Gas Or Diesel – What’s Better For Off Roading?

The type of vehicle that you use for off-roading determines where you can go, how far you can go, and what type of terrain you can tackle out on the trail. One of the important reasons for this is the engine within the vehicle. Gas and diesel-powered engines have their own strengths and weaknesses, but which is better for off-roading?

Diesel engines are widely regarded to be better for off-roading than gasoline engines. Diesel engines have more torque and therefore are better for most off-roading situations and challenges. However, gas engines are better for loose sand and mud than diesel engines.

Diesel Landrover Defender on off-road trail

Gas engines vs. diesel engines is a heated debate in the off-roading community. Each engine type has its own characteristics that are better or worse for off-roading, but many drivers have a firm stance for one over the other. Determining which is better for off-roading is challenging, but there is always an answer to such questions. Let’s decide once and for all.

Is A Diesel Engine Better For Off-Road?

The debate surrounding diesel and gas-powered engines for off-roading has been intense for decades. Both types of engines are very capable, and they can both be used for off-roading, but many off-road drivers find themselves wondering if a diesel engine is better for off-road?

The truth is, diesel engines are better for slow, steep, and very rugged off-roading and gas engines are better for faster trails and loose sand. Diesels have more low-end torque, which is better for crawling, and gas has more power which helps get out of sticky situations.

Both engine types are great for off-roading, but the engine that is best for you should be determined by the type of off-roading that you do. 

If you are the type of person who enjoys long, rugged, slow trails with steep inclines, craggy rock crawls, and intense ramp-overs, then a diesel engine is better for you. These engines are more economical and allow for longer distances, they are more reliable, and most critically, they have more torque than gas engines.

The increased torque of diesel engines provides them with more pulling power and makes them far more capable at slower speeds. These engines turn large wheels more easily, and they have access to power at lower revs which means they are far more capable on rough trails.

Diesel engines are better for most off-roading situations and terrains, but there are some circumstances where a gas-powered engine is a better choice. However, there is no off-roading that a diesel engine will not be able to conquer, even if it is a little slower at times.

The diesel engine is fantastic for off-roading and is a good choice for every off-roading and over-landing situation.

Check out this video on Gas vs Diesel for off-roading. It’s specifically about the Jeep Wrangler, but it’s super helpful if you’re trying to make a decision.

Which Engine Is Best For Off-Road?

Determining which engine type is the overall best for off-roading is challenging. As we have discussed already, both engine types have their strengths and weaknesses, but they are both very capable. Are diesel or gas engines best overall for off-roading?

To determine which engine is best for off-road overall, considerations must be made. Pulling power, low-end torque, horsepower, economy, reliability, stability, and control are all factors. With these considerations, diesel engines are overall better for off-roading.

Gasoline-powered engines are great engines. They are fast powerful, they rev higher, and they rev faster. These engines are strong, and they are excellent for traveling quickly and for efficiently spinning wheels.

These engines are not considered to be the best engine type for most off-roading situations, simply because off-roading is not about speed or high engine revs. These attributes of gasoline engines are good for road driving, but they are of little value on a rugged trail.

Gasoline engines work well in situations with minimal traction where overall engine speed is useful, such as sand, dunes, and loose mud, but they are not as capable as diesel engines regarding climbing, pulling the weight of the vehicle, descending, or ramping. 

For these reasons, the general consensus among off-roaders is that diesel engines make for overall better off-road vehicles. They are more versatile and more well suited to off-roading situations.

Are Diesels Bad For Off-Roading?

Diesel engines are considered to be fantastic off-roading engines but are there any reasons diesel engines may not be very good off-road?

The diesel engine is good for off-roading, but it is hindered by certain attributes. These engines are very heavy, they are difficult to repair, they cannot be allowed to run out of fuel on the trail, they are not very quick, and they can be more expensive to run.

This engine type has plenty of torque and is capable off-road, but the weight of the engine makes the vehicle that houses it more likely to get stuck. Diesel engines typically use turbochargers which can be difficult to repair and very expensive to replace.

The speed limitations of diesel engines mean that they struggle in some situations are less efficient as a daily driver. Running a diesel engine also requires a lot of maintenance. The maintenance is not very complicated, but it is vital for the proper running of the engine, and the frequency of the maintenance makes running a diesel engine quite expensive.

All of these factors make diesel engines the second choice for many drivers, as they can be a real issue in some cases. These reasons are why diesels may not be ideal for some off-roaders, but they are minor enough to be overlooked by most off-roaders.

Gas And Diesel Pros And Cons 

When deciding which type of engine is best for you and your off-roading preferences, it is crucial to have all of the information available. With that in mind, let’s directly compare the pros and cons of gasoline and diesel engines.

The pros of diesel-powered engines include:

  • Diesel engines have more low-end torque than gas engines.
  • Diesel engines are good for crawling, descending, and climbing.
  • Diesel engines are rugged and reliable.
  • Diesel engines are economical.
  • Diesel engines are good for tough off-road trials.
  • Diesel engines work well with very large wheels and tires.

The cons of diesel-powered engines include:

  • Diesel engines do not rev fast or high.
  • Diesel engines are slightly underpowered.
  • Diesel engines are expensive to maintain.
  • Diesel engines require frequent maintenance.
  • Diesel engines have more parts to go wrong.

The pros of gasoline-powered engines include:

  • Gasoline engines have a lot of power.
  • Gasoline engines rev high and fast.
  • Gasoline engines are easy to maintain.
  • Gasoline engines do not require specialized maintenance.
  • Gasoline engines are best for loose sand, mud, and fast off-roading.

The cons of gasoline-powered engines include:

  • Gasoline engines have less torque than diesel engines.
  • Gasoline engines are less economical.
  • Gasoline engines are not great for crawling or descending.
  • Gasoline engines are not as good for towing.


At the end of it all, most off-roading enthusiasts will confirm that diesel engines are the better choice for most off-roading situations. These engines can be loud and difficult to maintain, but their abilities on the trail speak for themselves.

Gasoline engines are capable as well, but they simply cannot compete with diesel engines for major off-roading challenges. However, gasoline may be better for your preferred off-roading style, so be sure to take the time to figure out which is best for you, not only which is best overall.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.