute pulling force, diesel engines generally outperform gasoline engines. The torque advantage diesels have is perfectly suited for pulling heavy loads up steep grades.

Unusual applications

Automobile racing

Although the weight and lower output of a diesel engine tend to keep them away from automotive racing applications, there are many diesels being raced in classes that call for them, mainly in truck racing and tractor pulling, as well in types of racing where these drawbacks are less severe, such as land speed record racing or endurance racing. Even diesel engined dragstersexist, despite the diesel's drawbacks being central to performance in this sport.

1931 - Clessie Cummins installs his diesel in a race car. It runs at 162 km/h in Daytona, and 138 km/h in Indianapolis where it places 12th. [2]

In 1933, A 1925 Bentley with a Gardner 4LW engine was the first diesel-engined car to take part in the Monte Carlo Rally when it was driven by Lord Howard de Clifford. It was the leading British car and finished fifth overall. [3]

In 1952, Cummins Diesel won the pole at the Indianapolis 500 race with a supercharged 3.0-liter diesel car, relying on torque and fuel efficiency to overcome weight and low peak power, and led most of the race until the badly situated air intake of the car swallowed enough debris from the track to disable the car.

With turbocharged Diesel-cars getting stronger in the 1990s, they were also entered in touring car racing, and BMW even won the 24 Hours Nürburgring in 1998] with a 320d, against other factory-entered diesel-competition of Volkswagen and about 200 regular powered cars. Alfa Romeo even organized a racing series with their Alfa Romeo 147 1.9 JTD models.

The VW Dakar Rally entrants for 2005 and 2006 are powered by their own line of TDI engines in order to challenge for the first overall diesel win there. Meanwhile, the five time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Audi R8 race car was replaced by the Audi R10 in 2006, which is powered by a 650 hp (485 kW) and 1100 Nm (810 lb·ft) V12 TDI Common Rail diesel engine, mated to a 5-speed gearbox, instead of the 6-speed used in the R8, to handle the extra torque produced. The gearbox is considered the main problem, as earlier attempts by others failed due to the lack of suitable transmissons that could stand the torque long enough.

After winning the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2006 with their diesel-powered Audi R10, Audi obtained the overall win at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans, too. This is the first time a sports car can compete for overall victories with diesel-fuel against cars powered with regular fuel or methanol and bio-ethanol. However, the significance of this is slightly lessened by the fact that the ACO/ALMS race rules encourage the use of alternate fuels like diesel.


With a traditionally poor power-to-weight ratio, diesel engines are generally unsuited to use in a motorcycle, which requires high power, light weight and a fast-revving engine. However, in the 1980s NATO forces in Europe standardised all their vehicles to diesel power. Some had fleets of motorcycles, and so trials were conducted with diesel engines for these. Air-cooled single-cylinder engines built by Lombardini of Italy were used and had some success, achieving similar performance to gasoline bikes and fuel usage of nearly 200 miles per gallon. This led to some countries re-fitting their bikes with diesel power.

Development by Cranfield University and California-based Hayes Diversified Technologies led to the production of a diesel powered off-road motorbike based on the running gear of a Kawasaki KLR650 gasoline-engine trail bike for military use. The engine of the diesel motorcycle is a liquid cooled, single cylinder four-stroke which displaces 584 cm³ and produces 21 kw (28 bhp) with a top speed of 85mph (136kph).

In India, motorcycles built by Royal Enfield can be bought with 650cc single-cylinder diesel engines based on the similar gasoline engines used, due to the fact that diesel is much cheaper than gasoline and of more reliable quality. These engines are noisy and unrefined, but very popular due to their reliability and economy.

Current and future developments

Already, many common rail and unit injection systems employ new injectors using stacked piezoelectric crystals in lieu of a solenoid, which gives finer control of the injection event.

Variable geometry turbochargers have flexible vanes, which move and let more air into the engine depending on load. This technology increases both performance and fuel economy. Boost lag is reduced as turbo impeller inertia is compensated for.

