Is Now a Good Time to Buy a Diesel?

Guest Bloggers

Guest Bloggers | Mar 11, 2016

By Jim Travers

If your inner vulture is telling you that now might be a great time to score  a deal on a diesel-powered car, you might want to give it a listen. But not just as a knee-jerk reaction to the recent misdeeds of Volkswagen, and the subsequent impact on the market for some of their products.

Is now a good time to swoop in on a good deal? (P Lindgren/Wikimedia Commons)

Values of used VW diesels have indeed tanked lately — around 19 percent on average according to data from Kelley Blue Book - but there’s more to that number than VW’s failure to be good corporate citizens.

A combination of falling fuel prices and the short memories of the car buying public has also taken its toll. Historically, car shoppers trot right out to trade in fuel-efficient models in favor of big SUVs as soon as fuel gets cheap, and do the opposite as soon as it starts to go back up. And with fuel prices at or near historic lows when adjusted for inflation, who cares about fuel mileage? The neighbors may be looking at a Peterbuilt 389 to shuttle the kids to school soon.

Make no mistake, car buyers are justifiably angry at VW - really angry. Interestingly, however, people who weren’t fans of the brand to begin with are even more teed off than VW owners, according to KBB. And that seems to have hurt sales of diesels from relative innocents (at least on this front) Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

“This is not just confined to VW,” said Rebecca Lindland of KBB. “Thirty percent of consumers surveyed say they’re less likely to consider any diesel since the news about VW broke.”

According to KBB, auction prices for Volkswagen diesels had already been sliding before Volkswagen made headlines last fall, and that probably has more to do with lower gas prices than any decisions made in VW boardrooms. It seems that all VW did was hasten the slide and to take down other diesel makers with them.

In the end, the best reasons to consider a diesel now may be the same as they’ve ever been. Diesel mileage pays off most on extended highway drives, where some can travel as much as 700 miles between fill ups, where their fuel economy advantage is the greatest, where fuel is readily available in rest areas, and at least the fuel doesn’t smell any worse than the food. Fuel prices will inevitably go up at some point, and when they do your purchase will make even more sense.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to save a few bucks in the short term, the logic may not hold up. It remains to be seen what will happen with fuel prices or car values in the future, or how much lasting damage the VW fiasco has done.

If you’re already driving a VW diesel, your best bet is probably to sit tight.

Nobody knows what kind of fix Volkswagen will come up with, or how it will effect performance, fuel economy, or resale value. There have been plenty of rumors circulating about cash settlements coming for owners, but when or if that will happen is another unknown.

One thing is for sure. Either way, you probably shouldn’t buy a Peterbuilt to take the kids to school.

Still not practical as a daily driver. (Rundvald/Wikimedia Commons)

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One