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Defining the Future of Mobile Healthcare™
By: Frazer on September 19, 2019

Ambulance Options: Gas vs. Diesel

Lower Overall Cost of Ownership

Coke or Pepsi? Coke. Tea or Coffee? Coffee, duh. Whataburger or In-N-Out? Whataburger. Not close. Gas or diesel? Well, that depends…

All of those other choices have clear, totally objective answers. But when it comes to picking the fuel type for your new ambulance, there are a few other considerations beyond just taste. Please note, this particular post covers offerings from Ford, Chevy and Ram, as they are they only ones offering both diesel and gasoline options on ambulance prep package models.

What Vehicle Do Our Customers Choose?

By more than a two to one margin, Frazer customers opt for diesel power for their EMS vehicles. The splits are roughly 70% diesel to 30% gasoline. 

Drilling down further, for those choosing diesel, Ram leads the way by nearly 2 to 1. According to the Ambulance Manufacturer’s Division (AMD) of the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), those numbers flip around to Ford at a 2 to 1 pace nationwide. 

Diesel Options

Ram, Ford, and Chevrolet all offer diesel options powerful enough to make Tim Allen happy. However, from a pure performance perspective, Ram carries the day with a whopping 1000 ft. – lb. of torque from their new Inline 6 cylinder Cummins engine. Here’s a handy chart for your viewing pleasure.

Diesel OptionsFordRamChevy
NameFord PowerStrokeCumminsDuramax L5P
HP450 HP400 HP445 HP
Torque935 lb. – ft.1000 lb. – ft.910 lb. – ft.
Displacement409 cu. in. – 6.7L408 cu. in. – 6.7L403 cu. in. – 6.6L
ConfigurationV8Inline 6 cylinderV8

Gasoline Options

It’s been a long time coming, but the Big 3 manufacturers all have a gasoline option available that works for Type I vehicles. (* Note – Type 3 cutaways ONLY come in gasoline configurations.) 

Since the mid-1980s, the Chevrolet C3500 has been the Houston Fire Department’s platform of choice. Consequently, Frazer has decades of experience in this area. While the power ratings don’t match up to those of the diesel engines, there are a number of factors that still make these trucks an attractive option under the right circumstances. Here’s another nice chart.

Gasoline OptionsFordRamChevy
NameFlexFuel V8Hemi V86.6L V8
HP430 HP370 HP401 HP
Torque475 lb. – ft.429 lb. – ft.464 lb. – ft.
Displacement445 cu. in. – 7.3L392 cu. in. – 6.4L403 cu. in. – 6.6L

A Little Vehicle History

In the mid-1980s, when Frazer began building for the EMS industry, we were virtually alone among builders in using a gasoline chassis. However, our separate power source, provided by the Onan generator, made it possible to still use the Chevy 3500 without the overheating, air conditioning, and electrical problems others faced when running all the power off the chassis. 

custom emergency vehicles
Prototype Frazer for Houston Fire Dept. mounted on Silverado gasoline chassis.

Technological advances have mitigated the overheating issues to the point where the Big 3 now offer an ambulance prep package on all models, diesel or gas, but we still know the separate source of module power matters no matter what platform you choose. 

Pros and Cons

So how does one choose from among such a wide array of options? Let’s look at some things to consider:

Diesel Pros

  • Power. If higher HP and torque matter most, this is probably where you’ll end up.
  • Long transports. Diesel is generally better for services with runs longer than 30-40 miles. 
  • Durability.
  • All terrains. Do you have hills? No problem. Are you at altitude? No problem.

Diesel Cons

  • More expensive. On average, a diesel power plant will run at least $7500 more than it’s gas counterpart.
  • Expensive maintenance. DEF, DPF, EPA compliance systems, and more can result in higher ambulance maintenance costs than you might otherwise see with gas.
  • *Fuel cost. According to the US Energy Information Association, up until around 2004 gasoline, especially premium grade, was a cheaper fuel source. Since then diesel and gas are roughly equivalent. However, this can vary from area to area so make sure to check prices where you are.
  • Weight. Diesel engine blocks are heavy and have an impact on available payload.

Gasoline Pros

  • Price. As noted, you can save some significant up-front cost by choosing a gas platform.
  • Maintenance costs. Typically routine maintenance on a gas engine will come in substantially lower than diesel.
  • Single tank. When using a gas platform with the Onan generator option, only one fuel tank is necessary.
  • Weight. Gas engine blocks are lighter, resulting in more usable payload.

Gasoline Cons

  • Power. You won’t get off the line as fast in a gas truck, though there are those who might argue that should be in the “pros” column. Top end speed tends to be roughly equal.
  • Mileage. A gas truck is likely best suited for a more urban environment.
  • *Durability. Historically diesel trucks have been considered the more durable option, but we do have customers able to get similar longevity from a gas engine. Much of this comes down to reliable maintenance.
  • Hills. Gasoline is not really an option for consistent hill driving.
  • Altitude. Performance at higher altitudes is going to suffer.

Phone A Friend

Frazer will build you a new or remounted EMS vehicle on whatever platform you prefer. Our main concern is that you’re happy with your new rig. 

If you’re considering a change to a different chassis or fuel type or both, please give our Sales Team a call at 888-372-9371 for a list of referrals. However, we find that talking to your friends or neighbors in the industry who have some experience with the model you seek is a great way to lock in a decision. 

If you already know what you want, or if our handy dandy charts gave you the answer you need, click here to get our latest pricing info!

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