A technique called accelerometer pilot control (APC) uses a sensor called an accelerometer to provide feedback on the engine's level of noise and vibration and thus instruct the ECU to inject the minimum amount of fuel that will produce quiet combustion and still provide the required power (especially while idling.)

The next generation of common rail diesels are expected to use variable injection geometry, which allows the amount of fuel injected to be varied over a wider range, and variable valve timing similar to that on gasoline engines.

Particularly in the United States, upcoming tougher emissions regulations present a considerable challenge to diesel engine manufacturers. Other methods to achieve even more efficient combustion, such as HCCI (homogeneous charge compression ignition), are being studied.

Modern diesel facts

(Source: Robert Bosch GmbH)

  • Fuel passes through the injector jets at speeds of nearly 1500 miles per hour (2400 km/h) – as fast as the top speed of a jet plane.
  • Fuel is injected into the combustion chamber in less than 1.5 ms – about as long as a camera flash.
  • The smallest quantity of fuel injected is one cubic millimetre – about the same volume as the head of a pin. The largest injection quantity at the moment for automobile diesel engines is around 70 cubic millimetres.
  • If the camshaft of a six-cylinder engine is turning at 4500 rpm, the injection system has to control and deliver 225 injection cycles per second.
  • On a demonstration drive, a Volkswagen 1-litre diesel-powered car used only 0.89 litres of fuel in covering 100 kilometres (264MPG) – making it probably the most fuel-efficient car in the world. Bosch’s high-pressure fuel injection system was one of the main factors behind the prototype’s extremely low fuel consumption. Production record-breakers in fuel economy include the Volkswagen Lupo 3L TDI and the Audi A2 3 L 1.2 TDi with standard consumption figures of 3 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (78MPG). Their high-pressure diesel injection systems are also supplied by Bosch.
  • In 2001, nearly 36% of newly registered cars in Western Europe had diesel engines. By way of comparison: in 1996, diesel-powered cars made up only 15% of the new car registrations in Germany. Austria leads the league table of registrations of diesel-powered cars with 66%, followed by Belgium with 63% and Luxembourg with 58%. Germany, with 34.6% in 2001, was in the middle of the league table. Sweden is lagging behind, in 2004 only 8% of the new cars had diesel engine.

Diesel car history

The first production diesel cars were the Mercedes-Benz 260D and the Hanomag Rekord, both introduced in 1936. The Citroën Rosalie was also produced between 1935 and 1937 with an extremely rare diesel engine option (the 1766 cc 11UD engine) only in the Familiale (estate or station wagon) version. [4]

Following the 1970s oil crisis, turbo diesels were tested, e.g. by the Mercedes-Benz C111 experimental and record-setting vehicles. The first production turbo diesel car was, in 1978, the 3.0 5-cyl 115 PS Mercedes 300 SD, available only in North America. In Europe, the Peugeot 604 with a 2.3 litre turbo diesel was introduced in 1979, and then the Mercedes 300 TD turbo.

Many Audi enthusiasts claim that the Audi 100 TDI was the first turbocharged direct injection diesel sold in 1989; however, the Fiat Croma and the Austin Rover Montego were sold with turbo direct injection in 1988. What was pioneering about the Audi 100 however was the use of electronic control of the engine, as the Fiat and Austin had purely mechanically controlled injection. The electronic control of direct injection made a difference in terms of emissions, refinement and power.

In 1998, for the very first time in the history of racing, in the legendary 24 Hours Nürburgring race, a diesel-powered car was the overall winner: the BMW works team 320d, a BMW E36 fitted with modern high-pressure diesel injection technology from Robert Bosch GmbH. The low fuel consumption and long range, allowing 4 hours of racing at once, made it a winner, as comparable gasoline-powered cars spent more time refuelling.

List of diesel vehicles

The following is a list of automobiles (including pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans) made with diesel engines. Some vehicles are no longer in production and some vehicles may not be available in all markets (especially North America).

Alfa Romeo


  • 145
  • 146
  • 155
  • 166
  • 33
  • 75
  • 90
  • Alfa 6
  • Alfetta


  • 147
  • 156
  • 159
  • 166
  • Brera
  • GT

AM General



  • Century
  • Electra
  • LeSabre
  • Regal
  • Riviera




  • DeVille
  • Eldorado
  • Fleetwood
  • Seville


  • Bel Air
  • Blazer
  • C10 Pickup
  • C1500
  • C20 Pickup
  • C2500
  • C30 Pickup
  • C3500
  • Caprice
  • Celebrity
  • Chevette
  • El Camino
  • E Series (2006)
  • G20 Van
  • G2500 Van
  • G30 Van
  • G3500 Van
  • Impala
  • K10 Pickup
  • K1500
  • K20 Pickup
  • K2500
  • K30 Pickup
  • K3500
  • Kodiak (2005)
  • Luv
  • Malibu
  • Monte Carlo
  • P20 Van
  • P30 Van
  • R10 Pickup
  • R20 Pickup
  • R2500
  • R30 Pickup
  • R3500
  • Silverado (2006)
  • Suburban
  • Tahoe
  • V10 Pickup
  • V30 Pickup
  • V3500 Pickup




  • AX
  • BX
  • CX
  • Evasion
  • Saxo
  • Visa
  • Xantia
  • XM
  • ZX




  • Ducato
  • Idea
  • Stilo
  • Punto MultiJet

Ford Motor Company

  • E-Series
  • F-Series
  • Escort (1984-1987)
  • Excursion
  • Fiesta
  • Fusion
  • Galaxy
  • Lion VLE
  • Mondeo
  • Focus
  • Focus C-MAX
  • Ranger
  • Tempo (1984-1986)
  • Ford Tourneo


  • Scout II (1980)





  • S-Type
  • X-Type
  • XJ



Land Rover


  • Continental
  • Mark VII


  • Mazda2
  • Mazda3
  • Mazda6
  • MPV
  • B2600


  • 170D
  • 170Da
  • 170Db
  • 170Ds
  • 180D
  • 180Db
  • 180Dc
  • 190D
  • 190D 2.2
  • 190D 2.5
  • 190D 2.5T
  • 190Db
  • 190Dc
  • 200D
  • 200TD
  • 220D
  • 240D/8
  • 240D
  • 240TD
  • 240D Lang
  • 250D
  • 250TD
  • 300CD
  • 300d
  • 300D
  • 300D 2.5
  • 300D 4MATIC
  • 300D Lang
  • 300SD
  • 300SDL
  • 300TD
  • 300TD 4MATIC
  • 350SD
  • 350SDL
  • C220D
  • E220D
  • E250 D Turbo
  • E270D
  • E300D
  • E300D 4MATIC
  • E300DT
  • E320 CDI
  • G300D
  • ML350 (2006)
  • ML500 (2006)


  • Lynx
  • Topaz


  • One D




  • Ascona
  • Blitz
  • Frontera
  • Kadett
  • Omega|Omega
  • Rekord
  • Senator
  • Sintra




  • 106
  • 204
  • 205
  • 304
  • 305
  • 306
  • 309
  • 404
  • 405
  • 406
  • 504
  • 505
  • 604
  • 605
  • 806




  • 9
  • 11
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20/30
  • 25
  • Fuego
  • Safrane




  • 100
  • 200
  • 25
  • 400
  • 45
  • 620
  • 75
  • 800
  • Metro
  • SD1




  • Arosa
  • Inca




  • Felicia



  • fortwo


  • Grand Vitara


  • Safari Dicor - SUV
  • Victa - MUV
  • Sumo - MUV
  • Spacio - MUV
  • Telcoline Pickup
  • Ace
  • 207DI Pickup
  • 407 SFC Truck
  • 709 SFC Truck
  • 1512, 1613 Series of Trucks
  • Novus



  • Carlton



External links